Melbourne. AUSTRALIA's top universities fear their share of the world market for students is slipping because of bad publicity in Asia.
They identify two causes: adverse publicity around the anti-Asian outburst of independent MP Pauline Hanson and this year's Good Universities Guide.
Vice chancellors moved swiftly to condemn the outspoken MP, but the reaction of a breakaway group of eight leading research universities to the bookstore guide has puzzled many.
They say the guide's rankings are too simplistic and could damage one of Australia's largest export earners if published in Asia.
They have decided to set up their own overseas marketing offices in Asia and to conduct their own benchmarking against international universities following a weekend meeting of representative from all 36 universities.
The plan is to develop comparative performance data and make these materials available through a network of information and support centres in the major cities of the Asian region.
The Good Universities Guide is an annual publication that presents an array of data in the form of a consumer guide for students. The attack on the guide by leading universities is in itself an annual event.
The guide gathers data from several sources including the Graduate Careers Council of Australia, federal government statistics, student groups and the universities themselves. Some of this information is simplified in the manner of a restaurant review - five stars are good, one star is bad.
This sort of presentation is a university marketeer's dream. While most universities achieve a mixed review over several criteria, problems arise when some universities highlight their good results and ignore the not so good in their student marketing.
One bone of contention, for example, is that graduates of less prestigious universities such as Deakin and Victoria University of Technology give top marks to their institutions for satisfaction with teaching, while graduates of Melbourne University are less than satisfied with their lot.
Alan Gilbert, Melbourne's vice chancellor, suggests that his graduates were more discerning than others. "Has it ever occurred to (the guide's authors) that there appears to be a positive correlation between the quality of the student cohorts at enrolment and their willingness to provide negative feedback to their teachers?" Ironically one of the group of vice chancellors, John Niland, is president elect of the Australian Vice Chancellors Committee. On his election he spoke of how he would accommodate a "plurality" of interests within the AVCC.