Days before the budget Macfarlane speaks up for research

Plus Canberra’s new voced supremos 

Alive but unemployed

The good news is; “killer robots a few years away-NICTA (CMM April 23).

But then there’s the bad news; “more STEM education won’t protect our jobs from robots,” NICTA’s Toby Walsh, (via Twitter) yesterday

Self HELP

Universities Australia has endorsed Education Minister Chris Pyne’s plan to have émigré Australian graduates pay their HELP study debt from overseas. This is entirely sensible support for an entirely sensible scheme but readers of the signs in the budgetary skies point to the way student contributions is a topic that keeps turning up in the last few days. Could it mean a hike in HELP payments on Tuesday night and if so where would the money go – Treasury, universities or a bit of both? It certainly would be an easier sell for the government than deregulation if a share of the elusive spondulicks went universities way. While the National Union of Students would complain every university and academic interest group would quietly count the cash going to their institution, making it easier for crossbench senators to stay silent.

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Mouth where the money is

If speculation about budget cuts to research infrastructure block grants is on the money nobody has told Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane. The minister was at Monash U yesterday, inspecting three whiz-bang research centres conducting the sort of applied investigation with obvious applications (no blue sky over Clayton) the government loves to fund; the Immersive Visualisation Platform, the Centre for Additive Manufacturing, and the Health Translation Precinct. “Science is at the heart of industry policy, and we are investing in science and industry infrastructure to ensure that science and research are driving growth in productivity and competitiveness,” he said. These are not the words of a minister who expects to see the budget cut funds for STEM facilities.

Innovating innovators

It’s barely three years since the UWS business school was sacking staff (and just a week since dean Clive Smallman stood down), but the school is hiring again, recruiting mid to senior accounting academics to help with “transforming its innovative business education programs.” Um, if everything is innovative why change?

Impossible to please

Everybody who has ever created a university marketing campaign (CMM included) knows that campus communities are very hard to impress. Staff at the University of Western Australia certainly are not pleased with the new branding campaign launched this week, “pursue impossible”. Some scoff at the slogan itself, “because you can’t pursue an adjective,” (grammarians: no correspondence please, I am but a reporter). Others suggest the whole idea is realistically defeatist, what with the impossible being, well impossible. And staffers suggest that the cloud signs around campus (reaching for them, or some such) resemble wet blankets. There is much, much more of the same and it is all clever creative compared with the brand statement, which includes,

“Seek wisdom. Find answers.
Take massive action.
Create profound change.

Be bold and brilliant.
Persistent and consistent.
Try. Fail. Succeed.”

There is more of the same but you get the message. Or not, – the problem with this stuff is that it has nothing to do with what makes the University of Western Australia what it is. Authentic university brands are based on what they do best – and UWA is certainly not mediocre enough for this stuff.

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Committee that counts

Training Minister Simon Birmingham has announced membership of the new Australian Industry and Skills Committee, which is where power will lie in the government’s training development structure. Not, the Skills Services Organisations. They will develop training packages for Industry References Committees. It’s the AISC that will matter. It will oversight provider and training package standards, manage IRCs and allocate and assess SSOs. It will also advise the state and federal ministerial council. No, CMM does not have a clue how it will work in practise either, but the Industry and Skills committee is the place to be for anybody who wants to oversight the voced syllabus – which accounts for its heavy duty membership.

John Pollaers (ex ceo Pacific Brands and Fosters) chairs and committee members include Jenny Lambert (ACCI), Mick McMahon (ex CEO of labour hire firm Skilled) plus nine other business and bureaucratic training veterans – teacher and union reps are notable by their absence. All states and territories are represented and the Business Council of Australia and Australian Industry Group will rotate reps in the spot ACCI starts with.

Thought that counts

The new NSW skills minister John Barilaro arrived at the Group Training Australia Skills Conference yesterday bearing gifts, small gifts to be sure, but an improvement on the hammering GTA took the other week, when its members missed out in the award of most contracts for Canberra’s new Apprenticeship Support Network.

Mr Barilaro committed $2m to a pre-traineeship programme for people to decide whether an apprenticeship in a range of industries is for them. Eligible group training organisations will “recruit suitable participants, mentor them through the training and work experience, and place the participants in apprenticeships where possible.”

Birmingham holds the line

Federal Training Minister Simon Birmingham also addressed the GTA conference, which was convenient, as chief executive Jim Barron told the world after the apprentice support tender he wanted a word. (“GTA will be seeking an urgent explanation as to why group training organisations are no longer supported by the coalition government,” he said last week.) Senator Birmingham recognised the work of GTAs, especially in underprivileged and regional areas and with small business and pointed out that group training organisations were involved in four of the 11 successful Apprenticeship Support Network tenders. But he made it plain that the result was “outcome driven” and based on value for money. He also signalled he would be looking at the structure of state and federal incentive payments for apprentice commencement in the new financial year. Full marks for frankness.

Bright lights, big city

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has announced the first funding round for the $100m programme promised for Rural R&D corporations during the election. Some $27m is split among 12 projects, with Meat and Livestock Australia, Dairy Australia, the Rural Industries R&D Corporation and Horticulture Innovation Australia all picking up multiple awards. However a close observer of funding silos (or troughs, if you prefer) points to the absence of the powerful Grains RDC (61 staff, $182m budget). I have no idea whether there is any connection but Labor agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon says the minister wants RDCs out of Canberra. The Grains RDC is based in flash Barton, just down the hill from Parliament House and next door to Prime Minister and Cabinet – so convenient for Minister Joyce if he ever wants to pop round with a cheque.

But Grains is not alone in liking city life. Back in 2011 the Productivity Commission found only one rural development corporation was not urban based and concluded that while there was “in principle”, merit for being located in the bush, closer to “industry stakeholders,” staffing and other operational requirements meant this was not practical.

Five word answer is no

Back in January President Obama signalled his belief in the importance of education, “we still live in a country where too many bright, striving Americans are priced out of the education they need. It’s not fair to them, and it’s not smart for our future. That’s why I am sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college — to zero.” (CMM January 22). Since then the $60bn plan has copped all sorts of criticism in Congress (I blame that conniving Francis Underwood) but the White House perseveres, with Vice President Joe Biden chiming in @ “# college in 5 words” on Twitter yesterday, “community college should be free.” And in case anybody missed the point, he had another, “Higher.Education.For.Every.American.” Admirable sentiments but rebuttable by anybody @ # college in 5 words “no chance before the election.”

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