Coursework masters: the next public funding front

How to decide who gets what is the question for Christopher

Glory be to God for depressing things

A media release from the Victoria University of Wellington announces “Lecture to focus on Victorian writers ‘terrible sonnets’ ”. It’s not as bad as it sounds, the writer is Gerard Manly Hopkins and the description is of the author’s mood rather than the quality of the poems. Even so if nobody turns up they will know why

Places from Pyne

Chris Pyne announced funding for 1500 diploma and masters places in allied health courses at 11 universities over three years on Friday plus 2000 berths for language diploma students and another thousand spots in uni prep programs. While the places were in the Labor pipeline the minister presented it as part of his plan to prove the new government is higher education’s best friend. “The government has paid particular attention in allocating places to support universities that are serving regions with a high need for trained professionals in skills shortage occupations,” Mr Pyne said, and in the process breached Nelson’s Law of Education Funding, (too much public money is never enough). So it wasn’t surprising that within the hour, the Regional Universities Network issued a statement that thanked the government but asked what had it done for bush universities lately? With “lately” presumably defined as in the last 30 minutes. According to RUN chair Professor Peter Lee, “more needs to be done to address the inequities in the distribution of postgraduate coursework places that have developed over time. There is a pressing need to increase participation by regional Australians at university to provide sufficient professionals to work in regional Australia.”

Nelson’s Law applies

The normally astute and always energetic Andy Vann issued a statement late Friday deploring the funding cuts Mr Pyne introduced into the Reps the other day. “While it’s not unexpected, as the previous Labor government flagged the prospect of similar cuts, it is disappointing and regrettable that the new Liberal-National government is continuing on the same path,” the Charles Sturt vice chancellor said. This was hours after the feds announced 125 new language diploma places and 140 spots for sub degree general studies students at CSU.

On Pyne’s plate 

Funding for postgrad places is a bigger problem for the minister than it looks, what with the fees for masters required for professional practice and progression extending way beyond the Melbourne model, into teaching and nursing for example. And not everybody can afford these degree if they are full fee, which is why Commonwealth funded postgraduate places accounted for 22 per cent of undergraduate load at one university a couple of years back. The previous government did its best to ignore the issue, putting four options out for consultation at the end of 2011. They included distributing a capped number of places per discipline and allowing institutions to split their funded load between undergraduate programs and course work masters as each saw fit. (University of Melbourne VC Glyn Davis suggested this last week). Finally, perhaps for the sheer amusement value, extending demand driven funding to professional masters was proposed. It was all too hard for the ancient regime, which told me in May that the status quo of deals with individual institutions would continue (well, that was the gist of it). Which is where it looks like we still are. I asked the minister’s office if it had any ideas what to do about this and I am sure they will let me know when they do.

Got a problem with that?

The universities of Queensland and Western Australia announce a range of research collaborations that could, “help to solve some of the world’s major problems,” including vector born viruses and frost intolerance in wheat, plus  “social memory and history of feminism.” And the problem to solve in the last one is?

Everything’s at UWA

The Western Australian science awards are out and the winner is the University of Western Australia. The university’s Mark Randolph, an offshore geo-technical engineer, is the scientist of the year He is joined by UWA’s Shazzad Hossain (early career scientist), Tristan Clemons (student scientist) and Myra Keep (science ambassador). The ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology is initiative of the year, based at yes, UWA. The awards must do wonders for morale at UWA, but not so much at the state’s other four universities.

Gong goes quiet 

Sometimes being below metro main media radar is where you want to be. An end of year party for University of Wollongong students got a bit out of hand on Thursday night. Like 800 people, 16 police vehicles plus the dog squad out of hand. While police say the students were well behaved it was still a big deal in the local media – all over the Illawarra Mercury and still running on local TV news on Friday. But Sydney media left the story alone – as did the university’s media office, which did not issue the standard deplore-a-gram on student excesses. While the party was not the university’s problem I’m guessing management decided no one outside the Gong needed to know about.

Economic ideals

The marvellous Dierdre McCloskey is in Australia (rumour is she timed her visit to coincide with the Test series) to speak for the Centre of Independent Studies, universities and various economics societies. If you are in Canberra you can hear the University of Illinois (at Chicago) economist argue economics can’t explain the modern world at ANU’s Crawford School on December 10. A schedule of other addresses is here. I am a big fan of her work, especially Bourgeoise Dignity which explains why culture and values rather than productivity kick-stated the English and Dutch economies in the 17th century and why the same can apply today all over the developing world. He writing is erudite and immensely entertaining – and when was the last time you heard anybody write that about an economist from Chicago?

All organised at UniSuper 

Every now and again a story pops up that mentions UniSuper’s ownership by universities, which refuse to underwrite retirement payouts. It got a mention in the AFR last week in a piece about protests at the fund’s annual meeting over planned reductions to payouts to the defined benefits scheme. The governance structure certainly concentrates advice and authority in ways that make a challenge to board policy very difficult indeed and friends of the National Tertiary Education Union bemoan the absence of more union voices at the table.

Eight fund directors come from universities, two appointed by VCs, two are the nominees of the members representing managements on a consultative committee and one each is the choice of committee members representing professional and academic staff. A further two are union reps. The eight appoint a further three board members who are wise in actuarial arcana. The consultative committee that does the picking is made up two management reps and one each from academic and professional staff from each university. A structure designed to suit the status quo.

To the cyber barricades

At Monash the NTEU is urging staff to add a banner to their email signature stating that they “support my union’s campaign for a fair collective agreement.” That should strike terror into management.

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