Real universities research

Plus Sydney’s Spence: optimist, pessimist realist

Cop that Clive

Clive Palmer can get Al Gore to Canberra but Torrens University is hosting Bill Clinton in Adelaide for its launch tomorrow. President Clinton is honorary chancellor of Torrens’s owner, the Laureate chain. I give it to lunchtime before Chris Pyne points to the visit as an example of what deregulation can deliver.

Those who can, research

The idea that other universities should give up research and only teach is popular with the Group of Eight. Advocates of deregulation also make a credible case that there is honour in teaching-only universities. But the obvious candidates for the role, bush universities, barely a generation removed from being teaching colleges, are not having a bar of it. “The emphasis on research and teaching is one of the distinctive characteristics of the Australian university. The impact of research undertaken by regional universities on our regions is significant. Researchers grounded in place approach their research with a specific local perspective very difficult to achieve by others from outside,” Regional Universities Network chief Peter Lee told a conference yesterday. What’s more, members of RUN are required to research, “(it) is a vital part of being a university – it is written into our founding acts and it is strategic and sensible for us to undertake this activity,” Professor Lee said. This is less a message to Minister Pyne than a flashing neon sign, stating that even if deregulation occurs every university mission will remain much the same. Dawkins iron law of uniformity, that all Australian universities are equally excellent, (when adjusted for age, income and achievement) still holds.

Optimist, pessimist or realist

Michael Spence thinks the Pyne package will pass! Yesterday the University of Sydney vice chancellor updated staff, “about how we are preparing for the new legislative environment when it is finalised.” Dr Spence has convened a working group, which meets for the first time today on fees and bursaries. But what of the petition launched by university senate members calling on Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson to convene convocation to debate deregulation? A university spokesperson says the formal request is yet to reach the chancellor but it is expected “soon”.

Won’t be a first

Students at the Australian National University are pushing for Vice Chancellor Ian Young to convene convocation to discuss deregulation as well, but I’m guessing it is not going to happen. The university has no record of a convocation ever occurring and there are no rules setting out the standing of anything a meeting decided. In any case, most students, not being graduates could not attend. Professor Young is said to have met with student leaders yesterday and offered to host a forum on deregulation next month.

Big pay days

The Group of Eight continues to make its case for student fees with a new paper on graduate income. The Go8 argues that statistical flaws in post budget analyses mean many underestimate the earnings benefit of higher education, especially over time. According to the Eight, the typical graduate starts work on $50 000 a year and then enjoys wages growth of 5.7 per cent pa for the next five. Over time graduate wage growth exceeds inflation by 2 per cent per annum. As to claims there are many low wage graduates, they are more likely than other comparable income earners to be working part time. The graduate unemployment rate is also half that of the rest of the workforce. Will the paper stop claims that graduates cannot afford to pay more HECS? Probably not.

CAPA comrades

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations says all Labor senators now endorse the petition opposing course costs for research postgraduates (CMM yesterday). Time to get cracking on the crossbench.

At last, agreement at Adelaide

University and management at the University of Adelaide have reached an in-principle deal on a new enterprise agreement. It ends what appears from the outside to be interminable and at times intemperate negotiations, which stalled over conditions long before money was even on the agenda. The pay rise is 3 per cent per annum for four years from 2014. It includes “clearer guidelines” on workload allocation and organisational change and expanded access to training for professional staff. It also “reaffirms supportive measures for indigenous staff, new parents and families.”

Research management

You know the next Excellence in Research for Australia round draws near when articles start explaining how the Australian Research Council really should do a better job dishing out the dosh. One of the first of the new crop (although the authors don’t go the ARC by name) appeared yesterday, @ The Conversation. Paul Jensen and Elizabeth Webster from the University of Melbourne suggest “the majority of researchers see the system as arcane, overly bureaucratic and wildly inefficient.” They go on to criticise the way people have to publish before ideas are complete to meet publication metrics and point to the randomness of peer review and funding decisions. So what is to be done? Hard to say really, given “we are still ignorant about what works – and what does not work – when it comes to effective research mechanisms.” But for a start Australia needs datasets that show how research investment flows through the economy. Good-oh, but you have to wonder whether this would be criticised, and gamed, like every other metric. There must be days when ARC chief Aidan Byrne wonders why he bothers.

Cormac country

No one is ever going to accuse Cormac McCarthy of sunny optimism, if you think his The Road is the bleakest you haven’t read Blood Meridian. McCarthy is a compelling writer, a novelist read by men who do not read novels and a suitable subject for study, which will occur at University Western Sydney, Parramatta for the rest of the week at a conference on his work. Registrations are closed but I doubt they will peg you out to shrivel under the hot western sun if you politely ask to attend.

What hath Wollongong wrought

University of Wollongong VC Paul Wellings wrote a piece the other week supporting deregulation, which upset university council member Michael Zelinsky who went public. And there it would have ended if somebody in the university administration had not written to Mr Zelinsky reminding him of his obligations as a member of council to stay shtum – the substance of which somehow found its way to the local Illawarra Mercury. The issue is still bubbling along with National Tertiary Education Union State Secretary Genevieve Kelly scheduled to address a meeting, “on what we can do to defend our education”. I’m guessing it will get a good run in the Mercury.

Terrific Tuckwells

ANU has announced the Tuckwell Scholarships, which pay elite commencing undergraduates $22 000 a year to study at the university. The awards, which commenced last year, are funded from a $50m fund established by Graham and Louise Tuckwell. This year’s Tuckwell scholars are similar to their predecessors. They split close to evenly on gender, with 13 coming from public (including four from selectives) schools and 11 from the non-government sector.

CRCs still waiting

The long awaited review of the CRC program is still awaited. The last I heard was that the brief and proposal for a reviewer was in the PMO awaiting the tick. But who knows, results of last year’s round dragged on for months, allegedly for the same reason. It is hard to imagine the PM’s advisers caring that much. The CRC Association says if the review is announced soon and is given six months it could be complete in time for the next application round as normal. But on present form that is a biggish if.

While they wait CRC-ites interpret the delphic statements of Parliamentary Secretary Bob Baldwin who covers for Industry Minister Macfarlane at events. The other week he told a conference that the government wants centres to be self-sustaining, which puzzled some in his audience given the idea is they shut-down when their work is done.

Tag team

A reader suggests that UWS staff anxious at what the Nous Group will do to apply last year’s Ernst and Young review should talk to people at Victoria University – where exactly the same sequence occurred.

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