Scramble for savings: what could the government cut?

Rrraaacing 

The University of Melbourne’s Dr Siobhan O’Sullivan is keen to comment on the ethics of horse racing. What are the odds she gets a run today?

Scramble for savings 

On the weekend pundit Peter van Onselen, (he combines a Winthrop chair at the University of Western Australia with a commentator’s commission at The Australian) suggested, “the word is” (Education Minister Christopher Pyne) “will take a funding axe” to higher education. If PvO (to his pals) is right the Minister would be wise to use a scalpel instead, because the big easy cuts are already made. The National Tertiary Education Union’s Paul Kneist shows how, in a paper for the general staff conference that starts in Adelaide today. For a start Labor has already taken, or budgeted to take, $4.55bn out of higher education since 2010. With the Abbott Government committed to passing the $2.3bn April tranche of the total this means a reduction of $600 per commonwealth supported student place between 2012 and 2015. Which surely does not give the government much room to cut further, at least not without a very big blue indeed. Given the Prime Minister’s repeated expressions of affection for medical researchers the government will not cut, indeed will likely increase, their funding. While the money to do it could well come from the Australian Research Council this will not make for an overall saving. Nor, given that Minister Pyne is not hinting at the end of demand driven funding, is a cap on places possible. So what’s left? Try a hike in student loans with more courses moved to the top repayment level. Unless of course the Commission of Audit has bigger ideas.

Gone from Griffith

Griffith University is having a bad run, losing two senior women in weeks. First comms director Meredith Jackson left to become Chris Pyne’s chief of staff. And now international director Nicole Brigg is moving to a similar job at Macquarie University.

Through gritted teeth

That South Australia is skint is not news but it seems the state of its skintness is severe with the government scrambling to save wherever it can – and one of those places is its dental service, which creates problems for dentistry at the University of Adelaide. The public practitioners were expected to move when the university relocates medicine, nursing and dentistry to new quarters near the whizz-bang Royal Adelaide hospital complex now being built in the city’s West End fringe. This makes sense, dental students and academics need access to people with crook teeth. However the government now says its clinic will stay where it is which will put students and lecturers at the other end of the city from patients when the new hospital opens. There could be more of the same to come. The long term plan is for the women and children’s’ hospital to relocate to the Royal Adelaide precinct – but the state has made no mention of taking the university’s adjacent researchers with them. This would mean patients in the West End and researchers a fair step across town near the cathedral. It looks like the fight over dentistry is a practise run for a much bigger stoush to come.

Font of nothing much 

UTS has a new logo, the third in 20 years and the university is very pleased indeed. “The update of the UTS logo reflects the evolution of the university as it strengthens its position in the tertiary sector as an innovative and forward-thinking institution,” the lead designer says. Course it does. Although, you have to wonder whether the new UTS logo is up there with Apple in communicating what the university brand is about. Still, it’s nice to see UTS is so awash with cash it can afford to spend a whack of marketing money on new livery.

Six forms under

The University of Tasmania reports research on how people can add preferences for end of life treatment and care to their Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record. Ah yes, that will be the PCEHR that Health Minister Peter Dutton described as “meaningless” saying doctors do not add information on patients who have files on the system.

Open access

The University of Western Sydney will accept all applicants for degrees and pathway programs from residents of the neighbouring Blue Mountains, hit by bad fires last month on the reasonable grounds that devastation is somewhat unsettling for people doing the HSC. Courses on offer are grouped into four categories aligned to ATAR ranges, although “specialist UWS programs, such as medicine, midwifery, physiotherapy, paramedicine and music, require additional selection criteria.” This all but open access approach is in line with the university’s philosophy. UWS has always sold hard on equity and regional identity with programs to help people with lower academic qualifications into study. And the idea that entry scores are no predictor of academic success is an article of faith there. As Vice Chancellor Jan Reid put it last year, students who grow up in disadvantaged suburbs have university entry score 12.5 per cent lower than those who come from the top 25 per cent of postcodes and UWS is committed to “admitting to university those whose family lives and educational fortunes have masked their real ability.”

Oh please

Labor MP Sharon Bird comes over all righteous on Twitter yesterday, “AiG report today again emphasises critical role of Lang&Literacy-where is the Abbott Gov when it comes to Skills?!” Please – it’s a bit rich for the one-time higher education minister to criticise the government before the new parliament actually sits. There will undoubtedly be lots of reasons to attack Chris Pyne but it’s a touch early yet.

Erudite and unemployed

The New York Times ran a new cut of the perennial “people with PhDs can do anything” story the other day. It was standard stuff, PhDs are flexible and innovative with the skills employers want – a superior version of the line universities run for undergraduate humanities degrees. The problem is that such abilities generally have nothing to do with what distinguishes people with new PhDs from other smart self-disciplined people – immense and arcane subject knowledge not often interesting to anybody outside universities.  Back in the 17th when I did a PhD in history I had to reinvent myself when I was done and as far as I can tell nothing has changed since. In STEM disciplines where doctorates are welcome in industry they are vocational training but in the humanities many, probably most, new PhDs are being prepared for jobs that do not exist outside universities. Sure the disconnect is a half century old, but it is still a disconnect.

Critical Mass

Coursera announces it has 5.2million students in 500 plus courses at 100 partner institutions. The US accounts for a third of enrolments with India (8.4 per cent) at number two but China is still well back, with 2.9 per cent of enrolments, not that far ahead of Australia. Coursera is the domain of geeks, with computer science accounting for around 40 per cent of enrolments. All this in not much more than 2 years! And yet some suggest it is just a passing fad. It does not look like it to me, or as Churchill would have put it, “some flash …, some pan!”

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