Whither university funding under unpredictable Pyne

Of course sex sells

“Can agriculture be sexy?” CRC Association chief Tony Peacock asked yesterday. Ye Gods man, where do you think the expression “roll in the hay” comes from?

Praised with faint damns

The forthright Stephen Parker produced an endorsement of demand driven funding which suits these ambiguous times yesterday.  Yes the system should continue, for now, if only because institutions have made “good faith commitments” on its basis, the University if Canberra VC wrote in the Fin. But if future feds decide to start specifying how many places in which disciplines the public will fund per university Professor Parker will not protest, “it is public money, after all”. And this after suggesting the government will intervene in the market, to address skill shortages in some areas and if there is a risk of campuses falling over in competitive markets, “thus introducing uncertainty and ad hocery” in the system. That’s what we need more ad hocery. The problem with the status quo is the premise that demand driven funding need only apply to undergraduate education. Universities ranging from the elite to the average with big course work masters programs would love access to load. Thus Glyn Davis’s idea that universities should get a single sum for teaching from the federal government, to fund whatever courses they choose. And given Professor Parker’s interest in expanding into training to create UC post secondary pathways my guess is he would also like to receive a single sum for teaching to allocate, as he liked. The demand driven model is unravelling as the market fragments. Perhaps the government will decide to let universities slice the pie in different ways but I am guessing it will not get any bigger.

Slow not stalled

The University of Wollongong announced how it will handle the Emerson-Pyne (conceived by the former delivered by the latter) funding cuts in response to a story in the local paper the Illawarra Mercury, yesterday. It was a strangely reactive strategy from the usually disciplined UoW media team but what I hear happened is that the Mockery was following up allegations by the Greens and the university’s CFO Damien Israel summarised the university’s strategy to deal with the loss of $23m in future forward estimate funding from the feds over the next four years. But things won’t be as bad as predicted. The university says there is no freeze on staff and research but that the rate of growth in both will slow.

What’s new pussycat?

The University of New South Wales has made much of its recent listing in a league table as the Australian university with the most millionaire graduates. Now it is spruiking its degrees as what you need when capitalism is really red in tooth and claw. Consider, for example, the postgraduate recruitment slogan, “become the cat in the rat race.”

You get what you pay for

But there is still scholarship for at its own sake at the University of New South Wales. Historian Craig Stocking (fine book on the Battle of Bardia) has a new masters in military history there. It’s designed for anybody interested in the history of war rather than looking for a vocational qualification, it is definitely not a job generating masters Dr Stockings says. The course covers a great deal of ground, from “small wars of empire” to “development of the art of war” and yes there is a dedicated unit on Australian military history.  He adds that as far as he knows it is the only degree of its kind, anywhere.  Even better, for anybody interested who has a job that precludes nicking off to class it is all exclusively available online. So it’s just the ticket for people with a major interest in the subject and who wants to study with serious scholars, without having to attend classes, like a MOOC subject only with a masters level structure and intellectual rigour. Problem is it has something else that MOOCs lack, course fees. If this degree costs the same as other course work masters at UNSW total study cost will be $20,000. Like I said for people with a serious interest.

Maybe not

Illawarra an ideal location for next NSW drug court due to volume of criminal offence that occur in the region,” University of Wollongong Research tweeted yesterday. Perhaps not something to use in international marketing.

Really, really, big picture

David Christian might just save history from the historians with his project to pull everything about the people and the planet together. With Gates Foundation funding his ideas reach enormous numbers of people. Want a massive open, on-line course? Try this one. For people under 40 interested in history and definitely those still at school Professor Christian is probably the most famous Australian (well Australian resident) historian, ever. He, plus other academics and secondary teachers will talk about Big History, how to teach it and where to place it in school curricula at Macquarie University on Thursday and Friday. This is a big deal indeed, putting arguments over armbands in perspective.

Farewell forlorn hope, welcome opportunity 

Last week optimists argued that if Gonski was off there was no need to take money from universities to fund schools. It was never going to happen and who’s to say that Education Minister Pyne might not need a bit more in the way of savings now that he is promising increased cash for schools. But don’t worry, ministers will have adopted and abandoned a pile of policies before the budget (I think they have had four school funding plans so far). If we have learnt anything already it is that the way to make the Abbott Government change its mind is complain very loudly. Won’t the demand driven funding review be fun!

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