Campus Morning Mail: Ian Young’s bad run and TEQSA finds a supporter (sort of)

What are they smoking?

CMM’s “Imagine what will the tabloids do with this correspondent,” writes: “University of Sydney academic Roger Magnusson and David Curnow from the Cancer Council propose licensing smokers via a smart card system. Apparently this will reduce tobacco sales to children and build information on smokers’ habits, to help them quit.”  And of course smokers will not mind having to carry identity cards.

 TEQSA after-shocks

After the kicking TEQSA took with yesterday’s release of the Lee Dow and Braithwaite report the agency might have hoped for a more measured response. It got one from the Australian Technology Network, which clearly does not want to through TEQSA out with the trash. According to executive director Vicki Thomson, the report, “will be the start of further dialogue towards solutions and reform”.  Striving to say something kind, she added it, “acknowledges that TEQSA has recently announced changes in many of its processes”.
But there was nothing measured about the response from Liberal red tape spokesman Arthur Sinodinos and higher education shadow Brett Mason. “The Coalition has been expressing concern about our universities being tied up in red tape for years. Only after five years of governing and with an election imminent, did Labor commission this review. And today, coincidentally within 24 hours of the announcement of the election, Tertiary Education Minister Kim Carr has magnanimously decided to release its report.”
Fair enough, but there was nary a word about the contents of the report or what a Coalition government will do with it. Given what opposition MPs say privately about TEQSA this is no reason for the regulator to get its hopes up.

Right said Fred

The ever-polite UNSW VC Fred Hilmer at the Guiyan Confucius Institute, as reported by the China Daily, yesterday: “The Guiyang Confucius Institute’s architecture is amazing. … Learning Chinese has become a fashionable thing in Sydney. There are more than 500 people learning Chinese in our university.” CMM wonders whether 500 students will seem like many to Chinese readers.

Young is old, again

CMM is a fan of Australian National University head Ian Young, he is not the chattiest of blokes but as smart as he is strategic, and he is very bright indeed.  And until a few weeks ago he was having a blinder of a year. The creation of the Tuckwell scholarships, providing 25 students a year $20,000 per annum for the length of an undergraduate degree, was an enormous endorsement of ANU. So was being welcomed by Harvard and MIT into the edX MOOC in February. Above all the way the university handled campus wide discussions on cost cutting was a model of consensus building. Granted, insiders say a good deal of this was down to Chris Grange, who wrote management’s frank and respectful responses to staff suggestions on saving money, nevertheless it reflected a style starting at the top.
It certainly made a change from last year, when Professor Young’s first months in the job were marred by missteps. In March 2012 he announced under-performing academic programs would go. If that did not save enough money selected staff would be sacked. By May he had backed down saying “feedback consistently indicated a strong belief that the university could make savings and assist staff in doing their jobs by removing administrative duplication and generally improving our business processes.” A mishandled restructure of the music school did not do anything for Professor Young’s reputation on campus either.
But this year looked different, with Professor Young switching to a consensus strategy and benefiting from better advice. Um, until now, because it seems the vice chancellor is reverting to management by making decisions and then reversing them. Last week the university announced a switch in the College of Arts and Social Sciences from lectures and traditional tutes to larger “forums.”  Cue ANU community outrage and the university has accordingly commissioned a review. Apparently, “the proposed changes within CASS would represent a significant change (for some areas) from the traditional approach, and as such need to be carefully considered,” which rather begs the question of what sort of consideration occurred before the plan was originally announced.
The union is also upset, moving away from the consensual consideration of cuts, upping the pressure on pay and conditions.  National Tertiary Education Union ACT secretary Stephen Darwin has questioned the cuts given what he says is Professor Young’s plan for a $150 million surplus. “ANU is one of Australia’s wealthiest universities, and this move is less to do with the comparatively small impact of cuts to future funding (despite the wildly inflated claims of ANU management) and more to do with an immovable economic orthodoxy,” Darwin says. Time for Professor Young to return to talking first deciding later.

But what does “education” mean?

Peter van Onselen in The Australian this morning reports a slight lift in Labor’s lead on education since the PM became PM, again. Some 35 per cent of voters think the ALP is best equipped to manage education compared to 29 per cent who back the Coalition. CMM suspects in this case “education” is a synonym for schools.  

Skill sets sell

CMM is also an admirer of the National Centre for Vocational Education Research, which pumps out research that actually tests assumptions about the way education and training impact on the economy. Like the report released yesterday by Jenny Chesters, Chris Ryan and Mathias Sinning from the ANU, The returns to literacy skills in Australia. A great deal of what they found confirms what you would think anyway, but while it is a novel idea during an election, the more hard data supporting assertions the better. Thus they establish links between education, skills and income – and the higher the level of the first two a worker has the more of the third they will earn. The researchers also suggest qualifications alone do not determine income. “Since the labour market seems capable of distinguishing the most skilled or productive within each education group and rewarding them accordingly, education and training qualifications need to continue to provide individuals with improved skills such that they provide an income payoff and are worth undertaking.”
But two findings do surprise CMM. First, “technical change in Australia was not skill-biased in this period (1996-2206), in terms of favouring highly educated workers, as has been found in other industrialised countries.” Second, “the returns to the skills of workers with low and medium levels of education have increased over time in some cohorts.” So much for the argument that only Negroponte’s “symbolic analysts” will inherit the information age earth.  CMM also wonders whether this might explain Australia’s famously poor productivity performance since the turn of the century.

 Putting the T back into terror

RMIT that is. Director James Wan has a US hit flick with family movie The Conjuring which has just passed $100 million in earnings. At least it’s a family movie in that there is a family in it, although their home is possessed by demons. Wan is a multimedia graduate from RMIT, which surely is worth promoting this open day season. Unless of course campus life taught him everything he knows about horror.

 Predictions of the day

CMM is watching the election watchers and will report academic experts’ opinions through the campaign. One today comes from the ANU’s John Wanna who predicts voter interest in Clive Palmer and Bob Katter has already peaked. Makes sense to CMM. Less convincing is James Cook University’s Dr Doug Hunt who offers the “tentative” prediction that Labor will hold Capricornia but lose office. Then again, “Dr Hunt said it was difficult to gauge voters’ views without any opinion polls taken in the area.” Capricornia is home to CQU’s Rockhampton campus, which copped a staff cut last month. CMM is not game to predict whether this will hurt (a) the Coalition (b) Labor or (c) neither – at least not without polling. More from the electoral augurs tomorrow.

Architects of their own end

Curtin University tweets, “lines at the bookshop – remember you can buy your textbooks online as well! At least until the books are replaced by digital editions.

Read More

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