Category Archives: Uncategorised

Higher education reform: small changes for now but big ones to come

File 20170502 17299 wyex8i
There could be much bigger changes ahead for universities.

By Emmaline Bexley, University of Melbourne

The pre-budget announcement of changes to higher education funding made by Education Minister Simon Birmingham last night includes an increase in student fees of 1.8% per year between 2018 and 2021, totalling a 7.5% increase over all. The Conversation

This will equate to a rise in fees for Australian undergraduates of $2,000 to $3,600 over the course of their degree.

The repayment threshold for Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) will also be lowered.

These increased fees and faster repayment schedules for students will be accompanied by an “efficiency dividend”, which cuts funding for teaching by about 2.8% in 2018 and 2019 (equivalent to a A$380 million reduction in 2019).

What does this mean for students?

For students, this means that they will need to borrow more for an education, and will pay it back sooner. And the education they pay for will be delivered by universities under increased financial stress.

This is straightforward “no winners” austerity politics, common now around the developed world.

The way the proposed changes were introduced to the public was particularly interesting, with the government sending out a press package that included a paper by Deloitte on the cost of teaching (very technical reading) as well as a list of vice chancellors’ pay and links to building projects being undertaken by universities.

Clearly the scene was being set for a reduction in funding on the basis that universities are presently overfunded – yet the fee increases and funding reductions revealed later in the day were modest compared to expectations.

Fee increases starting at 25% had been speculated on across the national media, and the proposed 20% cut to funding had been hanging over the sector since 2014.

What the Deloitte paper reveals

Analysis of the Deloitte paper makes interesting reading. A comparison with the conclusions drawn from it by government is particularly revealing.

For example, the ministerial release asserts that the Deloitte paper shows:

[university] revenue has grown faster than costs – between 2010 and 2015 the average costs of delivery per student have increased by 9.5%, compared to per student funding growth of 15%.“

Deloitte, however, specifically cautions that the cost of teaching figures from their earlier 2010 paper and the new 2015 data,

cannot be compared as direct growth or decline in costs relative to funding over the five years to 2015, given the differences in the sample, and differences in cost collection approaches.

Deloitte also warns:

Similarly, caution should be taken in drawing inferences about the sufficiency of [Commonwealth Grant Scheme] funding directly from these [cost of teaching to funding] ratios.

Yet the government media release accompanying the report was accompanied by talking points including that universities “have been pocketing taxpayer funds beyond the costs of their operations”.

The difficulty here, as Deloitte notes, is that,

while not specifically stated in the Higher Education Support Act 2003, there is a general view that CGS funding is intended to cover some level of base research activity (which may be excluded from the definition of teaching and scholarship costs used in this study), and the cost of such research may vary as a proportion of teaching costs.

Impact on research and teaching

What appears to be happening is that research is being uncoupled from teaching.

At present, universities are legislatively required to undertake research and to offer research higher degrees.

This is not the case universally, and is somewhat of an Australian quirk – a legacy of the Dawkins reforms a quarter of a century ago.

The Dawkins reforms transformed 19 universities and 46 colleges, often unwillingly, into 36 public universities. All were required to undertake research, which caused some angst against teacher-practitioners at the time.

Since then, the connection between higher education teaching and active research has become entrenched in Australian ideas of what a university education is. This is despite the heavy reliance of most universities on research-inactive sessional teaching staff for much of their course delivery.

Since Dawkins, the intensity of research activity had been extremely uneven across the sector, and costly for many institutions to maintain.

By uncoupling the funding for staff research time from expectations around what Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding is intended for, the scene has been set for a possible reconfiguration of the sector.

The discussion package released is also telling.

The final paragraph of the final page before the concluding section foreshadows the potential for the biggest shift in higher education since Dawkins. Announcing a benign sounding “Review of the Higher Education Provider Category Standards”, the paper says that:

The review will include public and stakeholder consultation around options to change provider categories, including the possibility of a teaching-only university category… It is expected that the government will consider the outcome of the review in the 2018–19 Budget context.

So while the changes to fees and funding will be hard on students and universities – more job losses look certain, especially for the many institutions already struggling – the game-changers look set to be deferred until next year’s budget.

Will Dawkins’ large, research-heavy university sector be unpicked? What would teaching-based universities look like? Could the sector manage real institutional differentiation if it was forced to?

And the most important question is what all this might mean for our future students.

Emmaline Bexley, Senior Lecturer in Higher Education, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Confirmation of Candidature – Marcia’s Story

By Ruth Wagstaff

This is the story of someone’s confirmation. Let’s keep this person anonymous and call her Marcia. Marcia loved the topic that she settled on. She read far and wide. She talked about it with anyone who would listen. She found scholarships to apply so that she had to write for different audiences. She would write literature reviews to help consolidate and refine the research question. Her supervisors were happy with her progress and they mostly enjoyed supervision because she was constantly finding new questions. However, her supervisor’s joy was tempered by Marcia’s inability to choose the measures and methodology.

Marcia announced to her supervisor that she wanted an early confirmation. The supervisor nodded in agreement, no doubt hoping it would force Marcia to make decisions that she alone could make about measures and methodology. The associate supervisor simply went along with the decision because he trusted in Marcia’s ability to get things done. Her supervisor nominated the panel and to Marcia’s surprise they all accepted.

About 3 weeks before the proposal was due to be submitted to the panel, Marcia polished her proposal. Polishing the proposal had three effects on Marcia. The first is that just has her principle supervisor had predicted, she was forced to make decisions about methodology and measures. This was a very good outcome. Another effect was that polishing provided an opportunity to tighten the conceptual work. Another good outcome. But less a desirable effect was the realisation that the project could go very pear shaped, and even worse, that she did not have the skills and knowledge to do complete the project successfully. Her feet went cold but hands became sweaty. Sleeping became a little difficult. She became irritable. Marcia had visions of the panel laughing at her and cutting her down into bite size pieces. Marcia had gone from a confident and carefree soul to one shackled by poor confidence, imposter syndrome, and anxiety.

Supervision was no longer something Marcia looked forward to but her supervisor was wise and very experienced. Not only had he seen it all before, but experienced similar emotions during the confirmation of his Ph.D. candidature several decades earlier. In his usual calm voice, the supervisor asked Marcia what she was most afraid of.

Marcia’s reply was honest. She said, “I feel academically very vulnerable – even when doing a practice presentation for you here in your office. There is no reason for me to feel like this because you do not bite, and you do not want to tear me apart. I have worked on this proposal solidly for 12 months. It is mixed with my blood, sweat, and tears, and comes from my inner soul.”

The supervisor nodded in agreement, waited a moment, and said in a slow deliberate tone, “Yes, but the panel and I only want you to succeed. We are on your side.”
As he spoke, Marcia reflected on the stories of the candidates who were left in tears. Through the haze of Marcia thoughts, her supervisor’s voice took centre stage again.

“If you knew the answers to this research, it would not be Ph.D. worthy,’” he continued. “You have done the work required. Relax in your ability to get this done. You are not alone on this journey.”

As alone as Marcia felt, the evidence was that she was not alone. Her closest friends were Ph.D. colleagues and were always there. She knew her supervisors were walking with her, mentoring, and guiding her. The panel was walking with her by taking time out of their busy day to read the proposal, listen to the presentation, and make comments to help her. The panel did not have to do this but chose to. Marcia was definitely not alone.

The day of the confirmation presentation came and went. Marcia may have felt as if she was carrying the world on her shoulders, but as she heard her voice begin the oral presentation, her concerns lifted. Her PhD friends were there. Her supervisors were there. The panel were listening attentively. Extra staff were there to support her as well. There is still work ahead but her project is Ph.D. worthy. Marcia is now a confirmed candidate: she has crossed a bridge and is about to embark on a new phase of her PhD journey.

Be prepared

 By Neil Martin

Be prepared Image credit: Viktor Gurniak (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Presenting your research ideas at your confirmation of candidature is a scary prospect. I can remember a few sleepless nights thinking about my confirmation talk and all the possible things that could go wrong. However a successful presentation really does come down applying the Scouts motto “Be Prepared.”

What is confirmation for?

Your passage through confirmation of candidature involves writing a research proposal that articulates your research plan for your doctoral thesis. There is also an accompanying presentation through which you demonstrate your understanding of your research area and present a viable thesis plan that will take you through to the end of your doctoral studies. Following your presentation you will be asked some questions by your confirmation panel and members of the audience.

Prior to your presentation, the panel members will have read your proposal and formed some opinions and ideas on its quality. It may not feel like it at the time, but they are there to help. Their role is to cast an eye over your research ideas, identify any possible problems, and ultimately judge if you have a future doctoral thesis, for example: Is your research plan logical and well formed? Have you articulated your research questions? Are your ideas theoretically sound?

In the early stages of your thesis, there are lots of confirmation presentations, and it is well worth going to a few to familiarise yourself with the process. Confirmations are advertised regularly through the Redtrain bulletin, but make sure you go to as many that are close to your discipline as possible as they are the most likely to be similar in content to yours.

Preparing your slides

Given the effort that you have put in creating your confirmation proposal it is easy to leave your presentation to the last minute, however I would recommend starting work on this at least a month before. Ensure that your slides tell the story of your research including articulating the research problem, providing a theoretical overview, presenting your research questions, your studies, how you intend to analyse your data, and the possible implications of your research.

Remember not to clutter your slides with too much information (use more slides if necessary) and use diagrams where they may add understanding and context for the audience. There are some great resources out there on slide preparation so do a quick google search.

Practicing your presentation

Some of the best presenters spend a long time preparing their talks. The late Steve Jobs obsessively rehearsed product launches yet made them seem effortless.

If like me you don’t see yourself as a natural public speaker and feel quite anxious about your presentation, your best approach is to practice and rehearse as many times as possible. First of all, practice your presentation on your own until you know the contents of each slide. Make sure that you time each presentation to get a sense of how long you are likely to take on the day. You should be aiming for a presentation that lasts around 30 minutes and no longer than 40, so you may need to add or delete a slide or two. Once you feel more confident, practice with your partner or a close friend. They may not understand all the content but you can rehearse making eye contact and begin to get a sense of the flow of your presentation.

You should practice your presentation at least once with your primary supervisor. Your supervisor will often pick up on things that you will not. I can remember clearly in a practice run with my supervisor that he noticed that I was using the laser pointer in an annoying way when explaining a diagram describing my theoretical perspective. Rather than pointing at a specific element of the diagram, I was waggling the pointer all over the place, most irritating for the audience and something I was very conscious of on the actual day and did not repeat.

Familiarisation and imagery

One tip I would offer is to familiarise yourself with the room that you will be presenting in. If it’s a bookable room then try and book it out for an hour and rehearse your presentation. Understand where you will be standing and where the panel will be sitting, check also that the technology is working e.g., if you are plugging in your own laptop.

A useful technique you may wish to try is imagery. Imagery is a psychological skill that many elite athletes use in preparation for competition and may be used in a limited way to help you prepare for your talk. Although it requires a great deal of practice (I certainly would not describe myself as an expert), it may help you mentally prepare for your talk including manage your anxiety.

The images that you should attempt to create in your mind should be one of success. On your first visit to your presentation room, learn as much as you can about it for later recollection. Try to take in as much detail as you can about the room and then imagine yourself in that space successfully giving your presentation to a panel and the audience. Picture exactly where the panel and the audience will sit, consider the noise in the room and lighting and colour. Think about where you will be standing in relation to the audience. Imagine yourself talking authoritatively and in control about your research and answering the panel’s questions clearly and concisely.  You should try to be relaxed when using imagery and try to use all your senses to create the simulation.

Finally, if you have given a successful talk in the past, which undoubtedly you have, then draw upon these feelings as you prepare.  It’s not easy, but try to ignore those times when you were less successful. To the best of my abilities, I used some imagery techniques for my preparation, and it really helped me with my confidence on the day. It’s certainly a skill that I would love to master.

Confirmation day 

On your day of confirmation, turn up to your room as early as possible. Set up your presentation and do (yet another) check of your slides, by now their order will be very familiar to you. After that follow a routine that be suits you, you may want to go for a quick walk on your own, or chat to your supervisor or a friend. A few minutes before your talk, stand where you will give the talk as try once again to recall those images of success. Once the panel and the audience have arrived, you will be introduced by the panel chair and will be away on your presentation. From my memory those 30 or 40 minutes go very quickly!

The dreaded questions

Having given your talk, you will be asked a few questions by the panel before opening out to the room.  It is impossible to know exactly what you will be asked, but it is well worth anticipating them. Prior to your presentation day, you can discuss with your supervisor possible questions. You should also critically assess your confirmation submission for further questions writing down and answering any possible questions that you think may come up. For example, you may be very quantitative in your research method and a panel member may ask why you are not using more qualitative approaches. On the day don’t feel the need to commit to all the feedback that you are given if you are not sure of a response then acknowledge the point and say that you will discuss further with your supervisor.

Don’t panic!

I hope these tips are useful to you. Remember to prepare properly and you will increase your chances of having a positive experience in your confirmation presentation. If you are anxious remember that the audience will be more sympathetic than you think and in fact we often draw off our nerves to excel on the day. Don’t panic (more easily said that done!) and good luck – it’s one of the big milestones on your PhD journey.

Below are a few links that may help you further.

How To Mentally Prepare Yourself To Give The Performance Of Your Life

5 classic research presentation mistakes

AIS – Imagery

Help it’s confirmation and I’m experiencing fear!


We All Make a Sacrifice or Two

By Ruth Wagstaff

Today is the fifth Saturday in a row I have prepared for an “open house”. Yes, I am
selling my house; that humanly engineered cave that has protected me from the weather, that
has my belongings scattered around it, that has provided stability while I have raised my
children to adulthood, and that been my l’ttle haven for the last five years. Selling my house
is part of the sacrifice that I have made for higher level study.

As I walked away from the house and the real estate agent walked into it, I realised
that every PhD candidate has a sacrifice story. We all give something up to achieve a dream.
What each of us sacrifice is unique to ourselves. The struggle to give up becomes apparent to
each of us, to our families, to our friends, and to our colleagues and supervisors at different
stages of our PhD journey. How each of these networks responds to the struggle may even
determine the likelihood of completing the journey.

As I walked away from the house, I asked myself why does each PhD candidate have
to sacrifice? As I thought about it, I realised my Doctor friends tell me is that the PhD
journey changed them. Their findings did not change the world, but it did change their
world. These friends tell me that they learnt something about who they are, their priorities,
and their humanity. The doctorate was as much about personal growth as academic and
professional growth.

As I walked away, I wondered if the PhD was worth the sacrifice of my home. The
conclusion I reached was that no PhD was worth any sacrifice but the PhD journey is. A
PhD is not the testamur, the academic robes, or sitting with the academics at graduation. It is
about the personal changes, the realisation that I do not know it all, that I have a lifetime to
learn, and that I can be comfortable with me. It also about learning how to be an active and compassionate listener. I could learn all this by making other choices, but I have chosen a

I am sure that the stories of sacrifice will continue for as long as there are PhDs. Each
sacrifice will have its own personal meaning and inspire someone.. And when we put all our
stories together, there is a wealth of insight into the meaning of the PhD journey. At the end
of the journey, we will all contribute some unique and original piece of knowledge because
that is the nature of a doctorate. But in my opinion, at the end of the journey, each of us will
have learned something unique and original about ourselves, and that is what we will share
with the rest of world.

Next weekend will be the sixth open house. Maybe, a buyer will be amongst those
who inspect the house. Whatever happens, I am one more week into my journey–a journey
that will change my outlook forever. It is a journey that I do not take alone, because we all
make sacrifices and we all grow.

Why my doctorate is NOT a PhD…

By Tegan Darnell

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is a doctoral qualification which has been formally awarded by universities since the Middle Ages.

A university class, 1350sA university class, (1350s).

The aim of a PhD is usually to provide someone with the skills they need to become a ‘scholar’. But, what if you don’t want to be a ‘scholar’?

In Australia, today, the PhD is one of a number of Doctoral level degrees that meet the criteria for Doctoral study, which the highest level of qualification according to the Australian Qualifications Framework.

There are 3 main types of Doctoral degree in Australia;

  1. A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD),
  2. a Professional Doctorate (eg. DEdu, DBA, DEng, etc.), or
  3. the Doctor of Professional Studies (DPS).

A PhD is used to show that a student can “conduct research independently and make a significant contribution to new knowledge” (USQ handbook), or, ‘be a researcher’.

A Professional Doctorate allows someone who is already a practising professional to develop theoretical and research skills within a specific field or discipline.

The Doctor of Professional Studies (DPS) allows you to combine your professional work with study and obtain an ‘interdisciplinary’ or ‘trans-disciplinary’ doctoral degree based entirely in your workplace.

While a PhD makes an original contribution to knowledge, the DPS specifically aims to make a significant contribution to practice. Outcomes do not need to be entirely academic, but can consist of artefacts such as project reports, software, or products.

Although it is established at a number of universities in the US and the UK, USQ is one of only two universities in Australia which offers a DPS .

The program Director, Dr Luke Van der Laan, is passionate enough about the program that I was convinced very quickly it was the right program for me.

I’m still convinced, 18 months (and many frustrations and tears) later…

For more information, see: Helen Wildy, Sanna Peden & Karyn Chan (2015) “The rise of professional doctorates: case studies of the Doctorate in Education in China, Iceland and Australia”, Studies in Higher Education, 40:5, 761-774, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2013.842968