Simon Birmingham’s big education sell

The economy will move from relying on mines to relying on minds

Christie to cover @ ASQA

CMM hears former NSW TAFE managing director Pam Christie will join the Australian Skills Quality Authority as acting executive director, regulatory operations. She replaces, in part, Dianne Orr, who left her role as deputy chief commissioner and commissioner for regulatory operations in December.

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Birmingham’s walk in the Parkes

There are subtle signals from Simon “softly softly” Birmingham about what he wants to accomplish in higher education, this side of the election at least, in an op ed in the new Group of Eight newsletter.

And that is to defuse, at least, at best, own, for the government higher education as an election issue. Expect to hear his core message again and again, that he wants the higher education system to, “take our country forward confidently into the future as we transition from an economy reliant on mines, to one focused on minds.”

For a start, the minister makes it clear that he is not conceding access to education as an issue Labor and the Greens can have to themselves. Thus Senator Birmingham invokes father of federation and founder of public education in NSW, Henry Parkes; “I agree with his oft-stated vision: to build a just, fair and egalitarian society with everybody educated and aware of their rights and responsibilities and with equal opportunities to participate.”

Smart stuff, where Chris Pyne claimed Menzies, not Whitlam was the founder of the modern university system Senator Birmingham associates the conservatives with all of education as the engine of social mobility.

The minister also keeps measures to address attrition on the agenda. “Universities must take responsibility for those students they choose to enrol and ensure they have the capabilities and support to succeed,” he told CMM last month. “Where universities come in is by supporting and encouraging students so they aren’t just another number on a seat,” he tells the Go8 audience now. This looks like a slow burn, which will make a biggish bang in to the budget with funding, and perhaps penalties, to variously reward and punish universities for the numbers of students who complete their degrees or drop out.

But the minister is careful not to upset anybody with the prospect of government intervening in university enrolment decisions.

“For all the accountability required for the funding and support we give universities, we must balance that with institutional autonomy – they must be independent and as free as possible to determine their futures. Not only is the autonomy of universities one of the elements of a free society, but it is also key to their being the best they can be.”

And if Senator Birmingham does not want to upset university managements he certainly will not alarm all the parents who heard the National Tertiary Education Union and allies’ warning that deregulation means “$100k degrees” last year. The most he mentions now is “the vital challenge of adequately resourcing our universities through effective balancing of both public and private benefits.”

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Tested teachers

QUT now has 100 staff who are fellows of the UK Higher Education Academy With ANU and Murdoch it is accredited to assess applications for HEA fellowship from its own staff. QUT is now also launching its own teaching and learning academy. It’s a smart strategy. To administrators  at some universities more teaching is something that people who do not research should do but to students the better the teachers the superior the experience.

Prescription for persistence

Charles Sturt University was cheered up last week by Productivity Commission data showing the bush is still light on for GPs, making a case for the CSU and La Trobe U push for the Murray Darling Medical School. The case for the MDMS is based on this shortage, which they argue, will be met by training more doctors in the bush. This, they say, is because doctors who train in the country are happy to stay there, unlike their urban colleagues who stay in cities.

As to the oversupply of interns, friends of the MDMs say this is a metro problem, caused by urban universities pumping out more graduates, including international fee-paying students, than hospitals in the cities can accommodate.

Even so, CSU and La Trobe will struggle to win this argument on the numbers alone. The established medical schools are immensely influential and see no need to admit another competitor, CMM August 9 2013). However policy, with politics added, can succeed. Curtin U now has a med school, despite the distaste of many in the Perth med ed establishment, because the university had the help of the premier who the federal government was inclined to listen to. CSU will just have to keep plugging away.

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Murdoch’s minimal management

“How many managers does it take to run a university,” the WA branch of the National Tertiary Education Union asks. It’s not the obvious answer – none, because they can’t be run. Instead the union has combed records of the Workplace Gender Equity Agency to find that there are 2000 managers listed from 12 250 staff at the state’s four public universities. What’s interesting is the spread, ranging from a manger for 3.9 staff at UWA, through 1 to 22.17 at Murdoch.

Animals on agenda

The University of Wollongong is hosting a conference, ‘Beyond the human: feminism and the animal turn,” which runs from this morning through Thursday. Speakers include, Roslyn Appleby (UTS) who, “looks at the relationship between sharks human animals and gender normativity,” Rosemary Clerehan (Monash U) on “babes being vegan: young women performing veganism on YouTube,” and Muhammad Kavesh (ANU) on the “intertwining connection between masculinity, gender and animal cruelty, in the South Punjab region of Pakistan.

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