IRU Equity to the fore as two leaders awarded NCSEHE Equity Fellowships 2017

The Innovative Research Universities (IRU) congratulates its members who were awarded two of the three National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) Equity Fellowships for 2017.

IRU award winners are Associate Professor James Smith, Program Manager of the HEPPP ‘Whole of Community Engagement Initiative at Charles Darwin University (CDU) and Mr Matt Brett, Senior Manager of Higher Education Policy at La Trobe University.

The Equity Fellowships are funded by the Department of Education and Training under the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Programme (HEPPP) ‘to undertake strategic, high-impact, high‐profile leadership projects targeted, sector-wide, at improving the access, participation and success in higher education of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.’ (NCSEHE 2016).

The awards were announced today by Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham at the ‘Facilitating an Innovative Future through Equity 2016 National Research Forum’ hosted by NCSEHE at the National Press Club.

Associate Professor Smith has extensive experience working in executive and senior management roles in health and education sectors in government and non-government settings across the Northern Territory. Much of this work relates to improving Indigenous health and education outcomes.

Mr Matt Brett’s Fellowship will focus on equity performance and accountability systems and approaches. Mr Brett is co-editor and co-author of ‘Student Equity in Australian Higher Education, 25 Years of A Fair Chance for All’.

Ms Louise Pollard, Manager of the Aspire Program at the University of Western Australia, was also announced as an Equity Fellow for the coming year.

Through their year-long Fellowship, the Equity Fellows will work with the Department of Education and Training and the sector on projects that will identify equity issues that affect the Australian higher education system and develop approaches to address these issues.

As the university group most focused on ‘inclusive excellence’, the IRU is proud of its support and record in striving for equity and excellence in higher education for all.


Ensuring all Australians make an informed choice about the best course for them

The Innovative Research Universities (IRU) supports the thrust of the Higher Education Standards Panel’s report to ensure that all students are firmly at the centre of the admissions process, able to access clear and comparable information about their options.

All potential students need to understand how universities will decide whether they are suitable.

As the report outlines, it is families with less experience of higher education, who are economically disadvantaged or who live in regional Australia who find the current admissions processes harder to navigate.  This is not sustainable.

The Australian higher education system has changed.  We have “varied entry standards and pathways…giving greater numbers of students the opportunity to benefit from higher education than ever before.”  The information for prospective students must therefore also change as the Panel recommends.

It is crucial that all Australians with the capability and desire for higher education can gain admission to the course that best meets their needs. Tired assumptions about who should go to university and the difficulty of entry must be countered with clear information about what the requirements are for all the bases for entry to university.

IRU agrees with the Panel’s conclusion that an overstated focus on the 31% of applicants chosen by ATARs can be misleading.  As the report shows 37% apply based on previous higher education and vocational education study.  Indeed, the non ATAR applicants are judged directly on their capability rather than their relative standing to other applicants.

Nevertheless, good information about school leavers’ ATARs will show the breadth of entrants to most courses.  Already one IRU member has published data on ATAR selection standards for 2016.

For most applicants the focus for admission is now each individual’s capability and readiness.  It is why over 30% apply directly to the university of their choice.  The role of the State based admission centres is not being challenged by the need for a national replica but are being rendered superfluous by most applicants accessing their course of preference at the university they choose.

There is much detail to be worked through to create the proposed national admissions information platform in a way that allows potential applicants to find what is relevant to them.

The Panel’s Recommendations should apply to all courses, including all Commonwealth- supported post graduate professional qualifications as much as to undergraduate courses.

The proposed templates will need work to ensure they work for all, avoiding implications that non-school leavers are secondary.

Building Regional Research Systems Across Australia – IRU Research Series Publication #3

Driving Sustainable National Prosperity: Building Regional Research Systems Across Australia, published today by the Innovative Research Universities (IRU), sets out a framework for Australia’s universities to fuel national economic growth and prosperity across all regions of Australia.
Regions are important drivers of sustainable national growth.
There is an urgent need to make better use of the potential from the breadth of the country, for example from its northern regions, to reduce the pressure on the major cities and create positive outcomes for all current and future Australians.
The creation of major new research infrastructure and the use of the Medical Research Future Fund are two crucial coming decisions for the Government where it must ensure a whole of Australia focus to get the most value from both.
Building Regional Research Systems Across Australia makes 7 recommendations for regional research systems that ensure that valuable research is conducted throughout Australia (see below).
Acting on these recommendations will provide the base for IRU members to create stronger clusters of researchers and research end users across Australia outside of the large capital cities. This will give substance to Greg Hunt, Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science’s ambition for more clusters (CEDA State of the Nation Address, 10 October 2016).
IRU members are embedded in the outer metropolitan areas of the State capitals and in Australia’s regional areas. Our research is crucial to building regional research systems and clusters across Australia.
Through the creative mix of local issues and global research challenges, IRU members across Australia generate research with benefits for communities and industries around the world.
Driving Sustainable National Prosperity: Building Regional Research Systems Across Australia is the third publication in the IRU Research Series.

It is available for download here.
Previous publications in the IRU Research Series are Industry Driven Research and Strengthening Research Across Asia – An Asian Research and Innovation Network.

For an overview of the seven recommendations download full statement below.

Indigenous Student Success Program: designing to improve outcomes

IRU supports the aim of the new Indigenous Student Success Program (ISSP) to raise outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students through integration, simplification and better use of three current programs.  We are very concerned that the draft Guidelines do not support the latter two of those aims.

There is no sense of simplicity or flexibility that would support the aim of a performance focussed program encouraging universities to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student outcomes. The performance basis integral to the new program, whereby university funding is dependent on their success in enrolling Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and supporting then through to completion, is buried within extensive rules about how funds can or cannot be used. The ISSP Guidelines are more prescriptive than any other under the Higher Education Support Act.

Read IRU feedback in full below.

Impact of the TEQSA Act on the higher education Sector: IRU submission

The IRU considers that the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011 has worked effectively since the 2014 amendments to the Act as the legal basis for Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) and the Higher Education Standards Panel.

The area for improvement to legislation is to streamline the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act and the supporting National Code to remove duplication of the Higher Education National Standards and to make registration of courses for international students an administrative listing not a distinct legal decision.

The 2014 amendments followed concerns that the initial operations of TEQSA were not consistent with the principles set out in part 2 of the Act of regulatory necessity, reflecting risk, and proportionate regulation.  The amendments were in response to the Lee Dow and Braithwaite Review of higher education regulation which strongly argued the importance of an effective partnership among the relevant bodies – providers and quality agency – for a quality assurance system to work well in practice.

That requires a constructive tension across:

  • higher education providers, notably universities, which are responsible for determining how to provide higher education to students, with a strong future focus for how higher education should be delivered to meet prospective needs;
  • the Higher Education Standards, which attempt to define the key threshold requirements for good higher education without dictating in detail how it should be delivered.  The Standards inevitably have a current day feel; and
  • TEQSA, charged with using the Standards as the guidance marker to test whether higher education providers are living up to their responsibility, in which it should both avoid constraining new developments of value and be effective in acting where delivery is clearly not effective.

The following sections consider the six questions the Discussion Paper asks. Read full submission below.

IRU Response to the Panel’s Research and Development Tax Review

The Review Panel, chaired by Mr Bill Ferris AC (Innovation Australia), Dr Alan Finkel AO (Chief Scientist) and Mr John Fraser (Secretary to the Treasury) was asked to identify opportunities to improve the effectiveness and integrity of the programme, including how its focus could be sharpened to encourage additional R&D. The Panel’s overall assessment is that the programme “falls short of meeting its stated objectives of additionality and spillovers” and that the programme could be “better targeted”.

In general the Panel’s report is in line with the IRU recommendations (below) to improve the incentives for industry to work with publicly-funded research organisations and to simplify the administration of the tax incentive. As expected, the Panel does not make a specific recommendation to include research in social sciences, arts and humanities (currently excluded) in the list of eligible activities. The Panel comes to the conclusion that it is too soon after the programme’s introduction to change the definition of eligible activities and expenses under the law.

The Panel makes six key recommendations: 

  1. Retain the current definition of eligible activities and expenses under the law, but develop new guidance, including plain English summaries, case studies and public rulings, to give greater clarity to the scope of eligible activities and expenses (Section 4.1, p. 30).
  1. Introduce a collaboration premium of up to 20 percent for the non-refundable tax offset to provide additional support for the collaborative element of R&D expenditures undertaken with publicly-funded research organisations. The premium would also apply to the cost of employing new STEM PhD or equivalent graduates in their first three years of employment. If an R&D intensity threshold is introduced (see Recommendation 4), companies falling below the threshold should still be able to access both elements of the collaboration premium (Section 4.2, p.  35).This is line with the IRU’s recommendation for strengthening the incentive for Research and Development carried out through publicly-funded research bodies 
  1. Introduce a cap in the order of $2 million on the annual cash refund payable under the R&D Tax Incentive, with remaining offsets to be treated as a non-refundable tax offset carried forward for use against future taxable income (Section 4.3, p. 37).
  1. Introduce an intensity threshold in the order of 1 to 2 percent for recipients of the non-refundable component of the R&D Tax Incentive, such that only R&D expenditure in excess of the threshold attracts a benefit (Section 4.4, p. 39).
  1. If an R&D intensity threshold is introduced, increase the expenditure threshold to $200 million so that large R&D-intensive companies retain an incentive to increase R&D in Australia (Section 4.4, p. 41).
  1. That the Government investigate options for improving the administration of the R&D Tax Incentive (e.g. adopting a single application process; developing a single programme database; reviewing the two-agency delivery model; and streamlining compliance review and findings processes) and additional resourcing that may be required to implement such enhancements. To improve transparency, the Government should also publish the names of companies claiming the R&D Tax Incentive and the amounts of R&D expenditure claimed (Sections 5.1-5.5, p. 45).This is in line with the IRU’s recommendation for an efficient user-friendly application process.

Further information can be obtained here:

Read the full IRU response below.

VET Student Loans Bill 2016: Higher education implications

The decision to separate the VET loans away from higher education loans reduces the habitual confusion of VET specific issues into higher education debates.  For instance, a significant aspect to the Parliamentary Budget Office’s exaggerated assessment of the long term cost of the Higher Education Loans Program was the impact of the rapid escalation in VET FEE-HELP (see Three-problems: IRU comment on PBO).

The VET Student Loans Bill 2016 and the associated support bills set up a new loan scheme, with rules to contain bad practice among some providers under VET FEE-HELP.  In particular, there are prohibitions about using the loan to induce people into a course and arrangements to recover from providers a loan contrary to the intentions of the scheme.

For Innovative Research Universities (IRU), the interest in the Bills lies in the potential incentives for education providers that operate in both vocational and higher education and the potential for any of the rules introduced for vocational education to be carried over into higher education.

Provider incentives

The action to contain the operation of low quality providers seeking to use the current VET FEE-HELP arrangements to maximize profits while providing little or no training to enrolled students also has implications for the legitimate providers.

The cap on loan amounts and potentially on fees may encourage providers to consider whether a similar course adapted to secure accreditation as higher education qualification such as a diploma or advanced diploma would be a better option in the future.  The advantage would be that the provider could set a charge at the level they deem suitable for the course.  If accredited through the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) and then approved for access to FEE-HELP there may be some shifting of loans from one scheme to another.

Higher Education accreditation is a more complex and time consuming process than in VET hence we are not arguing there would be a major new avenue for exploitation.  However, the potential for the shift does need to be recognized.

Constraints on marketing

It is essential to prevent the abuses where some VET providers used VET FEE-HELP as a means to get individuals to sign up for courses they would not complete.  It is also important that in doing so legitimate encouragement of Australians to consider their education and training needs not be suppressed and that competitive marketing of the advantages of a provider not be prevented.

Universities seek to attract potential students to enroll.  It is a natural part of ensuring that every Australian considers their education needs to gain suitable education and training following school.  In doing so, universities provide information to potential students, promote the potential for university education in schools and other arenas and use third parties in doing so.

The provisions of the VET Student Loans Bill 2016 are carefully drafted to focus on preventing providers attract enrolments through use of the potential for a loan.  Assuming they come into effect, their impact on legitimate VET providers should be monitored and the implications for all good providers in either sector considered.  Our initial assessment is they appear targeted to the purpose with minimal impact on good marketing practice.

Preparing graduates well for the future

With predictions that up to 40% of jobs will change completely or no longer be in existence in the next 20 years, how are universities preparing graduates for the ‘new economy’?  Will graduates in WA be ready for the post mining boom economy?

That’s the question being asked by The Innovative Research Universities (IRU) meeting today and tomorrow (Thursday) at West Australian member, Murdoch University, to discuss how best to ensure we create ‘Globally Relevant Graduates’.

Jan Owen, CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians, tells us that the current generation of Australians will be the first to be less well off than their parents. Increased casualization of work, the need for multiple careers and periods of entrepreneurship are predicted elements of the future which graduates face.

In the 1980s Australia responded to the high level of youth unemployment by doubling completion of year 12, reaching 77% by 1992.

“It is now clear that a reasonable expectation for employment requires a higher education or vocational qualification following on from school.  In response IRU universities have expanded since 2009 to provide the opportunity to all capable and interested applicants” said Conor King, IRU Executive Director.

“We need to ensure now that we support all those students fulfil their potential and are ready for the changing world of work ahead.  This requires universities to integrate the disruptive technologies affecting all areas of work across the world.”

The IRU Forum features external speakers from business, start ups and community giving their perspective about what is needed from university for future graduates.

IRU leaders will then use these challenges to identify ways ahead to meet graduate needs.  This includes agreeing the priority areas to work together to improve outcomes led by the IRU Vice-Chancellors’ Fellow, Dr Jessica Vanderlelie, how to work better with businesses in the communities around IRU members, and the next generation of integrating work based learning into curriculum.

The Innovative Research Universities group is a policy group positioned at the constructive centre of higher education and research policy in Australia. Existing in outer urban areas of their states’ capitals and in major non capital cities IRU universities are committed to inclusive excellence in education for the communities they serve. Inclusive excellence is the IRU commitment to reach and serve local and global communities through an effective response for all who seek our services at the highest standards in teaching, learning and research.

IRU comprises Murdoch University, Flinders University, La Trobe University, Griffith University, James Cook University and Charles Darwin University.

IRU submission: 2016 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap

High quality and accessible Research Infrastructure: IRU submission to 2016 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap

To maximise its investment in Australia’s research system, the government needs to commit to long term investment in research infrastructure that is accessible to all researchers and potential end users.  The requirement for national access is usually interpreted as ensuring that researchers outside the main cities can access resources, but it equally means that a resource could be located anywhere capable of supporting it, with those in major city areas as able as anyone to access resources remotely.

Some resources have a natural home but most resources have no intrinsical locational logic.  These can be used to stimulate the whole Australian research system through a distributive intent, with resulting benefits for regions and potential reduction of pressure on major population centres.

IRU’s mapping of the spread of Australia’s currently-funded research infrastructure shows that almost 80% is located in cities and inner cities.

Geographical spread should be a key factor in determining the priorities in the 2016 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap.

Read the IRU’s submission to the 2016 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap. 

Read the Read the IRU’s analysis of the spread of currently-funded NCRIS projects.  

Access the IRU NCRIS mapping database. 

Improving equity in higher education participation – IRU response to HEPP evaluation

Without a constructive Government response to the evaluation, the next round of HEPPP cuts risks undermining a program critical for educating all students well. It is essential that the long-term program, sustains the incentive to enrol all suitable students regardless of background.

Hence a funding stream tied to enrolments of low SES students and other underrepresented groups remains a core need of an effective higher education funding system.

Based on the original proposal for HEPPP and redressing the history of its implementation the future scheme should involve:

  1. inclusion of a significant loading in the Commonwealth Grant Scheme (CGS) addressing student background, to reward enrolment of a diverse student population broadly matching that of Australia;
  2. maintenance of an effective HEPPP program targeting the development of interest in higher education among communities and individuals less likely to aspire to university and support for their educational development; and
  3. sensible reporting and acquittal arrangements that do not hamper the constructive delivery of student supports.

Read the full response below.