Paul Wellings warns what deregulation would deliver

The Wollongong VC points to new, not no, problems for managements

One in the bag

Senator David Leyonhjelm (Lib Dem, NSW) does not like the idea of the government abandoning its plan to charge the Commonwealth borrowing rate for interest on student debt. But he is not going to vote against the deregulation bill “because it does not meet my requirements,” he said yesterday. While everybody has always assumed the government had his support, with the Senate in the state it is a declared vote is a small comfort for Chris Pyne. A very small one. With senators Lazarus and Lambie showing no signs this morning of changing their declared positions the minister needs all the other cross benchers. Senator Leyonhjelm is certain and his ally Senator Day is seen as solid, with senators Xenophon and Madigan showing signs of being willing to talk. Despite his PUP party opposing deregulation Senator Wang has spoken of the benefits of private sector training in the past, which leaves Senator Muir – and what little is known about his position is not positive for the Pyne package.

Under water

Yesterday was good and bad for the education minister. Good in that the Senate was so preoccupied that nobody much noticed the university deregulation legislation was not brought on – meaning the minister still does not have the numbers. Bad because senators were hot and bothered by Defence Minister David Johnston’s suggesting that he would not trust the Australian Submarine Corporation to build a canoe. That’s the Adelaide based ASC, where Mr Pyne’s seat is. If, as looks likely, there is an announcement the new submarines will not be built there Mr Pyne will have more than unpopular university policy to worry about.

ANU computing

Wellings warning

University of Wollongong Vice Chancellor Paul Wellings believes deregulation will intensify price based competition and lead to universities investing in sophisticated consumer marketing research and creative. And he warns, “governing bodies of universities are already focussing on Australian competition laws and the risks associated with non-compliance.”

Professor Wellings predicted this increasingly competitive marketplace in a speech this morning to the Higher Education Policy Institute in London.

He also warns the expansion of student numbers will transform both hiring practises and professional cultures in occupations from law to dentistry. “One consequence of the policy leading to uncapped numbers is likely to be a long term structural change to professions which, until now, have been relatively difficult to enter and highly protected by industry associations. This could make these sectors more competitive in the medium term. It will also challenge graduate recruitment practices and force firms to consider graduates from less traditional backgrounds and with different life experiences.” Universities will also “need to demonstrate that graduates leaving these programmes meet employer expectations irrespective of their entry qualifications,” Professor Wellings says.

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In a message for the Australian marketProfessor Wellings also addresses the applied research push, suggesting Australia’s entire highly cited research output is a little less than Harvard’s and that the country has much to learn from United Kingdom industry-university links. “Current data suggests that only 3.5% of Australian businesses collaborate with universities compared with 31.0% of UK businesses. It can not be in Australia’s long term economic and social interests to ignore the lack of engagement between businesses and universities.”

This is a significant speech with a serious message for Professor Wellings’ VC colleagues – that if deregulation occurs their problems will change, not end. 

No big deal

To encourage a greater grasp of globalisation the Japanese Government wants to double the number of students studying abroad. But before universities start booking tickets to Tokyo, just 1 per cent of undergraduates now go overseas.

 Explosive idea

While Defence Minister David Johnston was suggesting that Australia’s shipbuilders can not construct a canoe the chancellor of the University of Adelaide Kevin Scarce was arguing that they (subs, not canoes) are an investment in advanced manufacturing that the economy needs and that the industry could repeat the success of the ANZAC frigate programme. I’m sure his experience as a rear admiral and head of maritime systems at the Defence Materiel Organisation informed his opinion, which undoubtedly went down well with just about every South Australian politician, except federal government members. But it’s less certain that any MP will be as happy with another idea in his speech at Flinders University, for “a mature debate” on a local nuclear industry.

Can the surgeons do nothing?

The chairs of the Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council “are joined at the hip” on gender equity, an Australian Academy of Science forum heard yesterday. There was a photo of Aidan Byrne and Warwick Anderson standing close together which appears to prove it. It seems from their smiles that they are reconciled to their lot.

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ACPET on the front foot

With rorts well known in Victoria’s now largely discredited first deregulation of the training system the Australian Council for Private Education and Training is using the state election to assert its members’ achievements there. In particular ACPET chief Rod Camm points to a 51 per cent increase in training numbers over four years and up to 100 per cent increases in voced participation by students from disadvantaged groups. But what about problems with certificate mills and providers gaming funding? “Our industry is not going to bury its head in the sand and pretend there isn’t a problem with a small minority of providers. We are committed to weeding out unscrupulous providers who undermine the integrity of the entire system,” Mr Camm says.

Good-o, but with a Senate inquiry into private VET imminent now would be a good time for the weeding to start.

Especially as the Victorian Labor Party promises a VET funding review, a crack down on crook private providers and $320m to improve TAFE. “While there are many very good training providers in Victoria, there are also opportunistic providers who under the current government’s watch are getting away with delivering tick-and-flick training and providing worthless qualifications,” shadow minister for higher education and skills, Steve Herbert says.

VC, you are warned

The National Tertiary Education Union at the University of New South Wales reports on management resistance to improved job security for casual staff in the enterprise agreement now being negotiated, “as we move to finalise our enterprise agreements in the new year, we must demand of the new vice chancellor, Professor (Ian) Jacobs, that these priorities change. We need to use our collective strength to insist that, as a leading institution, UNSW has an important role to play in addressing inequities through progressive employment policies.” At least he will know what to expect.

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Endless argument at La Trobe

There was yet another skirmish yesterday in the 100 Years War (it seems longer) between La Trobe University and the National Tertiary Education Union over management’s restructure plan. The union condemned, again, proposed job cuts in education at the Bendigo campus, claiming they will lead to “one of the highest staff-student ratios in the country.” This will surely be sorted out once and for all in a week or so when the Federal Court will consider whether management has made “all reasonable attempts” to avoid compulsory redundancies or not. In the meantime voluntary redundancies already account for two thirds of the 300 jobs the university wants to cut.

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