Craven and Piccoli face off (yet again) on uni access

Plus the case for a chemist on horseback and dispute deferred at Uni Melbourne 

Hold the front page

RFT are open for provision of Inclusion Agency services & Inclusion Development Fund Manager under the ISP,” the Department of Education and Training announced via Twitter yesterday. CMM is sure this matters enormously to those who understand it.

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Ref wins on a knockout

Those old policy pugilists Greg Craven and Adrian Piccoli clambered into the ring yesterday for another round of the great standards stoush. The Sydney Morning Herald reports NSW Education Minister Piccoli hitting hard, saying university entry requirements are too low in nursing and teaching and that places in courses where jobs are limited should be capped.

Australian Catholic University VC Craven quickly counter-punched, calling Minister Piccoli’s suggestions “shameful elitism”.

“What Minister Piccoli is advocating is a return to the bad old days when only the elite were able to go to university, with sparse opportunities for people from the outer suburbs and the bush.”

Not now. The sheer number of public providers and demand driven funding prevent that. But caps, even on two disciplines would end open access. If government used the power of the purse to decide how many students universities can enrol in one discipline we would be back to the person-power planning policies of the old era when officials decided how many graduates the community needed and in what disciplines. One the precedent was set it would be applied to everything from accounting to vet science. Advocates of regulation education think this is a splendid idea but it gives market believers a case of the screaming meemies, both because it denies prospective students the opportunity to make their own study choices and because officials are not always right in predicting what skills society will need. As Professor Craven puts it, “Australia has an expanding health system and our schools are growing at a rate of knots due to population growth. Attacks on these areas in particular simply run the risk of creating shortages in the future.” How fortunate that his ACU is helping ensure this does not happen by pumping out graduates in both professions.

Expect the pair to box on – at least until referee Simon Birmingham steps in with an astute solution, which he likely soon will. The federal minister says the government supports demand driven funding but he worries that undergraduate attrition rates are too high. He has signalled measure this year to encourage universities to address this. As a way of reducing enrolments by people, generally with low entry marks while leaving the demand driven system in place, this is hard to beat. Granted it leaves universities the power to graduate whoever they like in education but the government’s new exam to assess teaching graduates knowledge before they are allowed into schools will deal with that.

That’s a fine mess Brian got them out of

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ANU has put library fine increases on hold and agreed to talk more with the university’s Postgraduate and Research Students Association. PARSA warns the proposed hikes, from $4 to $30 a day could have stuck students with a $1200 daily bill, although they would have to be late with the maximum 40 items they are allowed to borrow. The reprieve follows representations to librarian Roxanne Missingham and new VC Brian Schmidt.

First task

The University of Canberra is on the approved provider list for the government’s Streamlined Visa Processing Arrangements for international students. This is very valuable as it reduces the documentation prospective students need to provide to enter Australia. But UoC seems to be in strife with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

“The university has failed to meet the benchmark as required under the Guidelines for University Participation in Streamlined Visa Processing (SVP) Arrangements and has been formally advised. The University of Canberra can continue to recruit international students under SVP arrangements. If the University of Canberra’s risk rating does not improve, its on-go​ing participation in the SVP arrangements will be reviewed,” DIBP states on its website.

Good thing incoming VP Global Rongyu Li (ex RMIT) starts work at UoC on Monday.

Last night the University responded to a request for comment with a statement that;

“The issues raised by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection on its website are now in the past, when the university seemed to be targeted by a cohort of non-genuine international applicants. The university has been working closely with the DIBP on this matter and is succeeding in meeting the benchmarks of streamlined visa processing arrangements. In the past eighteen months the university has put in place a range of specific actions to improve its SVP rating and is constantly reviewing and updating its policies and procedures to ensure it meets those benchmarks. These actions have been successful and will be reflected in the March 2016 release of risk indexes. The university is committed to continue its efforts to improve its processes, including continuing with a very rigorous screening system that minimises risk by identifying genuine applications from international students. We continue to operate under the SVP scheme and will join its replacement system from 1 July.”

Good-o, but the warning to prospective international students considering UoC is still on the department’s site for all to see.

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The chemist on horse back

The Australian Academy of Science has announced a ten-year plan for chemistry, intended in part, to lift the number and academic expertise of the country’s chemists, starting at school, encourage innovation and engagement with industry and, significantly in the context of the government’s innovation agenda, “work with funding agencies to ensure that basic, strategic and applied research are all being carried out at the highest level, without conflicting goals and expectations (and) support a clearer understanding at all levels between the aspirations of researchers and the expectations of funding agencies.”

With a bit of luck they can probably sort that one out in ten years.

This is a major effort, awash with ambition for the discipline and rich in ideas, which can be a model for other science disciplines (it goes public later today).

The challenge is to make it happen and CMM suspects that “a committee drawn from stakeholders across the industry” which will oversee implementation won’t cut it. The lesson of Ian Chubb’s term as chief scientist is that building awareness, let alone support for science takes a champion, always making a consistent case to all sorts of audiences. This might upset researchers who believe chemistry’s achievements speak for themselves. But if the nation was listening now there would be no need for this comprehensive plan.

Dispute deferred

The University of Melbourne staff plan (it’s called a “people strategy”) is out and the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union is pleased, well pleased-ish, that it is different to the draft adopted by the University executive in October. That document which is on the union website, proposed wholesale change in managing and assessing academic staff performance. But lo, the document out now, is much the same, but with the unpalatable, unpopular and contentious parts removed.

“Many of the issues omitted by the published People Strategy have industrial implications that can only be changed through Enterprise Bargaining negotiations,” the NTEU’s Gia Underwood says.

That’s the pleasing part. What impresses the union less is that the EB expires in the middle of next year and that management “intends to bring major changes to the next round of bargaining.”

A university spokesman declined to comment yesterday but added that “we continue to meet regularly with NTEU reps.”

All politics is local

The government must really, really want to hold the seat of Capricornia, CQU’s homeland, in the now looming election. Earlier this week Prime Minister Turnbull opened a refurbished building at CQU’s Rockhampton North campus (CMM February 17 ) and yesterday Education Minister Simon Birmingham was there inspecting the work of engineering students. Unless, of course, they were both there to get some advice from VC Scott Bowman.

TAFE travails

NSW Training Minister John Barilaro wants to cut TAFE overheads and spend the savings on teaching and classroom resources. “We have layers and layers of bureaucracy and the money we save stays in VET,” he said on ABC Sydney radio yesterday. CMM then braced for calls from aggrieved TAFE supporters, pointing out that everything in voced is the fault of crook private providers. But the calls that came in were sensible and balanced with many hopping into the TAFE system for reduced course content, lowered training quality and the system’s cumbersome structure. As for criticism of shonky private providers the minister pointed out that this was a problem created by the feds and the very reason why NSW had its own regulatory regime. But the message that came from some callers was that the whole voced system is complex and kids and their families can be left to work out what it takes to acquire qualifications for themselves. Perhaps part of the attraction of university study is that entry and course choice in higher education is just easier to understand.

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Back from the Pelican State

Landscape architect Elizabeth Mossop is returning to Australia to lead the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building at UTS. She leaves Louisiana State U and has previously worked at Harvard. Prior to moving to the US, Mossop led the Architecture Landscape Programme at UNSW.

 

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