Pyne warns: “universities will close”

Plus Great Eight ignored

Research excellence

CSIRO reported yesterday, “ ‘Stewardess’ is the longest word you can type with your left hand. No, wait, it’s ‘stewardesses’. ” I wonder if this was peer-reviewed and how widely it will be cited (you can type that left-handed too).

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All-star agree-a-thon

The witness list for the Opposition initiated Senate inquiry into the “principles” (sic) underpinning the Pyne package on Friday includes many prominent people who do not like the proposal at all. There are student reps plus Jeannie Rea and Paul Kniest from the National Tertiary Education Union. Others are likely to offer more nuanced responses, including Conor King from the Innovative Research Universities, who commended the Bruce ChapmanDavid Phillips proposal to the committee. That dynamic duo will also appear. As will Dr Gwilym Croucher, principal policy adviser at the University of Melbourne, whom I’m guessing is not attending in a personal capacity. If so, his evidence will be especially interesting, given Vice Chancellor Glyn Davis, once vocal in the debate has not had all that much to say since the budget. What is interesting is the absence of university peak bodies, other than the IRU. The Regional Universities Network will not be there, nor the Australian Technology Network, or the Group of Eight – even Universities Australia will be absent.

Yes, they would likely have said what senators have heard before – but committee members are expecting something new from the NTEU?

 Ignored eight

Gluttons for punishment will then have to wait around for the government initiated Senate committee hearing on the deregulation legislation to start at 4pm. It was scheduled for Friday night but is now brought forward until late afternoon, presumably in time for senators to make flights. The witness list is much shorter, but equally interesting. Universities Australia is there so are TAFE Directors Australia, and the private VET and higher education lobbies. Professor Bruce Chapman appears again, as does the NTEU. Notice who is missing, again? – the Group of Eight!

Spot the flaw

Reuters reports a study of penis size by Kings College Hospital, London, that found “most penises are normal.” Just like all the children are above average in Garrison Keilor’s Lake Woebegone.

“Some universities will close”

Education Minister Christopher Pyne claims universities will close if deregulation does not pass. In Question Time yesterday he said Labor shadow minister Kim Carr believes that the need for demand driven funding is now met. But without the revenue from increasing numbers of students “some universities will close,” the minister warned. However Mr Pyne did not explain why demand-driving funding is inextricably linked to deregulation. Mr Pyne also reiterated his warning that the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme and the Future Fellows Programme will run out of money this year unless deregulation is adopted. It was a strong performance on a bad day for Mr Pyne (below).

I asked his office which universities would go broke if demand driven funding ends but funnily enough there was no reply.

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The i has it

RCN Publishing has changed its name to RCNi. The new brand reflects more accurately the organisation’s continued evolution towards developing diverse online tools and products.” And so forth, and so on. I wonder how much that advice cost the research information organisation charged a bomb for that.

Good start to a bad day

The government started strongly on deregulation yesterday. On an early edition of AM Prime Minister Abbott argued that university deregulation was different to the now buried Medicare co-payment, because while doctors opposed the latter, vice chancellors supported the former. And he mentioned Senator Zenyha Wang (PUP-WA) as a crossbench senator who understood the need for university reform. But that was as good as the day got because even before the Pyne Package MkII is debated by the Senate, MkIII was knocked off. This is Bruce Chapman’s proposal to sort-of deregulate undergraduate fees with universities charging what they like but government funding tapering off the more they charge above a system-wide cap. Mr Pyne all but endorsed it as an option when he gave Professor Chapman and colleague David Phillips access to his department’s experts to work on the idea in January. And yesterday he put it on the record, confirming that it was being discussed with cross benchers. Just not for long, PUP party leader Clive Palmer and the PUP senators, notably Senator Wang, ruled out, yet again, voting for deregulation at lunchtime.

It is a bit hard to imagine what more Mr Pyne can offer and still keep his face straight while discussing deregulation. Professor Chapman and Mr Phillips’ proposal left the government with the power to punish universities that charged up or tried to game the system. Thus Chapman and Phillips pointed to four specific decisions the government would have to make in setting prices; at what level (course/discipline) price ceilings would be set, what would institutions have to charge students to lose all public funding for a course, the rate at which the subsidy would drop as prices above the ceiling increased. This would have made for endless amusement among officials and lobbyists as they argued over the rules. And that before anybody addressed the big issue – who would set the prices universities could charge before they started to lose revenue, the minister, his delegate, an independent agency?

Last night Mr Pyne reiterated his warning. “The funds for NCRIS only exist because of savings elsewhere in the higher education package. … Labor needs to stop playing politics and enter negotiations with the government because  it will be on the heads of Labor, the Greens and the cross benchers if it closes,” the minister said. Good luck with that one. The Greens and PUP senators can promise everybody everything because they will never have to deliver a budget. But Senator Carr‘s opposition is so adamant that there is no room for Labor to move for as long as he is in the portfolio.

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Honoured in memory

Last night the University of Adelaide held the annual South Australian service commemorating the memory of people who willed their bodies to science over the 130 years UoA and then the state’s other two long-established universities have used corpses in teaching and research. A nice, indeed for those who loved the donors, often necessary gesture.

ACPET ups response

Another day, another set of allegations against a for-profit provider. Yesterday the Australian Council for Private Education and Training committed to investigating allegations against Evocca College. If there is substance in them ACPET says it may expel Evocca. Good-o, especially as the council was recently keen on Evocca which claims on its website, “we were recently voted the number one Vocational Education Provider in Australia (ACPET 2013).”

This is much tougher than ACPET’s response to allegations against major trainer Careers Australia last week. CA has terminated the contract of a broker whose actions led to the allegations, and that appears to have satisfied ACPET. However, CA chief Patrick McKendry stood down as deputy chair of the government’s Vocational Education and Training Board on Friday.

Student visa apps increase

Demand in the international education market continues to grow with the Department of Immigration reporting 73 000 student visa applications lodged in the December quarter, a 2.8 per cent increase. Grant rates for onshore and offshore applications are in line with the previous year at around 90 per cent. Overall China and India continue to be the largest sources of aspiring students. In the first half of this financial year some 33 000 people from China and 19 000 from India applied for student visas.

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