High university fees: the US and Australian way

At least if you listen to the NTEU – and I bet people are

What, or who is the problem

The long awaited review of the Cooperative Research Centre program is still awaited. CRC watchers say Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane has sent the terms of reference and recommended reviewer to the Prime Minister’s office, where it sits. With all respect to the CRCs you would think the PMO would have bigger issues to address just now. It’s reminiscent of the last round of centre awards, which took months to clear the political process.

Usual suspects get the grants

ARC Linkage Grants were announced on Friday with the standard ministerial fuss (“critical opportunities to work with industry”) which ignored the way less cash is being spread thin indeed. Some $12m has come off the top to help fund Coalition pet priorities, tropical environment and diabetes research. The Feds allocated $88m, with industry kicking in $166 in matching funds for 251 projects. The distribution of grants demonstrates the dominance of the Group of Eight at one end and why there is a case for many universities focusing on teaching at the other. The Go8 had a success rate 40 per cent, securing funding for 144 of 360 projects put up. The eight won 57 per cent of total projects and the same proportion of Australian Research Council money. The Australian National University had eight projects funded, (50 per cent) while the University of New South Wales led the country with 30 approvals from 71 applications.

The Australian Technology Network was a distant second with 44 projects getting up from 134 applications, accounting for 17 per cent of approvals. The Innovative Research Universities asked for 63, got 20 and will receive a bare $6.6m from the ARC. But this was a triumph compared to the six member Regional Universities Network which won three grants and just $600 000.

Of the independents Macquarie and U Tasmania (nine each) did well, ahead of Deakin and UWS

Time for economists to stand up

Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz is speaking to a sell-out house at the University of New South Wales next Monday, demonstrating the popular interest in economics. But as Alex Millmow and Jacqueline Tuck from Federation U pointed out a couple of years back, there are more academic economists than there are undergraduates doing straight economics degrees. The discipline is in teaching decline, with La Trobe the latest to announce cuts. The debate about why has gone on for a decade but prominent economists suggests one thing the profession needs to do is stand up for itself and lobby universities to invest in economists rather than use them as a source of supply teaching in business degrees. “The Economics Society of Australia needs to follow the accountants and stand up for their subject,” one says. Letters of protest when cuts are announced are manifestly not enough.

In like Ming

Nick Cater (ex The Australian) is the new head of the Menzies Research Centre, previously run by Minister Pyne’s higher education adviser, Don Markwell.

Tell them what you really think

The Australian Research Council acknowledges anomalies in who can apply for grants and what they are paid, which is why it is working on reforms to the rules covering Discovery Projects, Discovery Indigenous Projects, Australian Laureate Fellowships, Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards and Future Fellowships. Peak bodies have had their says and now everybody else gets a go, with the Council accepting submissions to its rule review. You have to Friday.

Unaffordable investment

A CFO at a university with a not especially strong across the board research profile wonders how long it will be viable to keep slugging business and law students to fund researchers if the Pyne reforms get up and private providers compete for Commonwealth Supported Places (CMM Friday). With lower cost structures to start with and no research to fund, the private operators will be able to under-cut universities on price for popular and cheap to run degrees, thus reducing the revenues available to subsidise researchers in the first place. The price students are prepared to pay could accomplish what Go8 lobbying never could – an end to wholesale competition for research money.

Kniest delivers data

When it comes to wonks Paul Kniest from the National Tertiary Education Union is one of the wonkiest. While there are endlessly emotional arguments about Christopher Pyne’s plan Mr Kniest adds data, and lots of it, to the debate. His latest paper sets out, the cost of an undergraduate degree here compared to a range of countries, now and according to his estimates of what deregulation would deliver. He lays out data to demonstrate deregulation will deliver an unbalanced, US style-system, (excluding the elite privates) with high university fees and reminds us that while American institutions charge a wide range of course costs, overall student debt there is approaching $1 trillion. And under the Pyne plan he warns we will go the same way. “Australian universities already charge amongst the highest university fees in the world … the likely increase in fees resulting from deregulation means that the level and range of fees charged by Australian universities will result in a system that looks more like American than anything in Europe or even Asia.” This will have much more impact than another NTEU campaign running now, which includes photos of Labor MPs holding up signs saying they oppose expensive degrees.

Annoy not the Mockery

University of Wollongong Vice Chancellor Paul Wellings has upset the Illawarra Mercury. A week back Professor Wellings backed the Pyne reforms in an opinion piece for the Australian Financial Review –which seems to have mightily miffed the Mockery. Perhaps the paper was upset that it did not get to publish the piece, although I doubt it. Wollongong is a Labor town and the paper has long-time links with the local unions. The day after the budget it ran a piece by National Union of Students official Jack Boyd arguing the budget was “the first step in dismantling one of the most accessible tertiary education systems in the world”. And on Friday the paper quoted alumni representative on the university council and Australian Workers Union official Michael Zelinsky. “I grew up in Wollongong and received a great education from the University of Wollongong and thought that the university reflected the proud working-class values of our city. The vice-chancellor’s ambitions represent a radical and dangerous policy shift with profound implications for families and young people in the Illawarra.” Mr Zelinsky is UoW gentry, son of sometime UoW staffer and council member and now Chief Defence Scientist Alex Zelinsky. Seven family members over three generations are graduates of the university. I wonder whether Professor Wellings will return fire.

Keep APO out of penury

If you like your policy without polemics you need Australian Policy Online, an enormous source of  reports and analysis for over a decade. It’s content rich but cash poor (much like Campus Morning Mail) so go to APO’s site ands make a tax-deductible donation to keep it in business – and do it (notice the date?) today.

Lots of days in court

The NTEU is using legal process to go after opponents. There is nothing the union in Victoria likes more than pursuing Swinburne University in the courts. For a start, the union has an appeal before Fair Work Australia over the ballot in which staff agreed to the university’s proposed enterprise agreement. Last week the union’s lawyers successfully amended its claim in a Federal Court action alleging the university outsourced courses to a subsidiary as a way of reducing some employees’ terms and conditions.

The NTEU is also after La Trobe, adding to its industrial bans on La Trobe’s venture with private provider Navitas. On Friday the union alleged La Trobe Navitas was not logging international student attendance, thus breaching immigration requirements. This is an entirely different dispute to the argument over the restructure starting at La Trobe, elements of which will surely end up before a tribunal.

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