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Thursday, 20 November 2014

Life as an irregular student: The pitfalls of deregulated universities

Life as an irregular student: The pitfalls of deregulated universities


Education Minister Christopher Maurice Pyne (AKA Liar Liar Pants-On-Fire)

Deregulating university fees will penalise students with
learning disorders, increase inequality and send Australia backwards as a
nation, writes Tim Lubcke.

On the way to work this morning, as I write this, I heard Christopher Pyne again defending the deregulation of university fees
on ABC local radio. I had to switch stations. It seems to me that those
in favour of it have lived a fairly benign existence and are honestly
unable to see how much they risk undermining further Australian

I know what it’s like to come at education with an irregular brain.

I was perhaps six or seven when a teacher slid the piece of paper in front of me. It was the first test of my schooling life.

When he told us to turn over the page and begin, what would dominate
the next 15 years of my life came crashing home. The page was
unintelligible. I just didn’t get what was being asked of me. It was
like being handed a foreign language with everyone around you expecting
you to understand it.

I panicked and after some time, broke down. More than two-and-a-half decades later, I still vividly remember that moment.

Dictation was by far the most difficult task I experienced over those
early years, however it wasn’t isolated to one subject. Year after year
teachers lamented to my parents about my “stubbornness” in class and
refusal to learn. One teacher said it looked as though I wrote with my

If it wasn’t for the sanctuary of the private world of my bedroom, I
would have believed that I was stupid, as I was being told in school. At
least in that one place – and the support of my parents with text books
and equipment – I could learn about the natural world, and play with
electronics and basic mechanics.

From that, I knew that I was able, but needed to learn by myself.

By the time I looked towards tertiary education, in my early 20’s, an astute teacher recognised the traits of dyslexia.
She insisted that I was tested, which confirmed as much. While some
suggestions came of it ‒ such as using computers rather than hand
writing ‒ the central point was that I had learnt how to learn for

Successfully landing a place in a degree in environmental science, I
was not a great student. In the first couple of years, I passed with the
occasional credit. Yet when I was given autonomy in my final year of
the courses, that’s when I began to prove my value.

Dyslexia is nothing more than a story of a square peg and around
hole. When I was able to define my working style, I could flourish.

Since the completion of my degree, I’ve gone on to demonstrate my value.

Although I completed a degree focused on ecology, I quickly moved
towards data management, and technical project development and
maintenance. I’ve designed a number of automated data validation and
analysis packages, project databases, websites, remote research
facilities and portable chemistry devices.

Again, it has been in those roles where I have been granted autonomy that I’ve added the most value in environmental research.

The discussions regarding the deregulation of university fees,
however, I recognised would have stopped me entirely from pursuing this

Schooling has been hard and completely unenjoyable from start to
finish in my case. I went on because I saw the value to my career. That
value would be lost if I had acquired debt that I would live with for
decades; seven years on, I have just under half of my HECS debt
remaining as it is.

I’ve also heard talk in interviews from senior figures of various
universities suggesting that deregulated university fees would allow
them to provide a range of scholarships to students from humble
backgrounds. That sounds nice, but I know that an unremarkable dyslexic
student such as I was would be extremely unlikely to receive this
particular boost.

I come from a working class family, where I am the only one to have
even completed secondary education. I am very conscious of debt and how
debilitating it can be.

I can confidently say that I would not be where I am today if Howard
deregulated university at the turn of the century prior to my
application to my course.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the failing green sector
— something that has led me to contemplate my career path and indeed
the possibility of completing another degree to move into a more secure
career. Yet, I am unwilling to start something that might grow in
exponential cost as I go further along the course. Uncertainty has left
me in limbo.

Deregulation of university fees strips the Aussie fair go from
education and I feel for my children, who would be stuck with very
difficult choices as young adults.

The value of a candidate is impossible to define on purely academic
measures, as I hope my career thus far illustrates. Moreover, with the
recent passing of Gough Whitlam, we are reminded just how much it
changed the lives of Australian’s (especially women) in opening the doors to universities in the 1970’s through free education.

Debt is debt and the most responsible students will be wary to take
on too much of it. We risk generations of hardworking, diligent students
avoiding such debt and in turn, growing skills shortage which
inevitably will take us backwards as a nation.

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Saturday, 8 November 2014

Barry Spurr Is Not The Only Problem With Pyne's Curriculum Review |

Barry Spurr Is Not The Only Problem With Pyne's Curriculum Review |

Barry Spurr Is Not The Only Problem With Pyne's Curriculum Review

By Angelo Gavrielatos

wars in education serve a greater purpose for conservatives by helping
to distract from the real issue facing our schools. The Minister wants
us to forget about Gonski, writes Angelo Gavrielatos*.

220,000 young Australians complete their Year 12 exams, the correlation
between their results and the resource standard of the school they
attended should be a cause of national concern.

That is a truth that makes some, including our current Federal
Government, uncomfortable and one which makes them want to change the
subject from school funding reform to almost anything else, including
the review of the Australian Curriculum announced earlier this year.

They need to change the subject because it is hard to ignore the
findings of the Gonski Review, which diagnosed inequality as the problem
in our schools and more funding – targeted and accountable funding – as
the solution.

Differences in ability and motivation will inevitably exist between
children, but differences in results that flow from disadvantage are

It is within our power to deliver a more equitable funding system
that supports the needs of all children and gives them a chance to reach
their potential.

If the Government had intended to fully implement the Gonski reforms there would have been no curriculum review.

Setting up a review of a curriculum that is yet to be fully
implemented was always going to be a distraction, even before the
revelations of the shocking racist emails of one of the subject reviewers, Professor Barry Spurr, had been exposed.

The Review is based on the extraordinary suggestion that poor
performance in our schools can be blamed on a so called sub-standard,
politically-biased curriculum being forced onto students by a shadowy
clique of leftist academics and educators.

No mention of the fact that 100,000 students with disability do not
get the support they need in schools, of our class sizes and workloads
(higher than the OECD average), or the fact that 40 per cent of
secondary school maths classes are taught by unqualified teachers.

These are all hard problems that can’t be solved by slogans, rhetoric or stunts.

The Gonski Review set us on the path towards a fairer system, which
would see all schools reach a minimum resource standard and give their
students a better chance of reaching their full potential.

But the Abbott Government has chosen to walk away from these issues,
abandon the Gonski agreements with the states and territories and begin
an insidious dismantling of the architecture behind the Gonski reforms.

If it is allowed to get away with it, we could return to a funding
system which exacerbates the resource gaps between schools and the
achievement gaps between students.

We know that the Abbott Government does not support the Gonski
needs-based funding reforms. Earlier this year it abandoned the six-year
Gonski agreements with the states and territories, committing only to
the first four years of increased funding.

Because two-thirds of the extra funding was to be delivered in the
last two years of the agreements, that effectively ended the attempt to
lift all schools to a minimum resource standard.

It was like stopping a three-storey building after erecting just the
first level, but what’s worse is the way the Abbott Government is now
attempting to undermine the building’s foundations.

Then PM Julia Gillard Announces the Gonski Reforms in 2013
Then PM Julia Gillard Announces the Gonski Reforms in 2013
Gonski is not just about putting more resources into schools, although that is an important part of it.

It is about rethinking how we fund schools, by moving to a system
that is needs-based and sector-blind and making sure state governments
and private school authorities are made fully accountable for where the
money goes.

It recognises that we can get the best results by targeting funding to the schools where it is most needed.

The principal of any public school that has received extra Gonski
funding this year will be able to tell you how it has made a difference,
whether through more literacy programs, speech pathologists or other
support for staff.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne is on the record as saying he and
Tony Abbott feel a “particular responsibility” for private schools that
they don’t have for public schools. Where does that leave the majority
of Australian children who attend public schools?

In opposition the Abbott Government promised to increase the
‘disability loading’ which is paid to schools that educate students with
a disability from 2015. This promise was abandoned on Budget Night,
leaving over 100,000 students with disability without any funding at

Minister Pyne is also conducting a review of the low-SES funding
loading – a Gonski measure – which sees schools which educate high
numbers of students from low-income families given extra funding to
recognise the extra challenges they face.

The problem is the review is invitation-only and conducted in secret,
with the majority of organisations invited representing private
schools, which educate a disproportionately low number of students from
low-income families. There is no doubt this review will be used to
water-down the loading and divert money from needy schools.

The Abbott Government has also passed changes to the Australian
Education Act through the House of Representative which, if passed by
the Senate, will quietly delay the requirements of state governments and
private school authorities to report on how they are spending Gonski
funding and the mandatory “school improvement plans” which were part of
the Gonski agreements.

There will be no way of tracking the allocation, let alone whether
the money is being used for the implementation of programs for the
students for whom it was intended. This is setting up the Gonski reforms
to fail.

Opponents of Gonski push the line that giving schools more funding
doesn’t make a difference, and that Australian test scores have dropped
in the last decade.

They fail to point out the decline in Australian students test scores
took place from 2003-2012, a time when schools-funding was based on the
flawed Howard Government formula, delivering some of the biggest
increases in funding to the wealthiest private schools.

To use that to conclude that accountable, needs-based, targeted
funding will not assist in lifting overall student performance and close
student achievement gaps is ridiculous.

Meanwhile, every year that we delay needs-based funding, another
cohort of disadvantaged students misses out, and gaps in achievement

The two to three year achievement gap between advantaged and
disadvantaged students is unacceptable as is the difference in retention
rates of students from low-income families who have only a 60 per cent
chance of finishing Secondary School, compared to 85 per cent for those
from wealthier families.

What’s worse is that recent research has shown that gaps in
achievement between advantaged and disadvantaged schools have grown in
just the last three years, while the Gonski reforms were being designed.

A better, more equitable school system is achievable, but it can only
happen if we have governments which are willing to embrace the idea of
needs-based funding and increase resources to close the gaps in
achievement and opportunity between advantaged and disadvantaged

* Angelo Gavrielatos is the Federal President of the Australian Education Union


Monday, 20 October 2014

Bigoted Barry Spurr: Christopher Pyne's racist reviewer

Bigoted Barry Spurr: Christopher Pyne's racist reviewer

Flier for rally held at Sydney University on Friday (Image via Tumblr / jezababes)

One of the Abbott Government’s handpicked curriculum
reviewers has been shown to be a disgusting bigot, however proud member
of the Kamilaroi people, Natalie Cromb, says the problem is much bigger than Barry Spurr.

An academic so apparently linguistically endowed he was appointed as the English curriculum reviewer by the Federal Government, used words such as ‘abo’, ‘mussies’, ‘chinky-poos’, ‘fatsoes’ and ‘bogans’ over at least a two year period, in emails disseminated internally and externally in his capacity as Sydney University professor of poetry and poetics.

This Sydney University professor is none other than Barry Spurr
— an advocate for the removal of Indigenous literature from the
curriculum in the interests of promoting the Judeo-Christian literature
because, after all, that is our “culture”.

This ‘man’ ‒ if I can use that word without insulting all of the fair
minded men that may read this ‒ referred to Tony Abbott as an ‘abo
lover’, considered the royal visit to Uluru was inappropriate and
derides Indigenous neighbours as ‘rubbish’. When exposed, however, he
claimed the comments were taken out of context  and were merely a tongue
in cheek stab at extremist language.

Whilst Mr Spurr has demonstrated a very clear disdain of those who do
not possess the same complexion and outlook on race as he does, I query
how someone who has risen to the position of professor at Sydney
University and Federal curriculum reviewer could seriously be so
arrogant and daft as to attempt to play that weak card.

Indeed, a subsequent more detailed publication of Spurr’s repugnant emails indicates that his defence was nothing more than a blatant self-serving fabrication.

Sydney University has, quite rightly, suspended Mr Spurr while an investigation is undertaken.

Obviously, there is an internal procedure that needs to be followed,
however, the only reasonable outcome is that he ought to be removed from
his position. He does not deserve the position of educating others if
he holds such insular and disgusting views.

But what of the Federal Government?

This hand-picked member of Christopher Pyne’s education review was implicitly supported by the education minister — who refuses to reconsider
Spurr's review of the English curriculum and, indeed, explicitly
supports his reviewer's stance on the supremacy of Australia’s
Judeo-Christian heritage.

Christopher Pyne, appearing on ABC Lateline a week ago, said:

“Before 1788, our history was Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander culture and history almost exclusively. Since that time,
obviously since colonisation, Western civilisation, our Judeo-Christian
heritage has been the basis of our development as a nation.”

And Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister of Australia, has also said this year:

The First Fleet was the defining moment in the history of this continent.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has, however, rightly indicated that this is a very serious concern and one that needs to be addressed.

Shorten said the government needs to:

“… reassure Australians that the views of the reviewer and the
disgusting remarks have in no way infiltrated the curriculum which is
taught to all our young Australians.’’

That reassurance is likely never to be made given the Government is
whitewashing the curriculum and focussing solely on the Indigenous
culture as a fixture in history rather than a living, breathing,
developing cultural reality.

In short, it is clear that the Government supports the underlying bigotry and white supremacist views of Barry Spurr.

The evidence continues to mount that this is a government that seeks to divide, not unite.

It seeks to repudiate history by rewriting and sanitising the
atrocities committed against the Indigenous people in order to maintain
their covert policy of assimilation and covert racism.

Barry Spurr is a symptom of this nation’s problem; its disease; its virulent case of prejudice.

We have a culture among a large portion of the majority ‒ that is, white Australians ‒ that accept a certain level of prejudice.

This attitude is supported in everyday conversations where you may hear varying examples of the same recurring themes:

  • I don’t have a problem with migrants, provided they come the right way…
  • Aboriginal people need to get over the past and get on with things…..
  • I don’t have a problem with racism, I just don’t like Muslims, that’s different….
  • Don’t be so politically correct, it’s all in good fun [usually said after racist remark]…
  • I’m not racism my [insert friend, colleague etc] is [insert race reference]…
At no point is racism or religious bigotry funny.

At no point is it “good fun”.

At no point is it acceptable to denigrate a group of people based on
the views you hold — even if there are a group of equally herd-minded
people ready to follow along with you on the path to intellectual

This issue is pervasive.

It is in schools among teachers and students, it is in the workplace, it is in the media and it is in the community.

Racism and religious bigotry is rife and the division in society is being actively contributed to by the Abbott Government.

The Government is asking you to be vigilant (read: fearful) of
terrorism, whilst instructing the media to release images of citizens
that prescribe to the Islamic faith; it is asking us to get on board
with “Team Australia” — meaning assimilate to the Judeo-Christian

Barry Spurr’s attempt to deflect from the atrocious views he has put into words speaks to his complete lack of remorse.

He said initially that it was a play on words. He later accuses the journalists at New Matilda of having hacked into his email and makes all sorts of assertions
about his legal team investigating the alleged hacking — however he has
not once come out and said that what he wrote was wrong.

He has not given voice to the concept that to condemn a group of people on the basis of race or religion is reprehensible.

Barry Spurr is not sorry for the remarks he has made, nor the offence
caused, he is outraged that he got caught and was the alleged victim of
an invasion of privacy (as he puts it).

Whilst Barry Spurr clearly deserves our disgust, we must remember that he is the symptom, not the disease.

This problem is larger than Barry Spurr, it is larger than Sydney University and it is larger than some disgusting emails.

Racism and bigotry like Spurr’s is a cancer eating at the core of
Australian society, tearing us apart from within — and will only get
worse while our Government tries to whitewash our history and heritage.

You can follow Natalie on Twitter @NatalieCromb.

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Friday, 17 October 2014

Editorial: What We Really Learn From The Racist Rants Of Professor Barry Spurr |

Editorial: What We Really Learn From The Racist Rants Of Professor Barry Spurr |

Editorial: What We Really Learn From The Racist Rants Of Professor Barry Spurr

By New Matilda

Spurr’s views are more than a disturbing case of antiquated thinking in
the ivory tower - it's time to tackle the tough questions on elite
racism and public policy.

Yesterday, New Matilda published extracts from a series of emails sent by University of Sydney Professor Barry Spurr.

Spurr’s career may be devoted to the study of language but the words
he reserves for women and people of colour, to put it lightly, are
lacking in poetry.

He refers to Aboriginal people as “rubbish”, and calls them by the
derogatory term “Abos”, elsewhere referring to “chinky-poos”, “mussies”
and “darkies”.

He makes light of a woman who has been seriously sexually assaulted
and suggests she needs more than just ‘penis’ in her mouth, before it’s
sewn shut.

His language and derision of women and people of colour is shocking and difficult to read.

Professor Spurr says his words were intended to mock the extremity of
his language. Readers can make their own judgments about whether it was
intended as humour, and if he achieved his goal.

But there’s one line in his writing, seemingly innocuous, that is
crucially important to understanding why Professor Spurr’s views are
more than a disturbing case of antiquated thinking in the ivory tower.

Spurr writes that Education Minister Christopher Pyne asked him to
examine the Californian high school English curriculum as part of his
contribution to the government’s recently released curriculum review.

“…whereas the local curriculum has the phrase ‘Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander’ on virtually every one of its 300 pages, the
Californian curriculum does not ONCE mention native Americans and has
only a very slight representation of African-American literature (which,
unlike Abo literature, actually exists and has some distinguished

That’s right – the man charged with reviewing the national English
curriculum doesn’t think Aboriginal literature exists in any meaningful,
valuable way.

That is a claim so far beyond the realms of the absurd it barely
warrants a response. The fact an esteemed poetry lecturer could write
such rubbish is itself an indictment of the failure of Australia’s
education system at all levels to reflect and incorporate the
contributions of First Nations peoples.

Professor Spurr may not know of any significant Aboriginal writers
but New Matilda’s senior journalist Amy McQuire sure as hell does. She
considers their contributions here.

It’s worth comparing Spurr’s statements in private correspondence to
what he wrote as a special consultant to Pyne’s education review.

“The impact of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on
literature in English in Australia has been minimal and is vastly
outweighed by the impact of global literature in English, and especially
that from Britain, on our literary culture.”

“Minimal”. But not non-existent.

It’s a tiny tweak, from his private exclamations to his public testimony, but a vital one.

It reveals just how little you have to lie to make your racism
publicly acceptable, and to write it in to a major government review.

Choose your words carefully, hold back ever so slightly, and you’ll get away with it.

Take out your overtly racist language; draft your racist recommendations and implement your racist ideology with subtlety.

When video of a bigot berating bystanders and transit officials goes
viral – as it did earlier this week – Australians pay attention.

We share the images, express our disdain, and pat ourselves on the
back for condemning an act of visible and immediate discrimination.

Yet when a white academic carefully covers his racism in a bid to
strip Black literature from the curriculum, we don’t even notice.

That’s what makes elite racism more dangerous than any one man or woman yelling at a railway cop or someone in the street.

Racists in parliaments, in bureaucracies, in media outlets and
respected cultural institutions are smart enough not to yell down a
blackfella or a woman in a veil on a train.

They don’t need to. They can dog whistle, wink, and draft carefully worded reports.

Looking over Spurr’s letters may leave a very sour taste in mouths of
readers. But it also leaves Christopher Pyne, and for that matter
University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence, with some
uncomfortable questions to answer.

The most difficult to honestly confront, however, is this one: how
many other powerful white men are secretly writing letters like those of
Professor Barry Spurr?


Saturday, 11 October 2014

Rewriting history. - The AIM Network

Rewriting history. - The AIM Network

Rewriting history.

Breaking news:  In an exclusive report in the Daily Telegraph, the
Coalition review into education is complete and Christopher was right.
We need to go back to basics, use phonics, and rewrite history.

“History should be revised in order to properly recognise the impact and significance of Australia’s Judaeo-Christian heritage.”

Firstly, how did the Telegraph get hold of a report that has not yet
been released? Could it be because the men who produced it both publish
articles in Murdoch papers?  Always wise to keep in the good books
should the consultancy work dry up.

Secondly, how did two men finish a report into the National
Curriculum in a few months when it took the experts years and tens of
thousands of submissions?

Thirdly, how much did it cost to get them to write up what Christopher Pyne said would be the result before the review started?

And finally, do these guys actually understand what Judeo-Christian means?

In January, Christopher Pyne promised “balance” and “objectivity”
when he launched a two-man review of the Australian national curriculum.
He appointed business academic Ken Wiltshire and education consultant
Kevin Donnelly as reviewers.

Immediately after the announcement, a startling element of
religiosity entered the discussion. Donnelly, who runs a one man
Education Standards Institute committed to “Christian beliefs and
values” which is owned by the K Donnelly Family Trust, announced in an
ABC TV interview that government schools needed more emphasis on
religion and more recognition of Australia’s “Judeo-Christian tradition”

He was chief of staff for Kevin Andrews when he was shadow education
minister and in the 1990s worked for tobacco company Philip Morris on
developing an educational program for school children.

Writing in the Punch in 2010, he warned about the impact of voting Green in the Victorian state election.

“Government and other faith-based schools will also be made to teach a
curriculum that positively discriminates in favour of gays, lesbians,
transgender and intersex persons,” he said.

In 2011, Donnelly argued that Christians and Muslims do not accept
the same values and beliefs, and expressed concerns about a booklet
written by academics to help Australian teachers include Muslim
perspectives in the classroom. He was upset that the book did not

“…what some see as the inherently violent nature of the Koran, where
devout Muslims are called on to carry out Jihad and to convert
non-believers, and the destructive nature of what is termed dhimmis –
where non-believers are forced to accept punitive taxation laws.”

He is a vocal critic of educational strategies designed to help
students appreciate that there are multiple valid worldviews and

“Add the fact that students must be taught ‘intercultural
understanding’, with its focus on diversity and difference, and are told
to value their own cultures and the cultures, languages and beliefs of
others, and it’s clear that the underlying philosophy is cultural
relativism,” he wrote in the Australian earlier this year.

So what do Donnelly and Pyne mean by our Judeo-Christian heritage?

Quite frankly I have no idea.

First used by early 20th century biblical scholars, as a theological
term it is based on the supersessionist view that Christianity is
regarded as a religion that has superseded its (outmoded and irrelevant)
precursor, and consequently, a redundant Judaism is regarded, in
condescending fashion, as a religious anachronism.

During the early1940s, the term Judeo-Christian was used in America
to show solidarity with Europe’s persecuted Jews, and was recycled after
1945 by Christian apologists anxious to convince surviving Jewish
communities that the Holocaust was a ghastly cultural aberration.

Both scholar and major US Jewish theologian Arthur A Cohen, in his 1969 The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition and US Rabbi and author Jacob Neusner in his 2001 Jews and Christians: The Myth of a Common Tradition
have pointed out at great length that the idea of historic
Judeo-Christian harmony ignores, amongst other matters, a 2000-year
narrative of theological antipathy and a millennium long narrative of
violent persecution of Jews in the name of Christianity.

Cohen comments as follows:

“I regard all attempts to define a Judeo-Christian tradition as
essentially barren and meaningless … at the end point of the consensus
when the good will is exhausted, and the rhetoric has billowed away,
there remains an incontestable opposition.”

The term was revived by Reagan as part of the Cold War Christian rhetoric against the ‘godless’ Soviets.

In Australia, it rarely appears until 2001. Until September 11, it
appears Australians didn’t give a fig about Judeo-Christian values.  The
political intent driving its use changed from one of inclusion to one
of exclusion in the post-September 11 era, when it most often signified
the perceived challenges of Islam and Muslims.

Monash academic Sue Collins finds that the “Judeo” element is merely tacked on for political expedience:

“The term has become a kind of shield for undeclared conservative
interests which really want to privilege, and actually mean, the
Christian tradition, but are conscious this would be politically

Perhaps before they presume to rewrite our National History
Curriculum, these gentlemen may want to do some research into the shaky
foundations on which they want it based.

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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

'It's the Q&A audience, Tony'

Education Minister Christopher Pyne chooses not to engage when young members of the Q&A audience speak out on whether there is a crisis in education.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Fact check: Will Australian universities 'slide into mediocrity' without reform?

Fact check: Will Australian universities 'slide into mediocrity' without reform?

Fact check: Will Australian universities 'slide into mediocrity' without reform?


The Government claims allowing Australian
universities to charge students unregulated fees will keep them
internationally competitive. It has issued dire warnings about what may
befall the universities if the current funding system remains.
situation in Australia is such that we cannot have no reform to our
universities or they will slide into mediocrity, be overtaken by our
Asian competitors," Education Minister Christopher Pyne told Network
Ten's The Bolt Report on August 24.

international education market will dry up. Our university students
will go overseas thinking that they have first-class degrees only to
find they come eighth out of eight in every race."

ABC Fact Check examines how Australian universities are tracking against their international competitors.

  • The claim: Christopher Pyne says Australia
    cannot have no reform to its universities or they will slide into
    mediocrity and be overtaken by Asian competitors.
  • The verdict: On the available evidence, without Mr Pyne's reforms, it seems unlikely Australian universities will slide into mediocrity.

Ranking the world's universities

Despite its
relatively small population, Australia has developed an international
reputation for providing a high quality, innovative and highly
internationalised university system, according to Simon Marginson, a
professor of international higher education at The University of London.

Australia created 2.4 per cent of the world's published journal papers in 2010 and in 2012 it placed eighth in a ranking of national higher education systems, Professor Marginson wrote in a 2013 paper examining Australia's tertiary education policy.

little doubt world rankings of universities play a significant role in
"shaping global movements of knowledge, people and money in higher
education", he said.

Ranking tables are especially important for
Australia, where international students bring $15 billion to the
economy, making higher education the country's third largest
export earner after iron ore and coal. The sector brings more money to
the Australian economy than gas, gold, tourism, oil or wheat.

The Group of Eight, a group of Australia's large research universities, says Australia is the world's third most popular destination for international students, attracting nearly 7 per cent of international student population. Ranking tables help these students decide which university to attend.

Criticism of the ranking systems

A 2012 report
from the Group of Eight says there are valid criticisms of ranking
systems, including a lack of comparable data among world universities
and failure of the data to capture important outputs of different
universities in different fields.

It notes the ranking systems include only 3 per cent of the world's 17,000 higher education institutions.

university rankings do not relate well to the missions of universities
whose principal mission is not research, or at least not
internationally-referenced basic research," the report said.

the world ranking systems value research universities, there are
important roles for universities which focus on producing quality
graduates for the Australian labour markets, it said.

Despite some problems with the ranking systems, Professor Marginson says there is no doubting their importance.

tables might be obnoxious or fallacious but if a university rises in
one of the rankings it is all over the website," he said. "If it slips,
the vice-chancellor may not be reappointed."

Three main ranking systems

The three main world university ranking systems are produced by:

Richard James, director of the university of Melbourne's Centre for the
Study of Higher Education, says Shanghai Ranking's system is widely
viewed as the best.

Its methodology
includes considering every university that has any Nobel laureates,
Fields medallists, highly cited researchers, and papers published in
select academic journals. It ranks more than 1,200 universities and
includes more than 500 universities in its tables.

How Australia has fared

Fact Check has looked at the Shanghai Ranking data on the performance of Australian universities over the past decade.

the most recent 2014 rankings, Australia had four universities in the
top 100 and 19 in the top 500. This has remained relatively constant
since 2011. Looking back to 2004, the rankings tables show Australia had
just two universities in the top 100 and 14 in the top 500.

The 2012 Group of Eight report says Australia's apparent rise in the Shanghai rankings has
been influenced by recently awarded Nobel laureates from The University
of Western Australia (2005) and Australian National University (2011).

report also says: "Australia's relative improvement in several of the
world university rankings reflects the plateauing of inputs to US and UK
universities, the lagged accounting for the emergent Asian
universities, alongside some recent absolute lifts in funding inputs for
Australian universities".

This table shows the top eight
Australian universities and their world rankings, according to Shanghai
Ranking, over the past 10 years:

20052007 2009 2011 20132014
The University of Melbourne827975605444
The Australian National University (ANU) 565759706674
University of Queensland101-152102-150101-150868585
University of Western Australia153-202102-151101-150102-1509188
University of Sydney101-152102-150949697101-150
Monash University203-300203-304201-302151-200101-150101-150
University of New South Wales153-202151-202152-200151-200101-150101-150
University of  Adelaide203-300151-202201-302201-300201-300151-200
the Australian National University and the University of Sydney have
slipped in the past couple of years, the University of Queensland and
the University of Western Australia have both entered the top 100 list
in recent years.

Professor James tells Fact Check that if
Australian universities do not deregulate they will end up slipping in
the rankings because competition is rising at the top end.

2013, the Times Higher Education system placed five Australian
universities in the top 100 and 19 in the top 400, while the QS ranking
placed seven in the top 100 and 26 in the top 500.

'Overtaken by our Asian competitors'?

In his claim, Mr Pyne says without deregulation, Australian universities will "be overtaken by our Asian competitors".

More specifically, Mr Pyne has told Parliament "universities in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore are rising strongly through the ranks".

there are still no Chinese universities in the Shanghai Ranking top
100, there has been significant growth in the numbers of Chinese
universities in the top 500.

Singapore has no university in the
top 100 and its rankings in the top 500 (two universities) have remained
constant over the past decade. 

Hong Kong has five universities in the top 500 with two moving into the top 200 in the past couple of years.

In 2013-14, the Times Higher Education
system placed one Chinese university in the top 100 and 10 in the top
400, while the QS ranking for 2014-15 placed three in the top 100 and 18
in the top 500.

The Group of Eight's report says many Asian
universities are receiving "substantial increases" in government
investment in higher education and university research.

"The rate
of growth in academic publications output from Asia is far outstripping
that of Australia and the quality of Asia's research outputs is rapidly
improving," it said.

Calls for reform

Mr Pyne says "the situation in Australia is such that we cannot have no reform".

leading advocates for higher education have been calling for reform
after cuts to higher education by successive governments.

Australia chief executive Belinda Roberts says: "Either the status quo
of ongoing inadequate investment, or further cuts without deregulation,
will condemn Australia's great university system to inevitable

"We don't invest as much of our GDP in universities as
many countries, so we haven't been riding on the sheep's back, we've
been riding on the international student's back," Professor James said.

review by the University of Melbourne in 2011 found international
students pay about 40 per cent more than domestic students and
effectively subsidised their domestic counterparts.

have built an extreme reliance. It would be unlikely we would find a
similar system anywhere in the world that would require exposure to and
reliance on international students to directly underpin basic quality,"
the report's author, Michael Beaton-Wells, told The Australian

Professor James argues that if international student
numbers were to fall, as they did from 2010 to 2013, the entire sector
would go into decline.

However Andrew Norton, higher education
program director at the Grattan Institute, says: "I don't believe that
there are short-term quality issues likely to drive down demand from
international students, although of course we should not be complacent
about this," he said.

Would deregulation improve Australia's global competitiveness?

Recent modelling by NATSEM,
an economic and social policy research centre at the University of
Canberra, predicts university fees may dramatically increase if the Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill 2014, which passed the House of Representatives on September 4, also passes the Senate.

Mr Pyne's explanatory memorandum
for the bill says the reforms will "ensure that Australia is not left
behind at a time of rising performance by universities around the

However Mr Norton says the rankings are principally based
on research performance and "research policy itself is only facing small
reforms as part of the Pyne package, none of which should have any
material effect on global rankings".

Mr Norton says "there is a
widespread suspicion that if fees are deregulated, much of the money
will go to fund research". He says if that is the case "then fee
deregulation could help improve the relative position of Australian

"However, it is not clear that it is sensible for
students to pay for research. At this point no university has announced
what fees it would charge or what it would do with the money from those
fees, so this point is still speculative," he said.

Group of Eight chair Professor Ian Young argues deregulation
will enable Australian universities to be brilliant. He says
deregulation will enable universities to differentiate, like in the US,
where students can chose from small liberal arts colleges to Ivy league

But Professor John Quiggin from the University of Queensland says
the mooted reforms have not found favour with academics and students.
He says big questions remain about following an American system which he
says has failed.

In the end, "the main issue around fee deregulation is whether it can improve the student experience", Mr Norton says.

The verdict

is strong evidence showing Chinese universities are moving rapidly up
the world university rankings, however there are still no Chinese
universities in the top 100.

During the last decade Australian universities have also moved up the world university rankings.

unclear how much universities would charge after the Government's
proposed deregulation, and whether universities would spend money on
measures that would make them more internationally competitive.

On the available evidence, without Mr Pyne's reforms, it seems unlikely Australian universities will slide into mediocrity.

Mr Pyne's claim is far-fetched.