Monday, 25 October 2010

Top unis warn on loss of quality

THE academic integrity and international competitiveness of Australia's universities faces being seriously compromised.

This would occur if the Gillard government goes ahead with plan to approve thousands of additional student places without a corresponding boost to the sector's funding.

According to the coalition of the country's eight elite universities, known as the Group of Eight, the federal government's proposal to provide an additional 110,000 undergraduate student places by 2020, and 235,000 by 2030, is putting quantity over quality and will result in much higher fees or greatly diminished academic standards.

The Group of Eight has also expressed concerns that Australian universities are being driven into a one-size-fits-all regime, which lowers the standards of the best and props up the underperformers.

The group yesterday called on the Gillard government to either commit to billions of dollars to fund the proposed boost in university places, or allow tertiary institutions to make up the difference with sharply higher fees.

Without the funding, the Group of Eight says, the quality of tertiary education provided by Australian universities compared with other advanced countries will slide.

The warning follows a series of studies commissioned by the group, the reports of which have been obtained by The Australian.

Mike Gallagher, executive director of the Group of Eight, said the country's universities would struggle to maintain quality, while absorbing an additional 110,000 students by 2020 and 235,000 students by 2030.

From 2012, the government will remove the limit on the number of publicly funded undergraduate places, effectively undertaking to fund as many students as universities enrol.

But the federal government estimates that only 50,000 additional students by 2013 and 217,000 additional graduates by 2025 fall short of Group of Eight -- and subsequent Treasury -- projections.

Last year the government budgeted $491 million over four years, with a further $437m to target students from disadvantaged backgrounds. But the mid-year forward estimates increased the amount by $800m, suggesting the initial government predictions were wildly inadequate.

The Group of Eight estimates the additional places will cost an extra $3.6 billion a year (in 2008 dollars) by 2030. To maintain current staff-to-student ratios, among the highest in the world at over 20:1, will cost $1bn, while reducing them to 16:1 would cost further $7.5bn.

"We think the cost of growth needs to be shared. Government, general taxpayers and students will all have to pay more."

The Group of Eight says universities should be freed up to charge what they can, up to a 50 per cent increase on current fees.

"There are a whole lot of students who could afford to pay more but don't because the government won't let them," Mr Gallagher said.

He said the British government has recently proposed a sharp increase in fees. "Fee deregulation is unpalatable to government, but the issue is not going to go away," Mr Gallagher said. "The UK has just addressed it. It just takes a bit of leadership to say what is fair for the country and what's affordable for the country."

Australia is already the third-highest in OECD nations in how much individuals contribute to tertiary education -- behind only the US and Korea.

Marcia Devlin, a professor of higher education at Deakin University, said it was disappointing that students should foot the bill.

She said there were numerous other sources of potential funding, including industry, professional associations, alumni and philanthropy.

A spokesman for Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans said the government was committed to a review of cluster funding rates -- or what the government pays universities for enrolling students in different disciplines -- "so that funding for teaching and learning remains internationally competitive".

The Go8 is also concerned that all universities are being driven into a one-size-fits-all regime, which lowers the standards of the best and props up the under-performers. Currently, there are three institutions in the top 100 of the Shanghai Jiao Tong rankings -- Australian National University, Melbourne and Sydney.

Other institutions represented by the Go8 are the universities of NSW, Queensland, Western Australia, Adelaide and Monash. Every member of the Gillard cabinet gained their first degree at a Go8 university.

The aggressive stance on funding by the Go8 is at odds with the traditional polite lobbying of vice-chancellors and could reflect the fine balance of power now in government.

Peter Quiddington, a adjunct lecturer from the University of New England, who is about to publish a book on the failed lobbying efforts of vice-chancellors, applauded the Go8's more assertive approach.

"Vice-chancellors argue that if they don't ruffle feathers, there will be more in the future. And the government of the day has always rolled them. They are being ripped off blind."

A spokesman for senator Brett Mason, who has carriage of higher education for the opposition, said: "The Go8's paper raises many issues and ideas that are very important in developing . . . policy."

Source: The

Saturday, 16 October 2010

The Fall of International Education

I came across this news from the age and think that we are in the cross-road of international education in Australia. Subject matter is Indian students in Australia!!

Indian student enrolments at Australian universities are set to plunge by at least 80 per cent in the 2011 academic year, a leading academic says.

Melbourne University vice-chancellor Glyn Davis warns that higher education across the country, including Victoria where it is the state's biggest export earner, is taking a massive hit after reports of attacks against students from the sub-continent.

"According to our best sources ... the fall in applications from India into Australian tertiary education ... are predicting at around 80 per cent, some institutions are reporting up to 90," Professor Davis told reporters in Melbourne.

"We did have a system where everything was growing. It's no longer true, so we are going to have to go back and look again."

Monash University is expected to cut staff numbers by more than 300 in 2011 due to drastically reduced international student revenues, the National Tertiary Education Union says.

But Melbourne University, with a more diverse mix of foreign students, is "better prepared" to weather the storm, a university spokesman said.

Prof Davis said Australia was the only country in the world where international student numbers were dropping.

"Every other country is seeing an increase in international students," he said.

"We are the only country in the world that is having this sharp fall, which tells you that whatever the factors are that are driving it, they're about what we do in Australia."

If the international student market continues to soften, universities will need to increase pressure of the federal government for more investment, Prof Davis said.

He conceded that the consequences of lost income would be felt by Australian students but would not confirm whether fees would rise.

"We would all prefer to see public investment (rather) than further increases in student fees, but it may be that, in the mix of things that get talked about, student fees is part of them," he said.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said a variety of factors, including the high Australian dollar, some immigration changes and fierce competition in the region had put pressure on enrolments, but the government would continue to promote Australia as a desirable country to study in.

"We do want to see international students come and study here, so we'll keep working with the Victorian government, with individual universities on international education, but there are a range of factors putting pressure on at this time."

Prof Davis said Australia had never been the first destination of choice for Indian students, but actual or perceived violent attacks had not helped the cause.

"There's no doubt that the climate in India was deeply critical of the way Australians had handled it, and there was also no doubt it was going to affect people's willingness to come here," he said.

"We were already in a market where we weren't necessarily an attractive destination - this ensured that we were not an attractive destination.

"It takes a long time to rebuild a reputation ... almost overnight we've shown that.

"You only do it through patient diplomacy, you do it through endless delegations, you do it through scholarships, and you have to work very hard with the community at home to make it clear that there are ... really disturbing consequences."


Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Transnational Education Experiences

In the last 8 days, I spent my week working in Shanghai and I realised how much I enjoy working with students from Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade (SIFT). The class I taught was under the umbrella of RMIT Bachelor of Business (International Business) program. Thus, I expected the students to be worldly...or at least..... internationally in their views to the business and education.

I wasn't wrong when I went to teach them on the first day because most of them showed a high level of enthusiasm and understanding of key global issues. This is totally different from what I read from research on Chinese students (or myth about Chinese students). Some, not all, of them were quiet and passive in the first 60 minutes. Later on, when we broke the ice, I started to see the sparkling in their eyes when we started to talk about issues such as offshoring, outsourcing, Wal-MART in China, how Justin Bieber becomes global brand etc etc. I must admit the very first class at SIFT for me went very well and the very first lesson I learnt from this class is student-centered approach can become a reality when teachers shift the focus from the 'context of knowledge' in the classroom to the 'context of learning' among students.