Pyne’s plan for universities

The  education minister sets out  his strategy

Plaudits for Pyne

Universities Australia loudly applauded Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s first big post-secondary speech yesterday. Very loudly; “UA looks forward to working closely with the government in pursuing our shared commitment to realising the full potential of Australia’s education sector,” CEO Belinda Robinson said. So did Vicki Thomson from the Australian Technology Network, which; “welcomes the clear direction and priorities provided by the minister and looks forward to working with the Government on the development of a comprehensive international education strategy.”

Understandably so, given the commitments in Mr Pyne’s address to the International Education Conference in Canberra yesterday.  After blaming Labor for being as slow as it was incompetent in managing visa rorts and the Knight and Chaney reform proposals Mr Pyne went on to explain everything would change. He promised early action on streamlined visa processing, “where there is a low immigration risk” and to make a review of post-study work rights a priority. As for migration, many students want to return home after acquiring qualifications, but as for those who don’t. “They are exactly the kind of people we want, and should want, at the front of our migration list – not at the end.”

Above all, Mr Pyne made it plain that he expected Australia to expand its education sales to the Asia-Pacific middle class, which will grow seven fold to 3.2bn in 20 years time and to be part of a trans-national education community, with trans-national quality assurance and qualification recognition.

And lest anybody miss the message that the government is keen on education as more than an export Mr Pyne added;  “it is time for international education in Australia to become more than a commodity for exchange, more than an export market. It is time for long term thinking about what international education means for Australia. It is time to deepen cooperation and collaboration and focus attention to support sustainable growth of the sector. The coalition government will work with you to unlock the full potential of Australian international education.”

What wasn’t to like? Of course cynics suggest the more export income universities and colleges make overseas the less they will rely on the public purse, but what can you expect from cynics.

What’s eating van Onselen?

Academic and columnist for The Australian Peter van Onselen had a red hot go at a Group of Eight university yesterday, tweeting “it would have to be the least efficient and most disorganised shambles of a university I have ever had to deal with.” I am not naming the institution because it strikes me as a bit rich to give a place a spray without explaining why. Why so peeved Peter?

 More from the minister

Mr Pyne also used yesterday’s speech to mention parts of his plan for higher education in general. Understandably so, international education will only prosper with a premium product. In the process he confirmed the worse fears/best hopes of people in all sorts of areas. For example the news is not good for rigorous regulators. “Our plans include working with the sector to reduce inefficiencies, including through significant rationalisation of the red tape and regulatory burden, so you can concentrate on delivering results and services.” Gosh I wonder whom he has in mind – then again the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency is probably getting used to dark hints about its future what with their being on the agenda since Craig Emerson was minister. The research establishment will also take note of another allusion to research relevance. “We will also review government research funding to provide stability in research financing and the pursuit of research excellence, so each dollar is spent as effectively as possible.” It’s the last bit that should trigger alarm bells,  “effectively as possible” means whatever the minister wants it to mean.  And everybody interested in MOOCS will hope for funding to come following Mr Pyne’s promise that the government will “be considering” (but there was no mention of releasing) the report of Alan Tudge’s Online Higher Education Working Group, established in February.

Gosh, was there anything missing? The minister did not mention industry links, not unless his commitment to encourage collaborative research and teaching partnerships referred to business as well as universities. Perhaps this is because Mr Pyne thinks this belongs to Industry Minister Macfarlane, perhaps it is because the idea is tainted with all the sector research bodies Labor established or perhaps he has not got around to the issue yet. Whichever the instance it will not encourage advocates of a new impact metric to measure research output.

New boss for the other VU

Across the ditch Grant Guilford is appointed as next VC at the Victoria University of Wellington. He will take up the position in March from the University of Auckland where he is now dean of sciences.

Deep data mining

Data mining of the OECD adult skills survey (CMM) is underway in earnest. Yesterday the Australian Bureau of Statistics released detailed data which showed that graduates had significantly higher literacy and numeracy skills than Australians with non school qualifications.  This is hardly surprising but the gap between people with grad diploma/certificate and post-graduate degrees is – there isn’t one on literacy and not much of one on numeracy.  Much of the information in the survey is obvious, for example, the strong correlation between literacy/numeracy and income. But there are many sets io stats and potential cross-country comparisons that new results will roll out for months to come.

 So much for Max Weber

Michael Kort, from the business school at Southern Cross University has found Catholic women between 25 and 54 earn 4.5 per cent more than Anglicans. He suggests being raised Catholic could increase a person’s stock of human capital, “by fostering characteristics such as discipline that may be rewarded by the labour market”. It may also, “act as a signal to potential employers that Catholic women have certain desirable traits, such as trustworthiness”. There is no word on what heathens and heretics earn.

Who is ignoring whom? 

Peak postgrad body CAPA is having a conference and obviously needed a politics and policy keynote speaker, like, um Kim Carr. Apparently the senator delivered “a rousing speech on science, research.” Perhaps nobody told CAPA there was an election. Perhaps they know and don’t care. Or perhaps they invited a government minister/member and they all declined. The third is worse.

And you thought it was only here

It’s bargaining time in New Zealand as well and the Tertiary Education Union is pointing to funding cuts as the reason for the country’s decline in last week’s Times Higher rankings, “New Zealand academics are highly regarded, and are involved in world-class research and teaching. But falling government funding means they face larger lectures and tutorials, more administrative workload that takes time away from research and teaching, and stagnant pay,” TEU head Sandra Grey says.

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