Micawber manifesto: waiting for something in the Senate

Plus great-ish leap forward in education trade with China

Expert advice

G20 groupies noticed Universities Australia chief Belinda Robinson chinwagging at length with President Obama at the summit dinner, supposedly about how to encourage industry-university innovation. Unless, of course, the president wanted some advice after last week’s election on negotiating with a hostile senate.

All in the timing

The deregulation legislation was on the Senate notice paper yesterday morning but was gone by lunchtime. It could still be brought on this week but it is looking less likely – forcing senators who could still change their minds later to vote now would make it very hard for them to vote the other way at the end of this year, or (as is starting to look possible) early next.

Minister Micawber

Smart move shame about the timing. The non university higher education provider (NUHEPs to their friends) students who gave evidence at the Senate committee hearings on deregulation in October presented a coherent case for access to HELP places and the government is short of undergraduate allies. But I’m guessing yesterday’s event featuring more of them was organised before Mr Pyne’s office knew how bad the numbers would be this week. Hosted jointly by TAFE Directors Australia and the Council of Private Higher Education it was billed as “an excellent opportunity for all senators to explore the impact of the higher education reform legislation with a group of students whose voice has been limited in the debate so far.” The students in the delegation are in courses covering everything from forensics to engineering, sports business to agribusiness.

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Did they convince anybody to change their minds and support the package? We will know if the bills appear in the senate this week. But otherwise Minister Chris “Micawber” Pyne will delay the vote in the hope that more talking will lead to something turning up. The higher education lobbies are still trying to make it happen, talking to all crossbench senators, not just the three, or is just two now, PUPs. “At least they are listening,” an optimist, (who definitely does not look like Mr Micawber) said yesterday. Good-oh but to who, the university lobbies or their critics among staff and student organisations?

Great-ish leap forward

Education was included under “services” in all the China trade deal excitement yesterday. The main quoted benefit is adding 77 private education CRICOS registered providers to the 105 institutions that already appear on the Chinese Ministry of Education’s list of Australian institutions. This may not sound such a big deal – unless you are one of the 77. Education Minister Chris Pyne also signed agreements on the recognition of qualifications and to make it easier for Australians to study in China. “It must be a two-way street with Australian students increasingly engaging with China,” he said. Yes, but there is still going to be a great deal more traffic flowing south. Never mind, with China already the biggest buyer of education exports every little bit extra to the $15 bn industry is in fact big. As Universities Australia points out, there are 1200 university agreements with China, up 170 per cent in a decade. Making the point, the University of Western Sydney signed an agreement with the Beijing University of of Chinese Medicine yesterday.

Plain speaking Piccoli

Adrian Piccoli is not a bloke for backing down. He has made his opinion plain on the quality of teacher education courses – the NSW education minister wants new graduates to sit a qualifying exam before teaching in his schools. And he is not taking backward steps with training private providers. Australian Council for Private Education and Training chief Rod Camm complains the state’s Smart and Skilled scheme which funds TAFE and private training providers to teach, is hard to understand and hurting his members. To which Mr Piccoli replies, that the allocation formula is based on a quality framework with clear standards, state skill demands and “consistent pricing to reflect the efficient cost of training.” “Smart and Skilled does not create a market based on unfettered choice of provider, which would require an unconstrained budget,” he adds. The message is unwritten but obvious, the system is set so get used to it.

Never surrender

The National Tertiary Education Union has tried everything to stop staff cuts at La Trobe’s Bendigo campus – industrial action, tribunal appeals, community campaigns and while they have slowed they have not stopped the university’s planned job cuts there. But the union is undeterred, warning yesterday that course cuts there are “reckless mismanagement of an essential community asset.” The point is worth making but it seems certain not to change anything. As Oliver Goldsmith put it, “though vanquished they would argue still.”

Unsocial engineering

Good on Rio Tinto and the University of Western Australia for their new women in engineering program, launching today. The program engages girls in ten schools with engineering and introduces them to women engineers. It’s necessary, the sponsors say, because just 12 per cent of the engineering workforce are women – which I doubt this program probably will increase. The problem is not just encouraging more young women to study engineering it is keeping them in the workforce after they graduate. A June report from the now disbanded Australian Workplace and Productivity Agency made the point. In the early 90’s 20 000 women were engineering professionals and the figure increased by 15 000 or so over the next 20 years. But the number of women engineers in the workforce actually fell, by 0.7 per cent to equal a bare tenth of the profession’s working number. There are many reasons why, gender based pay inequality, family unfriendly hours and conditions. But the big one is workplace cultures, which AWPA understatedly explained as “persistence of gendered roles and expectations by managers and colleagues.” Which translates as “we have seen the problem and he is bloke.”

Degrees deliver

For all the talk about study being a bad investment new UK figures show the job generating power of qualifications. In 2002 the unemployment rate for non-graduates aged between 21 and 30 was 7.33 per cent, ten years later it had nearly doubled to 13.94 per cent. Over the decade graduate unemployment grew from 2.32 per cent to 3.15 per cent.

Just like the NBN only huge, fast and it works across the country

The federally funded $37m National Research Network will launch today at the University of South Australia, where its project director Paul Sherlock is chief information officer. The network connects users of big datasets in capital cities across the country and some regions, plus radio telescopes. Researchers will be able to share and study very large files, in disciplines from radio astronomy to medicine. The honours will be done by state shadow education minister David Pisoni – I’m guessing because both houses are sitting in Canberra and Minister Pyne has too many arms to twist to ask for a pair.

Science-stars

Clever campaign

Despite all those nay-saying senators universities are rolling out products designed for deregulation. Like James Cook University’s diploma designed for people who did not finish school and need a bridging programme to get into university, which launches tomorrow. It’s supported by two TVCs that make the case for the course, contrasting a young couch-bound man and woman bored, alone and going nowhere fast with their energised selves at JCU. “A lot can happen in a year,” the ad announces. Good stuff – which makes the case for study. I wonder if JCU has sent the campaign to Queensland PUP senator Glenn Lazarus?

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