Old guard upbeat: public education advocates speak out

Plus why Parisians yearn for the Melbourne end of the Boulevard Saint-Michel

 

Publicly funded public good

With the deregulation legislation on the Senate notice paper yesterday, the National Tertiary Education Union urged senators to resist the blandishments of ministers bearing gifts. Just as the comrades have done, just about daily, since the budget. But there was less “$100 000 degree” denouncing in the union message and more warnings of the evils of capitalism.

“Starving public universities of funds while handing over subsidies to private providers, including for profit companies, will principally benefit those providers rather than open up higher education. … Higher education is far too important to Australia’s future to be abandoned to the vagaries of free market competition. It is the responsibility of governments to plan and fund public universities.”

It seems the comrades are so confident that they have stopped the for-profit push that they can switch to demanding more public funding.

ANU tap into

 Crucifixion committee

There is more of this sentiment in the terms of reference for the proposed Senate committee inquiry, which Senator Lee Rhiannon (Greens, NSW) had on yesterday’s notice paper. They include,

“the quality of education provided by private VET providers, volume of learning requirements and graduate outcomes, marketing and promotional techniques employed by private VET providers and education brokers both domestic and international, any incidents or allegations of non-compliance with regulation and funding arrangements at private VET providers, political donations made by private VET providers (and) the operation, regulation and funding of private VET providers specifically offering courses in aged care and early childhood education and their labour market outcomes.”

I’m guessing TAFE is going to emerge from this inquiry looking a whole let better than its private sector competitors.

National treasure TAFE

A House of Representatives committee report, tabled yesterday, got in early with the TAFE triumphalism. The committee inquiring into TAFE’s function and performance dates from the before the election but I doubt the state of the house made for a different result. The committee concluded TAFE provides “an intangible, but highly significant, community support role as a provider of opportunities for those in positions of disadvantage and vulnerability, whether for employment, accessing mainstream education, or improving life/social circumstances.” And it called on Canberra and the states to produce “a value statement comprehensively defining the role of TAFE within the VET sector.” “This statement should recognise that the affordability and accessibility of the training market is underpinned by a strong public sector provider and acknowledges the following functions that TAFE, as a major and significant not-for-profit public provider, can uniquely bring to the VET sector.”

And there were additions to the now all but universal commentary on private sector spivs providing poor quality courses; “(the) high-risk and unscrupulous practices (which) endanger the experience of students and the reputation of training provision.”

Watch for this argument being extended to higher education.

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Pyne pushes on

Chris Pyne never, ever, gives up. In House of Representatives Question Time yesterday he used the China Free Trade Agreement to make the case for deregulation, pointing to Beijing’s decision to add a further 77 Australian private providers to the list of 105 institutions that already have the de facto imprimatur of listing on the Chinese ministry of education website. This was a big win, which could add to the education export market, but only if Australia keeps competitive, he said. “If we don’t change, that education market is at risk.”

Is anybody listening, anybody who matters, that is? Jacqui Lambie isn’t – the newly independent senator made it plain, again, yesterday that she will never, ever, vote for deregulation. Short of a session with the shade of Brian Harradine, who used his senate vote to acquire funding for Tasmania, it seems Senator Lambie is not for turning.

But perhaps others are. Yesterday Nick Xenophon said the deregulation debate could be settled in the new year – which is surely some slight comfort for Mr Pyne. If Senator Xenophon intended to throw the bill out altogether he would call on the government to bring it on. John Madigan is also speaking very carefully. Yesterday the independent senator told Lyndal Curtis on ABC TV’s Capital Hill that he has “had more meetings with people of divergent views than I count” on higher education reform but that while Mr Pyne “is a very good salesman and he and his staff are open to discussion there are issues where we diverge.” However he went on to speak of the importance of pathways programmes and how he did not want to see young people who would use them abandoned. Given 80 000 pathway places are a core element of the Pyne package this still sounds like something less than a yes but more than a no.

But even if senators Xenophon and Madigan turned out to be sort-of on-side Mr Pyne would still need the two PUPs, senators Wang and Lazarus. The former has made positive noises about good work done by private providers in his home state of WA but given his colleague’s Lambie-esqe loathing of deregulation it would indeed take Lazarus a triple bypass to switch.

More learned friends

There were objections yesterday as Swinburne announced its law school is in business. The university established the new venture back in August but had to wait for accreditation – which I hear was not a formality, the one thing lawyer’s don’t like is more lawyers. I do not get the argument that because there are six other law schools churning out surplus solicitors in Victoria Swinburne should not be allowed to offer its properly accredited courses. If there is a demand for the entrepreneur and intellectual property focused law it intends to teach it will meet a market need. But if not, not and Swinburne will do its dough as people don’t enrol.

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Merveilleuse Melbourne

QS has released its new best cities for students list and there are two reasons why this is one ranking in which we should revel. One is that as these analyses go the metrics are fair enough, using data on diversity and tolerance, quality of life, employment, status of education institutions, cost of living and so forth – although the “liveability measure” comes from The Economist, perhaps not the best guide to what is hip for most 20 year olds. The other reason is that Australia has six cities in the world’s top 40. Yes, I know we like it here but it is un-Australian to boast, at least when other people will do it for us.

Melbourne is top city, second in the world for students after Paris. It is followed by Sydney (4), Canberra (21), Brisbane (23), Adelaide (29) and Perth (38). I’m guessing Darwin was just too far away for the judges and they have not heard of Hobart (I hope for QS’s sake Jacqui Lambie never learns of this). I hope the University of Melbourne doesn’t either – it is already far too pleased with all its other world best rankings on all sorts of other league tables.

China hand

China scholar John Fitzgerald is the new president of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. Now at Swinburne, he has worked in both government and academe, including long service at La Trobe and the Australian National University.

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Finn fans

Teacher education academic Tom Stehlik from the University of South Australia spends time in Finland studying his field and finds much there for academics to admire. The community respects teachers, tick. All university tuition “is free,” tick. Masters degrees are mandatory for every teacher above kindergarten level, another tick. Student teachers get pre-practise experience in university-based schools, big tick. There is however one small problem, “despite the high status of teaching in Finland, teacher salaries in general are significantly less in comparison to Australia. Anything up to 50 per cent. Big cross.

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