IRU tells Senate: delay deregulation to save it

Plus for-profit training takes another hit

Invent something useful dammit

In case anybody has missed Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane’s oft-made point that it is about time university researchers started partnering with business to make money there is a new incentive in the PM’s Prizes for Science. Come November Prime Minister (insert here who you reckon it will be) will announce a winner in the new Commercial Application of Science category.

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Big blow for Birmingham

In a new blow to the credibility of the for-profit training industry Careers Australia chief Patrick McKendry has stepped aside from his post as deputy chair of the Commonwealth Government’s Vocational Education and Training Board. Training Minister Simon Birmingham’s office confirmed Mr McKendry’s move to CMM late Friday. It followed Careers Australia being named in an ABC TV report on recruiters for private VET companies using aggressive sale tactics to enrol disadvantaged people in courses. With 14 000 students Careers Australia is a major training provider and claims to be “Australia’s leading private provider of vocational education and training.”

Mr McKendry is a very senior member of the training community. He chaired Technical and Vocational Education and Training Australia, a company owned by state and federal ministers, which oversaw and licensed training materials between 2006 and 2009. He was also chair of the National Quality Council in those years. Mr McKendry has additionally held a range of training governance appointments. Last August Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane appointed him deputy chair of the Vocational Education and Training Board.

This is a setback for Senator Birmingham’s campaign to repair the reputation of the for-profit industry, which has taken a hammering from allegations of sharp practise in student recruitment and poor-quality courses.

Coincidentally, NSW TAFE management is running a TV campaign featuring its employers saying its courses are “a badge of quality.”

Everybody got that?

On Friday the National Health and Medical Research Council sent a message to 2015 project grant applicants; “to further clarify recent advice, we can confirm that applicants do not need to fill in the CI Time Commitment SECTION of the Grant Proposal.  Leave it blank.  This change is effective immediately.” Lord knows the horrible fate that awaits applicants who filled it in.

Eight’s only option

The Group of Eight’s submission to the Opposition initiated Senate committee inquiry into the Pyne Package MkII is concise but brevity does not compromise clarity. The Eight’s irritation with all who ignore, obfuscate or don’t understand what it sees as the clear case for deregulation is politely put on the record, again.

The submission spells out the need for a new funding stream and the consequences for research now and teaching in the future as demographic driven demand picks up, if nothing is done. And it makes carefully calibrated concessions to fears of a market red in tooth and claw, endorsing international student fees as a ceiling, minus Commonwealth contributions for domestic course costs, and supporting Australian Consumer and Competition Commission oversight.

Overall it takes a TINA line, suggesting there is no alternative to deregulating, with only impractical alternative ideas on the agenda. Thus the Eight sets out the options;

* increasing pubic funding per student and for research, “history would indicate this is unlikely to occur.”

* doing nothing, which will decay education quality and only delay dealing with the existing unsustainable system.

Or,

* adopting the “socially progressive” policy of increasing the per centage of costs paid by students, via HECS and without price caps

Only one option when you put it like that.

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Kicking goals

Given La Trobe’s deal with Manchester City Soccer Club, I wonder who VC John Dewar barracks for in the land of his birth? Nobody at the university knows, but Andrew ‘the rifleman” Trounson from The Australian says it is Southampton. The club is rated fourth in the English first division, close to, but behind the leaders – much like La Trobe really.

Dozens of other universities also have links with football teams and somewhere a fundraiser dreams of a national university competition to encourage alumni devotion and donations. Problem would be getting them to agree on a code. As Donna Weeks (USC) and Ian Hall (Griffith) suggest, half the Group of Eight would want rugby and the other half AFL. Soccer would work for the IRU group and rugby league for most of NSW and Qld.

As for all the others, surely the AFL could fund a new competition for a fraction of the cost of propping up the GWS Giants.

Number to beat

Anybody interested in applying for the ANU VC job should check the advert which appeared in the Fin on Friday – although don’t worry if you can’t find a copy, its standard recruiter guff which could apply to any university in the country, planet probably. There is, however, one quantifiable competency, which requires more than the usual HR-speak – “high-level fundraising expertise.” How high? I’m guessing the benchmark is the $50m scholarship programme endowed by Graham and Louise Tuckwell on departing VC Ian “the gent” Young’s watch.

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Delay deregulation to save it

Last week the Innovative Research Universities group made the case for deregulation in its submission to the government initiated Senate inquiry into the Pyne package – more money from students is essential because while governments will fund more places they do not provide enough money to educate individuals properly.

This week the IRU responds to the competing inquiry, established by the Opposition and addresses options on how deregulated fees would work. In particular the IRU supports further consideration of the Chapman-Phillips model (CMM February 26) which lets universities charge what they like but with government funding tapering once they exceed a cap.

The IRU also opposes the major alternative to deregulation, a return to the old compacts model. “The IRU rejects all proposals to reinstate controls over the number of students, whether as a means to control expenditure or to prevent some people accessing higher education. Demand driven funding ensures that higher education will respond to future growth in the need for higher education, particularly from those areas now still under-supplied, without further government interventions and controls. It should not be sacrificed in a shortsighted search for savings.”

However it is the support for Chapman-Phillips that is especially significant, proposing a compromise that might suit crossbench senators and save some skin for Minister Pyne. But not now, the IRU effectively argues for delaying deregulation until a new scheme is sold. “If there is then broad interest in it as a viable way ahead there should then be considerable testing and discussion before a final version could be endorsed and necessary legislation agreed.”

The IRU’s proposal for Mr Pyne is clear – delay deregulation to save it.

Casuals cop it

There is a blue brewing at the University of the Sunshine Coast over $1.4m worth of cuts to hours/overall employment of sessional staff in the arts and business faculty. Full time staff who are not active researchers will also have to teach more hours. According to the National Tertiary Education Union, management wants to spend the savings on “strategic initiatives,” without revealing what they are. Although, the faculty’s failure to meet enrolment targets might also have something to do with it. As executive dean Joanne Scott tells staff, university modelling indicates the faculty will not reach load.

It seems that casuals will carry the can for any shortfall and/or change in funding priorities. As corporate services PVC Scott Synder, advises; there is no intention to reduce permanent academic staff numbers – in fact, there are new academic appointments being made from the savings.”

Already understood

Leading for-profit scholarly journal publisher Reed Elsevier is changing its name to RELX Group and setting up a new corporate structure to make the business easier for investors to understand. Researchers whose publicly funded work the company now publishes for private profit don’t have any trouble following the existing model.

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Know something the world needs to know? Anonymity guaranteed but lots of questions asked, stephen4@hotkey.net.au