A Birmo budget hint: live within our means

Plus the solution to all challenges is to science the shit out of them

What’s the way to Carnegie Hall?

Practice, as the old joke has it; but being a member of the University of Queensland Big Band helps. It played Carnegie Hall on Wednesday night. Last week they performed with Gordon Goodwin, (as in “and the Big Phat Band“)  which really impresses jazz cats.

 

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Forlorn plea

The Regional Universities Network has called on the government to continue support for research now funded through the Office of Learning and Teaching and the Higher Education Partnerships and Participation Programme. Last week CMM predicted both will be cut in the budget.

According to RUN chair and University of Southern Queensland VC Jan Thomas continuing both programmes’ work is “vital to promote student success at regional universities.”

“While we recognise the federal budget is under pressure, and we continue to commit our own funding to support student success, we are unable to provide enough support to adequately address the significant need in regional Australia for greater participation by regional students at university,” she says.

Alas, CMM hears the feds are not for moving.

A cynic? Never!

“Call me a cynic, but even if you call it an ‘ideas canvas’, it’s still a fancy piece of butcher’s paper,” Matt Wenham from the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering at a conference yesterday, via Twitter.

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Work with what you’ve got

Another speech, another budget signal from Education Minister Simon “softly softly” Birmingham. Yesterday the senator told an innovation conference that spending alone does not a knowledge nation make. “There is no point having the best educated populace in the world if high taxes, high debt or a combination of both scare off the investment required to ultimately employ people. As the prime minister has made clear, we must all live within our means, including government.”

And just in case anybody missed his meaning, the minister spelt it out.

“I want Australia to secure the highest educational outcomes as efficiently as possible from within the record funds that are already available and which we will ensure continue to be available into the future.”

Optimists suggest Senator Birmingham  meant the government intends to set new records by spending more money. Pragmatists reply that this refers to existing levels of spending and means, at best, there is no new money in the budget, but at least no less.

It was a neat lead into the Australian Council of Learned Academies paper on research training (CMM yesterday) which he launched. This comprehensive plan for an industry focused, easily employable, postgraduate community is big on ideas that do not need a bunch of new money to create – although an enforcer would probably be necessary to ensure, for example, universities stop awarding doctorates solely on a thesis.

“Drivers start your harpsichords”

They’re not bothered by C P Snow’s two cultures divide at Edith Cowan U. Yesterday ECU announced Geoffrey Lancaster will become one of the new professorial fellows. The scholar and performer of 18th century keyboard music will work out of the university’s Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. While that was going on Labor innovation spokesman Ed Husic was visiting ECU’s motorsport engineering team in the Innovation Centre.

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Chief Scientist’s boundless blue sky

Yesterday Chief Scientist Alan Finkel nailed why knowledge is the economic driver of the 21st century, just as it was in the 18th and 19th centuries, when technology created an industrial revolution. The trick this time, he said in a speech yesterday, will be to share the wealth and ease up on the environmental impact but his overall message was clear, Australian education has to create a culture where children expect to be “seekers of knowledge” all their lives, Australian government looks to scientific evidence “as a matter of course,” where Australian business develops and adopts new technologies, where Australians support those in need and face up to inevitable challenges, from automation, climate change, population growth pressure, and economic change.

In other word, as Matt Damon says in The Martian we “are going to have science the shit out of it.”

It was an immensely optimistic speech with a sting in the tail for anybody who still believes in centralised research planning, with Dr Finkel contrasting the United States and Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War. As the Berlin Wall came down the US sent the Hubble telescope into space, launched the human genome project and started the first ISPs. So Australia should continue to use the American playbook, he said with government investing where the market cannot, in education and research, but recognising the state only enables while individuals create.

As blue sky speeches go it was just about the bluest.

Big ideas

Australian patent applications were up by 16 per cent last year, which sounds good, except that the 3000 or so from locals was a fraction of the 25 000 applications from foreigners lodged here. In comparison Australians filed 9000 applications overseas.

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Expanding apprenticeships 

The emphasis on the costly shambles that is VET FEE HELP and arguments that all would be better if only TAFE had more money ignores the crisis in vocational education demonstrated by the continuing decline in apprentice numbers (CMM March 4). Part of the problem dates from 2012, when the feds restricted apprentices subsidies to employers in growing industries. But Innes Willox from the Australian Industry Group also argues that the economy is growing in industries where apprenticeships don’t exist;

“The growth sectors in the economy and subsequent employment patterns are in areas not traditionally served by apprenticeships. There is a challenge to expand and spread the benefits of this work-based learning model to new and different industries.”

Part of the answer, he suggests, is the European idea of integrating education and training, with apprentices studying for degrees, another is extending apprenticeships to cover higher-level skills in business and service industries. He adds that a competency based approach is also important.

AI has a solid track record of quality work on the education and training system but this report has implications way beyond employer needs. Since demand driven funding created all but universal access to university study VET has become the second-tier provider. Broader qualifications that combine education and training in more industries could extend the nation’s skills base.

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