Pyne plants an idea

While at Swinburne management cops it sweet

Pyne puts an idea on the agenda

The response to Education Minister Christopher Pyne refusing to rule out privatising HECS debt on Monday night was much more muted, at least among the policy thinkers than when somebody first put the idea out there a fortnight back. Then it was condemned loudly and often by people making the obvious point that payments would need to increase to make it attractive to investors. Most hard heads decided it was the work of somebody in government shooting their off-the-record mouth off but I suspect this time is different. The Commission of Audit is now in place and it includes Amanda Vanstone whose view that graduates get too good a deal on debt repayment are well known (CMM October 23). Perhaps she has had a word in her South Australian colleague Mr Pyne’s shell-like. But even if so, does it matter? Sure, a bank could buy the loan book and use it as collateral to borrow cheaply but without a real interest rate, a reduced repayment threshold and tougher collection HECS is not much of an investment – unless the Commonwealth sells the debt at a discount, by 30 per cent some say, to raise around $15bn in current dollars. None of which will appeal to the ever-increasing army of young graduates. University of Central Queensland vice chancellor Scott Bowman summed it up yesterday; “I am OK with government selling off the HECs debt so long as there are safeguards and we ensure potential students are not scared off tertiary ed.” Quite. 
Perhaps this was just another Pyne thought bubble – a follow-up to his celebrated off-message musing about ending compulsory student union fees when first in the job. Don’t bet on it – Chris Pyne is too smart to make the same mistake twice. As Peter Reith said last night on The Drum, “The fact is Labor left the country with a massive debt. The incoming government has an obligation to look at all possibilities.” The groundwork for something is being laid which may never happen but I suspect Minister Pyne has a cunning plan.

Nostalgia by press release

Neil Overton, senior lecturer in art history and visual culture at Charles Sturt, Wagga Wagga remembers the late Lou Reed yesterday; “to my generation of the walking dissolute of the early 1970s, he was the grim, unsmiling voice of rock ’n roll.” Good to know.

History man

The days when Geoffrey Blainey was ostracised by academics for reasons that had less to do with the fine quality of his history than for daring to express unpopular political opinions are over – the University of Melbourne has long atoned for the shabby treatment Professor Blainey received from some on campus with an honorary doctorate of laws in 2007. Even so, for a scholar of such standing too much atonement is never enough and good on Uni Melb for announcing it will award him the Tucker Medal, “in recognition of his substantial contributions to the university, the faculty of arts and to public life.”

Swinburne plays nice

Swinburne University management is copping it sweet this morning in the face of a comprehensive walloping in the Federal Court, where it has defended an action brought by the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union. The comrades complained that the university did not consult with the union, as required, before announcing in July 2012 the closure of the Lilydale campus and the decision to move the design faculty from facilities at Hawthorn to Prahran. The university admitted it was at fault earlier this month when student and corporate services chief Stephen Beall emailed staff acknowledging, “it contravened the enterprise agreement. It agrees that the right of consultation provided for in the agreement is a right which is important to staff. It apologises to staff for this contravention and commits to observe its obligations under the Enterprise Agreement.”
This morning acting vice chancellor, Jennelle Kyd is announcing $40 000 in donations to community groups and that there will be an agreed approach on submissions to the court over penalties for the breach of the EA. “We want to ensure our people know their views and ideas on Swinburne’s future are important and valued,” Professor Kyd assures staff.
With this out of the way I imagine management now hopes they can sort out the big issue with the NTEU – a new enterprise agreement. Negotiations to date have been at times tense but management is picking up the pace now. On Monday Andrew Smith for management sent all staff a (very) long email detailing the state of negotiations. Let’s see what the NTEU says.

Image is all 

Now here’s a ranking that is actually worth something, at least to students hoping to be hired by global companies. The Emerging consultancy asks employers which universities produce the most employable graduates. There is no pretence to objectivity – it is all about opinion. Even so, it looks like every other ranking with the Brits and Yanks taking the top nine places. However the Europeans do better than usual on generally Anglo-centric league tables, notably the Germans (8 in the 150), Scandinavians (6) Dutch and Swiss (five each). And Asian universities are appearing – there are five universities from China in the 150, three from Hong Kong and two from Singapore and South Korea.
Australia does ok-ish, with ANU ranked 20th (up from 33 in 2012-although lord knows on what basis). Monash is stable at 33 and the University of New South Wales improves 11 places to 55. The surprise is the University of Melbourne, which enters the list in 50th place. No I don’t know why either they were not there in 2012.

Not noticed

I am starting to think the government isn’t interested in universities, it isn’t hostile, just not interested. Consider, for example the Regional Universities Network conference to be held at Southern Cross, Coolangatta next month. The highest profile government speaker is the Liberal Member for McPherson (a local electorate) Karen Andrews. Ms Andrews is the deputy chair of the coalition online education working group. This is an important subject for bush universities and Ms Andrews will undoubtedly have a great deal to say – but it seems strange that a meeting of a major regional constituency will not be graced by a National Party minister.
For those who can’t place her interest in education, Ms Andrews criticised the then Labor government during the debate on the Craig Emerson cuts in the House of Representatives at the end of May but when Adam Bandt moved to rescind them on June 20 she was not in the chamber for the vote.

A long slow summer

Following their colleagues at Parramatta last week some National Tertiary Education Union members at the University of Western Sydney’s Bankstown campus are out today as negotiations for a new enterprise agreement grind, or don’t, on. According to the union a big part of the problem is the university’s using “a team of lawyers” who can’t make decisions in negotiations. The union warns that if “nothing happens”, “we will take industrial action right through summer as the university launches its new summer semester study opportunities.”

Can hardly wait

The Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences breathlessly announces yesterday; “three more sleeps to our AGM.” It must be more fun than it sounds.

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