Still in the woods

There is nothing the Education Minister can’t do – the trailer for Disney’s version of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods gives him star billing. Appropriate really given he is a long way from being out of the woods on negotiating his package through the Senate. But Disney got his name wrong, spelling it as Chris Pine.

Spence speak up

Michael Spence has endorsed the Chapman-Higgins proposal to reduce the impact of increased interest on HECS loans, telling University of Sydney staff, “we have been very concerned about our many graduates who take on important but lower-paying professional jobs, or women or other carers who take career breaks and consequently face an increased financial burden.” Sydney’s VC expands the consensus behind the ANU economists’ carefully calibrated proposal and as such proffers Chris Pyne a gift he would be mad to refuse. Tying an increased HECS interest rate (from CPI to a maximum 6 per cent) was never going to fly in the context of an average 20 per cent hike in course costs. And Chapman-Higgins gives the minister a way out at not (the economists argue) much cost to the budget. (They suggest either using CPI on debt below the repayment threshold then the bond rate after or the existing Fee Help system, which hits students with a 25 per cent loan surcharge and interest on the lot at the CPI).

But a gracious exit out of a user-pays charge too far is not the real reason why Mr Pyne will (assuming Treasury lets him) graciously abandon his original plan. The higher education lobby has focused such attention on the debt that a backdown will appear an enormous concession – which is what the minister will tell Senate crossbenchers it is. This maybe enough to win sufficient Senate support to pass the core parts of his package, increased course costs, deregulated fees and Commonwealth Supported Places. Agreeing to Chapman-Higgins will certainly make it much harder for opponents of de-regulation to start on a second set of demands without striking senators as greedy. I wonder if this was the minister’s plan all along.

No head hunted

Either staff at the Australian Catholic University are not all that interested in Wayne McKenna’s flash new research centres or he is not interested in them (CMM Friday). ACU insiders report that many senior staff in the Learning Sciences Institute are hire-ins. Executive Dean of Education and Arts Claire Wyatt-Smith comes from Griffith University, as do hires Joy Cumming, Brendan Bartlett, Clarence Ng and Len Unsworth. But one job unfilled is a head for the institute. The position was advertised in December and again in February but is still vacant.

Laurenceson starts long march

Dr James Laurenceson is the new deputy director at UTS’s Australia China Relations Institute, a job which will likely keep him busy given ACRI’s director Bob “three chairs” Carr also holds a professorial fellowship at the University of Sydney’s Southeast Asia Centre and an adjunct professorship in Asia, China and international relations at the University of New South Wales.

Cuts contested

As if denouncing the Pyne Package was not work enough National Tertiary Education Union members at La Trobe and the University of Melbourne are mobilising against campus cuts. At Bundoora the union is gearing up for a rally next Monday denouncing Vice Chancellor John Dewar’s Future Ready plan, claiming he is sacrificing jobs to an overly ambitious agenda, which can be funded more modestly.

Yesterday the NTEU upped the pressure, complaining that Chancellor Adrienne Clarke has refused to allow union representatives to speak to a staff petition at Thursday’s Council meeting and reminding council members “Council is actually responsible for the decision to cut staff since it appoints the vice chancellor and approves major changes of this kind.” And union state secretary Dr Colin Long called on Council to effectively over-rule Dr Clarke. We hope university council can allocate time to hear from the NTEU at its meeting on 11 August.

At Uni Melbourne activists are upset at the 500 jobs set to go under the Business Improvement Plan (who picks these unconvincing euphemisms?). The campus NTEU has convened a Thursday meeting “to make a choice about how we respond.” “It is disappointing that senior management are prioritising the views of external consultants over a large number of dedicated and talented staff members. The Vice Chancellor and senior management have made a choice to continue with a flawed proposal, despite the concerns of staff, students and the union,” organiser Rebecca Muratore says.

It’s a jungle out there

“Psychological injury has the potential to have a significant impact on staff in terms of long periods of illness and lost time from work. A course like Practical Resilience helps staff develop higher levels of resilience at work and decreases the likelihood of them experiencing psychological distress at work and home.” Julia Cohen, Director, Safety, Health, Wellbeing at the University of Sydney spruiks her stuff.

Expanding open access

The Australian National University is an open-access pioneer, with its excellent press electronically publishing hundreds of scholarly monographs available to all on-line. Now in its tenth year the Press has published an impressive 500 titles. On Friday the university released its new policy for journal publications, which builds on its OA achievement, while acknowledging the power of the commercial publishers, whose products still appeal to elite researchers. The new policy specifies journal articles are lodged in the university’s open access repository at the latest 12 months after publication while authors’ final versions are immediately available. How this sits, however, with the commitment to making published versions of papers available “in accordance with the publisher agreement” seems to allow for a year of wriggle room. But the university opposition is quite clear for the publishers’ preferred gold open access model, which requires authors/institutions to pay to publish. “The university does not support the payment of article processing fees or ‘hybrid’ fees (where an individual article is made available through payment of an article processing fee).” Not a week goes by without a university or research funder somewhere in the world challenging the old order of for-profit journal publishing.

Recycled innovation ideas

Senator Kim Carr was very pleased on Friday with submissions to the Senate Economic References Committee inquiry into innovation. Observers who have seen it all before were less so. As one energetic innovator pointed out, many in business did not bother making a submission, which is perhaps not surprising for a senate committee inquiry, especially one the Opposition initiated. Not all submissions are online yet but among the 100 plus that are many include three points; innovation is very complicated and working out how to do it requires more research, and money, quite a bit of public money.

Some are also guileless in what they reveal. The Group of Eight, for example, suggests that one important way to encourage innovation is to “remove impediments to information flow between the sectors. Make information coming from university research easy to access, cheap and understandable to those who might make use of it. Make it easier to find. Promote and facilitate the movement of people between the sectors.” Good-oh – but what is to stop the research universities doing this already.

The Regional Universities Network set out what government should do to encourage innovation and why “any move to restrict research or research training would have an immediate impact on the capacity of affected institutions to compete with other universities in terms of attracting and retaining high quality staff and students, and their reputations would suffer, both domestically and internationally.” Fair point, although I am a bit hazy on what it has to do with innovation.

In contrast, the Innovative Research Universities produced a closely argued assessment of innovation rather than calls for industry assistance and regional development under other names. And it made the anything but self-serving point that when it comes to research, proximity is not essential to productivity. “The paradox is that while many research issues increasingly require the interaction of considerable resources to be pursued effectively, the rapid changes in digital technology and their impact on communications means that researchers from all universities can be effective members of world wide networks.”

But it was left to the Cooperative Research Centres Association to state the tough-minded obvious. “There are too many programmes which are based on start-ups and spin-offs where there is the constant need to raise funds, thereby compromising the time and money spent on developing technology. The focus should be on providing funding for the development of technology, not given to people to learn how to run a company.” Even if they work for universities, in regional areas.

Keep working

The extraordinarily energetic Tom Frame is the new director of the Australian Centre for the Study of Armed Conflict and Society at UNSW Canberra. Professor Frame is former Anglican bishop to the Australian Defence Forces and director of St Mark’s National Theological Centre in Canberra. He is the author of dozens of books, ranging from a study of the sinking of the second HMAS Sydney to the way Darwin’s Origin of the Species was initially received in Australia. There was talk last year of his taking on a parish which obviously came to nought.

He joins 50 staff across UNSW also promoted, to senior lecturer – all of bar two (a lawyer and an architect) have doctorates. Push on PhD candidates completion is your only hope.