NTEU on the attack: universities need regulation and planning

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Homo homini lupus

“I admire Christopher Pyne for his doggedness but that doesn’t mean I’m going to throw him a bone,” Senator Nick Xenophon yesterday (quoted by Virginia Trioli, ABC News 24)

Education armageddon

The National Tertiary Education Union has seized on Tony Abbott’s  remarks about not burdening future generations with debt, repeating its oft announced warning about the size of HECs liabilities on the Commonwealth’s books if fees are deregulated. Fair enough, but what about the next bit? “As part of its budget repair agenda the government wants to shift the burden of who pays for higher education away from the government and on to the shoulders of students and their families.” Not quite, for “government” read taxpayers, the majority of whom are low and middle-income earners.

The union has also repeated its pre-Christmas push, emailing everybody with an edu.au address, urging them to demand their VC repudiate the Pyne package.

“Most vice chancellors are either remaining silent about, or actively supporting the deregulation of university fees. Without the support of the vice chancellors, the government would have withdrawn its proposals well before now. Is the vice chancellor of your university representing the interests of your university community? If not, it is time they heard from you and every other concerned staff member. Your voice can help to change the debate.”

This is an existential argument for the union, a struggle for the soul of higher education. As national president Jeannie Rea puts it; “the NTEU will continue to defend the integrity of our internationally recognised public university system; a system that needs more reliable funding through better regulation and planning, not the abandoning of government responsibility to the vagaries of the market.”

CEF Jan 15

Nice work if he can get it

Dennis Shanahan reported in The Australian yesterday that Christopher Pyne is being mentioned as a possible replacement to Mr Abbott. Whatever Mr Pyne says, he must surely dream of the opportunity, running the country would be so much easier than endlessly arguing about university funding.

Local advantage

While the NTEU focuses on ideology the policy engineers, including the estimable Andrew Norton are working on how deregulated fees would work. Mr Norton goes only where the data directs and so his intervention last night on fees that domestic students would pay in a market was highly significant. Mr Norton rejects suggestions local fees could be more than what international students are charged. While critics say universities could game such a cap Mr Norton says that an analysis of for-profit providers and unregulated postgrad courses now shows they don’t. “Presumably a mix of underlying cost differences, market forces, and mission considerations mean that domestic students are not charged more,” he writes. Yes universities could charge up for internationals – leaving locals to pay a big differential between what the Commonwealth pays for a place and what the institution sets. Except its competitors would undercut any university trying it on.

Killer kitties

While cats in advertisements eat only free-range pheasant their feral friends aren’t as picky. According to Edith Cowan U’s Tim Doherty cats gone bush will eat any of 400 species in the wild – they are fond of a bit of bunny but where rabbits are eradicated it seems pretty much anything else will do. So how much damage are they doing? It seems nobody really knows, the bill of mortality was outside Mr Doherty’s research scope, but last year the ABC ran an unsourced claim that feral cats killed 75 million native birds, animals and etc. a day. They are also said to have eaten sixteen native species into extinction. Ye gods, it sounds like a case where, more research is really, really needed.

ANU tap into

Venture capitalists

Small Business Minister Bruce Bilson says the feds are a step closer to legislating crowd sourcing for small business investment. The problem now is legislative restrictions, for example proprietary companies are not allowed to source funds from large numbers of small investors and going public rarely suits start-ups. A solution will be good news for academic entrepreneurs who want to take their ideas to market, rather than rely on slow (when they exist at all) links between their university and industry. Deakin’s celebrate partnership with crowd-funder Pozible demonstrates academics can convince people to fund research projects and surely investors with an appetite for risk will welcome big ideas. This is on-song with Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane’s push for university and industry to work together.

Wise choice

Byron Sharpe’s Ehrenberg Bass Institute at the University of South Australia, which argues marketing is a science with laws that are universally applicable, is less admired than adored by business clients, a new endorsement by Kellogg’s marketing chief is just out. It started me wondering what is going on at Uni SA’s other big, but much lower profile, behaviour research unit, the Institute for Choice, which moved this time last year from UTS. For a university intent on increasing its research profile, it looks like it was a good buy for Uni SA– people at the centre pumped out 50 or so journal articles, nine books and book chapters and 11 conference papers in 2014.

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