Kim Carr: what the higher education commission will do

Plus persevering pragmatists and many ways to skim a cap

Old money

Chinese philanthropist Chau Chak Wing has followed his $20m gift to UTS, which paid for a breakthrough Frank Gehry designed building, with $15m to the University of Sydney. Cynics suggest that it is instructive that Sydney gets the money for a museum.

ANU Sept 15

Carr’s grand plan

Kim Carr is “exceptionally pleased” with the higher education community’s response to Labor’s new policy and says the party has used its time in opposition to “develop ideas” which present a clear policy choice to the government. “Deregulation is in Tory DNA and it will be extremely difficult for them to retreat and especially to find the $20bn cut that underpins deregulation. The Liberals fundamentally miscalculated the public’s attitude, reflected in parliament, to the Aussie fair go,” the shadow higher education minister told CMM yesterday.

Senator Carr also detailed Labor’s plan for government, saying “we have given universities the attention they deserve because of the critical role they play in economic development, innovation and social justice and we need to restore the sector’s confidence in the process of government, a trust which fractured under the Liberals.”

In contrast, Senator Carr says he has lost confidence in the Department of Education and that a Labor government will look to its proposed higher education productivity and performance commission as a second source of official advice. “Labor will not be embarrassed to receive contestable advice but university leaders have put to me for some time the need for the commission.”

While the different functions of the two bodies would be considered in green and white papers Senator Carr pointed to a major role for the commission in implementing government policy, overseeing funding agreements and promoting innovation in universities and the way they shape the economy. Senator Carr said the Office of Learning and Teaching could become part of the commission with the Australian Research Council independent but within it. “The ARC is more efficient in administering programmes than the department and we would not want to lose its expert panels and peer reviews.” He said the department would focus on “back office functions.”

Senator Carr also repeated his commitment to government oversight of university enrolments saying that by 2026 Labor will provide 45 per cent more money for student places “and we are simply not providing a blank cheque, government must protect the public interest.”

“We have obligations to meet the needs of the economy, particularly with regard to skills shortages, he said.”

Ruling robot

Despite not having a robot that waved its arms and shouted “danger Will Robinson” the University of South Australia team is the winner of the 2015 Autonomous Robotic Competition. This year’s tasks involved robots moving stacking and moving goods around obstacles. Swinburne U was second and Victoria University of Wellington third.

ANU Sep 15 2

Give them a call

National Tertiary Education Union staffers wonder whether Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s commitment to consulting the higher education community extends to them. “Neither Christopher Pyne nor anyone from his office, despite several attempts on our behalf, met with the NTEU,” the unions Paul Kniest says.

“We are confident that the more engaging Senator Birmingham will not take such a blatantly ideological approach and will consult with all stakeholders including representatives of staff and students.”

And yes, Mr Kniest says, the union has asked for a meeting with the minister.

Wonder drug

University research proves that consumers believe more strongly in drugs described as “breakthroughs” than equally efficacious ones, which are not billed with superlatives. Tamar Krishnamurti (Carnegie Melon U) and colleagues report the, um, breakthrough in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Many ways to skim a cap

CQU VC Scott Bowman likes the idea of Labor’s higher education funding plan, “so long as the compacts are not a back door way of putting caps back on.” To which the ever-vigilant Kim Carr replies, “our commitment is in black and white. Unlike some we are happy to be held to our words.” The words which Labor’s higher education spokesman refers to are; “Labor will continue the demand driven system and ensure that access to university remains a matter of hard work and good marks, not your bank balance.” This is good enough for Professor Bowman, who replied; “fantastic Kim-like your vision”

Good-oh, except Labor in government will want to oversight, enrolments. As Senator Carr has told CMM, “We will make sure universities respond to local conditions and national priorities … people have a right to demand accountability from public institutions – that is the terms of engagement on revenue,” CMM September 8.

Labor leader Bill Shorten signalled the way to do it on Monday with the proposed, “higher education productivity and performance commission to deliver the right labour market outcomes,”  CMM September 22). As Senator Carr said yesterday, “we don’t need caps, there are much more sophisticated ways.” (see above).

When it comes to government oversighting who studies what and where there are many ways to skim a cap.

Online advantage

Coursera researchers  report the MOOC provider is delivering on its early promise as an engine of social mobility. While Chen Zhenghao and colleagues acknowledge MOOCs are dominated by educated people from affluent countries a survey of Coursera completers shows that people from low SES groups in poor countries benefit most. But just how disadvantaged are they given the prereq for doing a MOOC is an Internet connection?

criterion update

Persevering pragmatists

They may have sighed privately but policy pragmatists were out yesterday suggesting what can be saved from the shredding of the Pyne package. Wonks wonk Andrew Norton suggested that expanding demand driven funding to sub bachelor degrees and private providers has a chance in the Senate. And to keep Treasury happy he proposes charging a loan fee to all students who borrow, lowering the repayment threshold and recovering study debts from deceased estates.

“Getting savings measures through the Senate is always more difficult than getting spending measures approved. But there now does seem to be a chance that the Coalition can make a positive higher education reform in this parliamentary term, while still getting higher education to play its part in controlling the deficit,” he said.

Group of Eight CEO Vicki Thomson acknowledged it is time to press the policy reset but she is pleased that the need to fund research without subsidies from teaching funds is now on the Senate cross bench radar. “They now understand we have a problem and it is quite exciting that we can have another discussion.”

QUT VC Peter Coaldrake was less excited than accepting that the policy settings will not change for a year or so. And he told ABC Radio in Brisbane that universities have to be pragmatic and “wean ourselves off the level of public funding we have historically received.” Which is where we all came in.

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