50 Shades of Funding

 Extra curricular 

University of Queensland media is promoting a student anthology of love stories 50 Shades of Awkward, with pre-sales available via crowd funding site, Kickstarter. Apparently American actor Ron Jeremy endorses the project, (if you don’t know who he is do not Google while at work). Mr Jeremy writes, “for once it was my mind that was blown.” Quite.

Trading shots over teachers

The NSW Vice Chancellors Committee had a go last night at state education minister Adrian Piccoli who wants a cap on teacher education numbers. Understandably so, there is university autonomy to defend, as well as the revenue stream teaching education students provide. What’s more, the VCs say, there is no over-supply of teachers. The committee commissioned school research specialist Barbara Preston to analyse the stats. She found that within a few years of graduation 77 per cent of teachers are working full time with almost the rest in part time jobs. The VCs also had a go at Minister Piccoli over another of his ideas, a minimum university entry score for teaching. “Evidence shows, time and again, that a student’s HSC performance has more to do with socioeconomic status than ability. It is imperative that schools, universities and government continue to work together to ensure our graduates are measured on their professional readiness and performance, rather than HSC school results,” the VCs’ convenor, the University of Newcastle’s Caroline McMillen said. With federal minister Chris Pyne talking of an inquiry into teacher education this is an overdue intervention in the debate over teacher numbers and the quality of their training by VCs. Expect Mr Piccoli (but not Mr Pine at least until his inquiry is complete) to reply.

Your lifelong learning is their treadmill

“Educational inflation builds on itself; from the point of view of the individual degree-seeker, the best response to its declining value is to get even more education. The more persons who hold advanced degrees, the more competition among them for jobs, and the higher the educational requirements that can be demanded by employers.” Randall Collins in Salon. 

Could no go Gonski can the cuts?

A policy watcher wonders whether Chris Pyne has created an opportunity for Labor to start presenting again as the universities best friend. On Sunday the education minister announced that the Gonski school funding reforms were off, what with their being a “complete shambles.” The problem is that the Emerson higher education cuts were intended to pay for the Gonski program and if they are not on so surely is the need to take $900 million or so from universities. Yes, as long, that is, you ignore the bit where the minister says, “The funding itself is not at risk. What we need to change is the way the model will be delivered.” Mr Pyne made the point again late yesterday, saying “the Coalition will honour our election commitments in full including matching the funding for school education over the forward estimates.” But for an energetically outraged shadow minister with a hide measured in meters (morning Senator Carr) the government getting rid of Gonski might be just enough to justify voting against the Labor cuts on the grounds that the Libs have abandoned the need for them. Not that this would accomplish anything in a policy sense but it would allow Labor to claim it was responsibly trying to restore the university’s funding. Of course it would be a stunt but since when have oppositions eschewed them?

Up to Speed on media exposure

Winner of the prime minister’s prize for scientist Terry Speed describes media coverage of the award, saying that “lots” of people saw it and that “it was well worth it”. Heavens “most” of the print stories “were well written and informative.” To an extent this is because Professor Speed is great talent  – you only had to hear him on the radio to realise he is a quality communicator. But it is also because most hacks are not idiots and respond well to interesting research. The army of science communicators in universities and research organisations should distribute his debrief to scientists who fear interviews or just hate hacks.

Brand builders 

Here’s a scary stat for university marketers – according to global comms agency Havas people would not be bothered if 73 per cent of the brands they buy disappeared. Which means the bad news is that as education, especially on-line, becomes commodified consumers will not pay much attention where a subject comes from. But the bad news is also good news (at least for nimble marketers), as University of Canberra VC Stephen Parker explained in May, “The value of a university qualification rests partly in the eyes of others.  It boils down to credible evidence that a student’s learning has been validly assessed and that it was this student who did the learning.” Universities have no choice but to build brands that communicate their achievements –which means marketers will have a chance to transform their brands from ignored to adored.

Archaic honours 

Yesterday I wondered whether the feds will ever address the ad hoc allocation of masters places on load. Colin Wight, professor of international relations at the University of Sydney responded, “Australia will never grasp the nettle of masters funding until they scrap the honours year”. Good point – is the hons year like the old year ten external exam, now irrelevant to education?

Not by the book

During President Obama’s re-election campaign Democrats ran hard on the cost and quality of college, with Education Secretary Arne Duncan also raising the price of textbooks. The issue is still on the agenda with Democrats in House and Senate introducing the Affordable College Textbook Act. If adopted it will provide federal funding for colleges to create open source textbooks. According to co-sponsor Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) it builds on a program in the land of Lincoln. Senator Durbin says he introduced the bill “after learning of troubling practices by the publishing industry to create new textbook editions with little new content to drive up costs and bundle additional and often unwanted materials to required texts at students’ expense.” For textbook publishers this is scary stuff. Price resistance in the form of print and e-copy rentals is one thing but publicly funded competitive texts is a whole new form of competition. The next time somebody tells you how capitalism red in tooth and claw runs the US tell them about plans to give away textbooks created by people on the public payroll. Still, at least the publishers have the journal business to fall back on. Um, not so much anymore.

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