Budget? What budget?

Take the ego out of the argument

I was wrong yesterday to suggest “ego” is the collective noun for vice chancellors. Apparently in Adelaide the preferred term is “an argument”. Although an otherwise kind commentator, suggests it should be a “cockatoo”.

Clever campaign

Universities Australia’s “keep it clever” cartoon campaign (CMM Monday) is not a budget pitch, says UA chief Belinda Robinson. “I think what is important to note here is that this is a long-term campaign. This is not a campaign that is designed to achieve any particular policy purpose in the short-term. It really is a long-term game around starting and maintaining and strengthening that national conversation about universities,” she told ABC radio yesterday. Good-oh, but the timing has me foxed. I mean, launching it now, won’t it get lost in all the speculation and special pleading of budget season? Not if UA president and James Cook University vice chancellor Sandra Harding has anything to do with it. “We know that investing in our universities is investing in Australia’s future, yet in recent years investment in universities and students has been cut by billions of dollars. When we underinvest in universities, we put at risk the national productivity growth, industrial diversity and long-term economic transformation required to ensure Australia remains competitive in the future,” she said yesterday. Budget, what budget?

The cost of conferring

A close Canberra observer warns that not all commercial conferences on university management are considered a good use of public funds by the bean counters (CMM yesterday). Apparently officials have been to known to suggest cutting public funding by whatever attending these conferences costs. I am sure it is a joke; still lets hope Department of Finance officials never hear the idea. The conference industry is rather like the journal game. Speakers present papers for free and sometimes, at least initially, are expected to cover their own expenses and I doubt very much their speeches are accepted for ERA.

Comrades return fire

On Tuesday University of Western Sydney Vice Chancellor Barney Glover intervened in long-running enterprise bargaining negotiations. He presented staff with a three per cent pay rise as a forward payment on a final deal and outlined what the university would not budge on. Late yesterday the campus National Tertiary Education Union replied, suggesting the pay rise ignored the absence of an increase last year and arguing that Professor Glover is offering nothing new on the university’s proposal for teaching only staff to have 18 contact hours. “We need the VC to intervene as a matter of urgency with a properly revised pay offer that takes account of 2013, and with humane outer limits on academic workloads. In the absence of such an initiative members’ frustration over working conditions and their unpaid labour in 2013 will continue to grow.” I’m guessing the feeling is mutual.

Got a better plan?

Research at the University of the Sunshine Coast has found that the children of mothers who are aware of nutrition are as likely to be obese as kids whose mums aren’t. As reported in the Sunshine Coast Daily Dr Rachael Sharman says, “I get a bit sick of the education thing … We always hear about education, education, education. We’re being educated the (sic) death. But obesity rates just keep going up.” And the alternative is?

Who says they don’t listen?

New research from some of the endlessly energetic people at the National Centre for Vocational Educational Research finds that young people whose parents want them to go to university are 11 times more likely than kids whose oldies aren’t academically aware. “Expanding the provision of programs that actively engage parents in the career decision-making process may be an effective means for raising the educational and occupational aspirations of Australian youth,” the researchers write. This should appeal to university staff tasked with increasing low SES participation and it certainly fits with a finding from the NCVER that there is a correlation between student self-belief and university enrolment, across all demographic groups, (CMM, March 25). Maybe parents should get a crash course in healthy eating (see above) as well as an explanation of why their kids should stick with post secondary education.

I don’t like it Carstairs, it’s too quiet

The endless enterprise bargaining argument at Swinburne University is uncharacteristically quiet. In February management took a proposal to staff, which got up, just, over the strenuous opposition of the campus National Tertiary Education Union. The union challenged the vote, citing electoral irregularities – which is where the matter stands. Fair Work Australia has asked the union to provide details and says it will consider the matter on May 9. “We are taking all possible steps we can to ensure the new Enterprise Agreement that you voted for can take effect as soon as possible,” Swinburne HR director Andrew Smith has told staff. Funnily enough he made no mention of what would happen if FWA overturned the election, presumably because a return to what was a tough bargaining does not bear thinking about.

Big win for Wollongong

As part of its bicentennial celebrations Westpac will create a $100m fund to support 100 scholarships a year, including ones for undergraduates, postgraduates and postdoctoral researchers. The latter two are substantial indeed, the postgraduates will receive $120 000 and the post doc $330 000 over three years.  For two of the participating universities, Melbourne and Sydney this is great but not all that unusual – they are used to the great and powerful dropping off sacks of cash for research and teaching. For the third however, the University of Wollongong, it is a very big deal indeed, a major endorsement of a regional campus by a pillar of the corporate establishment. Westpac and UoW already cooperate on scholarships and research, even so this is an endorsement indeed.

What they really think

Over the ditch the academic union alleges that Lincoln University does not want staff commenting on a proposed restructure. If so,university management is dumb indeed. As Professor Jack Heinemann of Academic Freedom Aotearoa puts it, while university staff members cannot speak for the university without permission, “it may be reasonable for some staff and students of the university to make informed and responsible comment on internal events at the university.” Cynics might add that it is also far better for management if critics are on the record rather than backgrounding. But what can suspect from cynics?

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