d e a n   f o r b e s                                                              knowledge economy - universities - cities

Blog 2008                                            scroll down to see more 2008 blogs


Brian Matthews’ Manning Clark: A Life (Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2008) is a remarkable book.  Clark (1915-1991) authored the six volume A History of Australia.  He was a controversial historian.  In Australia’s history culture wars Clark was criticised both as a leader within the ‘black armband’ perspective, and because his sweeping interpretations were not always substantiated by documented ‘facts’.  Nevertheless, he was a towering public figure among Australian historians.

Matthews’ book goes into extraordinary detail describing the shaping of Clark’s  character, his religious beliefs, lack of self-confidence, and emotional distance from others.  He has benefitted from access to Clark’s extensive diaries and insights from his wide circle of acquaintances.  Academic networks in Australia involve a relatively small group of people.

From the very beginning Matthews’ stylish writing sucked me deep into the construction and evolution of Manning Clark’s personality.  The book is engrossing and difficult to put down, despite its length and meticulous scholarly detail.  It ranks with the best biographies I have read.

During the summer break I also read Toby Young’s witty and irreverent How to Lose Friends & Alienate People (Abacus, London 2001).  I followed it by reading Geraldine Brooks’ Foreign Correspondence: A Memoir (Bantam, Sydney, 1998).  It starts slowly but picks up emotional momentum in the second half.  It prompted me to move on to read her Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women (Bantam, Sydney, 2008).  (31/12/08)

Christmas is over and I have a few days in a house set among the vineyards of McLaren Vale, midway between Willunga and Port Willunga.  I see in the newspaper that Tourism Australia says international tourism to Australia is dropping significantly, with the value of inbound tourism in 2009 to shrink by 4% to $A24 billion!  Travel associated with international education has been included, yet again, as part of tourism.  In fact, it accounts by my holiday guess for around $14-15 billion of the $24 billion.  Not a word about education in the newspaper, though.  I thought international tourism and international education had been separated out a couple of years back.  There are synergies between the two sectors, but it is confusing to lump the two different kinds of travel activity together, not least because it camouflages the sharply different trends in Australia’s international tourism and international education.  (30/12/08)

Since setting up this website in April this year I have posted 47 blogs.  Each has helped me clarify my thoughts, fulfilled a need to write, and encouraged me to create a style for crafting short, disciplined opinion pieces.  I have not found much of an audience, nor have I sought engagement on the issues I have written about.  I am still searching for my rhythm.   Until I find it, I will persist with the current format, and make it the centre-piece of my contribution to public debate.   (29/12/08)

A.A. Gill believes that any writer who has something significant to say will be writing in a newspaper.  Being the TV critic for The Sunday Times, he has a vested interest.  I am ambivalent.  After a lifetime of having newspapers delivered daily, I now only have them delivered on the weekend. The web gives me access to the information I once obtained from newspapers.  Yet on the weekends, or on holiday, I plough through three to five newspapers, and enjoy a reasonable proportion of the feature pieces, even if I don’t accept their authors’ perspective.  (26/12/08)

It has been apparent in The Australian for some time now that there are influential writers committed to trashing arguments about greenhouse gases and climate change.  They go about it by searching out opinion pieces that support their view, and ridiculing alternative arguments.  Is it they are striving for balance, or do the opinion writers know something deep and profound that the rest of us do not ?  If so, they should tell us.  The scientific community needs to know; and I would, too.  (23/12/08)

With Flinders University largely closed from the 24th of December until the 5th of January, I will be at home, spending some time with my family who, with their partners, have returned to Adelaide.  It is the first time we have all been together for several years.

The Review of Australian Higher Education, aka the Bradley Report, was released during the week.  I have skimmed it, but not formed my views, though responses in the press have been very favourable.  The chapter on International Education seemed to get to the core of things, but more on that later.  (21/12/08)

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The outcomes of the 2008 round of the Government’s Diversity and Structural Adjustment Fund were announced Friday.  Flinders won $3.25 million from the fund for a Southern Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (SKTP) program.  The total program budget is around $4.5 million to be spent over three years.

The essence of the SKTP will be a two-way partnership with Adelaide's southern region, which includes suburbs coming under the Onkaparinga, Marion and Mitcham councils.  Flinders has long-standing links with the region, which extends from the southern parts of metropolitan Adelaide deep into the Fleurieu Peninsula. The region is currently undergoing major structural reforms due to industry closure, especially the withdrawal of Mitsubishi from the area.

On the one hand, the grant will enable us to realign our community engagement strategy and be more strategic and effective in how we engage with the South.   Flinders will benefit by the promotion of innovation and redevelopment in the curriculum through specialist courses focussing on areas of regional workforce need.  We will also encourage students in the generalist degrees to participate, where we want to improve the skills of graduates to better meet the needs of industry. 

On the other hand, we intend to facilitate changes (ie structural adjustments) in the south.   The southern community  will benefit through the enhancement of the capabilities of the labour force, particularly through higher levels of participation in education. We also hope to stimulate the sharing and embedding of knowledge and innovation in the southern community.

South Australia’s TAFE South and the Onkaparinga, Marion and Mitcham Councils will be the major institutional partners in this program. 

Once the program gets underway, we intend to give some time to how this model of community engagement might be rolled out in other parts of South Australia.  (14/12/08)

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International programs in universities are driven by the need to engage in the global knowledge economy.  There is a wide variation in the strategies Australian universities use to achieve engagement.  However, there are three very challenging objectives which appear in many international strategies.

The first is to contribute to the education of future generations of local and global leaders.  Most students at Australian universities come from Australia, but 20-30% are from abroad.  Through their university studies, both groups should acquire the skills necessary to living and contributing to the modern world.

The second objective is to ensure that the knowledge that is developed and accumulated in universities through research and research networks, and through teaching informed by scholarship, research and community engagement, is used to assist in the development of solutions for global problems.

Third, universities seek to contribute to an increase in the capacity of higher education institutions to create a more equitable and effective global knowledge economy through international collaboration and partnerships.

Publicly funded universities need to be able to invest in their international strategies, yet the Australian government imposes limitations on the use that can be made of public funds, which on average now make up around 40% of university income.  International student fee income provides a significant input into international strategies, along with funding channelled through targeted government programs focussed particularly on scholarships and research partnerships.

To be effective, Australian universities must achieve sustainability in their international strategies.  This means continuing to deliver on the first objective by providing a satisfactory student experience and the outcomes graduates expect.  Simultaneously they must maintain an appropriate balance in the effort put into the other two objectives.  The research they produce must be useful and the partnerships they enter into two-way and productive. 

None of this is easy to achieve.  (7/12/08)

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  1. Bullet 2008: the final blog

  2. Bullet Knowledge partnerships

  3. Bullet Engaging globally

  4. Bullet Capacity building

  5. Bullet Australian student mobility

  6. Bullet Education city

  7. Bullet Tokyo

  8. Bullet Autumn in Kyoto

  9. Bullet ASEAN’s Bologna

  10. Bullet Science city

  11. Bullet Post Obama’s win

  12. Bullet Barack Obama

  13. Bullet Urban slums

  14. Bullet Global financial crisis

  15. Bullet International research students

  16. Bullet Leadership in international education

  17. Bullet Venturous Australia

  18. Bullet More growth

  19. Bullet Hagupit hits Hong Kong

  20. Bullet In China

  21. Bullet Apulia

  22. Bullet EAIE Antwerp

  23. Bullet ASEAN’s free trade aspirations

  24. Bullet Environment workforce needs

  25. Bullet University rankings

  26. Bullet The international student experience

  27. Bullet The IRUA perspective

  28. Bullet Suburbanization in Southeast Asia

  29. Bullet More on higher education review

  30. Bullet ASEAN Foreign Ministers Forum

  31. Bullet Work-life imbalance

  32. Bullet The social sciences

  33. Bullet Quality in universities

  34. Bullet Love Story 2050

  35. Bullet Blogs

  36. Bullet The higher education review ii

  37. Bullet Singapore

  38. Bullet Kuala Lumpur

  39. Bullet AEI international student data 2002-07

  40. Bullet NAFSA Washington 2008

  41. Bullet Competing cities

  42. Bullet Innovating through international links

  43. Bullet The higher education review i

  44. Bullet Luring best and brightest

  45. Bullet Review of export policies

  46. Bullet Review of national innovation

  47. Bullet Vietnam and climate change

commentary in the media


“Will that be noodles or spaghetti with your Bologna?” by Julie Hare in Campus Review, 18 November 2008 (see ASEAN’s Bologna opposite)

Overseas postgrads on rise” by Guy Healy in The Australian 15 October 2008 (see International Research Students opposite)

“International spike keeps on spiking” by John Ross in Campus Review, 23 September 2008 (see More Growth opposite)

Flinders to grow more green courses“ in The Independent Weekly, 19 September 2008.

“ASEAN Ministers hoping for Suu Kyi’s release”, Radio Australia’s Connect Asia program, 22 July 2008.

“Top university city still Adelaide dream” by Miles Kemp in The Advertiser, 17 June 2008.

“Numbers healthy despite gloom merchants” by Julie Hare in Campus Review, 27 May 2008 (see AEI international student data 2002-07 opposite)

Competing cities”, an interview by Richard Aedy on Life Matters, ABC Radio National, 20 May 2008 (see summary opposite)

“Luring best and brightest” by Joanna Mather, Australian Financial Review, 28 April 2008, p 34 (see summary opposite)

“Vietnam battles crumbling sea defences” Radio Australia’s Connect Asia program, 3 April 2008.

A short piece by Bunty Parsons in SA Life (March 2008) spoke about international education and its benefit to Adelaide.

“Australian universities turn to Tamil Nadu”, The Hindu (24 March 2008).

“Institution, not country, drives international student choice” by John Ross in Campus Review (19 February 2008).

“Japan: Aid boost to Mekong nations” Radio Australia’s Connect Asia and ABC (17 January 2008). 


In order to be sustainable, universities that attract fee-paying international students from poorer parts of the world need also give back something more than well educated graduates.  The principle is increasingly, though not uniformly, accepted with regard to our local communities.  It needs now to be applied more actively, and strategically, to the developing world.

Professor Sir Drummond Bone’s submission to the British Secretary of State’s consultation on the future of higher education is titled Internationalisation of HE: A Ten-Year View.  It puts the case on the need for longer term collaboration between British universities and counterparts overseas centred around recruitment, partnerships, research and capacity-building.  I note that the United Kingdom India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI) is often mentioned in the document, as an illustration of the kind of collaboration required.  However the Bone submission did not go as far as I thought it might in pushing the boundaries of collaboration.

In Australia we talk about the ‘third wave’ strategy (mentioned several times on this blog).   A small but significant proportion of university staff and students are engaged in giving back to the poorer parts of the world in ways that go beyond their day-jobs.  I can think of three groups of activities by Flinders staff in India designed to support village development.  Another health program is run in West Timor and intended to support the work of a local hospital.

Universities need to address these kinds of issues more strategically, and one of the most effective ways of doing this is to focus on capacity-building in one or two counterpart universities and the institutions with which they are associated.  The activities might include scholarships, staff exchanges, curriculum support, collaborative degrees, and joint research.  Like any such activity it needs to be a two-way partnership, and both universities must commit for the long-term. 

There are universities which have strategies of the kind I have just described, and others that believe they are making a significant contribution to developing countries through building campuses, offering transnational programs, or just providing high quality education to sponsored students.  Many of these initiatives have merit.  But I think Australian universities need to give more thought to what they are trying to achieve, and benchmark with what universities are doing in other parts of the world.   (4/12/08)

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Australian university students travel less frequently abroad on formal exchange and study abroad visits than they could.  We all know this, and are well rehearsed on some of the reasons why it might be the case.  The expensive, long distance travel involved, having to give up part-time jobs, and inflexibility in degree programs are all commonly cited concerns.

Rob Malicki’s Australian Institute for Mobility Overseas collects useful data from various sources to use as a benchmark.  Based on work done by Alan Olsen he says that in 2007 around 5.8% of completing undergraduates would have had an international study experience.   The comparable Open Doors figure for students from the USA is around 11%.

Speaking from a university viewpoint, the data collected is not as robust as it could be, and undercounts the international mobility of our students. About 60 Flinders students go abroad on official University exchange programs each year.  This represents just 2.3% of the graduating cohort.  But this does not include mobility that is organised through the Faculties such as medical students who are able to take electives abroad or language students involved in immersion programs.  I recall once meeting a group of our students at the airport heading for Noumea for a week or so of French language.  A group will go to China in the new year for intensive study in Shanghai.   There are also students travelling on various work-experience arrangements.  About six students each year take up internships in Washington DC organised through American Studies, and public health students have opportunities for overseas placements such as in the coastal regions of Tamil Nadu in India. 

The pattern of student mobility is changing, with an increasing proportion opting for shorter term programs, as in America, where short term programs account for 55% of the total.  However, most government funding support in Australia (eg the Endeavour scholarships) is for one or two semesters abroad, and often these programs are generated and run without any central university involvement.

We know the value added to a student’s skills by the study abroad experience but we haven’t been able to join up the dots sufficiently to get a strong government buy-in to refreshing the way we go about the task.  Something to take up after the global financial crisis has eased, perhaps.  (30/11/08)

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Some time back I agreed to present at the 2009 Higher Education Congress in Sydney.  The program has been released and I am in the session on “Creating Australia’s first global knowledge city: Boston of the Southern Hemisphere”.

I first became interested in this theme in the late 1990s in the process that led to the formation of Education Adelaide.  It launched as an alliance between the South Australian government (and its schools and TAFE institutes), the Adelaide City Council, and the three Adelaide universities: Flinders University, Adelaide University and the University of South Australia. 

Other institutions including private schools, english language training colleges and Carnegie Mellon University’s Adelaide campus have subsequently joined, though without representation on the Board of Education Adelaide.

The prime purpose of Education Adelaide is to promote the city as a quality education destination for international students.  Its strategy also includes building links with the Adelaide community to ensure awareness of the benefits of international students, and assisting education institutions to develop their own strategies for attracting students.  In recent years it has added a fourth function of helping to attract new education providers to locate in Adelaide.

It has been successful since its strategy was revamped in about 2004, and Adelaide started to see consistent increases in growth across several education sectors, but particularly secondary schools and universities.

Adelaide was promoted as an ‘education city’, which prompted me to look at how other cities label themselves and the strategies they use to support their claims.  Unsurprisingly, there are many labels: education city, learning city, knowledge city etc.  They often have slightly different meanings, of course.  More importantly, the number of cities which have adopted some kind of education/learning/knowledge tagline is growing at a rate of knots. 

I present a seminar on this at Flinders (Click here to see the outline).  I will explore this theme further over the next few weeks.  (26/11/08)

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The Japanese economy is officially in recession, though there is little sign of it as the Christmas decorations go up in Tokyo.  The sea of blue lights in Roppongi Midtown park are flanked by elegantly decorated tree-lined streets and fashionable restaurants and galleries.

Tokyo is high on my list of favourite cities, even though the drop in the Australian dollar (worth around 53 Yen last weekend) made it more expensive than usual.

Flinders Vice-Chancellor hosted an alumni reception at the residence of the Australian Ambassador to Japan.  Over 40 alumni accepted the invitation.  One, an eminent professor, had come from Hokkaido for the event.  Another had flown in from China. It was a mild autumn evening, and we ate in the Embassy garden.  Afterwards the alumni went on to a ‘second party’, as is often the case after formal events in Japan.

Working visits to the Bridgestone Museum of Modern Art, Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, and to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in Tsukuba helped expand our understanding of recent developments and build some new relationships.

I found Tokyo as stimulating as I usually do.  From the bustle of Akasaka to the sophistication of the hotels and shopping malls in Roppongi Midtown, the city is alive and vibrant. 

After a brief period of accelerated growth a few years back, Japan’s slide back into recession has aroused hostility towards the new government of Prime Minister Aso.  As Japan is Australia’s major merchandise export destination, the impact will also be felt in Australia.  The mood of the international press is darker than in Australia, though I think views are converging as economy after economy slides into recession.  (18/11/08)

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The International Network of Universities (INU) Council met at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto last week.  The INU took shape in 1998, and now has 11 university members across three continents, including Ritsumeikan University and Hiroshima National University in Japan.

One of the most moving activities of the INU is the annual INU Hiroshima Student Seminar on Global Citizenship and Peace.  The seminar was first run in 2006, and the August 2008 seminar was the third event.  It attracted 69 students, which is about its capacity, given the intense activities associated with the event.  It is supported by 15 facilitators and staff from INU universities. 

The program included a visit to Hiroshima’s Peace Museum, and attendance at the 6th of August Peace Ceremony commemorating the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima.  The students were able to listen to the story of a Hibakusha, a survivor of the bomb.  The seminar concluded with a simulated UN General Assembly discussing the topic “Can nuclear weapons be declared illegal by international law?”

Two Hiroshima students who attended the 2008 seminar spoke at the Council meeting about their experiences and the significance of the event to them. The seminar’s impact on students is central to the meaning of international education.  A number of Council members were strongly moved by the students report.  Hiroshima University has assured funding for four years (to 2012), with an INU contribution in alternate years. 

While the INU now supports a range of activities among its member universities, the challenge is to add something distinctive to what the member universities might achieve through their bilateral relations.  Apart from the Hiroshima seminar, there is collaboration in the development of an INU Masters degree, some nascent double degree arrangements, and a strategy for focused research collaboration, in addition to the basic student and staff mobility and benchmarking.  I think there is momentum, but more needs to be done within the member universities, getting faculty more comprehensively engaged.  (16/11/08)

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In looking to introduce Bologna-like higher education reforms, the ASEAN Education Ministers are taking on a huge challenge.  

In the decades since it was established, the ASEAN countries have sought to harmonise interaction especially in the area of free trade.  However, they have had limited success, due to the diversity in the pace of economic development within the region.

The Bologna process in Europe demonstrates that harmonising higher education is even more difficult than harmonising economic links, because of the differences between the higher education systems and the extraordinary amount of bureaucracy weighing on universities.

The initial benefits to come from Europe's implementation of Bologna was greater transparency in the way in which the university systems operated.  Real changes have been slow, and very uneven between countries, but are now picking up momentum.  A powerful factor in accelerating change has been the significant sums of money the Europeans now pour into international educational links.

The ASEAN nations will also need to encourage greater transparency, and invest in building the links between universities.   Financially supporting greater staff and student mobility within the region, and outside it, will be critical to gathering momentum and support for the administrative changes a Bologna-like process requires.    

Australian universities have actively built links with counterparts in the Southeast Asian nations and will be very supportive of the ASEAN initiative.  It is widely recognised though that the limited resources available to universities in countries such as Cambodia and Laos are a significant barrier to greater levels of cooperation.

The Australia government indicated through the Brisbane Communique that it wanted to participate in a regional dialogue about higher education links between countries.  ASEAN's initiative provides an opportunity to have a constructive role, if Australia is invited to join the dialogue.  

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The Korean city of Daejeon hosted the 1993 Science Expo.  The site straddles the major road into the city, and the architecture expresses a vision of futuristic science.  It underlines the point that Daejeon is regarded as a centre of science in Korea.

The city of 1.5 million is located in the middle of the western side of the Korean peninsula.  There are at least ten universities in Daejeon, but I am here with Flinders Vice-Chancellor for meetings with the President and senior staff at Chungnam National University (CNU).

Groups of students from CNU have been coming to Flinders on study tours organised by the Intensive English Language Institute.  There has been a steady stream of staff, and now the exchange of students, between the two universities.  Today we signed an agreement on double degrees to give both Flinders and CNU students an option for a broader educational experience, and we will investigate several more areas of potential collaboration.

The Daejeon Research and Development Special Zone, or Daejeon Innopolis as it is sometimes called, is a large development located near CNU.  We visited the Korean Aerospace Research Institute to see the initiatives in the development of satellites.

Our ebullient host from CNU has ensured that our short visit has been productive.  He has given us a broad and entertaining perspective on contemporary Korea, and we have sampled superb Korean cuisine.   The changing autumn colours of the trees on the CNU campus and on the mountains around the city bring out the beautiful landscapes in and around this city. 

It would have been good to have some more time to explore the city and its surrounding region.  (10/11/08)

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The Obama age has commenced.  Now it is back to reality, and focusing on the issues that preoccupy us in our daily lives.

I leave for Korea and Japan tomorrow, on my last overseas trip of the year.  Prior to turning my focus to the trip, I have been thinking about a short post before I leave. 

In particular I have been thinking about how I, and others, are using the web in our professional lives, and what it all means.  Take e-portfolios for instance.   A retro-fitted description of this web page is that it is an e-portfolio.  It hadn’t occurred to me that that was what I was creating when I launched the site.

And this leads me on to e-books, e-journals, and open access to research reports and university curricula.  And further on to social networking pages etc etc.  There are many issues, some connected in my mind, and some still searching for a home.  I find raising these issues in a university environment stirs controversy.  But clearly the information revolution is by no means over.  We have to understand that the way we communicate with students, and each other, is going to change even more.

But I will have to come back to this tomorrow when I have collected my thoughts.  It is more than I can cope with on a Friday night.  (7/11/08)

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The political theatrics of the Presidential election have enthralled me for the last 18 months.  There has been some talk about the impact the election may have on universities and international education, but it has been peripheral, if not invisible, in the overall campaign.

It is speculated, though, that an Obama victory would give a boost to international education. 

Why? The Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Bill, which is intended to dramatically increase the number of American students going abroad, was introduced in the Senate by the Democrat, Senator Richard Durbin, with 49 co-sponsors, on 27 March 2007.  Mr Obama was one of the co-sponsors.  So too was a Mr Kerry.

The Congress’s findings make interesting reading, clearly recognising the importance of enabling American students to get experience abroad in the course of their study.  It laments the fact that “less than 10% of the students who graduate from United States institutions of higher education with bachelors degrees have studied abroad”.  The Bill was read twice and  forwarded to the Committee on Foreign Relations which no doubt has other priorities at the moment.

Australian universities in total fall well short of the 10%.  The statistics are a gross under-representation, but at best we are around the 8% mark. Perhaps an Obama victory might help get the Bill through, and the Australian government will be, in its joy, moved to take our Endeavour program up a few notches.  (1/11/08)

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The global economy’s long boom seems to have ended and we are in a far worse dive than almost anyone had anticipated, with serious consequences. 

Yet in vast tracts of the world many people still live in absolute poverty.  Among them are the majority of the 924 million (the UN Habitat estimate) or so who live in urban slums and squatter settlements. 

Our project team is researching how to improve conditions for slum dwellers, based on case studies in Hanoi, Bandung and Manila (focused on Quezon City).  The team is currently meeting in Brisbane (a summary can be found in Research and an extended paper on the project here).

The project reports on the three cities have been completed.  Our task is now to try and determine the patterns in the studies and what they tell us about improved methods of tackling slum upgrading and community management.

Each city has a different approach to slums.  A number of upgrading programs have been implemented in Bandung through the Kampung Improvement Program, beginning in 1969.  In Manila many programs have benefited from the involvement of community groups.  In Hanoi the focus is on informal housing, rather than slums.

Slum upgrading addresses the physical infrastructure of settlements: it needs to be accompanied by a reduction in poverty levels, if it is to lead to better and more sustainable communities.  Yet the additional complexity of these initiatives means the results are not always optimal.  There is a pervasive feeling that slum upgrading strategies need to be revamped, and the x factors identified.   (28/10/08)

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The GFC, as it’s known in Australia, has taken on many shapes in the last few months.  It has made it hard to assess the likely impact on the demand for international education in Australian universities.

At its simplest, the outcome will be the interaction between the impact of a deepening global recession, which will dampen demand, and a recent rapid decline in the value of the Australian dollar, which will stimulate demand.  But it is not.

Just what kind of recession are we sliding into: is it going to be V-shaped, as we hope, U-shaped, or the dismal long-term L-shaped recession? 

The Australian economy will get some protection from its strong resources base, but that in turn will depend on how other countries, China in particular, cope.  As Chinese students represent the largest cohort coming to Australia, the resilience of the Chinese economy will be critical.  I am in two minds about this. 

On the one hand, China is very big, domestic demand significant, and the government maintains strong control over the economy.  Yet on the other hand weakening demand in the US will severely dent exports: think how important Chinese products are to Wal-Mart.  And we know there is serious structural weakness in the Chinese banking sector, illustrated by the massive activity in construction, not all of which are going to be successful investments.  A correction will occur, but when and how big will it be?

Australian universities survived the Asian economic crisis in the late 1990s because, it is generally thought, investment in university education is counter-cyclical.  Parents are still willing to pay for higher education no matter how much extra pain is incurred.  We are about to see whether this was a correct reading  of the 1990s experience.  (18/10/08)

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Late Friday afternoon I replied to some questions from Guy Healy (The Australian newspaper) about international research students coming to Australia.

The numbers are growing for several reasons, including the increasing numbers of governments around the world providing postgraduate scholarships, the active search by Australian universities for research students and the incentives the universities provide, and the perception that it is more difficult to get into the US than it has been.  (12/10/08)

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A plethora of programs are available in North America and Europe for those seeking to improve their professional international education skills.  A small proportion deal with leadership in international education.

Speaking as a prospective consumer, I have never been particularly impressed with the content of the leadership programs.  They reflect a view of international education that incorporates internationalisation of the campus, student mobility, collaborative links, and the kind of worthy things to which provosts devote their careers. 

All well and good.  But leaders need the skills to lead, and there are at least three crucial themes that are generally missing, or insufficiently prominent. 

First, most programs do not give attention to the kind of business and financial skills that are an increasingly important part of middle and senior management in universities.  Leaders need to know more than how to prepare and monitor budgets.  They need a good grasp of the business skills that will ultimately underpin the sustainability of international education.

Second, programs rarely analyse the essence of global leadership, and particularly the kinds of new soft skills that are required to operate in a global environment.  By the way, all current and prospective university leaders need these kinds of skills, not just those in international education.

Third, leadership programs need to foster an ability to imagine the future of the university and the role of international education in bringing this about, and managing the consequences.  These kinds of soft skills and creative thought are the most difficult to conceptualise, and to teach.

Click here for more.

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The report on innovation compiled by the committee chaired by Terry Cutler was released earlier this month.  Titled “Venturous Australia”, it has had a mixed reception, and it’s by no means clear what the government intends to do about its more than 70 recommendations.  It is an ambitious report: does it and the Minister responsible, Kim Carr, have the muscle to get support through Cabinet?

I zeroed in on how innovation strategy might intersect with my agendas.  There  are some clearly positive sounds.  The Report:

recognises the significance of human capital, and hence the need for an alignment with immigration policy (R5.2); 

favours increased funding for international research collaborations (R6.5 and R9.3), an opening up of innovation grants to international collaborators (R6.7), financial support for early career researchers getting international experience (R6.12), attracting international venture capital to Australia (R9.6);

urges the government to “adopt international standards of open publishing” and insist that publicly funded research “be made freely available over the internet as part of the global public commons” (R7.8 and 7.14);

acknowledges the special needs of the developing world (R7.15);

In general, universities are pleased with recommendations such as increased national funding for education, fully funding the cost of research activities (R6.1), and increasing stipends for research scholarship students (R6.11).  The Report recognises that international education revenue has been diverted to make up for research funding shortfalls, the cross-subsidies short-changing both education and research. 

But on my reading thus far I am not yet convinced the international dimension is well integrated into the strategy.  The focus is clearly on Australia, a National Innovation Council chaired by the Prime Minister, and a “helicopter view of the national innovation system”.   Is this going to be sufficient to strengthen Australia’s place in the global knowledge economy?

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Australia’s international education exports are up a whopping 23% in 2007-08, reaching $A13.7 billion (Australian Bureau of Statistics data).  Commencing students are up 22.4%, and overall international student enrolments 18.9%.

There are many ways of unpacking this data.  On the one hand, it is a clear sign that demand for Australian education continues to be strong, and that is a good thing.  There are many in Australia and elsewhere who see this kind of success as a negative, dismissing Australia’s growth as the crass commercialisation of a public good, and somehow an indicator of the low quality of Australian education.  All nonsense, of course. 

On the other hand, this kind of rapid growth is going to be very hard to sustain.  The last thing we need is boom and bust cycles in international education.  It raises expectations among our stakeholders, particularly politicians.  Opportunities for graduates to stay in Australia are a significant factor in the growth, especially in vocational education, and this is dependent on government continuing to support the migration it has in place.  And it  would be imprudent to put much money on governments leaving immigration policy alone, especially when it has domestic political implications.

From my perspective Australian universities are putting more emphasis on the diversity and quality of their student populations, and the sustainability of their internationalisation strategies, than on growth of student numbers per se.  I may be proved to have an overly rosy interpretation, but I think that is where the universities are heading.  It is not the case across the whole education sector.  And that is a threat to sustainability. (24/9/08)

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Yesterday and today I am in Hong Kong on an audit for the Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA).  I am due to fly to Australia tonight but typhoon Hagupit is approaching through the South China Sea.  The warning is currently at Level 3, but the wind is escalating and it looks ominous.  Hagupit is likely to veer south of Hong Kong, and hit the coast of China, but the winds are likely to close Hong Kong Airport.  If the next level of warning, Level 8, is reached all education institutions and public agencies must close, so we would be in a force majeur situation, and have to terminate the audit.

As Hagupit approached the Level 8 warning was announced.  My flight was ‘delayed’.  An hour or two later Cathay posted an announcement about new flight departure times.  I was at the airport at this time, and so I found a hotel (the Regal Airport Hotel offered me a room at a mere $HK6,000 for the night) in Kowloon, and caught a bus. 

I was advised to avoid the Airport Express Train, because it would be hard to find taxis in Kowloon.  The bus took the long route, dropping passengers along the way.  The wind had strengthened and it was raining heavily.  Hong Kong was battening down and increasingly deserted.  The police were out, clearing away debris.  We caught every red traffic light, were blocked by police vehicles, and the driver had to stop and remove debris on the road.  I was the last passenger and eventually reached the Harbour Plaza Hong Kong hotel.  I ate foccacia and watched the changing weather sweep through the channel between Kowloon and Hong Kong island.  There were no boats on the water, and the waves seemed a metre or two high.  The hotel had draped nets down its large glass windows facing across the water.  (23/9/08)

The worst has passed.  No taxis were prepared to come to the hotel this morning, so I walked, dragging my suitcase, to find one.  I trudged through the glass, tree branches and rubbish blown into the streets by the wind, and eventually flagged a taxi in Kowloon.  I am now in the Cathay lounge at Hong Kong airport, waiting for my flight.  It is still raining heavily.  I am looking forward to a day in the air, having downloaded a number of documents I must read onto my laptop. (24/9/08)

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It has taken me some time to post anything on the China visit.  I couldn’t get into my website.  It was blocked!  This is not because I am a political threat, I think, but the censorship that has been highlighted during the Olympics. 

I arrived early on Wednesday morning at the truly spectacular new terminals at Beijing Airport.  It was almost deserted: possibly the post Olympic fug.  I caught up with Michael Barber and Roy Goldie for a series of meetings with universities and key agencies in Beijing. 

The traffic was a common item of conversation, because it was less than usual.  Beijing still had the Olympic restrictions in place, with each vehicle permitted on the road every second day.  It was still heavy traffic, but not the impossible snarl that it once was, and will be again when the restrictions end.

A highlight for me was a visit to the Oriental University City, located in Hebei Province, midway between Beijing and Tianjin.  Around 50,000 students attend one of 40 or so universities and colleges.  It’s a real university city.  We drove around.  It is not exactly in pristine condition, but it is a real city.  When the students came out of their classrooms in the late afternoon, the number of young people out and about really ballooned.  I wondered whether the students experienced the same sort of social problems as the large communities of international students in Adelaide?  I was thinking, in particular, about the worryingly high numbers of abortions among young Chinese students in Australian cities.    

The city of Tianjin has become what the Chinese would call ‘an old friend’, meaning I have been there numerous times since my first visit in 1985 and we are kind of familiar with one another.  The garish TEDA Hotel, directly opposite Nankai University’s most iconic building, is also an old friend. 

Our visits to Nankai University and Tianjin University went particularly well, culminating in a graduation ceremony for about 240 students at Nankai University last Saturday.  In their wisdom, Nankai has made a video record of our meetings with the Nankai President and Chair of the Board, and the whole graduation ceremony.  It is rather long, and I look terrible in it.  I think I will get it edited down to five minutes or so before suggesting that anyone look at it. (22/9/08) 

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A formal link between the Apulia (Puglia) region along the southeastern coast of Italy - the heel of the boot - and South Australia has led to funding support for the building of a scholarship program and research collaboration between the universities and respective governments.  This is my first time in Italy, if you rule out a stopover at Rome Airport.  I have a longstanding, albeit superficial, interest in things Italian, so I am excited about the visit.  I have downloaded some Italian lessons on my laptop. (13/9/08)

I touched down in Milan Linate Airport, before getting on a flight to Bari.  We arrived in Bari in the early evening, and took a fast taxi to the Palace Hotel in Via Lombardi, close to the foreshore.  It was Saturday night, so there was lots of traffic on the road.  The South Australian group had dinner at a fish restaurant in the old city, a few metres from the water.  Our fellow diners were in family groups.  We had course after course of seafood.  It was fabulous, except for the large uncooked pieces of squid, which were a local delicacy. (13/9/08)

Alitalia announced it could no longer afford fuel, and may have to begin cancelling flights.  As much as I was enjoying being in Bari, this did cause a ripple of concern.  I sent off a text to see if there was an alternative way of getting back to Milan on Tuesday morning, and there wasn’t.  Bari is a great city to walk around.  The old city, once a risky place to be, is now very visitor friendly, and great to explore.  The shopping streets nearby are a mixture of trendy contemporary Italian and the ubiquitous global brands. (14/9/08)

The centre-piece of our visit was a seminar at the Fiera del Levante, a large European trade fair held annually in Bari. I was associated with the South Australian trade delegation to the fair  The SA government had a trade and education display in one of the trade pavilions.  The SA delegation consisted of about 10 business people, along with the representatives of the four SA universities and an entourage from government.  All in it was more than 20 people. (15/9/08)  

The Higher Education Scholarships and Research Collaboration Seminar was held in the Apulia Pavilion at the Fiera.  About 40 or so people attended.  The first half was focused on general trade matters, and the second half on presentations by the SA university representatives.  It was a mixed kind of event, starting an hour or so late, and somewhat unstructured, or at least it ran differently to what was in the schedule.  The university representatives are invariably the largest and most cohesive group on these trade missions, so we and our networks invariably provide the bulk of the audience, and perform our role as good, albeit passive citizens.  After the morning’s seminar everyone went off to lunch together. (15/9/08)

Last night the SA delegation hosted a dinner for about 60 or so guests on the 7th floor of the Palace Hotel.  We had a stunning view over the old city, with its beautifully lit Basilica Pontificia de St Nicola, who all the visitors call the first Father Christmas.  The dinner provided my first real opportunity to talk with colleagues from the University of Bari, the University of Salento, Politecnico di Bari, and some of the research institutes.  It was very productive  The italians present were sophisticated, charming and sociable.  Bari has lived up to all my expectations of Italy. (16/9/08)

The Alitalia flight left on schedule, with no visible indications of the company’s financial problems.  I transferred onto a Lufthansa flight from Milan to Frankfurt.  It was a clear morning and the views as we flew over the lakes and snow-capped mountains of Switzerland were spectacular. (16/9/08) 

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It’s over 24 hours to Antwerp.  I am on my way to the annual European Association of International Educators (EAIE) meeting, which formally commences on Wednesday the 10th. (9/9/08) 

I am staying in the Park Plaza Astrid Hotel.  My room overlooks the Koningin Astridplein, an open square bordered by the Centraal Station, the Zoo, and cafes.  The INU (International Network of Universities) group met for lunch in Grand Cafe Paon Royal, adjacent to the Zoo. (10/9/08)

The principal EAIE venue is the campus of the University of Antwerp, with activities spread around a range of inner city buildings.  The venues are good, with a nice combination of contemporary and traditional architecture.  Coming from a suburban 1960s university, I am impressed by the student quarters of the city, and the inner urban feel.  The sun is out, so much work is being done at tables under trees and in the sunshine.  The strong Jewish presence in Antwerp, a major centre of the world’s diamond trade, was evident in the streets last night when we arrived. (10/9/08)

When I arrived at the exhibition hall, I was disappointed to find furniture had not been provided for the Innovative Research Universities Australia booth, the signage was just ‘IRUA’, which no-one recognises, and the banners had not arrived from Australia.  Fortunately new furniture was provided, but it is unlikely we can achieve anything about the other two matters. (11/9/08)

Cities are becoming more competitive in their positioning with regards to their higher education institutions.  The Antwerp University Association represents the city’s five higher education institutions.  Their publicity broadsheet is pitched to attract international students, researchers and visiting professors.  The focus is a sample of students from around the world, along with some local university researchers and artists.  Each has some quirky self-description (‘drama queen’, ‘professional city cruiser’) and identifies a favourite spot in the city.  Antwerp has a population of 470,000, and is portrayed itself as a student-oriented, arty and clubby kind of city. (12/9/08)

Light rain fell most of Friday, then cleared mid afternoon.  There was steady traffic through the exhibition spaces.  The parallel seminar and workshop program attracts many participants.  Invariably, the most popular events are filled to capacity.  At their best they are discussions of good practice within international offices.  The session on double degrees attracted much interest.  Some I spoke to bemoaned the lack of intellectual rigor in the presentations and discussions. (13/9/08)

The next EAIE meeting is in Madrid from the 16-19th of September 2009.  It will be in the Palacio Municipal de Congresos, close to the airport, and a fair distance from the city centre.  The increased scale of the EAIE makes it necessary to move into dedicated convention premises, but participants will be disappointed at not being able to walk the streets of central Madrid. (13/9/08)

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ASEAN economic ministers meeting in Singapore have reached agreement on free-trade arrangements with Australia, New Zealand and India, and hope to have an agreement with China by the end of the year. 

It is important for Australia.  The ASEAN countries are on our doorstep, and apart from Singapore and Malaysia, which have their own free trade agreements with Australia, trade links with the ASEAN members need to be bolstered. 

There is often skepticism about whether FTAs are the right way to go, but the collapse of the Doha process has increased the value of the FTA pathway.  In the case of trade in services (eg education), FTAs have produced some modest improvements mainly by throwing the spotlight onto arcane and unnecessary barriers to trade.

ASEAN has earnestly discussed, and reached agreement on, ambitious plans for free trade within the group in the past, only to see the goals fade in the distance under the weight of interminable processes to resolve domestic issues.  So it will be interesting to see whether there are tangible outcomes to the new agreements.

The ministers announced the next step would be to facilitate greater regional economic integration, through an ASEAN+3 or ASEAN+6, the six being Japan, China, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.  Not nearly as ambitious collection of countries as the APEC group, but significant nevertheless. (28/8/08)

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Greenhouse emissions, climate change, and new awareness of the importance of an environmentally sustainable economy, has focused attention on the skills required to manage them.  The CSIRO has recently published a report on Growing the Green Collar Economy, and the Australian Senate has in progress an Inquiry into the Effects of Climate Change on Training and Employment Needs.

The CSIRO report looks at two different ways of modelling jobs growth in the transition to a clean economy, and cites figures of 2.6 to 2.7 million jobs by 2025 from one model, and 3.3 million jobs by 2026 for the other.  Big numbers indeed for a middle-sized country like Australia. 

Number crunching models of employment futures have to be treated cautiously, of course.  Essentially they are digital guesses, based on assumptions constructed from assumptions, multiplied by further assumptions.

Nevertheless, universities are beginning to think about future needs.   The science and technology side of things, such as alternative energy, building design, new transport systems etc is already underway, but will need to develop a stronger applied skills orientation to sit alongside the evolving research activity.  Knowing what kind of soft skills are needed will take more thought, particularly as it is far from clear how we will ultimately end up managing the carbon economy.

And finally, we shouldn’t lose sight of the significance of a broader range of on-going environmental issues.  The problems of large cities in poor countries for instance, where there are still a huge number of people without a decent living environment or access to clean water. Climate change is not the only significant environmental threat. (23/8/08) 

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The 2008 Shanghai Jiaotong university rankings were released this week.  It is the best international measure of where a university sits compared to other universities, although its gives much greater weight to research performance than to any other university functions.

Some 15 Australian universities made it to the top 500.  The ANU, Melbourne and Sydney ranked in the top 100; Queensland, Western Australia and UNSW are in the top 200; the top 300 included Adelaide, Monash and Macquarie; the top 400 listed Wollongong, Flinders, Newcastle, James Cook and Tasmania; and La Trobe was included in the top 500.

This ranks Flinders around the 360 mark in the world, and 11 in the Australia list.  Last years Times Higher Ed ranking had Flinders at 350.  It is a far less rigorous ranking methodology, with a much higher weighting for ‘reputation’, but it is interesting that Flinders had a similar level of ranking.

Australian universities do moderately well in the rankings, though not as well as government and newspapers would like.  Nor do university Vice-Chancellors get sacked because of the university’s ranking, as has happened in  Malaysia.  It’s the bragging rights, and the political leverage which is at stake.   Australia does not have a university in the top 50, and this fuels the fire of those who would like a greater concentration of funding on the highest ranked universities.

The rankings don’t seem to be important to students, according to a survey earlier in the year.  Flinders rank seemed very low down in the list of factors international students considered in their choice of a place to study.  (16/8/08)

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Australian Education International (AEI) undertook a follow-up survey in 2007 of international higher education graduates it surveyed first as students in 2006.  There were 2,150 respondents in the August 2007 survey, of whom 569 were international and the remainder Australian.  This was a response rate of 32% of the original survey group.

The intention was to determine if their views about Australian education had changed since they were students.  The results indicated that satisfaction with studying in Australia remained high (83%), and not too different than when they were students.  Some 83% would recommend studying in Australia, a smaller proportion than in 2006, when the proportion was 89%. These seem good results and reflect well on quality. 

However, one third thought the quality of higher education in the USA was better, and 28% thought the UK had better quality courses.  In general, the students thought Australian courses were about the same level as in New Zealand and Canada.

Their experience with the job market was interesting. About 5% of international graduates, and 1% of Australian respondents, were unemployed and actively seeking work.  41% of international respondents were in full-time work, 27% had part-time work, and 18% were in further study.  Did their main job meet their employment expectations?  58% of international respondents thought it did, compared to 70% of Australian graduates.

Over two thirds - 69% - of the former international students were working in Australia.  I know that many students come to Australia with some intention of staying, but this result is higher than I would have anticipated. (9/8/08)

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The Innovative Research Universities  Australia (IRUA) submission to the Higher Education Review is available on the web. Click here to read it.  (5/8/08)

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A Conference on Trends of Urbanization and Suburbanization in Southeast Asia will be held in Ho Chi Minh City from 9-11th December 2008.  Co-organisers are  the Center of Urban and Development Studies in Ho Chi Minh City, and the University of Provence in France. 

Vietnam’s urbanisation has come a long way since the controls on urban growth which began to loosen in the late 1980s.  The cities are growing rapidly.  The conference will focus on suburbanisation, which is described as a ‘black box’, but is essentially the pattern through which the city spills into, and ‘dismantles’ the surrounding rural areas.

Regretfully I could not take up an invitation to participate.  (4/8/08)

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I recently made a presentation in the discussion on “Policy Frameworks and Settings: Regional and Global Perspectives for University Sector Policy”, at the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia University Policy Futures Roundtable, Academy of Science Shine Dome, Canberra,1 August 2008.

Click here to read it.  (2/8/08)

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“ASEAN foreign ministers hoping for Suu Kyi’s release”

Radio Australia.  Connect Asia, 22 July 2008

“ASEAN talks underway in Singapore”

Radio  Australia.  Asia Pacific, 21 July 2008

Political prisoners in Burma and a Thai-Cambodia border crisis have dominated preliminary talks between Southeast Asian foreign ministers.

ASEAN ministers hoping that Burma's long imprisoned opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, could soon be released from house arrest.

Presenter: Sonja Heydeman
Speakers: Professor Dean Forbes, Southeast Asian expert at Australia's Flinders University; Dhannen Sunoto, Principle Director, External Relations, ASEAN

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“Work to live, don’t live to work”.  Sounds right, but I and any number of my colleagues in universities find it hard to conform.  For confirmation, ask my children. And the advent of email, webpages and the Palm intensify the dilemma.  

I have a week off work.  A few days in Byron Bay at the Writers Festival listening to speakers and ambling along the beaches is a diversion, right?  Yes and no.  It is listening, talking and engaging with ideas, and we a do a lot of that in universities.  In this case, it comes without external responsibility.  I don’t have to do anything about the ideas I hear or express.  I am not accountable to anyone for my level of engagement.

Except myself.  A day without some form of intellectual challenge or stimulation is a day lost.  The source of the stimulation doesn’t matter.  It could be work, TV, radio, the web, a newspaper, or a conversation.  The subject of the stimulation is not important either.  Carbon emissions trading, university ranking tables, the AFL or the Premier League can each provide the launching pad.

So, does a weeks holiday which incorporates picking away at email, the webpage,  reading, meeting colleagues and attending the Writers Festival constitute evidence of a work-life balance or imbalance?  Technically I fear it is the latter.  So I am over it.  (20/7/08)

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Universities give prominence to their achievements in the sciences, medicine and technology.  Inputs into the Higher Education Review will follow suit.   What might the social sciences have to offer to the Bradley Committee about directions for Australian universities?

Invariably, the starting point is don’t ignore us.  The social sciences attract a significant number of students, and those students go on to become productive citizens, equipped with skills in demand.  Social science researchers are productive, and the best are recognised internationally, though they generally attract less generous research grants than their peers in science.  And it is not unreasonable to argue that social scientists make a significant contribution to the community through their engagement activities.

What then can the social sciences offer by way of policy ideas to help build Australia’s universities?  In particular, how can we articulate and foster, through policy, better collaborative links with the Asian Pacific region, and globally? 

A global knowledge partnership (GKP) could include the following elements: opportunities for Australian students to study or undertake work placements abroad; scholarship support for international students, including research students; research and scholarly collaboration; integrated support structures for international alumni; enhanced recognition of second track diplomacy.

And Australia needs an equivalent to the British Council to manage the process.  (12/7/08)

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What kind of processes are used in Australia to assure the world about the quality of our universities?  The agency charged with auditing the universities on a five year cycle is the Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA).  Cycle I was completed in 2007, and Cycle II commenced in 2008.  Fitness-for-purpose remains the guiding philosophy of the audits, which focus on how universities perform in the pursuit of their goals.

There are four aspects of Cycle II audits: A retrospective look at how the universities responded to the recommendations in Cycle I reports; an assessment of how universities are fulfilling the 15 essential areas of activity identified in the National Protocols; a focused audit of two particular themes, one of which is internationalisation, and the other to be identified by the university; and standards and outcomes.

AUQA has had to earn the respect of the universities: it has been a slow process.  The AUQA audit is only one of several processes focused on quality, along with professional accreditation of degrees, regulatory inspections for compliance with particular legislation, financial audits, various external reviews, public rankings of universities, and so on.  Response-fatigue within universities is growing.

Essentially the AUQA methodology is sound, and it is increasingly being copied internationally.   But university managers and academics are hard to please.  It’s time to give more attention to the positives of the AUQA  audit process.   (9/7/08)

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The Bollywood film Love Story 2050 was released on Friday the 4th of July.  There was a special showing at the Capri in Adelaide, because the South Australian government helped finance the production.   Written and directed by Harry Baweja and produced by Pammi Baweja, the film stars their son Harman Barweja and Priyanka Chopra, a former Miss World. 

At least half the film is set in Adelaide and various other locations in South Australia, with a few scenes from other cities spliced in.  The audience responded to every changing scene, as they recognised the location and the sprinkling of local identities in the film, including the Premier and his wife.  Some of the scenes from Kangaroo Island were spectacular, and there was some footage of the two stars riding a motorbike across a massive, visually stunning, salt-pan.

Mumbai in 2050 is a city of vast high rise buildings which tower over the Gateway of India, and look suspiciously like Dubai on steroids, and populated by neighbours of the Jetsons.

I have enjoyed the Bollywood musicals I have seen, and this was no exception.  It had romance, melodrama, great scenes of South Australia, excellent special effects and the occasional signal that it didn’t take itself too seriously.  From a western perspective it was schmaltz, disjointed, chaotic, but fun.  The music and dance scenes were good, with the dancers decked out in silver al-foil space suits.  What will Indian audiences make of it?  (5/7/08)

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Just what can a blog open to Flinders University staff contribute to the formulation of an international strategy paper?  A blog was launched yesterday to get input into a paper I am drafting on one aspect of international strategy: the recruitment of international students.  There were 15 postings within the first couple of days, and 25 within a week.

Most seemed to have addressed the questions posed, but made no reference to the short paper about the strategy.  I think this means bloggers respond better to short, sharp questions than to reflections on a longer paper.

The bloggers included both colleagues currently involved in the strategy discussions and those not involved.  That is a plus.  We are hearing views we would not normally hear.

There are some interesting perspectives coming forward.  I was particularly struck by the postings that spoke of international students as valuable individuals within the academic unit in which they enrolled, and of additional ways we can help address their needs.  (28/6/08, 6/7/08)

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The Review of Higher Education Discussion Paper (June 2008) sets out a conventional view of Australian universities international activities.  The focus is on Australia's achievements in attracting fee-paying international students, and the limited success in increasing the numbers of our students going abroad for study.  There is little appreciation of the current third  phase of broadened internationalisation that preoccupies most Australian universities and will guide their strategies into the future.  If it wants universities that are 'high performing institutions with a global focus' it will need to embrace a more diverse set of internationalisation activities.

The purpose of the Higher Education Review is to inform the Government of the 'future  directions of the higher education sector, its fitness for purpose in meeting the needs of the Australian community and economy and the options for ongoing reform'.  There are a number of issues which the Government needs to help the universities address in the national interest.

First, Australian students need help to acquire more sophisticated international skills, either through better opportunities to go abroad on study programs, or to acquire international experience through internships or volunteering opportunities related to their education programs and to their future employability and productivity.

Second, international students contribute to Australia's skill base through the skilled  migration program.  This is sometimes undervalued, and the barriers to them entering occupations related to their skills are slow to break down.  Governments need to ensure any artificial barriers to employment are removed.

Third, the internationalisation of universities supports the expansion of our capacity for innovation through the building of international research and scholarly collaborations, as well as attracting talented international research students to the country.  A more sophisticated national approach to these aspects of university strategy is needed.

Fourth, the international alumni of Australian universities are a large and influential group, with the knowledge and skills acquired in Australian universities contributing to the futures of their home countries.  They also provide long-term links with Australia and their networks have sustained a 'second-track' diplomacy when formal government relations have been strained.

Any significant changes to the higher education system in Australia must give due attention to the  significance of the internationalisation strategies of universities.   (19/6/08)

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The Australian Universities International Alumni Convention (AUIAC) is now in its tenth year.  The first formal event was held in Adelaide in 1998, with subsequent events in Kuching, Melbourne, Honk Kong, Brisbane and Singapore. 

The Singapore event, with its Futuropolis theme, attracted about 450 registrations, of whom about 130 were from Sarawak.   The Singapore organising committee put on a good event, but the participation from Australian universities was less than might be expected, raising questions among participants about the future of the AUIAC. 

There were some standout presentations, including one by the Singaporean Minister of Education, Dr Ng Eng Heng, and an equally impressive talk by the Executive Director of Singapore Contact, Ms Ng Siew Kiang.  Both expressed a powerful corporate vision of Singapore’s future. 

The pace of government investment in Singapore is stunning.  The Biopolis precinct is a remarkable example of the Singapore government’s commitment to growing its knowledge based economy, and the nearby buildings under construction for the Fusionopolis underline this theme.  (13/6/08)

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It is clear that the mood of KL has changed.  The inroads made by opposition parties in recent elections has, in the view of many to whom I spoke, brought changes to the political landscape.  Parliament has become more important, ethnic politics is receding, and Malaysians are enthusiastic about the possibilities of the new politicaI climate.

On the drive to KL International Airport, Mr Yusuf, our taxi driver, diverted through Putrajaya, the new administrative capital of Malaysia.  It is a grand monument to government, full of sweeping roads, substantial government offices, stunning mosques, and meticulous landscaping.  The transparent symbolism of a confident political class.  How will Putrajaya be affected by the shifts within Malaysian politics?

The government is very ambitious for its universities, wanting to get them into the major international rankings.  UKM and Universiti Malaya made it into the Times Higher Ed list, but neither is in the Shanghai Jiaotong.  This shouldn’t drive government policy for universities, but it does seem to be a significant factor.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) impressed me.  It is one of the four designated research universities.  Flinders has been building academic  links with UKM, focusing on the health sciences.

We also met with meet some long-standing Flinders alumni, and hosted a Flinders alumni reception.  It was an opportunity to introduce Flinders new Vice-Chancellor, and talk with the alumni.  Several had views about what the University should be doing in Malaysia.  The event went on into the late evening: the highlight for the alumni is catching up with their classmates, and they invariably recall memories of the campus and their student life.  (10/6/08)

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Australian Education International (AEI) has released its summary data on international students coming to Australia over the period from 2002-2007.

The 'level of course' information is particularly interesting.  Postgraduate growth over the 2002-2007 period is significantly greater than undergraduate growth.  81% compared to 35%.  I think this is an indicator of two trends.

First, that students have more postgraduate coursework options, and these are both pathways into professions, and permanent residence.  Secondly, that Australian universities international positioning is shifting.  The significant expansion in the capacity and quality of undergraduate programs in the Asia Pacific means we have been able to develop a niche as postgraduate providers.

Over half (56%) of the Masters coursework commencing students in 2007 were in management and commerce.  This continues the heavy emphasis we have always seen in undergraduate courses in the business areas.  Our long-term growth hinges on greater diversity in the choice by students of postgraduate programs.  We need more students into other programs to spread the load and to allow universities to sustain a more diverse spread of masters coursework degrees.

The picture with regard to research students is encouraging.  They represent just 12% of total international postgraduates, but at least that has remained constant over the past few years, meaning that both coursework and research students have increased at the same rate.  Moreover, they are spread over a broader range of fields than their coursework counterparts, with one fifth in the natural and physical sciences, and a little under a fifth in engineering.   The challenge for the future, though, is to continue to attract and increase our high quality research students.

One brief observation about the overall international numbers in 2007.  The massive growth in VET (46%) between 2006 and 2007, and its concentration in one or two states, rings alarm bells. Exceptionally fast growth in international education is a risk, because it tests both our institutional capacity and the ability of our communities to absorb rapid increases in student numbers.  Any serious problems with absorbing students is rapidly communicated around the world, because of web based social networks, and can quickly tarnish 'brand Australia'. (2/6/08)

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NAFSA 2008 Washington DC

NAFSA is the pre-eminent trade fair and conference on international education in North America.  It is a meeting point for international educators from across the globe.  Over 9,000 attended the Washington DC meeting, significantly more than last year.  The Washington Convention Centre is huge, so the participants spread across the building. 

The International Education Expo occupies an enormous central space, with over 400 exhibitors.  The Australian precinct centred on the Australian Education International (AEI) pavillion.  Surrounding it were the booths of university groups (the IRUA universities - neither the Group of Eight or the ATN universities were present); state groups (Study Adelaide, Perth Education City, Queensland universities); individual university booths; and educational agents and companies.

The IRUA booth was low-key.  It was occupied, on rotation, for most of the time by representatives of the seven university members.  The Study Adelaide booth was more imposing, occupying three or four spaces, and with better graphics and a DVD on South Australia on rotation.  Wine was served for an hour on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.  About 400 glasses were served the first day, and 850 the next.  That was almost one every six seconds on Thursday.

The networking and business meetings scheduled in and around the Expo are the meat and potatoes of NAFSA, at least for the Australians attending.  Most discussions are about exchange and study abroad relations.  Other conversation elements include US government policy, planned delegation visits to Australia, due diligence, and catching up on current gossip. 

Study Adelaide provided a breakfast themed Espionage Over Eggs for the South Australian universities.  About 85 turned up to listen to James Houston Turner talk about his life.

The Australian reception, a favourite of many NAFSA participants, was held at  the Galleria in the Lafayette Centre.  Attendance was around the 700s.  It was a sophisticated and noisy event, with the shortest speech in NAFSA history.  The after-party was at the Science Lab, a dark, trendy nearby bar.

There were also good seminar presentations, and some outstanding speakers.  I didn’t have time for any of these, but the talk was that former Mexican President Vicente Fox was bland, whereas the session moderated  by Judy Woodruff (from NewsHour with Jim Lehrer) was outstanding.  Ishmael Beah was also well received.

Various worthwhile events were scheduled around the time of the NAFSA meeting.  Australian Education International’s (AEI) pre-NAFSA Workshop brought together most of the Australian contingent to share information on current activities in North America.

I also attended a Roundtable Discussion on Trends in Internationalization in Higher Education at the Canadian Embassy.  Presentations by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) and the American Council on Education (ACE) were the centrepiece.  The AUCC undertook a major study titled Internationalizing Canadian Campuses that was published earlier this year, while ACE had produced a study on Mapping Internationalization on US Campuses.

Comment from a passing street-person with a guitar: buy my CD, it is called ‘Itinerati’.  (30/5/08)

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An article in the Australian Financial Review last week led to an invitation for me to talk with Richard Aedy on “Life Matters” on ABC Radio National.  He was attracted by the idea of the international competitiveness of cities.  A summary is reproduced below. 

“Radio National (Canberra)

Life Matters - 20/05/2008 9:30 AM Richard Aedy

Executive Producer Ms Amanda Armstrong.

Aedy interviews Professor Dean Forbes, Urban Policy developer at Flinders University in Adelaide about cities competing for people around the world not just the rich, but smart, well-educated and creative people most of all.

Forbes says: it is a development of the global economy; says the services economy in Australia is enormous and includes education, along with agriculture and resource sectors; says Melbourne has positioned itself well with strategy to become a knowledge city with major role in education internationally; says NSW has not grappled with this idea about the role of the universities; says Adelaide has great tradition of education and notes the Nobel Prize and Fields Medal winners; says there is a need for passionate leadership for reinvigoration of regions competing in global economy.

Interviewees: Professor Dean Forbes is Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International) at Flinders University

Duration: 15.05

This program or part thereof is syndicated to the following 8 station(s):- Radio National (Sydney), Radio National (Melbourne), Radio National (Brisbane), Radio National (Perth), Radio National (Hobart), Radio National (Adelaide), Radio National (Darwin), Radio National (Newcastle)”  (18/5/08)

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The Universities Australia submission to the Innovation Review is published on the web.  It has a more internationalised perspective than I thought it would have, though I don't think it has a clear framework within which to situate the international elements.  The positioning of Australia in the global knowledge economy is more fundamental to national innovation than is implied.  But the Innovation Review gives oxygen to the discussion about how to build the connections to the global knowledge economy, and that can be sustained in the future discussion around the Higher Education Review.

I believe we need to push for a more sophisticated and better integrated model of international cooperation in education.  But it will require the re-conceptualisation of bilateral and multilateral knowledge society links.  It is the essence of the third phase of internationalisation for Australian universities.

I am impressed by UKIERI - the United Kingdom India Education and Research Initiative - that supported my visit to India a few weeks back. Basically it is a package of links, it has government and industry funding, and it is all about building long term, educational relations between the UK and India. It makes the Australian approach look ad hoc. 

It seems to me Australia should be building Knowledge Partnerships (KP) in key countries.  These KPs would be adapted to the circumstances of the partner, and would be reviewed regularly, given the dynamics of this kind of activity.  I need to think more about the essential elements within this arrangement.  Some elements are no-brainers: student mobility, staff mobility, and research cooperation, for instance.  But it is in thinking about innovative ways of forging sustainable and distinctive KPs that needs more thought. Transnational programs should be part of the arrangement.  Government, industry and university funding should be combined. (10/5/08)

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A Higher Education Review was recently announced by the Australian government.  The Terms of Reference (TOR) are loose, but focused on innovation, productivity and labour market needs.  Because the Labor government is new, expectations within universities are high.  Labor was silent on international education in the lead in to the 2007 election, and has said little since coming to power. 

Some significant questions come to mind:

How does international education contribute to innovation and productivity gains?  By giving Australian students opportunities to travel abroad on student exchange?  By student work placements abroad?  By bringing foreign students, and their ideas to our campuses?  By attracting foreign research students? And how can the benefits be demonstrated to an evidence-based inquiry - do we have the  evidence to convincingly address the question?

How does international education contribute to Australia’s labour market needs?  A number of research reports question the preparedness of international students settling in Australia to take on professional occupations.

The TOR calls for universities with a global focus.  What kind of global focus is required?  How should universities go about achieving a global focus?

I don’t yet have answers to these questions.  (6/5/08)

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“Luring best and brightest”
Summaries - Australian Financial Review, 28/04/08 Education, Page 34 By: Joanna Mather

“According to urban development researcher Tan Yigitcanlar Australia’s five major cities are involved in a global battle to become ‘knowledge cities’ - to develop knowledge-based services economies and nurture local talent accordingly. Mr Yigitcanlar is a lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology and co-editor of two new books on the knowledge city idea. Variations on the theme are education cities, smart cities and knowledge regions, like Oxford and Cambridge in the UK.

Asian urban policy researcher and deputy vice-chancellor at Flinders University, Dean Forbes, supports the emphasis because he believes the services sector is the core of these regions’ economies and services at the top end are increasingly knowledge-based.

International organisations like the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the European Commission have accepted the knowledge-based urban design paradigm, says Mr Yigitcanlar. Melbourne made the shortlist of the World Capital Institute and Teleos compiled Most Admired Knowledge Cities Index. Research universities, including Monash University, RMIT and University of Melbourne educate and train the required workforce for economic development through technology and thus play a pivotal role. The City of Melbourne and Melbourne Vice Chancellors Forum have opened an office of knowledge capital, aiming to advance ‘KC’ through conferences, and dialogue with state and federal governments, business and industry.

Copenhagen Business School’s Professor Jan Mouritsen cautions that decision makers, however, do not really control the parameters for the knowledge city, and says that we should follow Europe in the manner in which they cultivate things they already have rather than designing from scratch.” (28/4/08)

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The Australian government has initiated a Review of Export Policies and Programs, which are managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.  Universities have been marginal to trade policy, yet have been the leading driver of international education ranking third among Australia's exports.  The export of education and related services (research, etc) are critical to Australia's positioning in the global knowledge economy. Australia needs strong Prime Ministerial support for this (as Tony Blair once provided in Britain), perhaps through the form of a Prime Ministerial statement.  Moreover, much of the current trade support infrastructure is of little use to services sector providers, especially education.  By and large it is the 'soft power' of Ambassadors, science and education counsellors, and hopefully Prime Ministerial support, that is most needed.  (24/4/08)

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Submissions to the Government’s Review of the National Innovation System have gone in.  I focused my input on the submission by the IRUA universities.

Australia's innovation strategy needs to take far more seriously the building of our international collaborations. We need to be strategic about the countries upon which we focus, and move beyond the USA and Europe.  China, India, Russia and Brazil will all become more significant nodes within the global knowledge economy in the 21st Century.  Australia needs to focus on developing collaborative links with these and other countries.  I would urge we give special attention to China and India.

Collaboration also must involve multiple interlocking strands.  Collaboration between researchers on projects is important, but so too are student mobility, industry placements, transnational education programs and collaborative community engagement.   Endeavour Awards provide some of the financial support for increased connections between knowledge workers, but the strategy needs to be more comprehensive and better funded.  The United Kingdom India Education and Research Initiative is a good model of a broad ranging university sector engagement, drawing together government, industry and the universities.

Knowledge workers are highly mobile.  However, Australia is not necessarily a place they want to come, as our research activities are small by comparison with the US, Europe and Asian hotspots such as Japan.  Therefore Australia particularly needs to put more effort into attracting research students, and supporting and managing the mobility of younger knowledge workers. (21/4/08)

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“Vietnam battles crumbling sea defences”

Radio Australia.  Connect Asia, 3 April 2008

“There are calls for Vietnam to upgrade its sea defences to prepare against rising ocean levels and stronger typhoons caused by global warming.

The nation is said to be one of the countries, which would be worst affected by climate change due to its low lying river deltas.

Presenter: Christine Webster
Speaker: Dean Forbes, Professor of Urban and Regional Development in the Asia Pacific at Flinders University in South Australia; Christine Webster”