Monday, August 10, 2020

Why regional universities and communities need targeted help to ride out the coronavirus storm

by Mehmet Aslan, The Conversation:

Australian universities are expected to lose billions of dollars in revenue due to the impacts of COVID-19. The estimated lost revenue from international students alone is A$18 billion by 2024. While all universities are affected, regional universities and communities are the most vulnerable.

Regional communities have limited resources, so their universities play a pivotal role in their economies. These universities must adjust to the rapidly changing circumstances and government policy changes, or risk jeopardising regional economic growth and jobs. Without targeted government support for these smaller universities, the long-term impacts on regional communities could be devastating.

The Regional Universities Network (RUN) includes CQUniversity, Southern Cross University, Federation University Australia, University of New England, University of Southern Queensland, University of the Sunshine Coast and Charles Sturt University. CQUniversity, where 39% of students are international students, has a revenue shortfall of  A$116 million for 2020. Charles Sturt University (32% international students) faces a loss of about A$80 million.

Charles Sturt University campus at Bathurst, NSW
Charles Sturt University has announced cuts to courses and jobs because of its deficit. Geoff Whalan/FlickrCC BY-NC-ND

What are the regional economic impacts?

All universities face job losses as a result of COVID-19. But the impacts of these job losses are greatest for regional economies.

RUN chair Helen Bartlett told a federal parliamentary committee hearing in May:

Job losses from regional universities have a significant impact on regional communities when there are few alternatives for professional employment locally.

RUN chair Helen Bartlett
The RUN chair, Professor Helen Bartlett, notes that when regional universities shed jobs their local communities have few professional employment alternatives. USC News

She called on the government to double the annual regional loading funding of A$74 million.

Regional universities educate around  115,000 students each year. That’s about 9% of enrolments at Australian public universities.

2018 study found regional universities inject A$1.7 billion a year into their local economies. And seven out of ten graduates go on to work in regional areas.

Regional universities also contribute over A$2.1 billion and more than 14,000 full-time jobs to the national economy.

Table showing the three main effects of regional universities on their regions
'The economic impact of the Regional Universities Network'/RUN

What is the government doing?

In April the federal government guaranteed A$18 billion in university funding this year to help the sector through the coronavirus crisis. It also provided A$100 million in regulatory fee relief.

Universities Australia chair Deborah Terry
The Universities Australia chair, Deborah Terry, has warned as many as 21,000 university jobs could be lost. Mick Tsikas/AAP

The chair of Universities Australia, Deborah Terry, welcomed this as a “first step”. However, she warned an estimated 21,000 jobs would still be lost.

In June, the government announced the Job-ready Graduates Package. It plans to lower student fees for selected courses (and raise others) to encourage study for what the government deems to be jobs of the future.

Extra support announced for regional universities includes:

  • 3.5% growth in Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding to regional and remote campuses

  • A$5,000 payments for students from outer regional, remote and very remote areas who transfer to Certificate IV study or higher, for at least one year

  • a new A$500 million-a-year fund for programs that help Indigenous, regional and low socioeconomic status students get into university and graduate

  • A$48.4 million in research grants for regional universities to partner with industry and other universities to boost their research capacity

  • A$21 million to set up new regional university centres

  • guaranteed bachelor-level Commonwealth-supported places to support more Indigenous students from regional and remote areas to go to any public university.

The government has also promised a A$900 million industry linkage fund. The aim is to help universities build stronger relationships with STEM industries and provide work-integrated learning opportunities.

What does this mean for regional universities?

The Regional Universities Network welcomed the package. Bartlett said:

Lowering the cost of the student contribution for courses such as nursing, allied health, teaching, agriculture, engineering, IT and maths should encourage greater uptake by regional students in these areas. It is estimated that there should be more places in the regions. More graduates from our universities will produce more graduates to work in regional Australia in areas of skills need.

As the COVID-19 economic battle is ever evolving, the tertiary education sector must be vigilant. Spending should be prioritised to make it equitable for all universities and their communities. Decision-makers need to be aware of the key issues affecting the success of tertiary education in the regions and their dependent communities.

Regional engagement activities and programs, backed by increased funding, improve the prospects of successfully weathering the COVID-19 storm. Regional universities can deliver national benefits, by overcoming skill shortages and meeting local workforce needs, while contributing to public and private community services such as schools and health services.

The government package is important for all universities, but this support is the only means of regional universities surviving. If they are not supported and are forced to close, regional education and economies will suffer for many years.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

The PhD: How to start your literature review

by Pat Thomson, Patter:

Thinking of starting a doctorate? Already deep into PhDing and worried about the literature work?

Well, when it comes to working with literatures, the old saying that there’s more than one way to skin a cat might be ugly, but it contains an important truth.  There is no one best way to do the literature review.

But don’t despair. The lit review is not entirely unknown territory. There are three well-trodden literature pathways you can consider – a trio of ways to think about how to begin and get stuck into the initial reading, summarising, thematising, categorising, mapping. If you don’t want to invent your own process, then take a look at these.

  • begin with a short list – a set of recommendations about the key texts that you need to read. You need to get a short list from a supervisor, or someone you can trust, maybe someone who is working on the same kind of topic but is a year or so ahead of you. Once you have your list, your job is basically to find the key themes relevant to your work and locate the leads to other relevant texts.

Eventually you will get to the outer reaches of the field and draw the borders you need, but by then you will have a sold grasp of the texts that are most germane to your study.

  • begin with something that already offers an interpretation of the field, its history, key texts, themes and debates. You’ll get a head start from an encyclopaedia, an international handbook, an introductory text, a published literature review, or an idiot’s guide. You might even find a published thesis or research report which is relevant to your study. It’s helpful to understand that an existing review is not necessarily going to include the most relevant literature for your study, but you will likely find some leads to where you need to go to find them. You also need to hold any ready made view of the field up to some scrutiny as you go, as it is one (or a handful of) persons interpretation of the field – not yours. You need to know the field you’re working in, not someone else’s. Or if there’s more than one field, then you may also need to think about overlaps.

One modification of this approach is to get a Masters level reading list (again from someone you can trust) and make your way through it. I did this myself in my own PhD when I worked out I had to know something about geography – I bought a set of Open University text books and self-managed my way through three Masters modules.

  • begin with a big search using google docs or google scholar or an academic search engine. If you are doing a systematic review or a rapid evidence review you would start this way and you’d use academic search engines. If you’re not, and still want to start big, you might also use publishers’ journal websites to get going. The start-big approach benefits from you having pretty good speed-reading, as well as some clear selection criteria. These criteria might be about methods, as in the systematic review. Or you might decide on some specific questions based on your research topic – If I want to do this research, then I need to know about x, y, z, just for starters.

Key to the writ-large approach is the understanding that you are establishing the outer edges of the field, as well as the core texts, at the same time. So there is quite a lot of ongoing sorting to do as you go along, you’re thematising and classifying right from the get-go. Yes, get those postits and markers at the ready.

It’s also a great idea to team up with other people working on a similar topic. You can share references and texts. You can also form a reading group to tackle some of the more difficult texts together.

Writing with literatures? Well that’s another story.