Greens and goannas: outsiders annoy the academic establishment

Green for go away

Lee Rhiannon might have thought she was doing the University of Wollongong a favour when she applied to it her standard statement about things being tough for (insert name of institution here) due to underfunding. But UoW Vice Chancellor Paul Wellings does not think so – explaining the university is doing well in both teaching and researching and that “we remain in a strong financial position.” “It seems the Greens were trying to score some political points at our expense, which is very disappointing,” Professor Wellings said in an irritated announcement. Understandably so – building and maintaining a university brand takes too much money and time to let politicians trash it to make a point. Of course announcing you are in good shape as the Feds look for budget cuts may turn out to be a courageous decision of the Sir Humphrey kind.

Lee leaps in

Don’t think annoying Professor Wellings will stop the Greens education spokesman. Senator Rhiannon has a direct mail shot out explaining the terrible things the conservatives (in particular David Kemp and Andrew Norton) want to do to universities. In particular, she condemns their idea of extending access to Commonwealth Supported Places to private providers. “We’ve already seen the devastating impact that unfair competition from private providers is having on TAFE. Thousands of TAFE teachers have lost their jobs, student fees have skyrocketed and TAFE campuses have been forced into mergers.” Well that finishes a good campaigning angle. Sure the Australian Technology Network and Universities Australia have attacked the idea of private providers receiving CSP. But what higher education lobby will accept that its members are anything like TAFE?

Craven knows best

Last night on PM Australian Catholic University VC Greg Craven spoke for the establishment in explaining why private providers should never access CSPs. “The report tries to spin this as ‘competition’. You don’t enhance competition in the Melbourne Cup if you throw a handful of hungry goannas on the field; you just lessen the average quality, you muck up the race, and you give something to the punters they don’t need.” Yes, but they would be TEQSA certified goannas. Ever notice the way insiders dismiss the people who get what suits the powerful as “punters”?

Easily impressed

The CRC Association says it is excited that Bob Baldwin, parliamentary secretary to the Industry Minister will deliver the keynote at its May conference in Perth. I wonder if this is the first time “excitement” has ever appeared in a sentence with “Bob Baldwin.”

Never give an inch

Deborah Terry, Curtin University’s new vice chancellor, has graciously awarded staff an extra two days leave to fill in what the French call “bridge days”, between public holidays – which means the Curtin community will get all of the days between Easter Monday and Anzac Day off. “I have made this decision because I am aware of the extra efforts staff are putting in at present … The decision to provide additional leave is not to be taken as a precedent, but as a gesture of appreciation and recognition,” she wrote. Good oh, it is a break week for students and if the university can afford it why not? (Although I bet somebody in Canberra has made a note in case Professor Terry ever complains about under-funding). But just now she must wonder why she bothered. Among 30 generally positive email comments thanking her there were a couple from casuals who will not be paid, as well as this gem, which I run in full. “The extra few days is appreciated but, as stated by the VC, is also well deserved. A cynic may suggests that these few extra days are a vain attempt to ameliorate the tumultuous personal disruption that has occurred to staff during “academic reshaping” … Let us not forget that many staff who have been made redundant, or who are about to be made redundant, have already been given a “holiday” by the VC and the senior executive.”  I wonder what would have been written if the university had made staff work the non public holidays next week, like everybody else.

There must be days when Professor Terry wonders why she bothers.

Blather in an (Easter) bonnet

Our blather correspondent reports that Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane and friends brought nonsense to a new height with their update on VET reform, released yesterday. Apparently; “Australian government ministers made a new commitment to ensuring industry has the skilled workforce and operating environment it needs to boost the nation’s productivity and increase international competitiveness.” They also endorsed motherhood and said the Easter Bunny would benefit from a Diploma IV in chocolate making (alright I made that bit up).  However the correspondent says he thinks the people quoted are ministers from Australian governments, as in the states and Commonwealth, rather than Mr Macfarlane and some of his colleagues in the Abbott Government but adds that anybody who thinks any of this matters should relax and wait for their chocolate.

TAFE trials

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the National Tertiary Education Union has warmed the House of Reps education committee inquiry into TAFE that Victoria’s open market approach “has comprehensively failed.” This committee is not to be confused with the Senate one also looking at TAFE. Given the government controls the Reps and the Greens and Labor make the running in the Senate, for now, I suspect they may come up with different conclusions.

According to NTEU policy boffin Paul Kniest, “while the Victorian experiment has resulted in a massive increase in the number of students participating in public subsidised VET programs, all of this growth has been driven by private providers and it has not been in areas of skills shortage. As one might expect the private for-profit providers are concentrating on popular and highly profitable courses, such as beauty and fitness courses.” Mr Kniest rejects “market based frameworks” and calls for “a return to a coherent and coordinated approach to the allocation of public funding, which recognises the important role of TAFEs.”

Home schooled

Thanks to a reader who misses not much for pointing me at news about Chinese entrepreneurs developing online courses, which will be free. There seems to be plenty of whatever is the Mandarin for blue sky in the plans to provide online courses without charge but – but there is no doubting the demand for vocational courses, especially in learning English.  Teaching  English to vast numbers of Chinese for nothing does not sound much of a way to build a business. But it sure is a way to destroy one – say the Australian English language college industry.

Departing deans

Greg Whitwell will become dean of the University of Sydney Business School in June. Whitwell is presently senior deputy dean of the Australian School of Business at UNSW. Good for Sydney but very bad indeed for the Kensington crew to lose two leaders in just weeks. The announcement Whitwell is leaving comes barely a month after Dean Geoff Garrett resigned to move to the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania. Still everybody at UNSW is undoubtedly pleased that deputy dean Chris Styles rapidly replaced Garrett. Which reminds me, how is the copy-sharing arrangement between Wharton and UNSW going? It was started with much fanfare in 2009 (from memory) by another departed dean Alec Cameron, but does not appear to generate the attention it used.

 

 

 

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