When academics attack

And Kim Carr returns fire

Self-defeating diversions

The university lobbies responded to PUP leader Clive Palmer’s rejection of deregulation yesterday with new statements of the need for reform. But most also included pleased and/or pissed-off comments on recommendations in the McKenzie Committee (CMM yesterday). This is passing strange. Insiders hope a deal will still be done, basically because the alternative of declining funding is too scary to contemplate but the reality is that the whole package could go over. To argue about elements of a scheme that may not make it only diverts debate from the central issue of the need for more funding and where to find it.

Dewar and Lloyd lay down the law

Latrobe VC John Dewar is a courteous man, measured in demeanour and debate – so what reads like considered comments on Clive Palmer blocking the deregulation legislation is probably his version of incandescent anger. Yesterday Professor Dewar, as head of the Innovative Research University group and David Lloyd, (VC, University of South Australia) representing the Australian Technology Network spoke on the state of the deregulation debate. “Proposals for free education are reckless and unrealistic, dangling an unfounded hope in front of future students.  They do not provide a plan but obfuscation, a ploy to avoid resolving the structural problems in Australian higher education.  They risk creating the under resourced university sectors of some countries where entry is easy but good student learning is hard,” Professor Dewar said.

And he reminded senators that continuing the demand driven and income contingent loan systems ensures no one misses out. “We need to be clear. The situation since 1974 remains: students need no money in hand to enroll, or to enroll in any university they choose. Access to university will not be tied to family wealth. All students will have HELP to cover the fee they agree to, which they will repay based on their future income.” And as for demands for free higher education, they are, “a diversion from the real task at hand. It is an abnegation of the Senate’s responsibility to deal with the very real challenges of funding the modern university system, which is much, much larger than that of the 1980’s.”

Professor Lloyd made similar points, arguing that open access depends on fee deregulation, “the ongoing cost of an open system is not sustainable without the complementary introduction of fee deregulation. … I urge the Senate to heed the call of the sector and pass those reforms necessary for the future of higher education and research, to move us on from this impasse, to provide the necessary certainty our students deserve and to secure the means to provide for an equitable and successful higher education system in Australia.”

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Short and to the point

The Group of Eight focused on the main game yesterday, with precise policy comments and a politically astute focus on why the McKenzie Committee’s recommendations were good for universities and good for students. “The improvements recommended by the committee will prevent unintended negative impacts on students, graduates and universities, while diversifying the range of study options for students.” As for the Greens and Kim Carr’s dissenting committee reports, they “propose no viable alternatives.”

Informed opinion

Universities Australia yesterday released the results of a commissioned poll, which found that in its present form just 22 per cent of people agree with Mr Pyne’s deregulation legislation. But when the reforms were amended to include provisions UA advocates support soars to 56 per cent. The popular changes are: a lesser cut than the proposed 20 per cent reduction in public funding of student places, continuing the existing student loan interest rate and transition funding for mainly regional universities. Who knew the general community took such a close interest in university funding? However it seems the sample got the gist of the issues. People who know polling and are familiar with the circumstances around this one say it is a professional effort and certainly not the “do you support motherhood” variety that industry lobbies love to run.

Let proper people compete

ACU’s Greg Craven also welcomed the McKenzie report; except for letting people of the wrong sort compete against universities. “Extending funding to Ma and Pa Kettle providers puts at risk the quality and international reputation of Australia’s higher education system.” Now, why didn’t UA think to include a question about the Kettle Family Academy in its survey?

What he really thinks

If deregulation goes down it will be because the arguments about access and opportunity made by Labor Higher Education spokesman Kim Carr in the Senate last night resonate with cross-bench senators and their constituencies. But it’s his suggestion university managers are in it for themselves which VCs  will remember .

“Whatever the motivations or reservations of vice chancellors, the fact remains that – just as it is not the role of the Senate to rubber stamp the desires of the executive; neither is it the role of this chamber to automatically give vice chancellors whatever they want. Successful university funding policy does not simply allow – carte blanche – this nation’s vice-chancellors unlimited access to funding from the pockets of Australian students and workers. It is not our role to give them a “licence to print HELP debt” … It has often been said that getting between a vice chancellor and a pot of money is a dangerous business. But that is what Labor will do. Because there is more at stake than the performance bonuses of university managers.”

Top that Clive Palmer.

Medium is (a big part of) the message

Andy Miah from the University of Western Scotland announced a journal of Twitter studies at the start of the year (CMM February 3) but at Deakin, Stuart Palmer is examining how social media channels actually operate. He has co-authored a report on Deakin’s successful research crowdfunding project, driven in large part by social media – a generous guide other universities interested in new funding sources should read. And now he has a new paper on how Twitter and Facebook serve as channels for libraries. Granted this is not a superficial sell but it is valuable for managers who need to get the comms channels right. “The value for an organisation that is derived from a presence in social media comes not from the social media systems themselves, but how they are used to interact with stakeholders,” he writes.

“Could” means “will

Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane and Minister Pyne have released a discussion paper, which sets out the emerging applied research edifice Mr Macfarlane has been building for a year now. The minister wants to back researchers in five industry areas and is getting closer to implementing a detailed plan, as this paper reports. “The chief scientist is currently preparing a set of draft research priorities for consideration by the Commonwealth Science Council. These could be the starting point for a series of expert discussions between industry, research organisations and government to further detail specific research priorities.” Yes they could, but I am guessing Chief Scientist Ian Chubb will definitely do it –unless he already has.

Another “could” which means will, implements the idea of impact in awarding grants. “Competitive grant bodies, including the ARC and NHMRC, could be required to recognise industry experience as a complement to research excellence (as defined by existing metrics such as publication and citation rates).” I wonder what this means for the next ERA exercise.

AIM to market

Minister Pyne will launch the Australian Institute of Management’s in-person and on-line MBA tomorrow. AIM has delivered training courses for ages but a flexible-delivery MBA demonstrates how competition from non university providers can expand what’s on offer – which I suspect might be why the minister is doing the honours.

Science-stars

When open access is expensive

New research from the University of Sheffield demonstrates how “gold open access” (institutions pay to publish) scholarly journals are a new revenue stream for the big corporate providers. An analysis of 23 UK institutions shows that article publishing charges in free-to-reader journals accounted for 10 per cent of the total cost of publication (ex admin). “Most APCs were paid to large ‘traditional’ commercial publishers who also received considerable subscription income.”

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