Labor set to shape deregulation debate

Consistent Clive

PUP panjandrum Clive Palmer again told the world on Friday that his party would oppose Christopher Pyne’s package because, “University should be FREE for all Australians”. Ideas that he is saying anything different in private about the legislation are misplaced – but what does he mean by “FREE?” Nigel Stobbs from QUT suggests he means universities should be autonomous. Makes as much sense as a literal reading

Debate changes direction

The Senate vote to send the deregulation legislation off to committee is in itself no big deal; the government accepted that pushing such an enormous bill (in size and importance both) to the floor without consideration would be a bad look. However the way the committee’s consideration is starting to shape is not promising for the legislation’s prospects. For a start, crossbenchers, including senators Day and Leyonhjelm, who are generally inclined to support the government, voted for a two month reporting deadline, rather than the few weeks the government proposed and the longer discussion of deregulation drags on the more difficult it will be for the government to ignore critics. Of whom there will be plenty, not least Labor education spokesman Kim Carr, who will replace Labor senator for NSW Deborah O’Neill on the committee for the inquiry. Nobody in the Senate, probably in the parliament, has as much experience in education committees as Senator Carr and observers expect him to ask witnesses, especially VCs, all sorts of difficult questions. Like what their modelling shows deregulation doing to their resources. Come to that, it would be interesting if the committee got hold of the Education Department’s estimates of the legislation’s impact. It’s likely committee members will also want to hear from other witnesses on the impact of increased fees on occupations, say nursing, to regional economies. And then there are the submissions to consider – as Senator Carr urged everybody on Friday, “send them in.” I’m guessing the opponents of the legislation will make the running in response, certainly in volume. This is going to generate a great deal of hostile coverage for Mr Pyne’s plan.

And it will not necessarily be good for universities.  This debate is no longer between the university sector and government. Instead of higher education funding it is now about what university should cost students. While a Universities Australia endorsed scholarships program might keep peace within the sector and be ultimately agreed to, to some extent or another, by the minister this will not matter if the crossbench senators listen to “$100 000 degree”  claims.

Mind how you go

The University of Melbourne Psychology Clinic announces a six-week course for staff on Mindfulness, the benefits of which, “include a reduction in anxiety, depression and irritability, improvements in memory, faster reaction times and a reduction in chronic stress and pain.” There is also a program of four sessions on “mindfulness and meditation that range from sitting practice of following the breathe, to mindful eating and walking,” from the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services. When too much mindfulness is never enough.

Match making

Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane is speaking tomorrow night at the Sydney Institute on industry policy. Whether innovation and his response to Ian Chubb’s STEM strategy are on the agenda is said to depend on progress with the prime minister’s office. A more likely topic is his plan for industry-focused training programs.

But until we know what the minister makes of Professor Chubb’s proposal for an over-sighting Innovation Board there is always the government’s Research Connections program for business. This uses facilitators to put SMEs in touch with researchers, plus a possible $50 000 grant for “engagement of a Publicly Funded Research Organisation to undertake research activities on the business’ behalf”. The minister was talking this up on Friday, “too few Australian businesses and manufacturers tap into our scientific and research resources to solve a problem, enhance their productivity or reach into new markets,” he said. I’m guessing we are going to hear a lot more along these lines.

 Gluttons for punishment

The University of Sydney is proceeding with campus-wide consultations on the Pyne package. Provost Stephen Garton says meetings with academic divisions have already occurred and more are to come. He is now inviting staff to register for focus groups on October 2 to discuss “how we might support our commitment to fund increased scholarships and bursaries in the event of fee deregulation.” Given the way last month’s open meeting degenerated into a shouted deplore-a-thon you have to credit Professor Garton for persevering. Especially given deregulation is unlikely to occur in its present form, if at all.

Growing Griffith

Griffith University is in the market for a research director, who will “provide support for the university’s research goals.” I’m guessing the university is also looking for somebody to increase the university’s share of the public funding pie. In 2002 Griffith win 42 of 1432 Australian Research Council Grants. In 2013 GU won 41 of 1545.

Shadow Knows

On Friday I named Amanda Rishworth, Labor’s university spokesperson in the Reps as shadow higher education minister. In fact she is the assistant shadow – Senator Kim Carr has the entire education portfolio responsibility.

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