IRU urges: keep considering reform

Plus professors go in the wild, wild west

From the Institute of the Bleeding Obvious

“Overweight people should exercise rather than count kilos if they want to reduce their risk of liver disease, diabetes and cardiovascular problems according to new research from the University of Sydney,” U of S announcement, Friday.

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Keep talking, IRU urges

With the University Australia board meeting today the Innovative Research Universities group has discretely intervened to keep funding reform on the policy agenda. “Following the failure of the government’s higher education package to pass the parliament we now need to explore openly options for the future that (will) substantially alter the current settings in a way that could be sustained for a decade or more,” the IRU asserts.

IRU argues universities need a funding model that completes the demand driven system, by “incorporating sub-bachelor programs and including all registered higher education providers” And it reiterates a previous call for “further investigation” of the Chapman-Phillips proposal, which would reduce government funding per student place above a specified amount. While the Group of Eight VCs will not wear this proposal, there are other university chiefs who do not want to write deregulation off, UA incoming president Barney Glover among them, who will welcome the chance to keep talking.

But for how long and about what? Certainly no one expects a package to pass parliament this side of the election and there are other VCs who are sick of senators, less than pleased with MinisterPyne’s endless optimism and who want to be left to run their universities. If the minister does bring a version of his existing legislation back to the Senate it may not only be the Group of Eight that keeps quiet.

Degrees in the heart of Texas

If Group of Eight members worry amendments to the Pyne plan would stop them charging a fair but profitable price they should be glad they aren’t in Texas. There is a bill before the state legislature which would limit university fee increases to CPI if they failed to meet 11 performance measures, including retention, cost containment and low SES completion. Sounds like one “US style system” critics of deregulation would love.

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Delight in the detail

The Pilbara Group generally keeps its head down but is pleased enough to go public with the news that it has signed the University of Adelaide to use its management model. The university says it intends to use Pilbara software to track activity based costs. Pilbara is intensively data driven and run by people experienced in performance measurement in very large organisations, mentions of the Royal Australian Navy pop up in staff CVs. It is also close to the wonks’ wonks at the L H Martin Institute. But what is especially interesting is Pilbara’s relationship with William Massy, formerly of Stanford University who conducted audits for the old Australian Universities Quality Agency, of fond memory. Professor Massy’s core idea is that universities can improve teaching efficiency and effectiveness and administration productivity by analysing the data they already have. A few years back I described him as the academic equivalent of Billy Beane from Moneyball.

Lighter touch

Remember when universities complained about trial by TEQSA when the regulator exerted its authority through forms, and lots of them? Now, under the leadership of Chief Commissioner Nick Saunders, it seems intent on keeping everything simple. Thus the proposed Core course accreditation model, now out for comment, is intended to apply to “providers with a sound history of higher education delivery and no significant compliance or risk concerns.” There are tougher requirements for less established institutions. The new model distinguishes between accreditation for a new course and renewal. The former focuses on course design, admissions and teaching and learning, the latter on assessment and student outcomes.

Bewitched, bothered and bebudgeted

April is the cruellest month, especially for policy people worried about the budget and this year there is a plenty to worry about. Optimists suggest that the government will not want to look mean and wont come up with more cuts but even if it does the Senate will not pass them. Pessimists reply Minister Pyne has said he will make the savings needed to cover the $150m needed to keep the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy. They also warn the government can cut research funding and equity programmes off budget. Realists say whatever the government does will be hard to work out on budget night with cuts buried in the detail of the out-years.

Keeping the lid on

The National Tertiary Education Union is holding stop-work meetings at Monash College this week in support of a new enterprise agreement (yes, bargaining never ends). The college runs pathway programmes for the university, which might make this look like a small matter, but it isn’t. Neighbouring Swinburne University is interested in expanding lower-cost delivery through its Swinburne Online operation and the NTEU will not want anything that looks like a concession on wages and conditions at any campus, anywhere. that any university can point to in negotiations between now and the end of the century.

Head Rolls and Role Reduced at UWA

The news slipped beneath the holiday radar last week but the University of Western Australia has resolved, at least to its satisfaction, two of the three misconduct matters involving senior professors. Jorg Imberger, internationally admired head of the Centre for Water Research is demoted from a Level E to Level D professor, “after claims of misconduct were upheld by an internal review panel comprising his peers.” According to the university, Professor Imberger “bullied, threatened and intimidated students in his role as the director of the centre.” A separate review of the centre is complete but not fully released to staff.

Following another inquiry the head of the university’s Centre for Forensic Science, Professor Ian Dadour, has been sacked. The university reports it “decided to terminate Professor Dadour’s employment following an independent internal investigation into claims of misappropriation of university funds.” UWA states that it established the inquiry last November in response to a request from the state’s Corruption and Crime Commission. According to a university spokesman, another misconduct inquiry, into a second forensic scientist, Professor John Watling, continues.

Chill for a change

Bob Farrelly has started at Murdoch University in an acting role as director of people and culture, which locals suggest indicates he is there to make changes, rather than just take on the line management functions of recently departed HR director Karen Lamont. Certainly he spent last year at the University of Western Australia managing a professional staff operational review, after 15 years running HR. His new post would be a big job for anybody in an acting role anywhere than Murdoch, where all sorts of important people are only acting in jobs, starting with VC Andrew “the stroller” Taggart. As for suggestions Academic Council head and accounting scholar David Holloway’s coming departure signals a continuing leadership crisis, not so much. Certainly some supporters of former VC Richard Higgott, who resigned last year after the state Corruption and Crime Commission announced he was being investigated, are not among Associate Professor Holloway’s strongest admirers. However Holloway decided last year to take early retirement and his July departure date has not changed. Perhaps one change Mr Farrelly can make is to encourage people to chill.

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Opportunities need to knock

The federal government says the export education industry can triple in value by the end of the decade and interest groups are keen to help. The International Education Association of Australia is holding a seminar next month on employment opportunities for foreign students “Competition for graduate jobs is intense and, for international graduates planning to return home, overseas work experience has never been more important.” And yet Australia is not providing enough of the opportunities student needs, hence the event, sponsored by the Victorian and federal governments.

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