Less what now than not now for deregulation

Plus the five winners of the week

Oh no, Hayek zombies!

Today’s are from Juan Francisco Salazar and Stephen Healey at UWS who ask, “does a zombie apocalypse signify the end of capitalist civilisation, or its perverse consummation?” This week there have been zombie stories from La Trobe, U Sydney and now UWS. I wonder where will the first ARC Centre for Zombie Studies will be?

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Even optimists depair

New Universities Australia chair Barney Glover hope all his members will stay in the deregulation debate and Chris Pyne is determined to put his package to the Senate, in its present form, for a second time. But university strategists suggest Glover’s wish will not come true and Pyne is wasting his time. “There is no point going back to the cross-benchers,” says somebody who knows their mood. But what happens if the government does give up in its legislation this side of the budget? While enemies of deregulation would revel in a win cautious counsel suggests that it would not be any such thing. While the Senate can stop budget cuts to funding per student place other funding streams, research programmes and block grants do not have budget protection, one Canberra observer warned yesterday. Some close observers of deregulation negotiations are also alarmed by the idea that that with the decks cleared of deregulation university funding can be an election issue at the next poll. Certainly resourcing higher education is in the public gaze but that does not mean there would be a campaign bidding war. If anything, Labor could explain how it would better resource universities by regulating student numbers. So are there any grounds for optimism? Participants at Tuesday’s University Australia meeting of government-relations directors say there was general agreement that university funding was on the political radar and that while student fee deregulation was not going to happen perhaps a new approach to research funding could be sold. “We are in this position because government hasn’t funded research properly,” one participant said.

Drink up

Anne Roche from Flinders warns an ageing population will increase demands on health services as more old people turn to drink and drugs which are bad for them. Surely a benefit of age is not worrying, or remembering, how much you have had.

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Plan of the day

There are as many fee deregulation strategies as articles about zombies just niw, and the latest (funding plan that is) comes from University of South Australia VC David Lloyd. Professor Lloyd is reported as suggesting a set, and forget plan, with universities fixing undergraduate course costs for five years. They would be able to charge what they like at the end of the moratorium, subject to government oversight.

MOOCS as social service

Swinburne’s MOOC on autism launches today with 15 000 starters, up a third in three weeks. As a way for universities to expand brand awareness as well as serving the community MOOCs on high profile issues that shape people’s lives, like this and the University of Tasmania’s course on dementia, are hard to beat, but expensive to prepare. So why aren’t universities asking government to fund MOOCs that would save the state money? Surely the Health Department would fund MOOCs on the case for vaccination or dealing with diabetes. And if convincing the feds is too much like bureaucratic hard work why can’t researchers pitch for funds via crowdsourcer Pozible. Brilliant campaigns by Deakin University demonstrate how it’s done.

Announced again

The University of Sydney has officially launched an academy dedicated to training science, technology and maths teachers. And a good thing too – the shortage of dedicated STEM teachers is too long a matter of record. And it’s good to see Sydney efficiently using comms resources, it announced the $5m STEM academy last November (CMM November 24).

Part of Piccoli’s portfolio passes

So why is NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli losing TAFE in the post-election shuffle? Yes, the new student admin system is a shambles but Mr Piccoli had done well to contain teacher union outrage at public funding of for-profit VET providers. Moving training to John Barilaro’s industry portfolio is the reverse of what occurred in Canberra last December, where VET was switched from Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane to a dedicated minister, Simon Birmingham, reporting to Chris Pyne. However the NSW move is welcomed by the state Group Training Association. “We need to approach skills development the way we do infrastructure investment; by taking a long-term view on the needs of industry, we can invest wisely in the young people who will support our economy in years to come. This decision represents a great opportunity to look at ways to stimulate growth in demand for apprenticeships and traineeships and improve outcomes for the state as a whole,” Executive Director Naomi Dinnen said last night.

Winners of the week

UWS VC Barney Glover did well this week for stepping up on Wednesday night as incoming chair of Universities Australia and urging all stakeholders to stay at the deregulation table. The Group of Eight had already made clear there was no hope of this happening but Professor Glover was not about to abandon a cause that the UA secretariat had worked hard for.

Renee Hindmarsh from the Australian Technology Network, also had a good week with the ATN announcing a research strategy focused on industry partnerships. Increasing the use of impact as a research metric and strengthening university – industry R&D links appeal to the government and the ATN report will help make the its case.

For real politic it is impossible not to garland Ian “the gent” Young with laurels, on behalf of the Group of Eight, which he chairs. After a year of making the case for deregulation, when the deal on offer no longer suited the Eight’s (and of course the national) interest the group simply walked away, calling for an inquiry instead of a Senate compromise. Yes this left Chris Pyne in the lurch, but that’s politics.

Even so Chris Pyne still won this week, if only because he never gives up. Despite the Go8’s call for a review before he tries again the minister did not give an inch, announcing he would keep making the case for his reform and send the existing bill back to the upper house. Suggestions this is to provide a double dissolution trigger may be true. Just as likely it is because Mr Pyne believes what he says about deregulation transforming higher education.

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But the big winner of the week is Jeannie Rea, national president of the National Tertiary Education Union. The NTEU provided much of the energy and most of the rhetoric denouncing deregulation that put the issue on the agenda with the parents of students. The union has also put its own plan on the agenda, for an independent agency to work with universities on goals and funding, giving Labor and the Greens something to sell to voters uncomfortable with a market in undergraduate education. For the first time in a generation advocates of public sector power are on the offensive. Who would have thunk it a year ago?

Dawkins digs in

Victoria University VC Peter Dawkins has renewed for a second six five year term. The dual sector institution, focused in Melbourne’s west is in much better shape than when he arrived.

River of gold

The Brits remain committed to the gold open access model set out in the Finch report, which makes research published in commercial scholarly journals freely available to all, if and it is a big if indeed, universities pay to have their academics’ work published. Why the Brits are so keen on ensuring “a viable commercial basis for the publishing sector,” eludes me. It means the taxpayer first funds research and then funds its publication in for-profit journals. I am also puzzled by David Price and Sarah Chaytor’s paper for the Higher Education Policy Institute, which proposes a gold national licence so that everybody can read research journals. “The national licence takes forward the spirit of the Finch proposals by emphasising the accessibility of research while maintaining the bedrocks of sustainability and excellence.” Um, how can a journal publishing model that uses taxpayer subsidies to make private profits be sustainable.

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