Labor talks up TAFE and training

“Not everybody wants to go to university” Bill Shorten says

plus Facebook befriends science: Mark Zuckerberg makes a new generation research search engine available for free

who’s still standing in the Uni Sydney business school restructure

and the hundreds of UNSW staff and students the Trump travel ban could hurt

Instant expertise

The University of Queensland has a three-hour session for staff which will teach them how to “use social media, how to deal with issues, reporting using analytics and how to find content. This course will enable participants to build their own social media strategy.” Talk about productivity – there are universities that would take a masters to do all of that.

Shorten’s trades mark speech

Labor leader Bill Shorten signalled public-provided training is now the party’s priority in post school education in a speech yesterday to the National Press Club. Answering a question he said he wanted to “save TAFE and have a national training agenda.” Apart from reference to the risk of “$100k degrees” under the government his address emphasised VET over higher education.

TAFE can be transformative for people doing it hard. … There should be no futile competition between TAFE and universities. … Not everybody wants to go to university” he said.

Mr Shorten committed Labor to increasing and protecting apprenticeships and emphasising the importance of public sector training. “Labor believes that all Australians should have access to the skills and training they need for decent jobs throughout their working lives – to actively participate in the national community and share in national prosperity.”

Labor TAFE and Voced spokeswoman Kate Ellis followed the leader’s speechwith an announcement of a national skills summit to focus on generating jobs through the government TAFE system, “restoring it as the backbone of Australia’s skills and training system.” While Ms Ellis did not advise when the summit would occur, this did not bother the beneficiaries of Labor’s proposed largesse, with Martin Riordan from the TAFE Directors Association contrasting Mr Shorten’s plan with the government’s innovation agenda. “The national skills summit may be an appropriate way to better support apprenticeships and vocational education – issues missing from last year’s National Innovation and Science Agenda.”

Labor trumps uni agenda

Mr Shorten’s speech reflects Labor’s higher education funding problem – after climbing on-board the $100k degree bandwagon that rolled over Christopher Pyne’s fee deregulation plan the Opposition wrote-off a major source of new higher education funding. But continuing to back demand driven funding, a signature Labor policy, ensures savings in higher education are hard to find.

By emphasising training yesterday party leader effectively abandoned universities to whatever moderate hikes in HECS Education Minister Simon Birmingham will announce in his coming policy. Yes, Labor will denounce them but not so loudly that anybody thinks a Labor treasurer will turn on the funding tap after the next election.

The new strategy will also appeal to voters who are suspicious about university education, who wonder whether degrees in data analysis and entrepreneurship are needed in a nation they think is crying out for plumbers and electricians. The same sort of voters who are uncomfortable with Malcolm Turnbull’s talk of digital careers replacing analogue employment. The sort of voters whose American cousins believe President Trump’s protectionist promises will bring the jobs back.

Funding for epilepsy

Terry O’Brien from the University of Melbourne is a principal investigator on a new US project to prevent epilepsy among traumatic brain injury victims. The National Institutes of Health is providing $21m to five universities, including UniMelbourne.

Executive directed out

Following December’s announcement of a new academic structure for the University of Sydney, business school dean Greg Whitwell announced his new leadership team in a message to staff. Just about everybody keeps their jobs and the school will recruit an associate dean, student life and a general manager. Associate dean Leanne Cutcher adds indigenous strategy and services to her resourcing portfolio. Professor Eddie Anderson also picks up a function, adding research education to his associate dean responsibilities for research. The executive director role is abolished but Professor Whitwell says incumbent Nigel Smith will continue until the middle of the year.

Friendly friendly Facebook

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the charitable foundation of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has purchased Meta (ex Sciencescape), a search engine that recognises authors and citations rather than relying on precise search terms and SEO results. Meta uses AI to analyse research papers and find connections and patterns between them.  According to co-founder Sam Molyneux; scientists lack the means to make sense of the vast amount of research being produced around the world. To speed up progress, researchers need to be able to learn from each other’s insights in real time.

Cori Bargmann and Brian Pinkerton from Chan Zuckerberg Initiative say; “the potential for this kind of platform is virtually limitless: a researcher could use Meta to help identify emerging techniques for understanding coronary artery disease; a graduate student could see that two different diseases activate the same immune defence pathway; and clinicians could find scientists working on the most promising Zika treatments sooner. In the long run, it could be extended to other areas of knowledge: for example, it could help educators stay up to date on developmental science to better understand how children learn.”

Meta will be “free to all researchers,” making it a real challenge for the proprietary search software tied to the journals produced by for-profit publishers.

More VCs speak out on Trump travel bans

The VCs of UNSW and UWA have joined the chorus condemning the US travel ban on people from seven middle eastern countries. According to UNSW’s Ian Jacobs the university has 220 higher degree students from excluded countries, 16 of whom visited the USA for conferences last year. Iran is the second largest source of international higher degree students and the university collaborates with 55 institutions there. A dozen UNSW staffers have visas for one of the banned nations which are also the country of origin of 55 staff. New UWA VC Dawn Freshwater said: “we are proud to be a top 100 global university working with leading academics and institutions from around the world in an effort to solve some of society’s biggest challenges. It would be unfortunate and regrettable if the change in United States immigration policy were to impede our efforts,”

New start at ASQA

With founding chief commissioner Chris Robinson gone and the VET FEE HELP shambles in the past the new regime at training regulator ASQA is settling in. New head Mark Paterson is talking up the agency’s new audit model “that focuses on the learner experience rather than systems and processes.” And the agency is reviewing its website, asking users what they think, about the website that is. Not everybody has forgotten ASQA’s performance as the old VET student loan system was rorted by providers.

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