Plan to slug students a gift to the government

A loan fee on HELP debt would save the feds a fortune

plusuniversity teachers of the year

200 staff to leave Western Sydney U before Christmas

 and: medical research grants – where the money is going

In breaking news

“Oxford University predates the Aztec Empire,” CSIRO tweet Saturday afternoon.

NHMRC keeps quiet

The National Heath and Medical Research Council has discretely announced $483m in new grants. Very discretely, there wasn’t a word in the Council’s Friday newsletter. Perhaps it was the way the success rate for project grants was 15.6 per cent when chair Anne Kelso says an overall NHMRC success rate of 20 per cent plus is possible (CMM August 23) that encouraged the council to keep its head down. Or maybe it was the gender split on project grants ($451m of the funding announced Friday) with 12.5 per cent of female applicants being successful, compared to 16.7 per cent of men. Grant details by institution are below.

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Knocking off early, forever

Up to two hundred staffers are set to leave Western Sydney University by Christmas, having been accepted for an early voluntary retirement scheme. The departures will surely make the university’s task easier as it sets to centralise services under the recently released Project Essex plan. Although EVR is meant to be about people going not jobs being abolished, on Friday, Vice Chancellor Barney Glover told staff; “business cases for recruitment are being prepared and most vacancies are being approved to be filled as either ongoing or limited-term positions.” Question is will the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union consider “most” enough not to start industrial action. Last month HR head Susan Hudson assured professional staff they would be consulted about the new structure. However the NTEU may not consider which people taking EVR to replace consultation. The union has already formally told management they are in dispute; the first formal step in the process towards Fair Work Commission approved industrial action, (CMM November 17.

No accounting for people skills

Details are out on Macquarie University’s new (and improved!) accounting degree. After a year of industry consultations the university concluded accounting graduates are light-on for skills in six core areas teamwork, ethics, sustainability, problem solving, critical thinking and communications, although CMM wonders what ‘sustainability’ actually means – the energy to keep applying the others? Whatever the case, the six will now be taught in the B Comm in professional accounting from next year.

“The degree will now offer a progressive blend of attributes in addition to expert technical skills. For instance, soft skills and human relationships will be a key aspect of the educational shift with a greater emphasis placed on social, environmental and intangible reporting,” says Associate Professor Rahat Munir. It always puzzles CMM the way dealing with people is a “soft skill,” as if it humanity is easier than numbers.

London to LaTrobe

La Trobe U’s Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society has a new principal research fellow. Adam Bourne joins from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He starts in March.

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Rhodes to follow

Neither the dead, nor their statues, are our enemies, Marnie Hughes Warrington argues in a new blog on the Rhodes Scholarships.

“Our fight is with the beliefs and assumptions that lead us to look past another human being as if they were not there.”

As the Australian secretary of the Rhodes Scholarships, ANU DVC Hughes Warrington describes a fight being well-fought, with 5000 applications from African high schools a year and a doubling of Australians applying for a Rhodes, following a social media campaign.

This year’s Rhodes Scholars includes an Indigenous man, Bede Jones, from Tasmania, which rather makes the point. “The Rhodes Scholars selected are not reparation, or remediation, or a settlement of damages. They are young people of incredible potential who deserve our respect, support, and belief.”

“The diversity of the pool has seen marked improvement. More universities are applying; more applicants are from rural and regional backgrounds or from Non-English speaking heritage; more applicants are disclosing a disability; more tell us with pride about their gender identity; more universities are represented, including Australians studying overseas. It takes time to lead a change in outcomes, but the force of the wave is undeniable,” Professor Hughes Warrington writes.

Less than it sounds

The federal government has launched the $200m CSIRO Innovation Fund to commercialise early-stage innovations from universities and other public research agencies. Good-oh, but there is not as much cash as this suggests. Canberra will kick in $70m over ten years with CSIRO stumping up $30m, the balance, “will be sourced from wholesale private investment.” The fund will be led by venture capitalist Bill Bartee.

Terrific teachers

The federal government’s 2016 awards for teaching excellence are announced, with the winners being:

Teacher of the Year: Karen Burke da Silva, Flinders U.

Biology and Health: Karen Burke da Silva, Flinders U. Paul Mills University of Queensland. Mario Ricci, University of Adelaide.

Early Career: Michelle Quail, Curtin University.

Humanities and Arts: Dawn Bennett, Curtin University. Gemma Carey, Griffith University. Trevor Cullen, Edith Cowan University. Tony Joel, Deakin University.

Law, Economics, Business and related: Peter Balan, Uni South Australia. Mark Brimble, Griffith University. Gayle Kerr, QUT.

Indigenous Education: Heidi Norman, UTS.

Physical and related sciences: Paul Francis, ANU. Birgit Loch, Swinburne U.

Social and behavioural sciences: Catherine Attard, Western Sydney U, Jaclyn Broadbent, Deakin U. Lorraine Hammond, Edith Cowan U, Michael Platow, ANU.

Grattan Institute proposes universal loan fee for student debt

Another big Norton idea: Christmas has come early for Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham with a gift from the Grattan Institute. The pressie is a paper by the Grattan Institute’s Andrew Norton and Ittima Cherastidtham, which sets out how the feds could raise a bunch of money from graduates while protecting the principles of income contingent loans. Norton, name ring a bell? It should set off a whole carillon. Mr Norton is well regarded by government as a policy analyst and he might mention this plan to his colleagues on the “expert advisory panel” which Senator Birmingham commissioned in October to “work ‘hand in glove’ with the Turnbull Government “to help develop a future plan for Australia’s higher education system.”

Gift-wrapped cash: Norton and Cherastidtham propose charging all Higher Education Loan Programme debtors a 15 per cent borrowers fee, this would generate $600m in current budget figures, although the actual cash would take years to flow in, as students paid back their loans. This would indeed be a gift for the education and training minister who needs savings but does not dare cut university funding and allow them to charge their own fees to make up the difference.

Gift that keeps giving: There is also a precedent for a universal loan fee, as Norton and Cherastidtham point out, VET borrowers and full fee higher education students cop a 20 per cent fee on their student loans now. And it would be an easier sell than charging a real interest rate, which would slug low-income earners who take longer to repay their debts.

As the authors argue; “loan fees would contribute to budget repair, but leave per student university funding unchanged, reduce pressure to cap student numbers, avoid up-front charges and preserve protections for low-income graduates.” And with loan fees already in place for students at private providers a minister with a thick hide could claim extending a fee was only equitable.

Hard, but not impossible sell: A universal loan fee would be a hard sell for the government but CMM has seen harder. Yes students would scream and universities would argue money raised should be pumped into the system. But the government’s could respond to the former by pointing out that this isn’t “$100k degrees” and it could bribe the latter. Minister Birmingham has talked for months about wanting universities to lift their game on information for prospective students, lower attrition among undergraduates and improved employment outcomes for graduates. An $150m a year fund to reward universities that improve performance might ensure quiet complaining – and still, on 2016 figures, contribute $450m to Treasury’s kick, albeit over time.

Excepting experts: Conor King from the Innovative Research Universities has already had a look at the Norton – Cherastidtham report and is not enthused. For a start, he reiterates his long established argument that university student debt is not out of control, (unlike the now abolished VET FEE HELP programme). Above all, he argies, while it could be worse, there is nothing in it for students or universities.

“The university or other provider gains nothing from it.  The education delivered is not any better resourced. In essence the proposal asks students to sign up to 15 per cent more for no improvement in the education they receive. … It is better than cutting into university funding or imposing real interest in HELP balances. It is worse than directing any additional payment from students to their education now.”

No speaks at Murdoch U

According to union negotiators, Murdoch University management has abandoned enterprise agreement talks in a response to staff rejecting a pay offer and taking industrial action next week. The university had offered 3 per cent in total over four years, dependent on the union accepting a much smaller carton of conditions governing employment than in the outgoing agreement. CMM November 25). When the National Tertiary Education Union said no management walked. “It’s a bit rich to make one low pay offer, try to hold a gun to the heads of our members by making it a final offer, then pack it in when it’s not accepted,” union state secretary Gabe Gooding says. Comment was requested from Murdoch management, but the university did not respond.

Murdoch U is becoming a negotiating test case, with it and the other Western Australian public universities being advised by the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association. The AHEIA is keen to see no precedent setting repeat of the last negotiating round when the universities less caved than caverned to union demands.

Where the NHMRC money is going

The National Health and Medical Research Council announced $483m in grants on Saturday. This (December annoucned) funding was allocated as follows (rounded to the nearest $100 000). Australian National University, $14m. Baker IDI, $12.7m. Bionic Ear Institute, $0.7m. Bond U, $0.3m. Cancer Council of Victoria, $1.3m. Centenary Cancer Institute, $2.8m. Centre for Eye Research, $1.5m. Curtin U, $2m. Deakin, U $4.9m. Edith Cowan U, $1.1m. Flinders U, $4.2m. Florey Institute, $11.3m. Garvan Institute, $8.3m. Griffith U, $1.4m. James Cook U, $1.6m. La Trobe U, $4.1m, Macfarlane Burnett Institute, $4.9m. Macquarie U, $11.4m. Menzies School (NT), $2.6m. Monash U, $65m. Murdoch Research Institute, $18m. Murdoch U, $1.3m. Queensland Medical Research Institute, $11.1m. QUT, $2.9m. RMIT, $2.4m, South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, $2.8m. St Vincents-Melbourne, $7.1m. Swinburne U, $0.4m. Uni Adelaide, $13.5m. Uni Melbourne, $63.1m. UNSW, $33.9m. Uni Newcastle, $10.8m. Uni Queensland, $36.2. Uni SA, $11m. Uni Sydney, $58m. Uni Tasmania, $4.2m. UWA, $26m. Uni Wollongong $1.8m. Walter and Eliza Hall, $17.5m.

As usual there is less a gap than a chasm between the leaders and the rest. The Group of Eight research universities accounted for well over half the funding, led by Monash University with $65m, followed by the University of Melbourne with $63m and the University of Sydney with $58m. Among the others Macquarie and Newcastle universities both cracked the $10m mark. The University of South Australia, with no medical school, performed very strongly against Flinders U and the University of Adelaide, which both do.

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