Capping the case for deregulation

Vice Chancellors want more money, but not all of it borrowed by students

The shape of things to come

La Trobe spruiks to prospective students, yesterday. “If you’re thinking about studying, now is a great time to take the next step. Chat with our staff about your study options and start uni in July. We’ll be making on-the-spot offers so bring proof of any prior study such as certificates, testamurs and academic transcripts.” Plus a free masters enrolment (conditions apply) in a discipline of your choice to the first 100 applicants. All right, I made that last bit up – but I wonder how long it will stay fiction.

Chubb on the campaign trial

Chief Scientist Ian Chubb made yet another appearance on the ABC last night, appearing on Lateline to make his case for a national science plan. It was standard Chief Scientist stuff, measured, careful and alive with intent. No, he was not involved in planning the medical research fund but he hopes it includes all the other science the fund will depend on.  Deregulated fees must not lead to the loss of skilled workers in key fields, like. for example,  agriculture. Yes, there were budget cuts to science agencies, which makes the case for an all of government plan even more important. “My role is to provide government with a mechanism to invest in the right way,” he said. And that means a science strategy like just about all comparable countries have.  Perhaps Professor Chubb subscribes to the idea that when he is sick of making his case ministers will just be starting to get the message. If so he has got the lines to win attention to his call for a science strategy. “Future generations need a future, ” he said last night. Hard to argue with that.

Regulating the animal spirits

Policy analysts were on to me yesterday suggesting I was wrong to think concessions on HELP interest rates and a reduction in cuts for Commonwealth Supported Places would be enough to end university opposition to the Pyne package. A couple pointed approvingly to Swinburne VC Linda Kristjanson’s piece in Monday’s Fin in which she called for a cap on lifetime student loans, if only to stop students taking on unmanageable debt. She also calls for a cap on fees, arguing private providers will not be able to stop universities charging up in a market where “price is a signal for quality.” Fair points, the challenge in making them is to convince the Senate cross-bench to make them the price of passage for Minister Pyne’s package.

Game to have a go

In the unlikely event that anybody was short of a question for last night’s all-star debate on deregulation in Canberra (CMM yesterday) local NTEU chief Stephen Darwin suggested issues to raise, including what fees will be hiked and courses cut at ANU. And if it wasn’t clear who to ask Mr Darwin made it clear, “Vice-Chancellor Ian Young has been the most uncritical supporter of deregulation nationally, and therefore should have no problem spruiking the massive fee rises we know are currently being modelled by ANU management. … The NTEU is appalled that the vice-chancellor has also forced this radical deregulation model on ANU, with the ANU Council endorsing it before it has even been tabled in the Senate. … Given this, the vice-­chancellor must take personal responsibility for the future consequences of his actions.” Tough stuff, but Professor Young deserves credit for getting out and arguing his case, which he did again last night, accepting universities should receive no more from local student fees and the Commonwealth than they charge internationals. However his colleague, University of Canberra VC Stephen Parker did especially well with an enthusiastically endorsed attack on deregulation. Then again given the audience, he had the easier of the arguments. Mr Darwin also appealed to his constituency,tweeting from the debate, “higher quality comes through permanent and well supported university staff.” Quite. Overall the debate was judged a big success, with everybody on the panel getting a go, thanks in no small part to chair, (ANU student newspaper) Woroni editor, Fergus Hunter. “He managed a full house and large panel on difficult issues like a pro,” said one debates connoisseur.

Best in the west

The public-spirited University of Western Australia will host a forum on Monday featuring the state’s four West Australians of the Year, so youngsters “can learn from these wonderful role models”. What a surprise, three of the four work or studied at UWA.

Slashed on the swings reduced on the roundabouts

University of Melbourne VC Glyn Davis still supports fee deregulation but is dead set against a decrease in public funding and increased interest on student study debt. Perhaps because both will combine to harm research-intensive universities, as he explained yesterday on Radio National. Deregulation will provide students “with a broader range of choice which will be a significant constraint on fee rises.” But this will be bad for universities which “offer degrees underpinned by research,” especially as they have to make up Canberra cuts. “We will not move away from research intensivity so we will face competition from institutions not doing research.” Gosh, what’s a VC about to be hammered by low cost competitors and less research funding to do? Prepare everybody for the said to be imminent announcement of back-office staff savings in a consultant’s report could be one thing.

In the money

Australian Education International (part of the federal DoE) has published its analysis of Bureau of Statistics data on international students’ economic input – presumably to head off Austrade doing the same. The data shows international students studying and living in Australia contributed $15bn to the economy last year – up 3.8 per cent on 2012. (Spectacular “sundries” added $570m to the total). As ever it was China who produced the biggest share of the earnings, accounting for just under 26 per cent, ahead of the next five markets combined, (India, Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand). Victoria ($4.49bn) and NSW ($5.51bn) picked up the bulk of the income.

 Mistakes get more attention

Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane got on the front foot yesterday going after Labor’s Senator Kim Carr over an argument in Estimates. Mr Macfarlane also hit out at critics who claim the government is not committed to science, citing $1.3bn in spending, albeit across all of the forward estimates. No, it does not seem like much, but then again the minister does not have bragging rights to university research support or the proposed $20bn medical research fund. In any case, pitching the government as a friend to science looks like a lost cause – subsumed in the funding furore over cuts for teaching. Mr Macfarlane is on a hiding of Chris Pyne’s making but he did not help himself in Question Time, saying apprentice loans are interest free. What he meant, and later said, was that they are indexed to the CPI, rather than a real rate. It wasn’t a major slip, but ministers misunderstanding the budget are getting a bit of attention just now. Something else the Industry Minister can thank Mr Pyne for.

More stories to come

There was nothing inaccurate in the ABC story yesterday about the University of Queensland considering a restructure of journalism courses. But the headline, “University of Queensland considers dumping journalism degree, cutting staff” still managed to create a sense of crisis where none exists, yet. Yes the discussion paper the story is sourced from makes the case for consolidating courses and carefully signals that academic contract and administrative staff should not make any long term financial commitments. The former will get to see out their contracts “and then be subject to the normal consideration informing decisions regarding renewal.” As for the latter, “while it is anticipated that the majority of positions will remain unchanged, there will be some duplication in positions and some professional staff positions may no longer be required.” But any idea that this is all due to the proposed cut to Commonwealth funding for journalism places seems misplaced. The administrative structure and course offerings across two schools are bewildering and as the University’s paper puts it, in the past “their focus was perceived to be more competitive than cooperative.” Deans who want to rationalise staff and courses take note, the proposed Canberra cuts are going to provide excellent cover for changes long on the agenda.

 

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