Senate committee set to stall Pyne package

Plus Ian Chubb leads the winners of the week

CSI St Lucia

The University of Queensland will launch a new MOOC on the psychology of murder investigations next month. “Witness when the crime is committed, be involved in the investigation and follow the trial from the perspective of the eyewitness, an interviewer and a juror,” the blurb promises. Good for UoQ – who says entertainment in education is a hanging offence?

More debtors

Labor WA member Alannah McTiernan is a smart (the smartest) cookie – and rather than just talk about how many people with student debt will be slugged retrospectively with higher HECS interest if the government’s plan proceeds she has dug up some numbers. Some very big numbers. According to Tax Office stats there were 1.175 million Australians with HELP debt at the end of the 2011-12 financial year. As Conor King from the Innovative Research Universities points out, student debt is far from a minority interest. But what’s interesting is that under the existing CPI interest rate arrangement what they owe may not matter all that much to debtors- because graduates’ debts diminish fast as incomes increase. While there were 256,000 people in the $10 000 to $20 000 income bracket (presumably people still studying) there were 80 000 in the middle income $60 000 to $70 000 range. The problem for the government is how many of this crucial group would find it harder to get their debt down with a real interest rate.

Grand Alliance

Usual higher education hostilities between various lobbies are suspended as university lobbies face up to a Senate committee inquiry into the government’s deregulation legislation (below). As the Group of Eight put it yesterday. “The impressive leadership of Universities Australia Chair, Professor Sandra Harding, and CEO Belinda Robinson, with support from UA Deputy Chair, Warren Bebbington, Go8 Chair, Ian Young and others, has harnessed diverse interests in support of key reform elements.”

Rishworth lets it rip

Labor finally attacked in Reps Question Time yesterday with shadow higher education minister Amanda Rishworth hopping into Chris Pyne. And to prove it wasn’t a fluke she came back for a second go. Both questions focused on Labor’s core themes – student debt and that the government did not say before the election it wanted to jack up fees. Mr Pyne batted them away but the fact they were asked at all indicates Labor is starting to think it is on a winner. Mr Pyne’s legislation passed the House last night but on the politics this week it was a pyrrhic victory for the package.

Crook Christmas

Back in July UWS VC Barney Glover invited consultants the Nous Group to implement the report on structures by other consultants, Ernst and Young (CMM July 16). It sounded like the sound of scythes sharpening for general staff then and now it seems they are about to swing. “The next step is consultation with heads of divisional areas to generate ideas on how divisional services could operate more efficiently. Initially, Nous Group consultants will meet with a small number of heads of divisions to gather their input on approaches to increasing efficiency and reducing costs. … Over time, all divisions will be requested to contribute,” Professor Glover told staff yesterday. The review will be complete by years end with “any organisational changes” announced early in the new year. It’s going to be a nervous Christmas at UWS.

Politics v policy

Sandra Harding’s first response to the Pyne package after the budget was to call for consultation. Well, the UA president will get her wish, sort of. Instead of vice chancellors graciously considering the legislation the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee will, at length. On Wednesday night the government tried to move things along by sending the deregulation legislation to committee immediately, for a report this month. However the Senate wasn’t having it and the committee will report by October 28. There are only two Senate sitting weeks after then (w/c November 24 and w/c December 1) which may mean it is next year before the legislation is first voted on in the upper house. If it is knocked back then and goes back to the Reps it could be well into 2015 before the the upper house has its final say. Minister Pyne says he is a patient man – he will need to be.

There are two proposed lists of organisations and individuals the committee could seek evidence or submissions from. Labor’s via South Australian senator Anne McEwen proposes, “universities, higher education policy experts, staff, students, industry and unions.” The government’s is much more specific, naming UNSW Chancellor David Gonski, plus nine VCs and Jim Barber (ex UNE VC) as well as four lobby leaders and industry experts. Senate committee hearings often go unremarked. Not this time.

Agreeable inquiries

Christine Ewan has started work on her Office of Learning and Teaching funded fellowship with the Higher Education Standards Panel. Her project is “national consensus on higher education standards in a disaggregated learning environment.” I wonder what people at TEQSA will say if asked about consensus.

Winners of the week

In the world where people get things done there were winners this week. Like Joanne Austin from Swinburne University, who received the Association for Tertiary Education Management’s presidential award. People who dismiss university administrators as unnecessary have never seen the mayhem that occurs without them – they too rarely receive the recognition they merit. Rodd Camm, now head of the National Centre for Vocational Education Research, also had a big week, appointed to run the Australian Council for Private Education and Training on the eve of what could be a complete transformation of its industry. If the Senate agrees to extend public funding for undergraduates to ACPET members Mr Camm will have to protect his members’ reputation against fierce criticism from public universities. If the Senate knocks access back he will have to start making the case for funding from scratch. And Tim Dunne did well. The Executive Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Queensland has a plan in place, without any apparent outcry, to fold the journalism school into English and media studies. It is a masterpiece of process. Christine Ewan (above) also wins, beginning work on her Higher Education Standards Panel research on consensus in the system during change. Professor Ewan has navigated her way through enough organisations in her time to know what to look for.

The week’s biggest winner is Chief Scientist Ian Chubb whose STEM strategy paper was launched by Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane and universally admired by the science community. Off and on Professor Chubb has worked at the interface of research and public policy for 30 years and if anybody can create a national science and engineering policy he can. We will know if he has managed it when Mr Macfarlane speaks.

Optimistic interpretation

MP Fiona Scott (Liberal-Lindsay) has skin in the deregulation debate, what with having a big UWS campus on her patch, so she needs to find positives wherever she can. Which is why, she suggested the university’s move to protect second semester 2014 enrollers from fee hikes in the budget demonstrated how students will benefit as universities maximise opportunities if deregulation occurs. True, but Ms Scott failed to mention that UWS acted because it has no idea what the 2016 retrospective fee rise (if the budget passes) will be and did not know what to quote students.

Starbuckers sign on

Back in June Starbucks announced a deal with Arizona State University to pay for employees to study online. As CMM reported (June 17) it took about an hour for the carping to commence, “staff have to be enrolled as full-time students to qualify, they will need expensive bandwidth to study, it is just a plot to monetize MOOCs.” But it seems Starbuckers like the idea, with 4000 applying. So what’s in it for Starbucks? The only development I can find is that there is now a Starbucks take-away coffee truck on an ASU campus – which does not seem like the source of enough quids for a pro quo.

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