Archive for the 'Australia' Category

Framing International Education

Posted by Eric on October 23rd, 2010


Ten days ago or so, I was in Sydney for the annual Australian International Education Conference. I’ve seen some very interesting presentations here, some real eye-openers. I’ll discuss some specific sessions here later (I’ll wait until the presentations are available on the website). Now I just want to share some general impressions.

Most remarkable for me was that the economic framing of international education now seems to be widely accepted. When I lived in Sydney some years ago, my perception was that the government and parts of university management occasionally dropped terms like the ‘education industry’ and ‘higher education exports’. This was really the language of the marketeers and the recruiters.

Nowadays this language has spread throughout the universities and even the international educators themselves have adopted the language. Should we perceive this as conscious, strategic behavior on their part? Is the framing in economic terms an attempt to convince governmental leaders to invest more in higher education because of its strategic economic importance?

In the Netherlands, national governments explicitly frame international education as a quality issue. International education is to be pursued because it improves the quality of Dutch higher education. On the other hand, the income from full fee paying international students have now become a necessary resource for Dutch institutions as well (and especially for some departments or programs).

Does it matter how we frame it? Or is it always about the bottom line anyway? I think it does matter. In framing international education as an export product, as an economic commodity, the recruitment of students becomes the dominant issue. As a result, recruitment and the image of Australia as an education provider have become the dominant issues in Australian international education. But of course, we all know there is so much more to international education…

Interactive Higher Education Policy [or HigherEd 2.0]

Posted by Eric on August 21st, 2008

Both the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEST) of the Australian Commonwealth Government and the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) of the British Government are looking for news to organise and coordinate their higher education sector. For this, they have started a similar initiative. Both are relying heavily on input from the field and the broader society to get new ideas, and probably to receive more support for their future polices. Yet, there are some differences as well.

In its Review of Higher Education, the Australian government has asked a small expert panel to write a Higher Education Discussion Paper. This Discussion Paper (PDF, 4 MB) was released in June and addresses a wide range of questions structured around nine key challenges and issues for higher education in Australia over the coming decades.

· Meeting labour market and industry needs
· Opportunities to participate in higher education
· The student experience of higher education
· Connecting with other education and training sectors
· Higher education’s role in the national innovation system
· Australia’s higher education sector in the international arena
· HE’s contribution to Australia’s economic, social and cultural capital
· Resourcing the system
· Governance and regulation

After this release, the Expert Panel invited the community to react to this paper and send in their submissions before 31 July. This has led to 300 submissions responding to the discussion paper. Responses have been submitted by interested individuals, Vice Chancellors, Leaders of intermediary organisations, student unions, etc. There’s also a range of HE experts and researchers that submitted their reactions, and even some HE bloggers (who of course are also experts; for instance Andrew Nortonsubmission 91 and Steven SchwartzSubmission 66). The Review Panel will provide its report on priority action by the end of October 2008, and final report by the end of the year. I’ll keep an eye on it…

In the UK,  the Secretary of State for DIUS, John Denham, claimed that the UK needs to decide what a world-class HE system of the future should look like and what it should seek to achieve. And he also is asking the public to participate in this Higher Education Debate. Denham first asked eight experts to present their advise and opinions on eight different themes:

· Part-time studies in Higher Education
· Demographic challenge facing Higher Education
· Teaching and student experience
· International issues in Higher Education
· Intellectual property and research benefits
· Academia and public policy making
· Research careers
· Understanding institutional performance

These contributions will lead to a formal public consultation on a policy framework for HE in the autumn. They however also form the input for discussions on these eight topics with the wider public. And the discussions are conducted…yes on a blog. On the Future of Higher Education Blog readers have the opportunity to comment on the opinions of the experts.

The Australian example has shown that there are plenty of HE stakeholders and experts willing to spend some time in drafting future HE plans (I feel sorry for all the staff at DEST that has to go through them all). In some ways their process resembles the consultation process of the European Commission (for instance here, for the EIT).

What the input of the English public will be remains to be seen. Until now, comments on the blog are only few – and not always very constructive contributions. However, the  discussion opportunity has only been online since July. 

Even though the outcomes of these processes are not yet clear, I welcome these new ways of policy making. Even though these new initiatives would fit well in the (consensus oriented) Dutch political culture, – to my knowledge – the use of the Internet in the process of policy making and formulation is still rare. Maybe an idea for Dutch higher education…?

Is the UK going Down Under?

Posted by Eric on June 18th, 2008

During my years in Sydney, the issue of language skills and foreign students has come up repeatedly. The claim was that the financial reliance on foreign students had forced Australian higher education to accept students that lack even the basic English language and communication skills.

Most critical on this issue is probably Bob Birrell, Director of the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University in Melbourne. Last year he published a study finding that one in three overseas students which were granted permanent residency after graduating from an Australian university does not have good enough English to handle a professional job.

An analysis of government visa testing, the first of its kind, found 34 per cent of 12,116 graduating international students who received permanent residency in 2005-06 did not have the English standard needed to be admitted to university, let alone to be awarded a degree. For students from China, the fastest growing international student market for Australian universities, the proportion with poor English leapt to 43 per cent.

The question is of course: how did they get into an Australian university anyway? And even more: how did they ever get a degree? With respect to the second question, Birrell claims that universities dealt with the poor English language skills of their students by lowering teaching and assessment standards. On the question of how they get in, Birrell has another explanation.

Applicants for a higher-education student visa must score at band-six level, rated as “competent”, under the International English Language Testing System, if based overseas when they apply. But international applicants can avoid the testing by basing themselves in Australia earlier to complete either year 12 or an intensive language course. Dr Birrell found that about 40 per cent of overseas students followed this path.

Professor Peter Abelson – a visiting scholar at the University of Sydney at that time – summarised the issue correctly:

“These figures are a very stunning result, but not entirely surprising to people who are in tertiary education.”

Former Minister of Education, Julie Bishop, and former president of the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee Gerard Sutton basically denied the problems. Sutton didn’t accept that there is a problem in universities in terms of soft marking of international students. Julie Bishop rejected claims that a large number of foreign students graduating from Australian universities have poor English skills:

“Australian universities only enroll foreign students once they have achieved international standards of language proficiency. This has been an extraordinary attack by Professor Birrell on our universities. International students must meet international benchmarks in English language in order to get a place at a university in Australia.”

The denial of the problem is astonishing. Yes of course, there is a lot of money involved and the stakes in international education are high. If the international student market would plummet, so would much of the Australian higher education sector. But denying the problem while more and more foreign graduates fail in their job search because of their language skills, does obviously not help in the long run.

And now the debate has moved up north…


Sydney Places I Liked

Posted by Eric on February 20th, 2008

One more week in Sydney and then I’ll return to the Netherlands. It’s been three years since I first set foot on Australian soil to start my postdoc at the University of Sydney.  And those were three good years. That was of course because of the great Aussie people, but it also had to do with Sydney’s great places. Here are a few that I will definitely miss…

First an outer Sydney location. Actually, I love all of them, simply because Sydney is surrounded by beauty. At the East there are of course Sydney’s world famous beaches. Manly, just north of Sydney Harbour and Bondi and Coogee south of it. And many more, between kuringgaiPalm Beach in the north  and Cronulla in the South. South of Sydney is the Royal National Park, with a beautiful scenic coastal walk (and some scary snakes). Inland, on the Western fringes of Sydney, the flat land turns into mountains, …Blue Mountains. Just a two hour train ride from bustling Sydney. But my favorite outer side of Sydney must be in the North: beautiful Kuringgai Chase National Park, with its lovely islands and scenic bays.


From outer Sydney to inner Sydney. Not surprising, nor original; my favorite spot here seems to be the favorite spot of every tourist visiting the city: Sydney Harbour. With its beautiful Australian icons: the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. It’s a place I’ve seen many times of course, but somehow I am still amazed by the stunning views, especially Sydney Harbour by night.

quadrangle Closer to home is a site I’ve seen many many times: the campus of the University of Sydney. Australia’s oldest university, founded in 1850. Despite a few horrible postwar makeshift buildings, it is a beautiful campus with the lovely quadrangle as its Oxbridge-like center. Unfortunately, It’s a bit of a construction site at the moment, but by 2010 it should all be up and running again.

newtown But the place I will miss most, without  any doubt, is Newtown. Three years ago, I was immediately captured by this suburb in Sydney’s Inner West and by its bustling artery, King Street. Daily morning walks to Sydney Uni through King Street always are a lively start of the day.  Despite the noisy traffic, King Street’s many coffee shops fill up every morning with Newtown’s Latte lovers, enjoying their big brekky or Vegemite sandwich. In the evenings Newtown’s chardonnay socialists seek refuge in King Street’s many bars and countless restaurants, appreciating their Thai, Lebanese, Greek, Italian, African, Turkish, Vietnamese, Korean, Malay, Macedonian, Indian, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish or Nepalese dishes.

In an earlier post I cited a lonely planet quote on Newtown, one that is still very true today:

“a melting pot of social and sexual subcultures, students and home renovators. King Street, its relentlessly urban main drag, is full of funky clothes stores, bookshops and cafes. Newtown comes with a healthy dose of grunge, and harbours a decent live music scene.”

“a swag of funky cafes and restaurants lining King Street offer an interesting introduction to the suburbs community life”

If you ever visit Sydney, don’t forget these places. I definitely won’t!

So where the bloody hell are you?

Posted by Eric on February 5th, 2008

I’m not sure whether this is a bad thing for education or for tourism. The Australian reports that education has replaced tourism as Australia’s biggest services export and has become the country’s third top export overall, increasing by 21 per cent in 2007 to AUD 12.5 billion. The Australian Bureau of Statistics released figures that show that revenue generated by foreign students in this country overtook tourism and was just behind coal and iron ore. I remember that – when I became interested in international education about eight years ago – Australians used to say that it was the fifth or sixth biggest export, up there between lamb and wool.

When you read the words of Tony Pollock, chief executive of IDP Education, you wonder when Australia will start using the slogan of its tourism campaign in promoting higher education. Pollock states in the Australian:

“Education is a bigger drawcard for visitors to Australia than Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef and all other tourist attractions put together. Nearly half a million people are living in Australia who would not be here if we stopped educating international students.”

I am getting rather skeptical about all these ‘successes’ of the Australian international (higher) education industry. I guess there’s a saturation point even in the education sector, and Australian education is close to reaching that point. And at some institutions that point was already crossed quite some time ago. Have a look for instance at this Australian documentary with the title that says it all: The Degree Factories.

Suharto and a former PM of Australia

Posted by Eric on February 3rd, 2008

JPost A lot has been said about Suharto’s legacy in the weeks before and the week after his death. Those who think highly of him point to his economic successes and his achievements in poverty alleviation. His critics of course refer to his human rights record: the killing of more than half a million in the aftermath of the 30 September movement, his invasion of East Timor and the political repression during his 32 year rule.

In the reactions to his dead in Australia the second version of Suharto’s legacy clearly was the dominant one (in the main stream media as well as the Aussie blogosphere). It was therefore quite a surprise for me to read an Australian op-ed in the Jakarta Post yesterday (click picture for a screenshot) in which the writer defended the actions of Suharto and criticised the Australian media. But I was even more surprised to see who wrote the letter: “…The writer is former Australian Prime Minister…”.

Isn’t that strange? Signing an op-ed as ‘a’ former Prime Minister of Australia while not making explicit which one of the former Prime Ministers you are? I do have some ideas about his identity though…

Update: I guess it was just a mistake of the JP not to mention the author. The second part of his ‘defense of Suharto’ was published a day later. This time with a name. And yes…I was right…

All the best for 2008!

Posted by Eric on December 31st, 2007

It’s that time of the year again. Looking back upon the things that happened and thinking about the things to come. Sydney is busy preparing for the new year’s eve celebrations and so am I. But at the same time I’m thinking about the changes that are going to come in 2008.

And there will be some important ones. First of all, I’ll be moving back to the Netherlands. After three years, my fellowship at the University of Sydney is coming to an end and so is my stay in wonderful Sydney. As from March this year, I will call The Hague my new home. And another major change for 2008 is me leaving academia. After working in universities for almost 10 years, it’s time for a change. But more about that later. For now, I wish all readers a great new year’s eve and all the best for 2008!!!


Secrecy and Accountability in the UNSW Asia Aftermath

Posted by Eric on December 14th, 2007

I mentioned before that it has been difficult to find out the real reasons for the UNSW Asia closure in Singapore in May this year. The University of New South Wales has not exactly followed a transparent strategy in this issue (for my interpretation of the events, look at this post).

A similar level of secrecy seems to be applied to the further handling of the case. This week the Singapore Straits Times reported that the University of New South Wales has agreed to repay some 25 million Australian dollars to Singapore.

The Singapore Economic Development Board said that UNSW has signed a ‘settlement agreement in respect of all outstanding loans and grants payable to the Singapore Government’. Both parties (EDB and UNSW) however declined to comment since they ‘are bound by the terms of agreement which are confidential’.

This makes the issue that I put forward earlier even more pressing. How do we deal with the private ventures of public institutions? Shouldn’t a public university be held publicly accountable for its risky private operations overseas? Clearly, transparency and public accountability are not high on the priority list in the aftermath of the UNSW Asia debacle…

An OZ Higher Education Revolution?

Posted by Eric on December 1st, 2007

Even though I am currently in Europe – the Netherlands and Portugal to be exact – I have been following the developments Down Under closely. The victory of Kevin Rudd and his Labor Party cannot exactly be called a surprise, with Labor having led the polls ever since Rudd became leader of the opposition. But what is the meaning of this new leadership for Australian higher education? Will Rudd’s election really bring about the ‘Education Revolution’ that he promised?

First of all, I’m happy that there is a change! After more than 11 years of Howard’s policies, it felt like any change was welcome. But what change is Rudd’s education revolution going to bring? Until a week before the election, Labor’s education revolution has remained full of empty rhetoric. It took until the 14th of November to unveil the plans for the revolution, but I had serious doubt whether these plans could be termed a ‘revolution’. No far reaching changes were proposed for the education revolution, at east not for higher education. The ‘revolution’ basically  was limited to some fellowships and an expansion of the scholarship programme.

One other issue in the Labor agenda was the abolishment of full-fee undergraduate places at public universities. Although this might fall nicely in the Labor tradition, it remains to be seen what it’s effects will be. Andrew Norton and others point to a few issues that need to be raised in this respect.  First of all, the compensation universities will get for this will not cover the loss of income. A possible result of this would be that the universities are even more exposed to pressures to recruit international students and become even more dependent on this market. Not something the Australian universities need at this point in time. And in addition it might even lead to further skill shortages if the self funded places are not replaced by government funded places. Or as Norton puts it:

if Labor in power did not swap those full-fee places with funded places, skills shortages could worsen and universities left with spare capacity would try to recruit foreign students. These would be strange outcomes for a Labor policy advanced on equity grounds.


Earth From Above

Posted by Eric on September 30th, 2007

While walking through Darling Harbour yesterday – visiting the Fiesta Festival – I had a look at the Earth From Above exhibition by Yann Arthus-Bertrand. Some of you might have already seen it since the exhibition has been traveling around the world the past years. I thought it was pretty amazing…

Below are a few of my favorites. Click on the pictures to see the larger versions and the stories that go with them, or go here to see them all.

Worker resting on bales of cotton, Thonakaha, Korhogo, Ivory Coast:

Ivory Coast


De-mystify Public Policy for Higher Education

Posted by Eric on July 25th, 2007

Yesterday evening I attended the first seminar in the new Higher Education Colloquium Series organised by the Faculty of Education and Social Work of the University of Sydney. The first presentation – ‘trying to de-mystify public policy for higher education’ was given by Geoff Gallop, director of the Graduate School of Government at the University of Sydney and former Premier of Western Australia.

He made several interesting observations and recommendations. Todays higher education section of The Australian emphasised his plea for further deregulation of the sector. Although the Australian system is very market driven, there is still a lot of micro-management coming from the federal government. He argues that the argument for significant deregulation is gathering momentum on the basis of a general case for more flexibility and more diversity overall. I hope the current Minister of Education takes his advise on board. Flexibility and diversity are very apparent in the vocabulary of the policy makers, but I am not sure whether deregulation is…

Another important point he made was (paradoxically?) a greater involvement of the state governments.


Graduates and the Australian Labour Market

Posted by Eric on July 11th, 2007

Meanwhile, in Australia a discussion is going on about the supply and demand of graduates. Are there enough university graduates or too few, or maybe even too many? And if there is a gap between supply and demand, how can this gap be filled by changing the supply? Or is there simply no such thing as an oversupply of high quality graduates in the knowledge economy?

Bob Birrell, Daniel Edwards and Ian Dobson from Monash University published a paper emphasizing the widening gap between demand for and supply of university graduates. (more…)

UNSW Asia: the conjuncture of events

Posted by Eric on July 4th, 2007

(update below) Fred Hilmer, Vice-Chancellor of the University of New South Wales, looks back on the UNSW Asia debacle. One of the question that I asked in my post immediately after UNSW’s announcement was about the real reason for UNSW’s sudden departure. Much news has been reported since, but none of the explanations can fully explain it. Hilmer points to the low enrollment numbers as the reason and the fact that the Singapore Economic Development Board wasn’t willing to accept their rescue plan.Today it was also reported that high fees led to the fall of the Singapore Campus. This has been said by many others but it can’t be a sufficient reason. Other senior academics at UNSW Asia blamed a lack of marketing for its demise. Sure, this might be part of the explanation as well. Simon Marginson of the University of Melbourne University explained that the business plan was plain bad and based on too rosy a set of enrollment projections.

I think we have to conclude that there is not one single reason for UNSW’s pull-out. It is more a concurrence of circumstances that led to a major fiasco. But why hasn’t this been foreseen by a big professional organisation like UNSW? (more…)

‘Competitive’ salaries in academia

Posted by Eric on July 4th, 2007

In both the Netherlands and Australia the salaries of the top university leaders lead to controversy. The Australian reports that all but one of the leaders of Australia’s Group of 8 Universities earn more than 600,000 Australian Dollars (378,000 Euros). Top earner was John Hay of the University of Queensland with 655,000 Euros. But the Australian found even higher figures for La Trobe University where someone (probably the former VC) received over 930,000 Euros!

In the Netherlands, the salaries and bonuses in the public sector are a hot issue as well. Many claim that the Prime Minister’s salary should be the norm for others in the public sector. In the Netherlands that is a mere 171,000 Euros (John Howard’s salary was recently increased to 208,000 Euros). But most university leaders in the Netherlands make significantly more than that.

The new Dutch Minister for Education this week showed his discontent about the managerialism in education and the accompanying rise in salaries. He observes that most of them enjoyed enormous salary increases when they came into their current positions. And I am sure he is right about that (although that is not the case for all of them). One of the most visible cases has been the one in my own Alma Mater. Their top level managers were given a 31% salary increase, which sparked a reaction of the Minister claiming that this was ‘unbelievable’. This increase brought the salary of the Chairman of the Executive Board (more or less the CEO of the University) to 171,000 Euros. In comparison, the lowest earning VC in Australia, David Battersby of the University of Balarat (poor guy), earned over 200,000 Euros!

So how do the Dutch university CEOs compare with the Australian Vice-Chancellors? Basically, compared to Australia, the Dutch salaries are still very modest. Here is the list of the top 6 for both countries: (more…)

Group of 8: Seizing the Opportunities

Posted by Eric on June 6th, 2007

The Group of 8, the group of Australia’s leading universities (or self proclaimed Ivy League) has today shared its vision on the future of Australian higher education, or better, what needs to be done to keep it dynamic and competitive. According to the Go8, the current system was designed for a past era and does no longer provide the right framework for universities to perform in a global knowledge economy (something that National University of Singapore president Shih Choon Fong seems to agree with).

The current Australian higher education and research system is under-resourced and over-regulated (hear hear!). But it is also under-planned and insufficiently diversified for the needs of contemporary Australia. The Go8 provides eight proposals that should increase the flexibility that the universities need to remain competitive and that will serve the Australian community: (more…)

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