No love locked at Swinburne and few laughs at Flinders

Loves labour locked

Our cringe-making correspondent reports sightings of love padlocks on the University of Adelaide footbridge, over the River Torrens. The ancient custom of couples engraving their names and sentiments of devotion on locks, which they then affix to bridges dates from 1994, when Italian novelist Federico Moccia made it up. At least it’s less permanent than a tattoo.

High noon at Hawthorn

The week ended at Swinburne University’s Hawthorn HQ, just like the last 52 – with management and the National Tertiary Education Union at daggers drawn over a new enterprise agreement. But management at least seems sick of it. Last week university official Andrew Smith wrote to staff saying that the deal on offer is it and the university is prepared to put it to a staff vote, with or without union endorsement. This was less a hint than a flashing neon sign stating “attention NTEU! We have the numbers, urge staff to vote no and you will lose and be humiliated just like you were when you tried this at Charles Sturt.” Long for a neon sign I grant you but the NTEU is not impressed. State secretary Colin Long says the sticking points are management’s refusal to set up procedures to consult with staff (restructures and the Lilydale campus closure are bitterly remembered) plus academic workloads and the potential for unlimited growth in casual staffing. Management’s pay offer is not an issue, Mr Long adds. And he is adamant that the union will campaign for a no vote if the university takes its offer to staff.
This gives management no choice but to do just that. VC Linda Kristjanson has convened a meeting of the university leadership for Monday afternoon – if there is no agreement with the union. With no deal done over the weekend today is high noon.
This is a bigger deal than a stoush at Swinburne. Enterprise negotiations at RMIT were just as tense, tenser, last year – the union and management ended up before Fair Work Australia over industrial bans. The RMIT union is set to start industrial action, again, on the grounds that management is stalling on talking.  Both sides there are likely watching what happens at Swinburne with interest.

Pyne’s perceptive picks

Justine Ferrari reported in The Weekend Australian that Education Minister Christopher Pyne will appoint Australian Catholic University VC Greg Craven to head his inquiry into teacher education. I don’t know if this is correct, Mr Pyne’s office did not reply to questions yesterday, but if so it is a masterstroke. Professor Craven loudly opposes externally imposed and academically high entry standards for teacher education – ACU certainly isn’t especially picky about the ATARs of who it enrolls. So having Professor Craven in the tent will stop him making trouble, sorry, forcefully expressing his opinions, from without, which he is always happy to do – just ask NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli who wants to set minimum school leaving standards for graduates who teach in his schools. Including, as is also suggested, Field Rickards from the University of Melbourne and Ben Jensen from the Grattan Institute, will also ensure strong, expert and independent voices.

Exports on the up

With the dollar descending and exports increasing the education industry ended 2013 in better shape than it started, with 526,000 full fee paying international students. According to new numbers from Australian Education International, enrolments were up 2.6 per cent on the previous year. This was well down on the 10 year average annual increase of 5.9 per cent but a sight better than the 6 per cent plus drop from 2011 to 2012. The good news is that there is a big bulge in the pipeline with the number of commencers increasing by 9 per cent overall – 8 per cent for higher education and 21 per cent for ELICOS (hopefully a fair swag of these 91,000 students will stay on and enrol in voc ed or uni.) The bad news is overall vocational education was down 6 per cent, with no growth on 2012

All his own work

The Australian Law Reform Commission report on copyright (CMM Friday) is off to a baddish start. One of its key recommendations for education is a broad “fair use” exemption, which did not impress Attorney General George Brandis. “I remain to be persuaded that this is the best direction for Australian law, but nevertheless I will bring an open and inquiring mind to the debate,” the Attorney told a forum on fair use. The speech made a change from the usual bland tosh bureaucrats bowl up for ministers to read – I’m guessing Senator Brandis wrote some of it, certainly the quotes from Thomas Babington Macaulay.
Unlike the attorney Universities Australia needs no persuading, that “fair use” should be introduced. Chief Executive Belinda Robinson says Australian universities spend $260m “so students and researchers can access published work” which do not attract payment in other jurisdictions.
Net (ball) profit
Victoria University is not in the best of shape, running a $6m deficit in 2012, with the Victorian Auditor General stating it is a medium level risk. But this still hasn’t stopped it sponsoring the Melbourne Vixens netball team. Apparently this is part of VU’s commitment “to be Australia’s leading sport university.” Makes sense, as a dual sector institution VU can teach the competencies of actually playing the game in TAFE plus the theory in higher education.

Nothing is as ex as an imminent ex

As a member of many of the 117 NSW Labor cabinets post Bob Carr, University of New England Chancellor John Watson must be familiar with the damage confusion can do. Which is probably why the university has moved fast to address Vice Chancellor Jim Barber’s surprising decision to depart (CMM February 3). Although Professor Barber gave six months notice the university has decided that while he can hang around it will not be in the top job. Deputy VC Annabelle Duncan will move up to acting VC, with Professor Barber in “a strategic advisor role supporting her.” A search for a permanent replacement is underway.

Stop laughing this is serious

The Flinders Institute for Research in the Humanities is holding a humour studies symposium next week. There are papers on Jonathan Swift, why people in cultures not their own do not get jokes and Dr Julia Erhart will ask “what are the pleasures available to ‘ordinary’ (non-academic, non-critic) viewers of television satire?” Perhaps not many laughs in this for we ordinary folk.

Getting it right

On Friday a reference to Curtin University crept into an item on Murdoch’s new degree structure. My stupid mistake. 

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