Lee leans on Labor

But Kim will not go Green

Stay safe Blinky Bill

“A koala has been seen crossing the Great Western Highway near Wentworth Falls, the first record of koalas in the upper Blue Mountains since the 1940s,” the University of Sydney reports. Takes a while to get a walk signal at the Wenty lights

What’s a Green to do?

Higher education is very desirable political real estate, on which the Greens thought they had secured a long-term lease on by consistently opposing the Emerson April cuts, which both Labor and Coalition parties voted for in the Reps before the election. But more recently canny Kim Carr announced Labor, now safely in opposition, would oppose its own cuts. So what’s a Green to do? Pretty much what education spokesman Lee Rhiannon did yesterday in the Senate, moving “the government commit to an immediate 10 per cent increase to base funding of universities.” “If Labor is truly committed to higher education they need to stand with the Greens and invest in the future of young people and start reversing this chronic underfunding to universities that should never have been allowed to occur,” the senator said. Which did not give Labor much choice but to vote against the motion, given its implicit criticism of the record of the Rudd and Gillard governments. Last night a spokeswoman for Senator Carr detailed the party’s performance in expanding funding and student places between 2007-13, concluding “the Labor Party is the party of education, and our record shows it.”

No conspicuous consumption in Carlton

The University of Melbourne turned 160 yesterday, (for international readers in Australian years this makes Melbourne older than Oxford). Given the toughness of the times it was all appropriately understated with a “casual” all-staff lunch. Given the time of year I am guessing not that many people turned up but it is said a good time was had by all, with one observer suggesting there was “somewhat of a carnival-like atmosphere”. A more enduring commemoration created by the university this year is a first rate e-archive of events and achievements. In particular there is a history of the university in the form of 160 brief biographies of the great and the good by Peter McPhee and Juliet Flesch. The pair are serious scholars and it shows, this is a fine collection that illustrates the growth of the university, although the august ancestors of modern marvellous U Melbourne all seem to have lived remarkably virtuous lives. Not that far back the university would likely have commissioned an official, expensive and unread, history – now Melbourne has created a website – a more flexible and adaptable resource. I wonder what the University will do for its 200th anniversary? Probably something using a comms technology as yet unimagined.

The science of schmoozing

Chief Scientist Ian Chubb is the “official ambassador” for the Melbourne Convention Bureau’s 2014 Business Events Week. I am a firm believer in what business events can do to support the development of the research and knowledge sectors and am honoured to be involved,” Professor Chubb is quoted as saying. Fair enough, the Chief Scientist is an affable bloke; I imagine you know your back is slapped when he slaps it. It’s just that I never picked schmoozing as one of his many skills.

You don’t say

“History will decide the legacy of Nelson MandelaThe Conversation tweeted to promote a story yesterday

 Get HEPP to this timely tip

(With apologies to Bobby Troup). Education Minister Chris Pyne  announced 2013-15 Higher Education Participation and Partnership project funding yesterday – which sounded vaguely familiar. That’s because it is a re-announcement of grants promised by Labor Minister Kim Carr back in August but not distributed. Now the cash is flowing and Mr Pyne is obviously hepp to the timely tip of never missing an opportunity to announce good news. The biggest shares of the $50m (in both announcements!) went to a consortium of the three South Australian universities which received $9m for a mentoring and tuition program throughout the school years for low SES and indigenous students with university potential. This is a project that especially fits University of Adelaide VC Warren Bebbington’s argument that university success depends on what happens throughout school. Charles Darwin U also picked up $7m for a similar project focused on regional and remote indigenous communities. I suspect whether there will be another round rather depends on what happens to the spending cuts Labor and the Greens knocked off in the Senate.

Colombo planners

There was much fuss yesterday at the Parliament House launch of the New Colombo Plan with both Mr Pyne and Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop explaining how important it is. But who outside Foreign Affair’s dedicated secretariat will assist them with what is undoubtedly a big deal. The only member of the reference group I have heard of is Kent Anderson, PVC (International) at the University of Adelaide.

First among equals

Universities Australia’s strategic plan is out, containing all the objectives the higher education industry can expect from a peak body. The problem for UA is that academics being who they are, it does not speak for all members on everything. As the plan acknowledges; “the various sub-groupings of universities also play a role in advocating issues of particular significance to their group of members. Universities Australia will seek to work in a coordinated way to most effectively advance the interests of the university sector.”  The document is but days old and UA has already had a win, with Minister Pyne agreeing to adopt an important part of its agenda. In The Australian this morning John Ross reports the government will reduce reporting requirements in line wit the recommendations in the PhillipsKPA review.

Smart CRCs

You have to hand it to the CRC Association who gets as close as possible to ministers and MPs. On Monday the centres were explaining their achievements in Parliament House at the start of the last sitting week of the year to Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane among many others. Good thinking and excellent timing. The CRCs conduct the sort of applied research that appeals to practically minded politicians – especially with budget planning imminent. On which point when will the minister announce which bids won in the new funding round.

Teaching to the converted

A University of Pennsylvania team  surveyed students undertaking its MOOCs via Coursera and found that the format appeals to the educated. Some 75 per cent have a bachelors degree and 44 per cent a postgrad qualification. They have two reasons for study – increasing work-related skills or curiosity. “While there is tremendous hope for this educational platform, the individuals the MOOC revolution is supposed to help the most – those without access to higher education in developing countries –are conspicuously underrepresented among the early adopters,” the team writes. This may not bother university administrators and entrepreneurs who see on-line education as a potential profit-stream.  But it ought to alarm universities selling postgrad courses in any business or STEM subject – the early adopters are onto MOOCs as professional development.

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