Labor goes big on science funding

 plus Turnbull frank and fearless on deregulation

ANU to recruit new dean as retrenchment dispute escalates

and what a higher degree in biomed and animation skills pays (not much)

Too much information

“We are not going to deregulate fees entirely – We will seek to offer universities the ability to deregulate fees … for a small number of flagship courses so that they can compete.” Malcolm Turnbull gifts the opponents of deregulation the only line they need for the rest of the campaign. Friday night leaders’ debate. As The Greens Robert Simms puts it, “they say only select courses would be affected, but this agenda would have a domino effect in time, making a university education unattainable for some young people.” And Simon Birmingham was doing such a good job in keeping university fees off the election agenda.

Monday June 20

Carr commits to science

On Saturday Chris Pyne promised the government would spend $250 000 to fix up the Norwood Football Club’s rooms if re-elected and Kim Carr committed Labor to $375m in new science spending across the forward estimates.

Senator Carr promises to fund two cancelled rounds of cooperative research centres, provide block grant funding for indirect research costs, support Labor’s Collaborative Research Network, which links “less research intensive” universities to major metros and create 20 more industrial transformation research hubs to “design and engineer commercially and technically viable solutions to some of our most pressing industrial problems.”

So when the pair front up to debate innovation at the National Press Club today guess who will get the applause. Of course Mr Pyne will point to the National Innovation and Science Agenda, support for NCRIS and the ARC working on engagement and impact measures for ERA 18. He could even point out there is a bipartisan emphasis on applied research. But it will be to no avail, as every science lobbyist has said since Syracuse bought a bath for Archimedes, “what have you done for us lately.” Universities Australia which is uniform in its approval of politicians who give its members more money welcomed Senator Carr’s commitment, saying it, “acknowledges the importance of university research to Australia’s future national prosperity.

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Another UWA original

From the university that brought you the “pursue impossiblecampaign comes a new undergraduate recruitment apply poster for mid-year entry featuring a standard-issue young bloke with a headline’ “Apply to U WA.” Copywriting money can buy.

Rubbery figures

“We’ll provide a minimum student-funding guarantee of $10,800 per student per year”, Labor leader Bill Shorten said in the Friday night leaders’ debate. Um, it’s “more than $11 800” in the party’s election manifesto.

Who says, Labor isn’t tough enough to cut?

Still the higher figure is an improvement on what universities get now, sort of. As the learned Andrew Norton points out, average funding per Commonwealth Supported Place in this year’s budget papers, is $11 200 – although recent increases for science and health courses push the average way up on what other discipline groups get. “I see Labor as offering the status quo, but they are presenting it as an increase due to the quirks of how the Parliamentary Budget Office has to report numbers – against proposed government policy rather than actual legislated arrangements,” Mr Norton says. There are times when having to rely on the PBO for costings can help.

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Best and brightest on high rotation

Canberra lacks a beltway (inside “Parkes Way and Barry Drive” doesn’t cut it) but if it did it is how Brian Schmidt would describe the Australian National University as inside it. Last night the ANU VC outlined his vision for the campus as a policy powerhouse, home to the intellectual engineers whose work keeps government ticking over. Launching a Crawford School of Public Policy conference he spent much of the speech noting ANU researchers whose work on campus, in government and in the marketplace of policy ideas shapes Australia. But his main message for people outside ANU was that more can be done and that he intends to do it.

ANU will ensure that its people can move between university, business and government, providing linkages and experiences that reduce the barriers to working together. Having more researchers in non-university sectors can help break down the walls. I can help,  by making it easy for our researchers to move into other sectors for periods of time. And you can help, by recognising the value of bringing into your organisations people with research skills.”

To any Americans in the audience this will have been unremarkable; in Washington the scholar as mandarin and warrior has been about since JFK started hiring the best and the brightest. But here not so much. ANU has always seen public service as central to its funding, sorry mission, but Professor Schmidt is in intent on stepping it up.

High skills, low pay

Walter and Eliza Hall is looking for somebody with postgraduate qualifications in biomedical sciences and a diploma in animation, plus production skills to “visually communicate the discoveries and research of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and other important science topics to the interested layperson.” Great job, shame about the pay, WEHI is offering $83 000 base. That looks like a HEW Six research assistant pay grade to CMM, which makes the job sound like a great deal, for management.

Honouring its own

QUT has conferred its distinguished professor accolade on indigenous researcher Aileen Morton-Robinson. She also becomes dean of indigenous research and engagement.

DIGITAL MARKETING Strategies for Higher Education

Dispute escalates at ANU

The long-running dispute Australian National University over restructuring the School of Culture, History and Language rolls on. With retrenchments announced, and in at least in the case of historian of Indonesia, Robert Cribb, withdrawn (CMM May 26), it looked like the grassroots campaign against the cuts was over but on Friday the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union escalated the argument notifying management of a formal dispute. The union argues management is in breach of ANU enterprise agreement conditions on change management and particularly on redundancy, claiming that in the absence of a new academic structure it is impossible to identify positions as surplus; “this lends the impression that individuals have been targeted.”

The union’s move comes as ANU advertises for a dean of the College of Asia and the Pacific, which includes the school but while this is being pitched around the traps as meaning Veronica Taylor is being sacked it isn’t so. Back in July 2014 Professor Taylor was appointed as interim dean for two years following a failed search for a permanent head. Professor Taylor will now stay on until the end of the year.

Training starts down, again

The generally bleak news for the training sector gets bleaker with final figures for 2015 showing total apprentice and trainee numbers were down 11 per cent on 2014, according to new data from the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education and Research. And the situation isn’t set to improve – while apprentice starts were stable fewer commencing trainees dragged down the overall number of people new to the system by 17 per cent.

Over time the decline is even direr. The number of people in-training peaked in September 2011 at 458 000 and has fallen ever since, to 278 000 in December.

For years observers attributed the decline to the end of a Commonwealth subsidy for employers taking people on. But this cut out in 2012 so surely its impact is now over, certainly for starters. (CMM August 28 2014.) And it’s not that Australians don’t rate acquiring skills. As the NCVER revealed this week, now that all, rather than publicly funded training, is included in the stats the number of people studying for skills is up by nearly 2m people on the previously recorded figure (CMM June 16). While the outrageous exploitation of the VET FEE HELP system by spivs and shonks gets all the attention the problems in attracting people to the formal apprentice and trainee VET systems are different, and deeper.

Innovators applauded

The Clunies Ross Awards, “Australia’s premier innovation commercialisation” honours are announced. Chosen by the Academy of Technology and Engineering recipients are “pre-eminent innovators who persisted with their ideas to provide broad economic, social or environmental benefits.” Businesswoman Elaine Saunders is entrepreneur of the year for her “world-leading, cost-saving hearing aid system.” Maree Smith from the University of Queensland wins for knowledge commercialisation. Professor Smith holds 11 pain relief drug patents with analgesics licensed to three companies. Peter Murphy is innovator of the year. The University of South Australia academic’s automated plastic vehicle rear-view mirror is manufactured in Adelaide and sold in the US.

Innovation, plural

Academics are out sorts, says Marnie Hughes Warrington, worried they can’t keep up with the digerati’s endless innovation announcements.  “On this view, universities are the moth-eaten velvet suit of the innovation world and it is time to call in the rag pickers,” the ANU DVC suggests in her new blog.

Especially, she  says in e-teaching where academics fear they can’t keep up with “trends in student learning.” But it need be bleak, in fact it isn’t bleak at all,  as Professor Hughes Warrington discovered thanks to research on what ANU staff and students aspirations for digital learning.

“Students saw staff enthusiasm as the key to change. ‘Try to care about teaching’ was the blunt message delivered. Staff saw institutional enthusiasm and recognition as the driver of digital change. ‘Try to care about teaching’ was the blunt message re-delivered.

“Not software. Not hardware. Not latency, not live collaboration tools. Not patches or continuous upgrades, not features turned off or on. Not buckets of money. Just a simple, fantastic meeting of minds in wanting recognition. Care, acknowledgement, and promotion. Unequivocal support from the top down, in words and in deeds. Love e-learning like you love research, or forget it.”

But do not conflate your e-innovations. Staff who are hip to research innovation may not break a leg with a student audience when they try it with teaching, which means  “there are discrete forms of recognition that cannot be traded across categories. That’s not necessarily hip, or fun, but a more positive view of change might start with the acknowledgement of multiple categories of innovation.”

And won’t that worry people designing promotion criteria.

Flinders fatal focus

First Flinders University went the full Kubler Ross, announcing a MOOC on how we deal, or don’t, with death and dying, (CMM June 9) and now Care Search at the university is announcing an online open course End of Life essentials for people in healthcare who deal with the dying and their families.

Alarming Ashenden 

Peerless policy analyst Dean Ashenden sets out where Australian post school education was, is, and plausibly will be, in an essay of rare insight and erudition, here . There is something to annoy and alarm just about every lobby in higher education. Here’s one that strikes CMM as particularly plausible.

Digitally mediated forms of assessment and ‘micro-credentialing’ promising direct relationship between capabilities needed and capabilities acquired, irrespective of where or how or when they were acquired. These developments will have their effect over time, but they will battle against the entrenched power of the education sector (its universities in particular) and occupational groups. It is in the interests of government, including its budgetary interest, to weaken the nexus between formal provision and credentialing.”

If you are inclined to self-doubt about your life’s work in higher education perhaps Ashenden isn’t for you.

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Help for those who really, really need it

To mark World Refugee Day a new website for people working to expand education opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers goes live today. It’s the work of community groups and staff at Newcastle, RMIT, Macquarie, Griffith and Swinburne universities intent on increasing access to education for people who are surely the most disadvantaged in the country.

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