Everybody’s an ARC critic while TEQSA travels on

But it didn’t

In breaking news, which never broke the University of Sydney reports, “when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth, land could have torn apart to create a Saharan ocean in the middle of Africa.”  And the point is?

It’s all relative

The Times Higher reputation rankings generated the expected anguish as university chiefs lamented Australian institutions drop in status and blamed federal government cuts. It is all nonsense on stilts – yes brand reputation changes quickly – but the changes that matter are in competitive sets and while Australia’s number one – the University of Melbourne has dropped it is meaningless to suggest that this means it is less well regarded in the mass of business segments it works in compared to its competitors. In research, and indeed teaching, universities are bundles of brands rather than single entities. Purchase decisions (be it to study or teach or fund research) come down to the reputation of the academic unit involved not just an overall corporate reputation. Yesterday’s rankings gave universities an excuse to demand restoration of funding cuts to come, which is probably the best use managements can make of them. Anybody thinking of a corporate campaign to repair supposedly reduced reputations should stop.

Curtin still drawn

Curtin University staff are upset about changes to working conditions, which the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union argues are not being explained to members. I know how they feel. I put claims from union president Tony Snow to Curtin management last Friday and the nice lady I spoke to assured me somebody would get back to me so I could report management’s position. Which I will do when, or if, it ever happens.

Opposition affords idealism

Alannah MacTiernan (Labor-Perth) explains where Australia has gone wrong on international education while debating the TEQSA reform legislation in the Reps. “I do not think the real focus of bringing international students is or should be on subsidising our university sector. It really should be on the enrichment that comes from bringing together the brightest and the best from around the world, and international students play an important role in that regard.”

While a government backbencher make the most of an opportunity

Dr Dennis Jensen (Liberal-Tangey) also used the TEQSA bill to make a few points about the Australian Research Council. Some the research establishment will like; “Funded ARC projects must be funded fully. This may mean that fewer projects are funded, but it does mean that the researcher or research group will be fully accountable for achieving outcomes without the fallback of inadequate funding.” But the Australian Research Council not so much. “The Excellence in Research in Australia policy has failed. … Australia should return to a much more limited regulatory regime, akin to that predating the Dawkins era, and rely primarily on self-regulation of research by universities, which have a vested interest in maximising the quality, integrity and standing of their research.”

Career guidance from Dr Dennis

“I speak with the authority of being the only research scientist in this place and the authority of someone who has been involved in competitive research. Einstein once said, ‘Science is a wonderful thing if one does not have to earn one’s living at it’—hence why I am here.” (Same speech in the Reps)

TEQSA travels on

All the above wisdom was in a lost cause, at least for now, as the Senate has sent the TEQSA legislation off to committee. This is no surprise, Labor education spokesman Kim Carr signalled it last week, saying the bit in the bill that spills the commissioner’s positions is a dangerous precedent in that it undermines properly appointed government officials. Cynics suggest this is as good a reason as any for Senator Carr to delay government legislation because he can. However he is certainly not doing it to suck up to the sector. Universities Australia was quick off the blocks yesterday urging the Senate committee to consider the bill quick.  “While there may be some technical aspect to be considered, the fact that all parts of the higher education sector have expressed broad support for the reforms should provide the Committee with a degree of reassurance on the merits of the amendments,” UA chief Belinda Robinson said.” You have to wonder what it will take to terminate, sorry transform TEQSA as the sector has come to know and not love it.

What’s Greek for “Jumping Jack Flash”?

Given the state of the South Australian economy the election underway is light-on for big spending promises but appealing to interest groups is in politicians DNA so it isn’t surprising to see Liberal education spokesman David Pisoni doing what he can to court an interest group. Mr Pisoni is promising a modest $1m over three years for Flinders University to complete its Greek language program and to expand teaching in primary schools. In contrast, Premier Jay Weatherill has promised $450,000 to the Rolling Stones (older than all but the most ancient Greeks) to play Adelaide Oval next month.

Mandarin of choice

Assistant Social Security Minister Mitch Fifield has announced University of Western Sydney Chancellor Peter Shergold will chair Canberra’s aged care sector committee, which I assume is different to the Commonwealth Aged Care Reform Implementation Taskforce, which he already leads. It adds to Professor Shergold’s prodigious portfolio of welfare sector appointments, which do not seem to daunt the 67 year old former academic and head of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Still if he wants to slow down he could always consider returning to the University of New South Wales as vice chancellor when Fred Hilmer retires. He is hardly in a position to decline on the grounds that he is too old.

Gosh thanks, sort of

Victoria has finally decided to do something about public transport fares for international students, but not much. From 2015 those with the cash for a 12 month ticket ( a snip at a grand plus) can buy it at a 50 per cent discount – but only if they are studying at institutions which stump up some of the cost. Monash was quick to commit yesterday, followed by Deakin – but as of last night they were it.

More advice for the ARC

In the new edition of Quadrant University of Queensland law professor James Allan explains on how the Canadians manage research ranking cheaper than the ARC . “In Canada all this arbitrary and subjective ranking of universities and of component parts of universities (such as law schools and medical schools and more) is done by a weekly news magazine, Maclean’s. And how it goes about this is no more subjective than the way the ARC does it in Australia. The big difference is that in Canada it costs taxpayers nothing. It is done by the news magazine to sell copies. In Australia it costs taxpayers tens of millions of dollars for a process that is no better at delivering substantive assessments of quality than the free Canadian one.”

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