Labor promises not much, which is more than the Libs

Measurement that matters 

Science promoter RiAus tweets “World Vasectomy Day is going to be awesome.” Who knew awesome-ness was a scientific measure.

By the book

The University of Queensland is handling by the book its response to the retraction of a published paper co-authored by a former staff member by the book. Vice Chancellor Peter Hoj has issued a statement explaining what it has told the journal publisher and identified the article. The university states there is an on-going inquiry, although it adds “no evidence has been found that the study described in the article was conducted”. It’s worth remembering that nobody has been found guilty of anything yet.

Promises promises

Candidate commitments are getting desperate desperate. Yesterday the prime minister promised $20m over four years for the University of Tasmania health science precinct in Launceston, leaving the university with $60m to get. The Greens promised $100m for a new dental school for Adelaide, perhaps they meant they will ask the minister nicely. And the Labor candidate for Fisher Bill Gissane, says if elected, “I will immediately conduct talks with the University of the Sunshine Coast to establish a department of sustainable economics.” Funnily enough he did not mention who would be paying. I searched without success for Liberal Party promises – probably because they worry they will be asked to keep any they make.

But no big pictures

At least not in Labor’s innovation and higher education policies, released without much, well any, fanfare, yesterday.
Minister Kim Carr’s commitment to the directing state informs the documents, which includes an “innovation guarantee.” This is,  “federal Labor’s commitment to every Australian and every firm – if you have a plan to innovate we will back you”. As to how and with what, the plan promises a National Innovation Council and industry specific precincts and plans which all sound like the various industry approaches already announced and re-announced. The higher education document also reminds us of “compacts” a once much heralded plan for Canberra to stick its bib into the work of universities which accomplished not much.
As to cash, the most significant amount is a $250m Medical Research Innovation Fund (but don’t get too excited), “backed equally by public and private contributions.”  That Senator Carr bothers to mention $2.5m for studies into improving access to higher education in low participation areas demonstrates Labor is really scratching for something to say.
A big deal this is not. Still many of the higher education lobbies worked hard to be nice.
The Australian Technology Network was enthusiastic about industry links. While Universities Australia and the Group of Eight expressed “disappointment” that neither Labor nor the Coalition have committed to reversing the April cuts they both were as positive and polite as they could manage. The Regional Universities Network applied its standard operating procedure approving of the bits that meant more money for members.
It was left to the Innovative Research Universities to make the point the party didn’t. “The Labor innovation policy confirms the major improvements in the support for higher education and research outcomes over the past six years. The policy rightly emphasises the government’s achievements and sets out further elements to be pursued if returned.”
And that must include demand driven funding, about which not much was said, beyond the increase in spending it involves. Perhaps Senator Carr blurred this brand when he started talking about requiring higher quality  undergraduates, when he returned to the ministry. Maybe strategists worry raising demand driven funding will lead to questions about the Lomax-Smith Review (although I doubt many Labor election insiders have heard of it.) Or it could be Labor MPs are just sick of talking about open access. Whatever the reason, the best thing in Labor’s record is underplayed.

Wait, there’s a winner!

Senator Carr has good news for international education. Of course the key points aren’t that new.  The Fin reported easier visas for international further education students yesterday and CMM tipped the big news – that Labor was in favour of the key Chaney report proposal, for a peak industry council a couple of weeks back. Which Senator Carr says it is. While there is no detail, an industry council for the export education industry, which reports to the minister and listen to the private as well as public sectors is a good thing. So is the proposal for an industry advocate, if only to protect providers against over zealous regulators. (I wonder how things are at TEQSA.)

While the Libs keep schtum

Where, asks Conor King from the IRU is the conservative’s policy. “The Coalition has stated its broad support for the major changes introduced by the government. It now needs to release its higher education and research policy to confirm that support and outline the particular initiatives it proposes.” Fair enough but three days out I wonder whether they Libs will think it is more trouble than its worth, what with the way their opponents are keen to assume the worst.
In the case of the National Tertiary Education Union very keen indeed. According to National President Jeannie Rea; “the real reason for Tony Abbott’s silence on university funding in this election is because he does not want to reveal his real agenda – to increase the cost of going to universities for Australian students and their families … Unless he is prepared to rule out increases in HECS fees and re-introducing full fees, the public can only conclude that under an Abbott government a first degree will cost a second mortgage.” Which makes as much sense as arguing that because Labor cut funding in April and have not ruled out selling professors into servitude they are measuring VCs for chains.
Given the conservatives backed demand driven funding, the biggest change in a generation why is the union’s so anxious about a conservative government? It’s clear if you read to the end, where Ms Rea warns; “the other crucial question is whether the Coalition will rule out linking industrial relations conditions to university funding.” It’s a reference to the Howard Government’s requirement of universities that they exclude the union from enterprise bargaining.

The CRC for magic puddings

Buried in Senator Carr’s platform there is a reference to “priority research into the growing threat posed by antibiotic resistance.” Good oh, but what is the source of the $45 million promised? The Senator mentions “the next cooperative research centre” round, which could mean a good deal less dough for new and renewing centres to compete for. There is also a Coalition commitment to create a Northern Australia CRC. All of this could well make applicants for the round to be announced at the end of the year relieved they got in ahead of yet another slice of the supposed CRC magic pudding.  I hear 12 of 17 bids in the present round made it to the second stage, five being new and the remainder renewing proposals.

So much serenity

ABC Canberra reports that an ACT delegation of Chief Minister Katy Gallagher and VCs Stephen Parker and Ian Young, is in China promoting Canberra as an education destination. Apparently they are finding people think their patch is too quiet. I suspect Professor Young, who has faced student protests over academic restructures for over a year now, wishes it was even more so. But maybe Professor Parker, known to front a rock band called The Hip Replacements (no I did not make that up) could promise to liven the joint up a bit.

No joy joyce

The Armidale Express reports the Greens and three minor party candidates were down to attend a candidate forum on higher education at the University of New England yesterday. Labor’s Stephen Hewitt could not make it, neither could the Nationals candidate, some bloke called Barnaby something.

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