Sorcerer Kim wallops Apprentice Pyne

Beware of mamils

Deakin researcher Katie Rowe has found may reasons why women struggle to get back on the bike; “it’s fraught with panic, grappling with a high tech piece of technology that has a mind of its own in a competitive world frequented by Middle Aged Men in Lycra (MAMiLs).

A win for Sorcerer Kim 

There was dancing in the cyber streets yesterday as Labor university spokesman Kim Carr announced “Labor will not back Coalition’s cynical move to go ahead with $2.3bn in higher education savings after abandoning the 6 year plan they were funding.” Um, never mind that idea of cuts came from Labor and that the government has already cancelled a fair swag of the original $2.9bn. Or that the government is committed to spending about as much as was in the six-year school plan (as far as anybody could tell yesterday) Senator Carr refers to. None of this bothered the usual suspects who cheered him to the echo. “Labor shows strong support for universities and their students,” the National Tertiary Education Union announced, adding it was “sound policy in an unsound political environment.” The National Union of Students agreed, as did the postgraduates association, which argued cutting university funding to increase school support was always a bad idea. “World-class school students expect world-class universities – it makes absolutely no sense to fund one while you are gutting the other,” president Meghan Hopper said.
Funnily enough Minister Pyne was not pleased – in a statement which was much easier to understand than his various explanations of school funding he got stuck in. “In a deeply hypocritical move, Labor has announced they will no longer support their own savings measures for higher education.” He added that it is “a complete furphy” that Labor in office ever planned to put all the cash from universities straight into schools because it needed money to help with “its overall fiscal mess.”
This will do Mr Pyne no good – he has misplayed the politics and people will now think that just as he wanted to cut school funding so he planned to take money away from higher education. Thanks to Apprentice Pyne, Sorcerer Kim has converted base metal into political gold.
Of course the fate of the $900m Labor cut out of universities in April is still not decided – and the grownups know it. “The fate of uni funding cuts yet to be determined but we are pleased Labor has reversed its view,” Universities Australia announced. “There is a lot of politics to come before we know the end point,” Innovative Research Universities director Conor King said yesterday. “Funding for Australia’s universities must not be allowed to become a game of political ‘one-upmanship’, ” the Australian Technology Network’s Vicki Thomson added. All true. But for the moment at least politics is back to the way Labor likes it –with Wizard Kim able to argue the conservative are the enemies of education.

Mixed metaphor of the month

Yes, I know it’s early but this one will be hard to beat. It comes from the Academy of Science’s call for a successor to the Future Fellowship scheme (below) when it ends next year; “We must find a replacement for this successful program and stop the potential brain-drain before it builds up a head of steam.”

Teacher education on the agenda

Chris Pyne caught a break last night with the release of the OECD’s PISA school performance stats, which show Australia sliding on a range of student indicators, especially maths and reading. It gave the minister the chance to claim more money for school budgets does not equate to better outcomes. And it allowed him to set the scene for his coming push on teacher education. “PISA has found that in Australia it matters more which teacher you are allocated as opposed to which school you attend,” he said. A very big blue over who is accepted into teacher education degrees and what they are taught is coming after Christmas.

Redundancies! Heavens, where did that idea come from? 

Sandra Harding has hastened slowly in her restructure plans, which date from consideration of new directions for James Cook University last March. But hasten the vice chancellor has, with consultations on a reorganisation of “the headline structure of the university” to occur in coming weeks. Yes over the somnolent summer when universities are not always active. But why the rush to take a proposal to council in February? Perhaps Professor Harding wants to get cracking, having lost this year to long and at times bitter enterprise bargaining. Managing a restructure during industrial negotiations would have made for less confusion and more chaos. Even now with a new agreement in place Professor Harding does now want to spook staff, talking about “releasing a proposed voluntary redundancy program to allow staff, who may wish to do, the option to look at voluntary measures for their own future.” A “proposed” program huh? Cynics could suggest that the vice chancellor would not put a proposal on the table if she was not serious about it. And they might also argue that this plan is about saving money, and fast. Sure Professor Harding says, “the proposed changes to the university’s structure were not about cost reduction but rather about positioning JCU for the future.” But she goes on to make it plain that while a separate issue the university faces a $26m cut and “that as a result” there is the proposal for head losses. As to how many heads who knows? The Cairns Post reports “more than 50” are involved but the university says that isn’t an official number, that 50 accounts for everybody in the senior management and that there is no decision on how many might be involved. Which will cheer them all up for Christmas. Not.

RiAus would never sneer

Well maybe a bit, “To the layperson, a climate change model is nothing more than Miranda Kerr in a swimsuit (in fact, CSIRO scientists have found that by feeding a fashion model regularly you can eventually grow a woman).” RiAus has a go (scroll down) at people who it thinks are too thin or aren’t sufficiently smart while promoting an event in its program for the Adelaide Fringe Festival in February.

Santa in a lab coat

The Australian Academy of Science can spot a trap, demonstrated by its submission to the Commission of Audit. While acknowledging the commission’s brief to find ways for the commonwealth to live within its means it explains that the only way to do this is “through innovation-led productivity gains, and by ensuring that Australia is adequately prepared to meet the future challenges. Strategic support for Australian science and science education is essential to achieving the goals set for the Commission.” An (uncosted) wish list follows including more “career fellowship schemes”, “a long-term sustainable plan to properly operate and maintain Australia’s major research facilities, “ongoing funding” for specific school science programs and a “long term plan for international science collaboration.” That it? Not quite. “The Australian Academy of Science is a core component of the science system. By being able to draw on the expertise of its Fellowship, pro bono, the academy is an excellent example of an organisation from where activities can be effectively carried by the not-government sector. The Academy receives only a very small amount of public funding each year but delivers real benefits for the nation. The academy stands ready to assist the government in undertaking a range of important initiatives.” No harm in asking. There is a strong case for all of them – but in the absence of offsets or even ideas, however general, on how science funding can assist the commissioners’ meet their brief it is hard to see how they specifically recommend anything the academy asks for.

A grand gift

You probably will not read much about Dale Alcock this morning, which is not right. Mr Alcock is a Perth builder whose dad was also a builder and died of mesothelioma. Yesterday a Housing Industry Association charity and the Alcock Brown Neaves company donated $350,000 to the University of Western Australia to fund genomic research into the disease. It’s not much compared to the headline generating $50m hits for scholarships and research that we are starting to get used to. But it is equally, perhaps more, important. We will have a real culture of philanthropy  when  people of much more modest means than mining barons and financial engineers believe there is no better way  to honour people they love and defeat diseases they hate than to fund research and education. Mr Alcock and his associates set a great example.

Gosh, thanks

“In recognition of her work on diseases affecting Asian sea bass, aquatic animal health lecturer Dr Susan Gibson-Kueh has had a parasite named in her honour,” Murdoch University reports.

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