A cunning Christopher Pyne plan?

Ripper yarn

Signs that it’s summer used to be stories in the papers about it being a bad year for shark attacks and bushfires but now there is a third – the annual rip warning from Rob Brander at the University of New South Wales. Dr Brander’s rip research gets a mention at the start of every recent summer – this year is  no different. Rightly so.

Saving without suffering

Last night the education minister announced he had found another $230m to kick into the school funding tin. Good-o but from where? “I have been able to find offsets in my portfolio,” Mr Pyne said. Is it just me or does that sound ominous? Perhaps it is just change under the cushions of the education department couch. Unless it is cuts to other commitments, say in research or other university outlays. We will know soon enough with the minister promising that all will be revealed in MYEFO. But not to worry, the cash comes without pain, “nobody’s going to suffer, and you’ll see that in MYEFO,” the minister assured us. Certainly Mr Pyne is adamant that he does not want to cut demand driven funding for undergraduate places – but what of other programs or some of the savings from the Emerson cuts (originally intended to pay for school reform) for that matter? After all, suffering is relative.

Wouldn’t hurt a bit

The Australian Technology Network submission to the Commission of Audit is around and a clever document it is. While it urges the auditors not to touch higher education spending it also makes prominent references to “substantial savings” and “reducing costs” For a start, it says duplicated reporting should stop and it wants compact discussions between individual universities and Canberra gone. In their place the ATN advocates single page agreement between each university and the government that “acknowledges university accountability over Commonwealth funding and the context of the government’s objectives in higher education.” Politically painless savings and perhaps a way to pay for professional masters on load, if demand declines for undergraduate places.

 Multi-national Monash

After sundry state awards the national export honours received curiously little attention the other night. Monash University won the education and training category-for its monster $385m export business and pursuit of new markets in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Central Asia.

Understated success

While other institutions brawl over bargaining Griffith University management and unions have conducted discrete discussions on a new agreement. So discrete that nobody is boasting that a deal is done and will go to staff for a vote from December 5 to 13. The core of the agreement is a 3 per cent annum rise for four years.  The university’s advise on changes to working conditions for academic and professional staff are here and here. The agreement creates scholarly teaching fellow positions for staff who teach 75 per cent of the week and spend the balance on “scholarship and service components” with “expanded eligibility” for causal and fixed term staff. It also clarifies definitions of academic workload.

Cut by all means just not us

You can’t fault the Regional Universities Network for consistency. RUN’s submission to the audit commission included all its usual arguments about the need to improve higher education participation in the bush. But it did acknowledge that the commission has a brief to save not spend. Thus, “RUN supports consideration of some modification of the HECS-HELP scheme, such as selling the debt and some flexibility in the student contribution.” A bold proposal to be sure, but only if it does not hurt key student groups. “If lowering the repayment threshold is considered, careful modelling should be undertaken to determine the impact on various professions. RUN is concerned that many of our graduates in fields such as nursing, teaching and social work may be disproportionately disadvantaged by such a move, particularly those in single income households.” RUN also recommends extending the loan scheme to cover student accommodation costs.

Read all about it

Yesterday’s announcement that the Daily Mail will launch an Australian digital edition makes the third new news product announced in the last couple of weeks. Question is who will they hire – new journalism graduates or some of the regiment of retrenched reporters.

How it’s done

The Australian Research Council funded Science of Learning Research Centre officially opened at the University of Queensland yesterday. (I fear I missed the announcement of the $16m over four years project when it was announced in May.) The project includes six other universities the ACER plus international institutions and has three research themes, how learning occurs, how it is enhanced and how it is measured. ARC chair Aidan Byrne suggested yesterday the project is timely given the debate over teacher education, which is undoubtedly true – here’s hoping the centre’s research findings less trickles than rushes into teaching degrees.

Insufficient innovation 

There is a mass of information in the Department of Industry’s Australian Innovation System Report 2013 with enough data to make just about every special interest argument. In general however it seems the growth in higher education has, and will serve Australia well as more skilled graduates expand the economy. But if there is one takeout it is we still must try harder, especially in the context of our region. “As Australia’s innovation output is not as high as it could be. Critical areas of poor performance identified in this and previous reports, such as collaboration on innovation, business culture or business management skills, need new approaches. Working smarter also means improving our understanding of how major markets such as those in Asia operate. Unfortunately, investing in language, cultural understanding and business experience in Asia seems more important to others than it does to Australian businesses.”

Not three but two

I miscounted yesterday (despite having enough fingers), writing that there were three resignations from the University of Queensland over a recent research misconduct investigation. In fact there were two.

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