Photo credit: Universities Australia

Photo credit: Universities Australia

At the Australian Financial Review Higher Education Summit in Melbourne yesterday, I took part in the lead panel, “Choice, Outcomes and Sustainability: a Report Card on the Higher Education System.” Grattan Institute higher education program director Andrew Norton, chairing the panel, described the Demand Driven System as “an experiment, perhaps the most ambitious equity policy agenda in the history of Australian higher education”, and asked if the panel thought it was working.

Unlike another speaker, who gave the DDS brilliant marks, I described its outcomes as only very muted. When increased graduate numbers from skilled immigration are removed, the lift in overall participation in higher education has been well short of the 40% target. But most important, the aim of lifting participation by disadvantaged groups to 20% of university enrolment is nowhere near achieved: over the five years of the DDS (since 2012) participation by the low SES cohort has lifted less than 1%. The System had led to an explosive expansion of higher education costs to the Commonwealth, for fairly limited gain: in my view, far more could have been done for disadvantaged groups and far more efficiently in other ways.

Simply leaving the campus gate open to unlimited enrolments was never going to be enough to drive in the disadvantaged. We need to sow the seeds of aspiration for university study in primary and secondary schools, and then support preparation of those with the ability to succeed.

I told my own story, as son of a farmer who left school at 14 and had no ambitions that any of his children would go to university. It was being tested in year 10 and awarded one of the old Commonwealth Secondary Scholarships that first gave me the glimmer of an idea that perhaps I should stay at school until year 12 and think about university. In my view, programs in schools, such as scholarships or the HEPPP schemes, are a better and lower-cost way of stimulating increased participation in university study by disadvantaged groups.

Asked if I had a 10% increase in funding, what would I do with it, I first noted that, hopefully, such an increase would come with reformed cluster funding formulae, that would sort out the illogicality of the present arrangements, where business and law students pay too much and fund the education of medicine, dentistry and vet science students, who pay too little. But that aside, I would put the 10% back into research operations, which have been progressively starved by the $6 billion in cuts by governments over the last five years.


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The University continues to make progress towards addressing its rather lacklustre record in gender equity amongst staff. The Dornwell Framework, the University’s first gender equity strategy, was launched in 2015 and recently updated to align with the current Operational Plan. This set a (rather modest) goal for 30% of senior staff roles to be held by women (it had been 23% in 2011) and I was delighted that, following the completion of the present promotions round, we have at last met this target. But given the sector average is 42% of women in senior roles, we have a long way to go: a more ambitious target will now be set for 2017 and beyond.

This follows numerous gender equity initiatives in recent years. The Adelaide Women Leadership Development Program, which commenced in 2013, provides targeted development activities for women aspiring to progress into more senior leadership roles. Similarly the Barbara Kidman Women’s Fellowship Scheme, launched in 2012 and with 20 awardees to date, supports female academics to enhance and promote their career, particularly where research momentum has been interrupted by caring responsibilities. The new Dependant Travel Awards now assist staff members with caring responsibilities to travel to give papers at conferences, and 16 staff across two rounds have been supported so far.

I am strongly committed to maintaining a focus on gender equity. I was invited to join the South Australian Chiefs for Gender Equity, to learn from and to benchmark against other South Australian Industry leaders. In addition, at the University I established the Male Champions of Change (MCC) which works closely with the Gender Equity and Diversity committee and the Senior Gender Equity Advisor to address issues and barriers identified through Dornwell. Some recent considerations which will soon be rolled out include priority parking for pregnant women, unconscious bias training for managers and a Fair Treatment Contact Officer network to provide confidential contacts for staff around discrimination and harassment.

Gender equity will help this University flourish and I am confident that we will continue to build on our significant progress thus far.


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It was a pleasure to attend the annual Hughes Bequest Society luncheon at Ayers House. This event is the annual opportunity to thank our bequestors for their support and to celebrate the many gifts and bequests that have been made to the University.

Guest speaker Tom Merrett, a recent graduate who was supported by a scholarship in Chemical Engineering throughout his studies, shared his inspirational story. Tom wrote his honours thesis on the synthesis of novel nanomaterials for applications in energy storage and is currently the Director of Operations and Marketing at Good Super ─ Australia’s first social impact superannuation fund.

Student scholarship recipients Kylie Do and James Hughes spoke about how the support provided by their scholarships has made a marked difference to their lives. James is currently in his third year of a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (Mechanical and Aerospace), and is the recipient of the Andy Thomas Scholarship and Kylie is a recent recipient of the Augustus Short Scholarship and in her first year of a double degree, Bachelor of Teaching and Bachelor of Science.

Guests were treated to a performance from two rising stars of the Elder Conservatorium of Music: Jennifer Bird who is currently undertaking her Master of Philosophy and Charles Klein who is studying for a Masters of Oboe Performance.


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I was honoured to be invited to speak at the Times Higher Education World Academic Summit at the University of California–Berkeley overnight, where I joined the Presidents of Arizona State Michael Crow and of Tufts University Anthony Monaco to speculate on where university teaching is going in the 21st century. I expressed the view that […]

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I attended the Royal Adelaide Show this morning to see first-hand some of our agricultural, animal science and Vet staff and students at work. I am delighted to see how vibrant and active the agricultural industries still are at the Adelaide Show. In so many cities where the shows began as an agricultural and horticultural […]

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I welcomed a special guest to campus on Open Day. Jye Woods is trying to set a world record for his lanyard collections, so I was happy to add to that collection when he visited our campus. Jye has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and as a father of a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome and […]

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It was great to join a big team of University staff on the Walk a Mile in My Boots walk on August 5th. It’s a fantastic event and I was delighted to see about 70 members of the University community braving the cold weather with me. Together, we raised just over $1000, which will go […]

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We have signed an MOU with the Australian student accommodation provider, Urbanest, to deliver a new 689 bed student accommodation tower on North Terrace, directly across from our campus. Construction has now begun, and we expect it to be occupied from 2018. The State Government has been pressing for universities to provide more accommodation for […]

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A world of higher learning and opportunities can be found on university campuses; but disadvantaged students often must see it to desire it. When I was 11 years old, I went with a church boys’ club to visit Melbourne University. We raced around the campus, past imposing scientific laboratories and through the historic cloisters. We […]

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After 18 months of heated debate, bold reform of Australia’s higher education funding was deferred until at least 2018 in the nation’s federal budget last week while public consultation takes place. Thus, the pace of policy reform has come near full circle for the Liberal coalition government, elected in 2013 proclaiming there would be no […]

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