ANU budget blues but it’s beaut in the bush

And they’re racing …

In today’s running of the self-promotion stakes.  The ever-energetic Swinburne was first out of the gates yesterday morning, announcing its achievements as recorded in this year’s Good Universities Guide. (David Battersby tweeted earlier that there was good news about his University of Ballarat but as he delivered no details the stewards decided it did not count.) The Swinbunnies thought everybody would like to know that their university has “again been rated as one of Melbourne’s top teaching and research universities.”

 Country hospitality

While the most Tony Abbott promises universities is to leave them alone his Nationals colleagues are backing the bush. The Nationals education policy points out that graduates are under-represented in rural communities and promises subsidies to help kids from the country access post secondary education, especially through a new Regional Education Fund to address “equity and access to educational opportunities for regional students.” And won’t Finance and Treasury just love the plan for low interest loans for students who study at regional universities. About as much as they will be impressed with the idea of forgiving the HECS debt of “graduates who work in regional areas of need and contribute to the economic development and social fabric of regional Australia.”
Bush universities aren’t forgotten either. There is an uncosted idea for “a faculty of excellence program for regional universities to allow them to focus on particular areas of excellence to enhance the university’s reputation.” CMM remembers the Base Funding Review suggesting something similar, but whatever the origin this idea will undoubtedly be welcomed by regional industries in need of graduates and research, pork producers and barrel makers, for example.
There is also a promise for a core country university constituency, football. Some Nats were never happy with the way the Howard Government ended the system that saw student levies support clubs and societies few used. But as the Nationals platform puts it: “the experience of attending university is much more than sitting in a lecture theatre. University councils should have the power to include, in setting their fees, an amount to cover a limited range of student services, particularly the sporting and recreational facilities that enhance the university experience.”
As CMM reported yesterday, the Nationals are also backing the Charles Sturt-La Trobe plan for the Murray Darling medical school, and “invite proposals from other regionally based universities to establish rural medical schools in areas of rural need and shortage.”

Enthusiasm (barely) contained

You may not be all that surprised to learn that the Regional Universities Network  struggles to remain neutral and not describe the Nationals platform as beaut as it is bonza. For a start, some of the student assistance plans are “in keeping” with RUN’s own plan. And other parts of the platform are; “broadly consistent with the RUN regional development policy position which advocates that regional universities should be central to a new, systematic regional development strategy.”
Not that RUN is endorsing the Nats mind, however “if a Coalition Government is elected on September 7 RUN would welcome working with it to implement these initiatives.”  CMM bets it will!

 The blue at ANU

ANU has released a draft budget, which includes the 2 per cent pay rise management says is all it can afford. Overall spending is down $4.4m to $465m but some areas are hit harder than others. Central administration will lose $3.6m, most of it coming from staff reductions that the university says will be voluntary. The headline cut for colleges could be worse, down $761,000 on outlays of $347m but spending is tied to enrolments – which means there are winners and losers. The College of Business and Economics will pick up $1.3m, while the College of Medicine, Biology and Environment is down $1m (on income of just shy of $84m). Arts and Social Sciences, where there is consideration of replacing tutes with larger classes, will lose $860,000 on a $55.5m budget.
But the National Tertiary Education Union is not having any of it. The union’s ACT secretary Stephen Darwin slammed the draft last night, suggesting the university has an $870m operating surplus plus $1bn in reserves and arguing that ANU should be growing not cutting; “the university community is constantly confronted with reductive approaches: cuts to reduced income, not the expansive thinking that has made this university great.
“The future of ANU is not well served by the severe contraction proposed by the vice-chancellor.  If continued, it will seriously hinder ANU’s ongoing ability to generate world-class research and teaching, as well as damage critical frontline services. As this vision is now laid bare in budget form it is time for NTEU members to say no to overwork, real salary cuts, job insecurity and surplus obsessions,” Mr Darwin said. Everybody clear on that?
University management did well in the briefings that preceded the budget process and it looked, for a while, as if the ANU community was on-song. No longer. CMM hopes the executive has budgeted for a blue.

Prediction of the day

The astute Nick Economou from Monash University  predicts Sophie Mirabella will hold Indi for the Liberals, not withstanding a personal campaign against her.  It’s a well-argued case. Economou is one of the rarer breed of election analysts who focuses on what voters think rather than what commentators think they should.  But could Monash make up its mind where the learned Economou sits in the hierarchy? The photo caption identifies him as a professor, the byline states he is a senior lecturer. His Monash biography cites him as the latter, which CMM suggests is a scandal. The bloke is a serious scholar who merits professorial promotion.

And parking for the faculty

Clark Kerr famously (and perhaps apocryphally) said that the job of any university chief was to ensure there was sex for students, sport for alumni and parking for the faculty. CMM has no idea how University of Tasmania VC Peter Rathjen is doing on the first two but the faulty are pissed off about the parking, in particular the way the university has jacked up the price. According to the NTEU some 1100 staff and students have signed a protest petition demanding consultation, public transport and a sliding scale of parking fees based on income. Granted management says the money raised will go to teaching and research but the university did not help itself by claiming one of the reasons for the move is that subsidised parking does not fit with the U Tas “vision of sustainability that seeks to reduce environmental impacts, achieve economic efficiency and demonstrate social responsibility.” Please, not even university staff in Hobart are that green.  That this is such a big deal in the middle of an election in which the NTEU is trying to make education an issue demonstrates the truth of O’Neill’s law of elections that the most important politics is local, very, very, local.

 No clues at US News

After being named by President Obama in a speech that suggested universities game rankings and that college is too expensive, US News and World Report remains keen to cover ratings, a round it created. Yesterday it was asking people who completed a bachelors degree debt free to explain how they did it. You would think after decades covering the cost of college the magazine would have an idea.

 Big issue

Greens leader Christine Milne is investing effort in the education vote – her party’s platforms on research and university funding are backed by the NTEU. Ms Milne is also spending time with student groups, NUS and CAPA. If there is an education vote it should help the Greens in the Senate. Which is all very well, but where does Senator Milne stand on parking costs in  Hobart?

Game changing, not changed

The European Union announced the other day that 40 per cent to 50 per cent of peer reviewed articles are now available on-line in open access. Sadly, open access advocates say, this is not as good as it looks. For a start the report uses a four-year time frame, when what matters most is access to research in the first 12 months. Equally important is the wait for access to highly cited papers – relatively early access to research that nobody reads does not matter all that much.  The game may be changing but the big publishers are still writing the rules.

 No sting in this tale

“What’s all the buzz around our WASP technology?”, CSIRO asked yesterday. To save you the trouble it stands for Wireless Adhoc System for Positioning and it is used to track machines and people on worksites.

 Accountability impossible

President Obama’s plan to tie federal funding to performance metrics generated an outraged reply from the American Association of University Professors.  For a start, the cost of college has nothing to do with them; it is administrations that push up the price. And metrics are waste of time, imposing them means ever-more part timers teaching to the test.  But the best bit is the suggestion that Obama butt out:  “In reality, even if one believes, as it appears the president does, that education is mainly about job training, in reality measuring the output of our colleges and universities in a meaningful way is simply not possible.” Given the spotlight on what higher education promises and delivers in the US just now CMM wishes them luck with this demand to demand to be left alone.

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