A win for Kim (election aside)

The come back Kim

Bill Shorten did well on Friday by splitting the education portfolio in the shadow ministry. With Kate Ellis taking on Chris Pyne on schools in the Reps, Kim Carr will have higher education and innovation largely to himself in the Senate, only having to deal with a minister representing the portfolio. Of course Brett Mason, who knows a fair bit about universities is in the upper house however he is but a parly secretary now and may not be inclined to help out in a portfolio where he had reasonable expectations of being a minister. So Senator Carr will be able to work at rebuilding Labor’s reputation as the best friend of universities, one lost by Craig Emerson with his funding cuts last April.
Among his many talents Senator Carr is very good at agreeing to calls on the public purse and from opposition he will rail against the government’s meanness in underfunding universities. Making him assistant to the leader on science is also inspired, demonstrating although he has no minister to shadow Labor cares about research more tban the PM, who has not  bothered with a science minister.
The Australian Academy of Science was certainly pleased, as was the Australian Technology Network, with the indefatigable Vicki Thomson welcoming the come back Kim at length, “throughout his time as a Minister for Higher Education Senator Carr proved himself to be a committed, diligent and passionate advocate for universities and research and this experience will stand him and the sector in good stead in his current role.”
The Innovative Research Universities were also happy to see him back, even appearing to indicate that all is forgiven about the April unpleasantness. “The previous Labor Government initiated major changes in higher education introducing demand driven funding for undergraduate students and further expanding a research system that supports good research where it is found across the university system,” IRU chair Professor Barney Glover said.
Universities Australia agreed, issuing a statement at the news-friendly hour of 6.20 on Friday night which welcomed the senator’s appointment, saying it, “will bring experience, as well as a steadiness and stability to Labor’s approach to these critical policy areas that has been disappointingly absent in recent times.”
The first offer to Senator Carr to speak to a young scientist group reached him within an hour of his appointment being announced.

But not everybody noticed

The Australian Financial Review didn’t. The Saturday edition listed Kate Ellis as shadow for “education” and Kim Carr watching “industry”.

La Trobe lock down looms

La Trobe University staff launched an pre-emptive strike, getting in ahead of VC John Dewar’s Friday savings plan by saying what they will not cop. Which is quite a lot.
For a start the NTEU leadership says staff do not know what is going on, that while management’s budget model is transparent at the top it could be manipulated at faculty and school level. And their long concern over the workload mix is still on the agenda. Above all, they want the pay rise sorted, proposing “lockdown” negotiations with management next month – with a staff meeting on November 21 to discuss progress.
As to what Professor Dewar will do – his announcement on Friday did not look much different to previous advice about transforming the university – without any detail on jobs to go. He will brief students on Thursday afternoon.

Not Alice’s audience 

Somebody at Western University (in Ontario) had a rush of blood to the head when alumnus Alice Munro won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature last week. Ms Munro studied literature there 60 years back and was a writer in residence at Western in the ‘70s.  Good-oh but what possessed the university to take a half page advertisement announcing it in Friday’s edition of The Australian? And did they want it to appear in the business section? I suspect its readers do not number among Ms Munro’s strongest admirers.

Subject search

There is a brand new new search engine for online courses called edspire which “provides a rich set of tools to enable users to plan their learning journey.” Good-oh. This could turn out very useful indeed as it evolves, but at less than three months it still has a way to go. When I searched for courses including Robert E Lee (hey, everybody has  a hobby) it pointed me at a commercial product, a course of lectures by Civil War expert Gary Gallagher for sale at $US130. Pricey for the MOOC market I grant you but bang on target – except for it being classified under, “theatre, music and dance”.

Marketplace of ideas 

After the success of Deakin University’s crowd funding for research projects via Pozible I hear the university is about to have another go. Understandably so given six of the eight projects in the first round reached their $5000 to $10 000 funding targets. We need to know much more about what research people will pay for, and how much, to support. But not too much more mind, the idea of the ARC running a crowd-funding site does not bear thinking about. Nor does expecting young researchers to put on a turn for support appeal. Postgrads at the University of Canberra pitched on Friday, yes I know it’s much like a three-minute thesis. But I feel for the shy scholar with a hard to explain subject.

But for anybody who hates spruiking their project help is at hand.  A Swiss team have built a predictive model which can determine whether a project launched by Kickstarter will make target within four hours of going public.

Flog off faculties

Over in the shaky isles Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce wants to change the composition of university councils, which now include academics, students, general staff representatives, a representative of the “central organisation of employers” as well as one for the workers plus somebody from the “professional bodies”. Of the maximum 20 members the minister appoints only four. Mr Joyce thinks it will be better if councils were half the size consisting of four members appointed by the minister and a four appointed by his appointees. Why? “The current governance settings for universities are based on a representative model of governance, which prioritises stakeholder representation over the capability of council members. There is little flexibility in council membership, thereby not necessarily allowing universities to reflect their unique characteristics in their councils. “ This strikes Tertiary Education Union vice president Cat Pause as a very bad idea indeed; “the world is struggling to emerge from a global financial crisis created, in large part, by small private boards full of unrepresentative people with lots of management experience.” Um, did Lehman Brothers ever actually securitise and sell a university?

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