Sounds of silence: the scramjet is sunk, student surveys are forgotten and ministers have nothing to say

But good on Michael Spence for talking sense

Oh no, not a second Silent Chris

In opposition Chris Pyne up was not given to brooding silence. From getting chucked out of Question Time to endlessly energetic appearances in the media he used to have something to say about everything, and nothing. But now he is a minister – not a dickie bird for days. The word is he is still assembling a staff but he is certainly not asking any of the the usual suspects about the expertise  he needs.  Which raises an ominous question – if he is not talking to the university lobbies what sort of priority does Minister Pyne place on higher education. After long-serving Labor Minister “Silent Chris” Evans said little and did less a second “silent Chris” does not bear thinking about. Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane is in the same spot, maybe worse -he is said to still be in the market for a chief of staff. Maybe he is right to take his time, given the competing interests in the research community  people will make all sorts of assumptions on the basis of who he appoints.

It could have been worse

Union chief Jeannie Rea reports on the election,in  the National Tertiary Education Union’s edXpress. “The NTEU is currently assessing the effectiveness of the election campaign endorsed by the special meeting of the National Council in June, which focused on promoting the re-election of the Greens in the Senate, Andrew Wilkie in the seat of Denison (Hobart), and Adam Bandt in the seat of Melbourne, as consistent advocates for higher education.  These candidates were re-elected.” A million bucks well spent?

Or maybe not

Monash political scientist Nick Economou, edXpress, again. “The Senate, it would seem, has taken a significant shift to the right after three years of the Labor-Green majority obtained after the 2010 election. It is interesting to see how the Labor party, having been so soundly defeated after three years of muddling over the carbon tax and dividing itself over the question of leadership, has started its time in opposition by muddling over the carbon tax and being divided over leadership. Redemption, let alone revival, seems a long way off for the left-of-centre in Australian politics.”

Brainy but broke

U Tas PhD candidate Sophie Rigney tweets; “Hobart has the highest per capita number of PhDs in the country.” Given the state of the Tasmanian economy, so much for a correlation between education and prosperity.

Sense from Spence

Michael Spence was in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday with sensible seasonal advice for the young victims of homilies and hysteria this HSC season. Do not, the University of Sydney vice chancellor urged, become a victim of the ATAR obsession. “The ATAR does not determine the course of the rest of your life. If you don’t do as well as you had hoped – and there are many reasons why people don’t – it is not the end of your career hopes.” It’s a change from the days when Sydney used to compete against cross-town rival University of New South Wales using ATARs as a proxy for commencing student quality. I wonder what NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli, who wants minimum ATARs for entry to teaching degrees, will make of it.

No repeat prescription

The South Australian Government has withdrawn subsidies for pharmacy assistant courses at Cert II and III level, with IV to follow. This will close to double their cost to $2000 or so. It’s an outrage, according to the Pharmacy Guild, because federal government cuts are already putting pressure on pharmacists. I think this refers to the reduction in pharmacy income due to a loss of margin on generic drugs sold under the PBS. This does not appear to have much to do with training subsidies but the Guild rarely misses a chance to speak up for its members. But what is the state government doing subsidising certificates in retail pharmacy in the first place? The same thing it is doing subsidising dozens of courses in other industries under its Skills For All program, which funded 140,000 students last year, up 40 per cent on the previous 12 months. It appears the government is fine-tuning the sort of courses it supports, (unless Treasury is having conniptions over the increasing cost), announcing 30 odd courses where new students are not subsidised.  Ominously, automotive industry courses are among those losing funding – is the SA Govt assuming the worst about Holden?

Weather forecast

CMM’s bleeding obvious correspondent reports new research from the University of Queensland; “disasters such as Tropical Cyclone Usagi that closed airports in Hong Kong at the weekend, leading to the cancellation of hundreds of flights, can have catastrophic effects on tourism, causing traveller numbers to plummet and decimating tourism providers’ incomes.”

Quiet in Canberra

Hasn’t it all gone quiet at the Australian National University? Not really. The student Education Action Group is planning a protest for October 10 over management plans to cut funding for three teaching colleges.  A Fair Work Australia ballot on protected industrial action in the ongoing pay dispute closes tomorrow and the campus branch of the NTEU is keen to get the vote out, inviting members to post their ballot at a union barbie yesterday. The comrades are also ambitious to increase membership, with the NTEU growth team on ANU and University of Canberra campuses this week. The last time I checked, just under 20 per cent of staff were union members at both universities, bang on the national average.

Sunk, not slowed

When UofQ announced its scramjet had crashed into the ocean after a failed launch last week I assumed that it was a setback, not the end. I was wrong; with the scramjet sunk it’s all over. This seems a surprising end to a project the university had high hopes for, it certainly pushed hard the potential of scramjet driven hypersonic flight. But an end it is, making yesterday’s announcement all the sadder. It seems the scramjet was not the problem, it was  the rocket intended to carry it 300kms up before the experiment started. The launch vehicle only climbed to 5km before failing.  The university says hypersonic research continues, but that’s it for the scramjet engine.

 The more things change the Noam things stays the same

Noam Chomsky explains again, the many failures of the “corporatised university,” in a videod lecture here. Just the thing for anybody with a spare hour forty on a Tuesday morning.

Accountability: Obama wants it, we bury it

Last month Barack Obama gave US higher education a comprehensive spray, suggesting colleges charged too much for a not always excellent education and announcing he intended to do something about it with a new performance ranking. And he meant it –Under Secretary for Education Martha Kanter says officials will be in the field asking for ideas for a college ranking to be in place by mid 2015 – when the president is still in office and her boss Arne Duncan weighed into critics of the plan on Friday. Who knows what will come of it but it sounds a good deal more energetic than the bland MyUniversity website created in the 23rd or was it 24th Labor dynasty, of fond memory. Which reminds me, what has happened to last year’s Australian Council for Educational Research University Experience Survey of undergraduate satisfaction? It was a first-rate piece of work, full of goods news showing that most students were happy with the quality of their courses. Then universities minister Craig Emerson said in April it would be published on the MyUniversity site but if this ever happened it is well disguised.

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