Professor Warren Bebbington

Welcome to my blog: I look forward to hearing from you and reading your comments about our University. I hope this becomes a great melting pot for intellectual ideas, views and debate and I welcome all of your contributions.

You might be interested in my thoughts on the Times Higher Education site following the release of the Review of the Demand Driven Funding System Report earlier this week.  It seems for some vice-chancellors, “demand driven” means only that government should demand everyone is driven into the present public universities.

I’d be keen to hear what you think about the report and its implications for the university sector in Australia.

–wb

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Transformational sector-wide change would occur if all of the recommendations announced in the Review of the Demand Driven Funding System Report on the weekend were adopted.  

Certainly, students would have far more choice and much better information to help them choose.

And Australian higher education would greatly strengthen its embrace of flexibility, innovation, efficiency and teaching quality.

This report recommends abandoning the targets for 40 per cent bachelor degree or higher attainment for 25–34 year olds by 2025 and for a 20 per cent low socio-economic status student enrolment share by 2020.

I would agree that dropping the arbitrary participation targets of the demand-driven system makes great sense.  The highly responsive market created as a result of the reforms would achieve the participation levels we all want but without unnecessary government regulation.

I am also pleased it has recognised the high dropout rates of students with ATARs below 50.  The report suggests universities should grant admission to under-prepared students only to the extent that they can support them appropriately throughout their studies.

Similarly, I’m encouraged that the report’s authors, David Kemp and Andrew Norton, have recognised the key to success at university is academic preparation before students enter, and that pathway programs therefore need much more attention.

There is absolutely no benefit in setting up poorly-prepared students to fail academically.

But there are very serious financial challenges ahead if this is to be paid for in its entirety.  Under these report recomendations, the government would pay universities less per student and thus students would have to pay more and it would also need to collect the growing HECS/HELP debt more effectively.

These are important findings that we should all take time to absorb and analyse.

–wb

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Today I opened the 11th Quality in Postgraduate Research Conference, hosted by the three SA universities and held at our National Wine Centre. It was attended by 350 postgraduate supervisors and doctoral candidates from across Australia and overseas.

I talked about how I chose to do my own PhD in the US, where doctoral programs are famous for offering a year-long, broad foundation of training in research methods and discipline knowledge before research commences.

This includes a variety of doctoral seminars to choose from and for the research component, a supervisory panel with three senior professors rather than the narrow European model of single supervisor and a solitary experience on which so many Australian programs are based.

While the US doctoral programs have their merits, they have problems too, which are no less evident today than when I was a doctoral student 40 years ago.

Derek Bok in Higher Education in America (2013) reports that more than 30% of PhD students in the US take over seven years to complete (over 40% in the humanities), and 55% drop out (or have not completed in 10 years). Worse, 36% of PhD graduates say they feel ill-prepared for teaching—which is what many end up doing if they use their PhD at all. Sadly, graduate schools in the US have programs which are often the most poorly administered in their universities.

Problems with completions, dropouts and program designs out of line with career application are not unknown in Australia either. And probably fewer than 25% of PhD graduates will find a career in academic life, the traditional destination of a PhD. This is especially so in the humanities and social sciences where the prospects of work in one’s specialisation are particularly poor. The problem is acute: one wonders if such students would be better taking a professional doctorate with a teaching emphasis. Fresh thought about the design of PhD programs is overdue.

Yet oddly, despite the problems, demand for PhD enrolment continues to increase, even as career prospects fall. It’s a market that does not react to demand changes: and the quality of the applicants doesn’t drop either.

Certainly almost all PhDs end up employed, though few in the career they had in mind at the outset. More realistic career advice at the point of candidate selection is one of the changes we need in our graduate programs.

Thus here is my list of things I would hope a conference like this would focus on:

• better approaches to selection and initial career advice

• more incentives towards timely completion and retention, especially in graduate schools with the single-supervisor model

• new ways of integrating PhD students into the department’s life to combat the solitariness of their lot, and

• fresh thought about the design and career-relevance of doctoral programs

–wb

 

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  A wonderful evening at the annual Adelaide Donor Circle dinner held at the National Wine Centre. Thank you to our donors for your generosity and vision and for sharing our commitment to education and discovery at the University of Adelaide. –wb  

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Grattan Institute Higher Education Program Director Andrew Norton’s latest report Doubtful Debt: The Rising Cost of Student Loans offers Minister Pyne a realistic and achievable solution to university funding problems. He should take this report very seriously. The report notes that lending to university students on the scale happening now under the “demand-driven system” was [...]

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A sumptuous new book has been launched to celebrate 175 years of the Royal Agricultural & Horticultural Society of South Australia, Sharing the Good Earth by Rob Linn. The University features prominently in its amply-illustrated pages, for until 1925 the original showground was originally on our North Terrace campus (below where The Braggs is today), [...]

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Congratulations to University of Adelaide PhD student, Kristin Carson, who was announced as 2014 Premier’s/Channel Nine Young Achiever of the Year on the weekend. She also won the University of Adelaide Faculty of Sciences, Science and Technology award. –wb

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Some interesting press coverage on MIT Chancellor for Academic Advancement, Professor Eric Grimson’s visit to the University of Adelaide last week: The Australian – Digital delivers on assessments: MIT , Theatre lost with lecture theatres and MOOC ‘tension” hits US Australian Financial Review – Wide revamp will alter approach of ivory towers Interview with Radio [...]

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This week I was pleased to address a leadership dinner of DSTO, with whom the University has a close partnership, involving research collaborations and shared resources. I spoke about the way technology and its universally free access has ended the international monopoly universities had once enjoyed on advanced knowledge, and how we must know focus [...]

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The University’s new host program Experience Adelaide, helps to enrich the local experience for our international students, as well as increasing participation of our alumni community in campus life. This program is also close to my heart having benefited directly from the kindness of a family in the United States many years ago when I [...]

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