Plus yet another legal challenge against La Trobe restructure

Nice change

Education Minister Christopher Pyne must have enjoyed yesterday’s interview with Matthew Abraham and David Bevan on ABC Adelaide radio. Yes he had to talk about two unpopular in Adelaide issues – the possibility that the ABC will stop making programmes in the city and the risk that no one will build submarines there. But no one got stuck into him over university deregulation.

La Trobe to court, again

Last night the National Tertiary Education Union announced yet another challenge to the restructure plan at La Trobe, despite a recent Fair Work Commission decision that the university could proceed to retrench staff at the end of one last period of consultation. According to the union, the FW ruling required La Trobe management to “explore all alternatives to compulsory retrenchments”  but the university is not providing options.  “La Trobe University senior management has shown a flagrant disregard for their legal obligations and the findings of the Fair Work Commission,” the union’s Victorian state secretary Dr Colin Long said. “Whilst we have forced senior management to change their plans so that the majority of positions will be lost through voluntary separations, senior management has announced that 100 staff will still be forcibly retrenched. This is not good enough. In some areas nothing has been done to avoid compulsory retrenchments whilst in other areas staff who want to go have been excluded from going and those who want to stay are about to be retrenched,” Dr Long added.

 The union has applied to the Federal Court for a permanent injunction to stop “forced sackings.” According to Dr Long, “a permanent injunction is the only way to stop senior management cutting good staff and the only way to ensure the job security rights of our members are honoured.”

Late Last night a La Trobe spokesman said the university would consider its response.

This is an extraordinary last minute move in the long and bitter struggle over Vice Chancellor John Dewar‘s comprehensive restructure plan, which looked to be finally in place until last night. A hearing is expected tomorrow.

Comparisons are odious

It looks like Labor higher education spokesman Kim Carr will deliver on his commitment (CMM yesterday) to ensure the terms of reference of the Senate committee inquiry into private VET provision do not extend to higher education deregulation. Which some HE experts think is a shame. “A good airing of the higher education issues would help show the differences with VET, in particular that setting up in higher education is a lot harder than in the training sector, and HE has time-based delivery, which hinders a quick and dirty approach” one veteran of many, many inquiries said yesterday. They are points the expert would happily explain if called by the committee – which will not happen if senators stick to a VET focus.


For his next trick

Trade Minister Andrew Robb had a huge win in negotiating an FTA with China but an agreement with India would be an even bigger for education. The only concession in the heads of agreement with China is to add 70 or so Australian private providers to the list on the Chinese government website. While this de facto endorsement is important it will not create a bonanza, if only with 80 000 or so Chinese students studying with Australian universities here and there, and China expanding its own system, the days of easy growth are gone.

But India is different. There is enormous domestic demand for vocational and higher education, which the Indian system fails to meet. Having English as a shared language helps. But, what a surprise, the staggering local system is heavily protected – attempts to open the domestic market to international suppliers have never made it through the national legislature, at least not in ways which generate a return on investment (foreign institutions can’t repatriate profits). And even if the national government could get a free trade agreement for education through parliament that does not mean the state bureaucracies would play nice. So don’t hold your breath that the Indians will want education way up the FTA agenda – it only rated a pro forma mention in the joint statement by prime ministers Abbott and Modi on Wednesday.

Blue sky better

The Group of Eight sent the world a modesty-gram yesterday, with examples of research from all its members, from which the world benefits. But it did not include the usual argument that every research dollar that does not go to the Eight is money wasted, what with all other universities being dills. I doubt this is because the Go8 has decided it is best to share a diminishing resource pool. More likely the Eight recognise a bigger risk – Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane’s push for university-business links and applied research.

Here’s the Eight’s argument;

“Some university research which advances knowledge can quickly provide direct and indirect opportunities to support business innovation, create completely new commercial opportunities, inform government policy, and provide information that supports community well-being. However, the research that has the greatest impact frequently turns out to be that which was conducted without any direct intention of being useful. In many cases the advances made by fundamental research are essential to advances across a wide range of different technologies but this impact can take many years to become apparent.”

Mr Macfarlane’s business focused research culture has not generated much criticism yet – I’m guessing the Go8 has decided to gee some up.

Balanced coverage

Apparently social impact investing “that drives positive social outcomes” is all the go. “These kind of investors tend to use negative screening and simply avoid investing in things like armaments or tobacco or alcohol, or companies with poor environmental or workplace diversity records.” How do I know? I read James Dunn’s piece in the Australian Financial Review’s “social impact investing special report,” yesterday. What, the AFR that was very cross when the Australian National University sold out of fossil fuel stocks last month? That’s the one.

Jury of their peers

The QS MBA list is out and the good news is that two Australian universities make the top ten! The bad news is that this is the top ten in the Asia-Pacific. And even then the Melbourne Business School is 7th, down from 3rd last year, while the UNSW’s AGSM subsidiary drops one spot, to 9th for its MBA programmes. The top five are all from Singapore (INSEAD’s Asian operation (number one) plus the NUS and Nanyang business schools) and Hong Kong.

In North America three schools tied for top spot, Harvard, Stanford and Wharton (University of Pennsylvania). Britain and Spain dominate the European top ten. The London Business School (1st), Oxford (3rd) and Cambridge (10th) are joined by IE (6th), ESADE (7th) and IESE at the University of Navarra (9th). The main INSEAD campus in Paris is number two.

The QS ranking is based on employer judgements and, for the first time, the opinion of business academics. Hard for universities that dropped to spin this as inaccurate given that the ranking is based in part on the judgement of their peers.

No answers from ACU

The National Tertiary Education Union has lodged a dispute with the Australian Catholic University over its new research workload allocation policy on grounds ranging from a breach of the niceness clause in the enterprise agreement (alright I made that one up) to “intellectual freedom” (that’s real). The union calls on management to suspend the research time allocation process for staff who received no or a reduced allowance for next year and negotiate “benchmarks and guidelines” with the union.  Last night an ACU spokesperson responded that “the university will work with the union to endeavour to resolve the dispute within the bounds of the enterprise agreement.” And that is the point – the process was designed by management to meet the conditions of the new agreement. We will see how well they succeeded.


Double the guards

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations meets in Canberra next week with 27 delegates having cocktails at Parliament House. “With the higher education reforms set to hit the Senate any day, the timing couldn’t be better … we might even run into a few parliamentary representatives while we are there,” CAPA suggests. Yes, it is a sitting week, but not if Coalition MPs see them first – and I’m guessing the doors to the Min Wing will be barricaded.