Student debt on the Commission of Audit agenda?

Have a look at what Amanda Vanstone thinks 

Straight SA

The Local Government Association of South Australia has commissioned University of Adelaide law academic Gabrielle Appleby to survey council staff and the general public on what sorts of behaviour they consider corrupt. Just about every scenario people are asked to assess looks red-hot to me but that may just be my cynically Sydney take on things.

A bee in Amanda’s bonnet

Whether or not the Abbott Government is interested in selling HECS debt this term there is another aspect of student loans that may well make it onto the agenda – the repayment threshold. Now where would I get such an idea? From yesterday’s appointment of Amanda Vanstone to the Commission of Audit is where.  As a cost cutting education minister in John Howard’s first term then Senator Vanstone cut university funding and it seems she has not forgotten what student loans cost Canberra. As an especially astute reader reminded me last night, on March 21 2011 she wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald; “I have no quibble with the investment we make in higher education or in students. I just think that, to be fair, they should have to start paying it back sooner. The full adult pension, including supplement, is about $19,000 a year. The minimum wage is just under $30,000. So why do we say to students, who get a massive loan at no real interest rate, that they do not have to pay back a cent until they are earning just under $45,000?” Ms Vanstone told me much the same in April; suggesting rather than around $50,000 now graduates should start repaying their study debt at the once they are earning the minimum wage, or even the equivalent of the pension.” We don’t invest in kids who do not go to university and yet we do not expect graduates to start paying their HECS debt back until they are earning well over the minimum wage,” she said. Can’t fault her on consistency and the Commission of Audit is her opportunity. Sure the government promised not to reduce education spending but increasing the rate that graduates repay debt isn’t exactly a cut.

Change of approach

Is it my imagination or has the National Tertiary Education Union abandoned enterprise bargaining as a lost cause? In the last few days union officials have started commenting on climate change, social justice and sundry community issues. National president Jeannie Rea  led the charge yesterday, “wouldn’t it be nice to open a newspaper and know that the opinions expressed are based on sound research and that factual innacuracies (sic) are not published?” she wrote. She urged readers to “hold the media to account and ask them to only publish factually accurate opinions on climate change.” Anyone else notice the flashing neon sign, reading “trap! fall in here” accompanying that argument? That aside, isn’t there a whole bunch of universities where enterprise bargaining is still a live issue?

A bunch indeed

One expert says there are ballots for protected industrial action underway at Flinders, Macquarie, Murdoch and the University of Queensland. And negotiations are inert to an extent that the union could ask for a staff vote to strike or impose work bans at ten or so other institutions; UNE, Swinburne, U Melbourne, U Tas, RMIT, Monash, Victoria U, U Adelaide, La Trobe, (the university formerly known as) Ballara) and UWS.
The problem is, there seems a lot less staff stomach for a fight on campuses around the country. Staff at Sydney and James Cook University have voted to accept new deals that fall short of what the union hoped for and at Charles Sturt they defied an NTEU recommendation to reject management’s offer. If people do not want to strike imposing work bans, say on student results, is the next best thing but this is ruled out by Fair Work Australia rejecting such bans at Swinburne and Monash.
It seems then that managements are in position to push for change – especially on switching research inactive staff to teaching only positions. My guess is they won’t – it is not just union officials and members who are tired of bargaining and just want a deal.

No shortage of subjects

At the Bushfire CRC PhD student Grace Vincent is looking for 50 firefighters for her study of fatigue in the field. There are plenty of appropriate people to ask in the Blue Mountains this morning, but they might be busy.

 Not present on the podium 

The great and the good will gather in Sydney this morning, probably to agree with each other. The Committee for the Economic Development of Australia is hosting eight speakers on the future of higher education, Bruce Chapman (ANU), Greg Craven (ACU), Fred Hilmer (UNSW), Caroline McMillen (Newcastle), Ross Milbourne (UTS) Michael Spence (Sydney), Paul Wellings (Wollongong) and David Wilkinson (Macquarie). Interesting which NSW universities did not get a guernsey. Western Sydney is not represented and from further afield neither is UNE or Southern Cross.

Big day for Monash

Monash opens the new building to house its joint graduate school with China’s Southeast University, near Shanghai tomorrow. Although the venture started last year, with Monash being the first Australian university with a licence to run higher education programs in China this is still a big day indeed. It’s a long way from the pioneering days of the ’90s when Mal Logan grasped what Asia could mean for Australian education and established the Sunway joint venture in Malaysia.

 Tense times at RMIT

Collegial things aren’t at RMIT, at least not after the October 10 industrial action. The university’s Steve Somogyi has written to local NTEU president, Melissa Slee suggesting strike supporters behaved badly. In particular he states there are complaints that outside Building 80, (on Swanston Street in the CBD) staff “were harassed when attempting to enter the building, students were clearly told that ‘all classes are cancelled’ and access to students was refused.”  Students who believed this and accordingly did not attend lectures are “at a significant disadvantaged compared to their classmates who did attend,” Mr Somogyi writes. And he wants to know what Dr Slee is going to do about what occurred and “what assurances you can give that you will take steps to properly guide your members’ behaviour in the future.” Nothing on either count is my guess given the general nature of the allegations and no suggestion Dr Slee has anything to do with anything that may, or may not have occurred on October 10. Dr Slee did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.

Uni SA goes for green 

Good on David Lloyd, Vice Chancellor at the University of South Australia who has announced open access for research publications will apply from 2014. The university says it will adopt the green, rather than gold model – which means the university will not pay the big journal publishers for running Uni SA research in open access journals. This could exclude university authors from prestigious journals but I’m guessing there are yet to be revealed work-arounds.

Three steps to CRC success

With 12 consortia about to pitch for new cooperative research centre funding, industry association CEO Tony Peacock sets out the three things a winning bid needs. Show the bid is end-user drive is number one. Secondly, demonstrate the research is unique and exciting. Finally, make plain the bid’s capacity to collaborate. I suspect achieving any of these is not as simple as it sounds.

Pass on the preconditions

“If China truly aspires to be a global powerhouse in the coming century, then there is one battle that it has to succeed in. That is creating a world-class education system,” writes Kerry Brown, head of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney in the China Daily. So much for free elections, property rights and the rule of law.

 Battersby’s team

Last night Vice Chancellor David Battersby announced his team to run Federation University Australia (his University of Ballarat which has taken over, sorry merged with, the Gippsland campus of Monash University). They mainly come from the old UB, with three of four named executive deans coming from Ballarat as does COO John Blair. The exceptions are  Dr Harry Ballis a Gippsland veteran who is confirmed as campus head and Terri Joiner, formerly head of the school of business at Gippsland who moves up to be dean of business for Fed U.
Professor Marcia Devlin completes her rapid rise at UB. She joined Ballarat earlier this year as interim director of the Centre for Learning Improvement and Professional Practice and is now DVC-learning and quality.

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