Abbott attacks academics (finally)

World Bore Z

The University of Sydney Union is hosting a human v zombies game in October. But how will anybody tell the two sides apart?

Finally Abbott attacks universities

It was a long time coming but no conservative campaign against government “waste” is complete without a promise to cut whacky research. It turned up last night with Simon Benson’s exclusive in News Limited papers that an Abbott Government will cut “obscure” research, one example given is public art on climate change. Of course we were warned, back in February Tony Abbott told a Universities Australia conference that medical research was important work which would be helped by a Coalition government. But he said nothing about the rest of the research effort. The implication was obvious. The NHRMC will prosper but all those ivory tower irrelevant academics funded by the ARC should watch out. And now it is spelt it out. Will there be an intervention in the ARC grants process? I doubt it, no sensible minister would open the government to the legitimate criticism that would follow. But there will be less new funding for non STEM grant programs. For the last few days the NTEU, Labor and the Greens have attacked the Libs over what they might do in government. Now they have something solid to work with. The deplore-a-grams should begin by mid morning. No, I’m wrong. Christine Milne attacked the plan on Radio National at 7.40am.

Prediction of the day

John Wanna from ANU tells News Limited papers that in the Senate the Greens will go backward, polling 7 per cent to 10 per cent. In Queensland, he says they are no hope for either of the final two spots (the Katter and Palmer parties will slug it out).

You don’t say

The Centre for Explaining the Obvious reports this morning, “Australia’s existing economic policy settings and our politicians’ obsession with returning the country to surplus are sending mixed signals, a University of Melbourne study has found.”

Tough numbers

As the incoming minister grapples with the portfolio next week he/she/ will wonder who to believe among conflicting claims that university staff are under/over paid and worked, and so on. Fortunately there is all sort of informative data out there, some of which CMM has happened across. Here’s a snapshot of the entire Australian public system.
Wages: in 2010 universities were spending 50.71 per cent of income on employment costs. Last year it was up to 53.8 per cent
HR people to all staff: 1.84 per cent in 2008, 1.94 per cent in 2012. (As few as that I hear you say).
Ratio of faculty staff (including casuals) to central service people: Effectively stable, with faculties employing around 67 per cent over the last few years. And if that sounds like more academics than on your campus it’s because the faculty figure includes 38 per cent general staff.
Casuals: If you are embarrassed because your university relies on poorly paid insecurely employed Level A academics, relax, it is not uniquely awful. Nearly 36 per cent of academics are fixed term and more than 85 per cent of those that are at Level A.
Qualifications: Who would have thought 30 per cent of academics still don’t have doctorates!
Gender: In 2008 42.15 per cent of academics were women. Last year it was up, barely, to 43.83 per cent. But the per centage of women in senior management actually dropped a bit, from 35.21 per cent in 2008 to 34.96 per cent last year
 Staff who are sick of it: Are not all that common. In 2008 10.47 per cent of staff left of their own volition. This was down to 7.95 per cent last year.

Between Buckley and Barnaby

A plan for a  $500m “Mayo Clinic” at the University of New England has buckleys according to Nationals Party candidate for the local electorate Barnaby Joyce, as reported by the Armidale Express. Sounds like an election promise that will be kept.

Age and cunning

The National Tertiary Education Union is urging older Australian National University employees to think before they jump as management encourages 55 plus people into early retirement. According to the union’s ACT secretary, Stephen Darwin, the local employment market is about to get a lot tighter (gosh, whatever is he referring to?) and workers should think twice about accepting what he calls management’s “financial encouragement”. He has a point for anybody not anxious to be out of there. If people are being offered less than they would receive from a redundancy under the university’s enterprise bargain the cash case for sitting tight and waiting to see what happens seems strong.
Mr Darwin also alleges senior, as in age, staff are being leant on to leave and the union is investigating. “We will not hesitate to take these matters up,” he says. I would believe him if I were ANU.

 John who?

“I’m in solidarity with staff at Swinburne Uni taking action to protect the future of higher ed,” Greens MP John Kaye tweeted yesterday. As a member of the NSW Legislative Council Mr Kaye’s commitment undoubtedly encouraged the two striking Swinburne staff who know who he is.

Not a matter of principal

Every now and again a philanthropist donates a bucket of money to a university, leading to cross vice chancellors asking development directors when their cargo will arrive. Of course it isn’t quite like that, the loot is rarely given in one go – demonstrated by the new edition of the Australian Centre for Philanthropy’s report by Myles McGregor-Lowndes and Emma Pelling. While education (of all sorts) has received $100 million or so in distributed income since the turn of the century deductible gift recipients in the category actually went backwards in 2010-11. While the year before was a record with $18.4m distributed, ’11-’12 saw a drop to $14m.

Popularity poll

By the time Charles Sturt University campaigners are finished, the first course taught by the Murray Darling Medical School will be on resuscitating people bored into comas. As people on Mars may not know, the MDMS is a proposal for a new bush medical school being pushed by La Trobe and (relentlessly) CSU. The campaign has an election commitment from the Nationals and endorsements by other major party candidates. Just to remind them how popular the plan is CSU has announced MDMS now has 50,000 Facebook friends. Does this matter a hill of beans? No. Will it encourage CSU VC Andy Vann to keep campaigning? You can bet your stethoscope on it.

Apprentice Abyss

Give the less low than subterranean profile of education and training in the election nobody much will necessarily notice, but yesterday’s training numbers were not great. According to the National Centre for Vocational Education Research, the number of commencing apprentices and trainees was down 9.4 per cent in the year to March 31. The overall number of apprentices and trainees was also down, by 5 per cent. Much of the decline in starts seems due to changes in Commonwealth subsidies. In June 2012, when the old rate stopped there were 125,000 starts, the figure for the next quarter was barely a third.

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