Funding reform going nowhere

Which means for uni pay rises the good times have rolled 

Malcolm in the middle (of everything)

Ian Jacobs is a new UK import as VC at the University of New South Wales but he obviously understands Sydney star-culture. He is hosting a Q&A featuring Malcolm Turnbull next Thursday on “managing risk in life, politics, business, climate change and medicine.” Professor Jacobs is a renowned medical researcher but the Minister for Communications has the other subjects covered. I wonder if the two other panellists will get a word in.

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Good times have rolled

A reader who keeps score of the endless arguments between universities and the National Tertiary Education Union corrects my claim yesterday that Charles Sturt University was alone in putting an enterprise bargain to a vote without the union’s endorsement. The reader is right – I foolishly forgot Swinburne, which did the same as CSU this time last year and won the vote, just. The NTEU responded by challenging the result in Fair Work Australia, which took until the end of the year to uphold the result. Stephen Parker also talked so tough at the University of Canberra that the union decided to deal rather than dispute. Terse talks continue still at UNSW and Southern Cross U.

Talks are likely to be tougher in the next round of EBs, starting next year. While VCs reflexive response to any statement about any issue is to complain about underfunding they all felt flush enough to give away 3 per cent per annum pay rises compounding for three years in the agreements now in place. “The next round is going to be much more interesting if the funding pressure keeps up, and universities start feeling emboldened to say no,” a close watcher of university funding says.

Godwins Law applies

On the day the prime minister compared Bill Shorten to Joseph Goebbels, University of Sydney VC Michael Spence advised staff and students that anti-Semitism would not be tolerated, following allegations of an incident at a campus protest. “The university does not tolerate any type of harassment or discrimination, including on the grounds of religion and religious belief. Such views or behaviour have no place in our community, and we all have a role to play in standing firm against them, “ he wrote. Quite right. Oh, and the PM is a Sydney graduate. While Mr Abbott is no anti-semite he obviously does not understand Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies, whoever refers to Hitler (Goebbels as well) in an argument has lost it.

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Bridging the gap

Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane has announced the chairs of the last two industry growth centres, which are designed to “build new links between businesses and researchers to boost Australian industry’s international competitiveness and enhance our areas of competitive strength.” Standards Australia chair CEO Dr Bronwyn Evans will chair the Medical Technologies and Pharmaceutical Growth Centre and Reg Nelson the Oil, Gas and Energy Resources Growth Centre. Mr Macfarlane describes Nelson as “an adviser” to Beach Energy, which rather understates his achievements. Mr Nelson ran Beach from 1992 to 2014.

What next

So what happens now in the great debate over the funding future of higher education everybody says is essential? The short answer is nobody knows, that’s the long answer as well. University leaders and opinion shapers started talking within hours of Minister Pyne’s third draft bill going down in the Senate without saying anything new. Yes, we all know they are underfunded the question is what do they want done about it. At week’s end there is less unity on deregulation than there was at the beginning and it seems unlikely that Universities Australia will be able to hold all its members together in the absence of a new proposal with more chance of passing parliament than the last. And the more different things VCs say the less chance the Senate cross bench will accept the responsibility to do anything at all.

However there is one thing that will unite them behind deregulation, an alternative they dislike more than even the status quo. Cue Labor’s Kim Carr who hints at a plan where the state provides enough money to fund a system with fewer undergraduates and more government planning. But whatever he has in mind, a policy debate necessarily involves alternatives, and for now the government’s ideas make up the only comprehensive plan on the table. At the moment everybody is floundering, which suits Labor – it is a lot safer to say what you oppose than what you will do.

Your own words, dammit

With Macquarie University investigating students implicated as possible purchasers of assignments from a paper mill the timing could not be better for Tuesday’s staff seminar on academic integrity, and how to explain it students.

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 Imberger defends himself

There are no signs of a settlement in the Imberger misconduct inquiry at the University of Western Australia. Professor Jorg Imberger was a long-duration darling of the UWA establishment, not least for the research record and grant income of his Centre for Water Research. But no longer, he was suspended in November on a misconduct matter, following allegations from former students. This upset his supporters, at the university, in wider Perth and in the international water research community and there has been a concerted campaign on Professor Imberger’s behalf. But it has not included the National Tertiary Education Union, of which Professor Imberger is a member. This has also upset many, not all NTEU members on campus – the professor is given to speaking his mind – who demand the union assist However, the professor has briefed his own lawyers and not asked for union help. The NTEU is telling people it can’t intervene uninvited.

Remember to sit up straight

Anthony Morese from Plymouth University and colleagues suggest a link between posture and learning and memory. I wonder if “hands-on-heads!” helps as well.

Hard going at NCVER

Many admirers of the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research focus on its research programme and don’t pay much attention to its role as keeper of VET system stats. They should. Data management is a huge task, even bigger now it covers private providers plus the national Unique Student Identifier programme. There is also the My Skills website, announced in the 2011-12 budget as intended to, “provide information about vocational institutes and colleges including student pathways, satisfaction and competencies; employer satisfaction and engagement; levels of commencements and completions; community and social engagement; and the type of training available.”

Big jobs all, so how is NCVER going? “Pretty well,” Sue Ferguson, General Manager, Statistics said yesterday. The agency started with a legacy system which it replaced and demands from government have grown.

Good-oh, but My Skills is not as useful as intended and VET observers ask what happened to using all of the Student Outcomes Survey.

The workload also appears to have taken a toll, with one senior manager leaving and job swaps among others. Ms Ferguson was hired in 2102 as general manager of research but switched to supervising statistics last July when she exchanged jobs with long-serving NCVER veteran Sandra Pattison. To make everything even more interesting both their fixed term jobs, which are concluding, were advertised last week. “They are not for the faint hearted,” one close NCVER observer said last night.

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Bullets beat words

The Texas state legislature is well on the way to passing legislation allowing people to carry concealed firearms on campuses. Sure, people can do this now off without permission, but even so, being armed at university with the sanction of the state sends a scary signal about what legislators think can, or will, happen there.

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