Doomsday book: apparently all is crook on campus

Can’t even give it away

Swinburne University has closed expressions of interest for sales of its former Lilydale campus with the site unsold. No submissions met the existing zoning criteria, which specifies education use. So what happens now? Nothing before the state election, the Labor Opposition talks of re-opening Lilydale for community education, but who knows who would do it. It’s yet another sad stage in a brutal affair that started two years ago. The decision to close Lilydale shocked staff there, ended up in the Federal Court and set the scene for continuing conflict between university management and the local National Tertiary Education Union – all over a site which nobody now wants.

Learn at light speed

The early career researcher grant writing workshop in Adelaide on Thursday week is booked out already. This is not surprising giving it feature the fabulous Tanya “photon girl” Monro (University of Adelaide). Organisers at RiAus say it will be live streamed.

Pyne plan popular as pus

According to a new poll by the National Tertiary Education Union, Chris Pyne’s deregulation package has cost 23 marginal Coalition MPs an average of 10 per cent support, with two thirds of voters opposing higher student fees and university funding cuts. Mr Pyne’s primary vote has collapsed by 14 per cent since the election with a two party preferred vote in the poll of 45 per cent. Is this surprising? Depending on the question asked, probably not. But, to paraphrase every leader who ever faced poor polling – this is not the poll that counts.  That one will occur when people vote, in this case the people who matter are cross bench senators.

Doomsday book

Oh good, a new analysis of the unhappy condition of overworked, underpaid, universally oppressed Australian academics (deans and above excluded) in time for the deregulation debate. The last was by Richard Hils, the understated Whackademia (2012) and now Hannah Forsythe (Australian Catholic University) has a manifesto of misery to relate, at least on the basis of the blurb for her book, due from New South Press come spring. “Universities today are plagued with ingrained problems. More than 50 per cent of the cost of universities goes to just running them. They now have an explicit commercial focus. They compete bitterly for students and funding. Scholars rarely feel their vice-chancellors represent them and within their own ranks, academics squabble for scraps.” I am sure she means universities other than ACU

No stroll in the park

By the time you read this Todd Walker will have climbed a mountain and hacked his way along a jungle path – and no that is not the route from car space to office at Federation U. Instead DVC Walker is leading 20 Fed U students and staff on his second Kokoda Trail walk. (Sorry, trail not track. For some reason Australia adopted the Americanism for battle honours in 1957). This is a hell of a thing to do and should be a model for a Universities Australia bonding session – I know two VCs who could do it at a trot – if not a run. And think of the bragging rights.

Two targets

Elected fellows of the University of Sydney Senate want the university to reject deregulation. Andrew West, Catriona Menzies-Pike, Verity Firth and Patrick Massarani are circulating a petition calling on Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson to convene a meeting of Convocation to debate a motion calling on the university to “refrain from supporting fee deregulation, which will prevent or discourage potential students from seeking admission to the university because of an inability to meet or repay tuition costs.” Vice Chancellor Michael Spence is on the record opposing increased course costs for low-income students, although the university is expected to clean up from deregulated fees. Question is who is the motion intended to pressure Minister Pyne or Dr Spence? My guess is both.

Wisdom of the ages

Yet another economics discussion group is announced, the Melbourne Forum, established by hugely heavy hitters Ross Garnaut (University of Melbourne) and Peter Dawkins (VC, Victoria University). It is not entirely clear what it will do that differently to the other operations arguing at the interface of economics and policy, but this is not a problem – the more economists in the marketplace of ideas the better. What is a problem is that the people doing the talking and likely the listening are, not to put too fine a point on it, old. With economics increasingly a subject in a business degree, rather than an undergraduate qualification in its own right the prospect of a qualified audience for economics in the future is diminishing. But what’s a dean to do if students are not interested in the calculus economics academic like to lecture in? One answer is do what La Trobe did a few years back and create a classic politics, philosophy and economics degree – a qualification customised for people who want to work in policy. As far as I know the PPE degree will survive the current cuts at La Trobe. I hope it prospers for the sake of future policy debates.

Interchangeably ordinary

You have to wonder if all universities have quite got the hang of selling to students, for example “Choose a life filled with bold adventure and outstanding education. Choose Deakin.” It is a slogan that could be used anywhere, or nowhere.

Unconvincing arguments

For those of you who unaccountably missed it, Kim Carr brought on a Senate debate on Thursday on the government’s higher education deregulation plan. And what a shocker it was, with low quality contributions from all speakers bar two. Senator Chris Back (Liberal WA) delivered coherent support of government policy and Senator Kate Lundy (Labor ACT) was equally informed in arguing against it. As for the rest, there has to be a MOOC somewhere on rhetoric and logic they could take. Where, I want to know were the PUPs or any of the other crossbenchers?

Monash menus

Monash University held its food awards the other night, with the chef mortarboard for green cuisine going to the Wholefood Restaurant on Clayton campus. The nutrition award went to Artichoke and Whitebait (“visit us today to enjoy the real café culture”) at the same site. But, thankfully among all the greenie goodness some student traditions survive – there was a prize for best chips. It went to Neptune’s Seafood Catch. At the risk of encouraging the league table compilers, how long until there is a global higher education league table of best university caffes?

 Efficiently online

The University of Sydney student records system used to be notoriously inefficient-CMM knows of a student who talks of trying to change a subject in third year but being told she had never been enrolled. Not any more, as long as the new student system, which integrates all faculties and administration units, works. Vice Chancellor Michael Spence made the new system a 2014 priority and handed the project to Provost Stephen Garton, who activated stage three last week. So far, so good, thanks to project director Vaughan Stibbard and staff.

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