Birmingham calls for compromises

But Labor is still warning the government wants $100 000 degrees

UniMelbourne moves to improve careers advice and learning skills support

VET vampires out of the training blood bank

Larkins to LaTrobe

Richard Larkins is LaTrobe U’s new chancellor. Yes, that Richard Larkins, the VC of neighbouring Monash U from 2003 to 2009. No, CMM will certainly not make a cheap joke about poachers and gamekeepers.

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Ducks lining up at Western Sydney U

Another blue is brewing at Western Sydney University with the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union formally advising management they are in dispute over what the comrades claim is the university’s failure to comply with change management provisions of the enterprise agreement. This is the first step towards Fair Work approved industrial action.

While HR head Susan Hudson responds that, “at the appropriate juncture, the university will consult with staff,” this does not address the union’s anxiety about the unanswered issues of who will do the work of people taking up an early voluntary retirement offer, which has just closed.

This problem is a proxy for a doozy of a dispute to come. The university says it is about to release a report by consultants Deloitte “to consider and review professional services and their delivery,” which is making professional staff very nervous indeed.

That quacking sound you hear is management and union getting their ducks in a row.

It could be worse

The Workplace Gender Equity Authority  finds that outside healthcare, education and training, with 49 per cent, has the highest proportion of women in management, (although 63 per cent of the industry workforce is female). At 9.4 per cent the gender pay gap in education and training is the lowest across the economy.

Birmingham calls for “compromises and contributions”

Education Minister Simon Birmingham has taken transformative change off the higher education agenda, saying while he has and will continue to consult with university experts, he wasn’t asking anybody to “come up with a blueprint, a green or white paper.”

“We should be able to work together and attract a degree of bipartisan support,” he told the AFR’s higher education conference yesterday.

“We won’t agree on everything, but our objectives for the nation and for higher education have much in common. We also face the same budget pressures, despite what some pretend.”

Senator Birmingham added he plans to “provide certainty to the sector” with legislation for “any reforms” by mid next year.

The minister also argued “we will all need to make a contribution … and we all need to make some compromises to ensure future generations enjoy a higher education system that continues to enhance our nation and the lives of all Australians.” This was interpreted last night as a promise of no major funding cuts in return for university leaders not complaining about a higher student loan repayment rate. That and long overdue reform to funding for student places per discipline band which Senator Birmingham promised months ago. Epochal they are not, unless you are an undergrad to be hit with higher HECs or an academic who will cop a cut to teaching funding per Commonwealth Supported Place.

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Labor runs a line with legs

Labor is on a unity ticket with the government when it comes to the power of education to expand the economy and transform lives. “We have to consider what the jobs of the future will be. And prepare our workforce for them. This is where education, in particular higher education, is critical,” shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek said yesterday at the AFR conference.

She also wrote up in copperplate Labor’s version of the prime minister’s signature sell on research.

And Ms Plibersek made a strong case for career-long learning, with people dipping into the education and training system as their employment needs require.

Fair enough, Labor created student centred funding and can fairly claim to be the party that expanded access to education in recent years.

But that is where the amity ends. While her commitments to research and graduation rates did not include specifics, Ms Plibersek did distinguish between Labor and the Coalition in one way.

“Labor went to the last election with a promise to spend around $50 billion on universities and schools – the same amount the Liberals were prepared to give away to big business for little economic benefit,” she said.

“Regardless of what the Liberals say, it’s clear they have plans for an American-style university system here in Australia, with $100,000 degrees.”

True or not, the line has legs that will carry Labor to the next election. Vice chancellors looking for a new revenue stream can keep looking.

All agree on admissions

The Higher Education Standards Panel report on university admissions is all but adopted by acclamation. On Tuesday Minister Simon Birmingham said he would respond soon-ish, but added “greater transparency (in entry schemes) is the key.” Universities Australia also considered the panel’s proposals for clear and consistent entry schemes was sound stuff, the soundest.

Yesterday other higher education groups formed a queue to congratulate HESP chair Peter Shergold and colleagues. The Group of Eight “completely accepts that universities must be accountable for the information they publish about their admissions policies,” and points to its own committee on undergraduate entry.

The Innovative Research Universities group nailed a core issue in the argument; that the existing confusion of multiple entry scores, cloaked by the allegedly immutable ATAR, discriminates against students and families not wise in the ways of universities alleging exclusivity. “It is families with less experience of higher education, who are economically disadvantaged or who live in regional Australia who find the current admissions processes harder to navigate.  This is not sustainable.”

The Regional Universities Network also endorsed the panel’s push for transparent and consistent entry standards set out in standardised information templates and a national admissions platform.

Big welcome for Open Access

In July giant British biomedical research fund, the Wellcome Trust announced it’s own open access platform would publish reports of research it pays for, plus supporting data. The first 15 articles are out now.

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Melbourne tells all

Two years into a new service delivery model, University of Melbourne management is not happy with employability and employment outcomes of its graduates.

To improve performance the university proposes restructuring the Student Success Directorate, creating 29 jobs and losing 23. This, says the university branch of the National Tertiary Education Union, is not on.

“The university is exposing itself to significant risk with advice being provided by unqualified staff. The employability of graduates is a key message of the university’s PR machine. Graduate employability should be a primary focus of the university so you should not remove the specialist service that students genuinely need.”

Strange to relate, management does not see things anything like that;

“the university is not reducing the number of positions in its Careers Advice and Academic Skills area as a result of this process and will actually be increasing its resourcing. The process is focused on ensuring that our students have access to the relevant skills and expertise that meet current industry and employment expectations.”

Good-oh, but it is the commendable frankness in the university’s response about the job it is doing now that impressed CMM.

“Feedback to the university from students has highlighted the low satisfaction they have had for both careers advice and learning skills support. The challenge for the university has been to ensure it improves the offerings to students in these areas, within the resourcing available.”

Transition rules for training loans 

This morning the government will announce the six-month transition rules for courses and training organisations to qualify for the new VET student loans programme, which is expected to save hundreds of millions of dollars.

While 40 or so public training providers are given a pass on tough new tests the 200 private providers expected to apply will need to meet comprehensive criteria, including pass rates, links with industry and clean records. There will be caps on student numbers and loan amounts. As previously reported, approved courses are those on the lists of needed skills compiled by two states or territories. The case for now excluded courses will have to be made to state authorities. However in the new year the Department of Education and Training will begin work with the states on a course approval measure based on labour-market need.

Today’s announcement is unlikely to assuage anxiety among the mass of private providers who have to meet the new requirements. What is certain is that the government is less concerned about them than demonstrating that a small group of very thirsty VET vampires no longer have the keys to the training blood bank.

Dolt of the day

Is CMM. On Monday CMM reported Murdoch U had put a pay offer on the table. Completely wrong, as CMM reported on November 3 it is Curtin and Edith Cowan which have made offers.

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