Like Monty Python’s peasant the humanities aren’t dead yet

A ping heard round the world

The University of Melbourne commemorated the 25th birthday of the Internet in Australia yesterday – it started with an email from Hawaii to the Carlton campus.

Estimable announcements

For people who unaccountably did not hang on every word of Senate Estimates a couple of weeks back the education committee report is in. Bits that nobody much noticed then make for interesting reading now.

Ms Margery Evans, CEO of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, mentioned a ready to trial test to measure personal literacy and numeracy of beginning teachers. I wonder how this is different to the literacy and numeracy tests for new teachers designed by ACER and announced by NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli at the beginning of the month.

Department of Education Secretary Lisa Paul stuck to the script, telling senators that course fees could go up and could go down, that it was up to institutions. But she also predicted; “the funding reforms will likely have the added benefit of enabling regional higher education institutions to attract students from urban areas.” Less estimate, more optimism.

You don’t say

CMM’s stating the obvious correspondent reports Sharon Lewin, head of Monash University’s Department of Infectious Diseases says, “a cure for HIV is now considered to be a major scientific priority.” There is also news, really newsy news, from the University of Adelaide where research fellow Zumin Shi has found “poor nutrition leads to development of chronic diseases.” And at the University of Melbourne research by Associate Professor Stuart Kinner shows, “people with a history of mental disorder experience particularly poor outcomes following release from prison.”

It’s expected

Australian National University students are calling on Vice Chancellor Ian Young to withdraw his support for increased student fees and university deregulation. This is a bit unfair given Council also supports the position. In any case, the open letter, to go on Monday, argues three points; “education is a public good, not simply a consumer good,” “fee deregulation is likely to entrench inequity in Australian society,” and “the proposed equity scholarships problematically rely on increasing fees.” Fair points all, although the concluding call may not encourage Professor Young to change sides. “We call upon you to look beyond the narrow short-term financial interests of ANU and to represent the broader concerns of the ANU community for the future of education in Australia.” Their chances I do not like – the Council would take a dim view of the VC not taking “a narrow short-term view” of the university’s financial interests.

Hardheaded soft power

Managements at the ten Australian universities with Confucius Institutes are not going to like the new statement from the American Association of University Professors, which argues that the program is an arm of government and “North American universities permit Confucius Institutes to advance a state agenda in the recruitment and control of academic staff, in the choice of curriculum, and in the restriction of debate.” The Association argues universities should exit from CI’s unless the Chinese Government accepts academic independence for CI staff, university control of the institutes they house and publication of founding agreements. “Allowing any third-party control of academic matters is inconsistent with principles of academic freedom, shared governance, and the institutional autonomy of colleges and universities,” the Association argues.

Free kicks for Chris

Education Minister Christopher Pyne excelled himself in Question Time yesterday, favourably mentioning Paul Keating and explaining how “a free higher education system is one paid for by the taxes of all.” He then proceeded to remind the House that yesterday was the fourth anniversary of Julia Gillard becoming prime minister (he called it a “coup”). It was the sort of nonsense ministers can indulge in when they feel no pressure in their portfolios from the Opposition. Despite Mr Pyne pushing the biggest changes in higher education Labor is leaving him alone. Perhaps this will change with yesterday’s appointment of Amanda Rishworth (Labor-Kingston) as Shadow Assistant Minister for Higher Education. With portfolio shadow Kim Carr in the Senate she will surely be able to get a question on higher education up in the House. Ms Rishworth keeps the South Australian representation up in the shadow ministry, replacing departing senator Don Farrell whose three and a bit months in the then science portfolio last year demonstrated that any minister is not necessarily better than none.

What a difference a month makes

Before the budget enterprise bargaining was the big issue on campuses around the country but now with deregulation the issue of the hour everybody assumes pay and conditions for the next four years are sorted. Not quite. By my count there are still nine universities that are still negotiating, being UNSW, Adelaide, UTS, Wollongong, Newcastle, USC, USQ, Fed U and Southern Cross.

To market, to market

Yesterday the University of Melbourne quietly announced it had completed its first bond issue, for $250m and rated AA+ by Standard and Poor. The raising will refinance existing debt and “finance core, self-sustaining projects, such as student housing.” (The university plans to have 2000 more student beds by the end of the decade.) In April the University of Sydney (rated Aa1 by Moodies) issued $200m in bonds for spending on teaching and research infrastructure.

Alive and kicking

Like Monty Python’s peasant on the plague cart shouting that he isn’t dead yet there is nothing humanities academics like more than asserting the undying value of their disciplines. A group of very senior scholars will do it at ANU on August 14-14. Convened by Colin Steele and Debjani Ganguly the colloquia will consider, “the ways in which the humanities makes and communicates knowledge, and, in the process, expresses its value to the world at large.” Speakers include Iain McCalman (whose book on the Great Barrier Reef was well-reviewed in the New York Times last weekend), ANU’s own DVC Marnie Hughes-Warrington and Denise Meredyth from the Australian Research Council who will talk on metrics – even in the humanities the deal is in the data. Program is here 

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