All is vanity, except when it is about power and money

Money isn’t always everything

They’re certainly quick learners at the National Tertiary Education Union. At Charles Sturt University last week staff defied the union and voted to accept management’s pay offer so money is not mentioned as a reason for tomorrow’s strike at Melbourne University. Instead, “ the strike is in response to senior management’s aggressive approach in enterprise bargaining negotiations seeking to strip away many current working conditions.” Admittedly management provided staff with a 2.5 per cent rise back in May and the local union has run very hard all year on conditions not cash. One of the NTEU’s key concerns is to ensure it is able to represent staff, which you might think is not a top of mind issue for not especially activist academics and administrators. Still a quarter of the university’s staff are union members and today’s strike comes after 36 enterprise bargaining meetings – it seems the rank and file at Melbourne have not had enough yet.

But it certainly is sometime

The NTEU branch of Murdoch University yesterday secured approval for a ballot proposing industrial action to members. And what matters at Murdoch is money. The union says management provided a 4 per cent rise early this year and is offering a further 2 per cent in 2014 and ’15. “The offer has not changed in over six weeks, and we believe that without a catalyst for change, such as industrial action, there will be no movement,” joint branch presidents Christina Ballantyne and Jane Pearce say.

Pyne breaks cover

Christopher Pyne is in The Australian this morning telling John Ross HECS rises and domestic undergraduate fees are  not on the agenda. As for the demand driven system the new minister for all things education says he will have a look. But the big news is that the over-regulation of the system will end and that he “will be guided by” the Lee Dow-Braithwaite report on the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency. This report was commissioned by the last Labor education minister, Craig Emerson and was scathing of TEQSA’s regulatory rigour.  A safe start which just about everybody outside that ambitious agency will welcome.

Disruptive technology

A Charles Sturt and La Trobe push hard their proposal for a new bush medical school (and UNSW, which has rural medical program, does its best to stop them) the University of Wollongong suggests location is no big deal. UoW has run a three-way clinic with two doctors a patient 1500kms apart and there are many more to come, using standard broadband and low cost software. Apparently “a corner-stone” of the scheme is creating ways to keep young doctors in the country. Wollongong has four university partners in the project, but funnily enough CSU, La Trobe, or UNSW for that matter, aren’t among them.

What will the minister do (number four in a series)? About research access

That publicly funded research is now available to all after a period is an improvement on the old permanent monopoly of the big journal publishers, which charged taxpayers forever to read research they funded. But while the publishers’ model is modified they can still make money by slugging research institutions a publishing fee. This irritates advocates of open access no end and they continue to campaign to reduce the commercial power of the publishers. So they will be pleased that both Australian Research Council head Aidan Byrne and Warwick Anderson from the National Health and Medical Research Council are addressing an event hosted by the Open Access Support Group (ANU, Spark Helmore Theatre 2, October 16 12.30pm). But what can the pair say they haven’t said before? Not much off their own bats. Real reform to research publishing will require money and political direction – which can only come from industry minister Ian Macfarlane (if indeed it is Mr Macfarlane) and health minister Peter Dutton. I’ m guessing they are not talking daily about this just yet. Or talking about it all, now Chris Pyne says the Australian Research Council is back in his bailiwick.

Enough already

On Monday University of Sydney Vice Chancellor Michael Spence was all over the local media with a considered piece explaining the ATAR isn’t everything for school leavers. And since then various officials (and there are quite a few) in the UoS ministry of truth have promoted and puffed the piece every which way they can. Perhaps they fear for the fate of the flack who is seen to applaud least. Although I doubt it, in my experience Dr Spence is utterly indifferent to press plaudits. I put it down to an excess of zeal.

Piccoli picks the tune

Everybody asked approves of NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli’s plan to merge the state’s board of studies and institute of teachers. But what will deans of education think? Perhaps not much. Since becoming minister Mr Piccoli has stuck his bib into education faculties – in particular demanding they lift academic entry scores for students. Fair enough, as he employs more new teachers in the state than anybody else the minister is entitled to outline what he wants. But the new body seems to be set to specify teacher education course content – using school stats to identify subject areas where more or less teachers are needed and NAPLAN data to determine where teaching practice needs improvement.  It’s a great idea for education administrators but not so much for academic autonomy.  Still, whoever pays the piper …

Nothing to say

Back in July the University of Newcastle was trumpeting the appointment of Mark Pigot as chief information officer, who travelled north after five years at the University of Sydney. “We look forward to the improvements he will bring to the University of Newcastle,” Chief Operating Officer Nat McGregor  said then. But yesterday all the university had to say when I asked how everything was working out was that Mr Pigot had left and the process to recruit a replacement would start shortly.

 Facebook friends

The Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences is using Facebook to promote Anthony Elliott’s lecture (University of Melbourne, October 1) on “makeover mantras.” “From cosmetic surgery to self-help manuals, psychotherapy to life coaching, career design to corporate re-brandings: ours is the era of ‘reinvention’.” The facing advertisement rather makes his point, promising “thousands of singles await you to mingle. Your next hot date is just one click away.” No, I don’t think it refers to who one might meet in Professor Elliott’s audience.

Less silent more strategic

A university official who had a bit to do with Chris Evans when he was minister chipped me yesterday for calling him “silent Chris”. In fact the then senator was an astute operator and the April efficiency dividend would not have occurred if he had still been there, this expert argues.

Alive if obscure

Before the election the then opposition announced it was going to take away just about all of a big budget increase for National ICT Australia, known to its friends as NICTA. However the agency is still alive with CEO Hugh Durrant-Whyte celebrating its achievements and potential in the AFR yesterday. “NICTA’s mission is to build a stronger and wealthier Australia, not an Ozymandias,” he says. “Say what?”, I reply. My guess is Professor Durrant-Whyte was referring (in a way I am too dim to understand) to Shelley’s poem about the ephemera of power and the folly of vanity. Unless it was (in a way I am too dim to understand) to the episode of Breaking Bad with the same name and theme.

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