University games: protect ANU from CQU’s rebranding overreach
It looks like the Central Queensland University , the official name of the university as constituted by the Queensland Parliament Central Queensland University Act 1998 , is up to its old tricks again.
Back in 2006, CQU students complained about being treated as “cash cows” and former Victorian premier John Cain agreed. He said the university’s Melbourne city campus did not have appropriate facilities for a tertiary institution. “The university is detached physically by some thousands of kilometres from its base, giving its name and blessing to the courses but the campus is being run by a private company.” Campus Management Services was eventually bought out and its staff and operations were absorbed into the university.
Now we hear that CQUniversity Australia , its current brand name , is seriously considering a name change. Two names have already been registered with ASIC: “Australian National Regional University” and “National Regional University of Australia”. These registered names could easily confuse unaware students to think the university they were signing up with was linked to the Australian National University, which features highly in world university rankings.
Unlike the ANU, the CQU has spread itself across Australia and continues to use and establish extra, rented, city mini-campuses and even smaller study centres. Compared with the ANU, its academic workforce is small in number and spread very thinly throughout the nation, with at least one “campus” or study centre in each state except Tasmania, nor in the Northern Territory and the ACT. Remarkably, the CQU even exists at Karratha and Geraldton in Western Australia, and Cooma in NSW.
Unlike the CQU’s previous focus on snaring overseas students, its primary market this time is Australian HECS-fee-paying students seeking technical and further education and/or university qualifications.
Understandably, the locals in Rockhampton, who fought long and hard to first bring advanced and then higher education to Australia’s beef capital, are suspicious. They are asking questions: is the CQU ashamed of Central Queensland? Is the CQU thinking of moving its headquarters out of Rockhampton at a time this regional city is battling the consequences of the mining downturn? Who will pay the costs of rebranding CQUniversity? What do Queensland’s ALP Education Minister, Kate Jones, and the Coalition’s federal minister, Christopher Pyne, have to say about this?
The wider issue is: does Australia have in place appropriate governance mechanisms to ensure Australia’s university system is not damaged from within? It has taken a decade, and much hard work, for Australia to undo the damage to our international reputation caused by the 2006 scandal of “cash-cow” degrees. There is more work to do to ensure the necessary quality control standards of this important Australian export industry. Thank heavens, the appalling excesses of 2006 are behind us.
But the CQU now seems to be seeking to become the marketing king of the domestic tertiary education industry. Yet we need this industry to play a key role in providing the knowledge and skills base for our future workforce.
We are now faced with the threat of a minor tertiary institution being marketed as the crucial Australian National Regional University. But this time with a top-heavy management structure, and with taxpayer-salaried campus and study centre managers.
Canberra is rightly proud of the ANU, a university that, like Canberra itself, has done the hard yards to build a deserved national and international reputation. The ANU is not a brand name registered with ASIC and it should not be cheapened by any university, let alone one with the CQU’s track record, seeking to undermine its brand reputation and that of other fine Australian universities, by running a marketing trick that implicitly promises what it can’t deliver.
Back in 2006, one of the “cash-cow” CQU Melbourne students said: “When you compare us to RMIT or Monash, we don’t have adequate facilities and libraries. They are just taking our money.” If this is not to be repeated in 2016, we need a special COAG meeting of education ministers to work together to agree on operational governance guidelines for Australian universities receiving HECS-fee-funded students, how these guidelines will be policed and how the university system across Australia will be managed to benefit the nation rather than a single player off on a crusade of its own.
As we found a decade ago, a laissez-faire, free-wheeling approach is far too costly for the taxpayer, for students and for those universities, like the ANU, that are jointly working effectively and hard to build an even more successful Australia.
Ross Fitzgerald is an emeritus professor of history and politics at Griffith University, and the author of 37 books.
The Canberra Times, 7 August 2015