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.

 

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.

Driving Innovation, Fairness and Excellence in Australian Higher Education

The experience of the past three years, 2013 to 2016, shows the great difficulty for implementing major changes to higher education funding and regulation as a single package.

The need for change is driven by the impact of making university an integrated part of the education system, accessible by any Australian with the aspiration for university study and the capacity to gain from it combined with expectations for change in how higher education is delivered over the coming decade.

The way ahead is to concentrate on achievable, useful changes where each can be considered and its impact assessed.  Changes should be directed at ensuring an effective Australian university system that meets the needs of all Australians for well-educated graduates and valuable research.

The Government’s fiscal challenge remains clear.  Expenditure on universities and students will be examined as much as other areas.  However, without the necessary resources from Government, students and business, universities will struggle to continue to deliver excellence in teaching and learning and research.  A major cut to funding is not a useful way ahead.

In contrast to many areas of Government expenditure, investment in education, including higher education, is about improving longer-term economic and social outcomes, with a return to Government revenue.

Recent graduate outcomes confirm that graduates remain better positioned than those without a degree while showing the impact of slow economic growth and sluggish employment opportunities.  Studies of graduates over the longer term confirm the advantage and suggest that the opportunities for each individual following a degree are better than if they had not undertaken it.

The IRU proposed seven actions consistent with three objectives to guide changes for the medium term.

Objectives

  • demand driven funding as the core funding mechanism for supporting all aspirants to gain the higher education that they need including where they opt for an initial ‘sub-bachelor’ degree;
  • base university revenue sufficient to maintain universities’ core capabilities to deliver student learning outcomes and research to meet future needs; and
  • a focus on allowing universities to opt in to changes with long term significance, testing out changes and encouraging incremental take up.

Actions

  1. A commitment to support each Australian achieve their potential with an initial expansion of sub-degree places, targeting regions of under attainment.
  2. Maintenance of an effective HEPP program with sufficient funding that it encourages universities to focus on enrolling students from all backgrounds and rewards those who do so best.
  3. Targeted support for universities with ‘outer metropolitan’ and ‘regional’ bases to support the effective Australia wide access to university education and research without propping up failing aspects of a university.
  4. Further exploration of mechanisms that encourage universities to develop some areas of high achievement, without constructing complex interventionist approval mechanisms.
  5. Extending and improving information about student and graduate outcomes.
  6. Reworking of the standard Commonwealth Grant Scheme (CGS) and student payments based on:
  • fewer, clearly distinct, funding bands driven by an assessment of the reasonable resource standards targeted at future requirements to deliver expected learning outcomes;
  • simplified student charges in which no student pays any more than the current highest charge;
  • a factor addressing student background, to reward enrolment of a diverse student population; and
  • consideration of an additional factor targeting student outcomes against university level targets tied to accessing higher levels of revenue from Government and student combined.
  1. Adjust HELP repayment arrangements in ways that speed up repayment but which do not affect the core elements of HECS-HELP.

Successful HEPP faces death by a thousand cuts

This article by IRU Executive Director, Conor King was published in The Australian newspaper 11 May 2016

The federal government’s flagship equity program has never been allowed to become what it was meant to be.

When the latest round of cuts hit, the Higher Education Participation Program will have been turned back into the small, well-meaning but ineffective equity program it replaced.

Since its inception, HEPP has been the go-to program when governments of both sides wanted savings. The $152 million hit in last week’s budget will remove 40 per cent of its funding by 2019-20.

The outcomes from HEPP have been positive, if not as high as predicted.

While the growth in low socioeconomic status students has been faster than for others — they will reach 18.1 per cent of all students in the coming year — it is still way short of 25 per cent but shows progress towards the initial target of 20 per cent.

So why do we need HEPP and how should it operate? To be effective, it needs to be a program with scale, so it avoids being well-meaning but piecemeal.

The 2008 Bradley review argued that its predecessor was too small, over-regulated and caught up in worthy but small projects. It was not driving significant change. Denise Bradley combined the new demand-driven system with a key funding element, equal to 4 per cent of base funding, to create incentives for universities to improve participation and completions of students from all under-represented groups.

The argument was that if universities received serious money for each low-SES student, they would have the incentive to increase enrolments and the flexibility to allocate resources as necessary to ensure retention through to graduation. Action would be university-wide, not limited to the efforts of equity units. It was a comprehensive approach.

The key issue now is whether universities responded in the anticipated way. One sign of success would be that students from all backgrounds enrolled in similar proportions and that universities ensured support was available for students who needed it. Read the full article attached or read here (subscription based news source).

Conor King, Executive Director, Innovative Research Universities 10 May 2016

The impact of the Commonwealth Indigenous Advancement Strategy tendering process

The IRU submission targets the impact of the inclusion of higher education Indigenous programmes in the IAS, with the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme (ITAS) subject to the tendering process. The Innovative Research Universities (IRU) is a network of six research intensive, progressive universities, established in the outer urban areas of Australia’s capitals and in major provincial cities to stimulate economic, social and personal advancement. Our locations bring universities, with comprehensive activities across teaching and research, to areas where higher education participation and attainment is low, and where the university’s research and creation of graduates can strengthen the social and economic prosperity of the region.

The impact on service quality, efficiency and sustainability of recent Commonwealth Indigenous Advancement Strategy tendering processes by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet: IRU Submission

We appreciate the opportunity to submit to the Senate References Committee on Finance and Public Administration on the impact on service quality, efficiency and sustainability of recent Commonwealth Indigenous Advancement Strategy tendering processes by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The IRU submission targets the impact of the inclusion of higher education Indigenous programmes in the IAS, with the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme (ITAS) subject to the tendering process. The Innovative Research Universities (IRU) is a network of six research intensive, progressive universities, established in the outer urban areas of Australia’s capitals and in major provincial cities to stimulate economic, social and personal advancement. Our locations bring universities, with comprehensive activities across teaching and research, to areas where higher education participation and attainment is low, and where the university’s research and creation of graduates can strengthen the social and economic prosperity of the region.

The members of the IRU have a long-standing commitment to becoming universities of choice for Indigenous students and staff. Read the submission in full below.

References Committee Inquiry into the Practices of the Higher Education and Research Reform Bill 2014, and related matters: IRU Submission

The Innovative Research Universities (IRU) supports passage of the Higher Education and Research Reform Bill 2014 (the Bill) with amendments to:

  • complete the suite of amendments previously proposed by the IRU to the Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill 2014, beginning with a much lower Government saving from the Commonwealth Grant Scheme; and
  • address cross bench Senators’ concerns about the potential negative consequences of introducing fee flexibility.

The Red Tape Returns: HE Reforms Create a Three Year Plan For Participation

The proposal outlined by the Department of Education (25 June 2014) that there be three year Access and Participation Plans as part of the revamped Higher Education Participation Program (HEPP) indicates that the Government is on the verge of failing an early test of its capacity to carry through its undoubted commitment to reduce unnecessary reporting, pointless acquittals and ineffective accountability.

Rather than unleash the bonds around the previous Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) the Government on current plans will merely alter the shape of the knots.

To provide universities with a clear incentive to improve enrolments of students from low socioeconomic status (Low SES) backgrounds the Review of Higher Education (Bradley Review) recommended in 2008 the creation of a reward funding element. In accepting the proposal the then Government defined the element as “a financial incentive to expand the enrolment of low-SES students, and to fund the intensive support needed to improve their completion and retention rates.”