“The doctor won’t see you now”

The NTEU warns deregulation will make kids sick

50 shades of obvious

“We need pain to provide a contrast for pleasure; without pain life becomes dull, boring and downright undesirable … Emerging evidence suggests that pain may actually enhance the pleasure and happiness we derive from life,” Dr Brock Bastian from the UNSW School of Psychology yesterday.

Enough already

ANU VC Ian “the gent” Young has filed a submission to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee inquiry (the one convened by the government on deregulation. “I believe that the views of the Australian National University are already well known by members of the Senate,” he referred senators to submissions from peak lobbies – and that was it. It’s pretty much how everybody feels as the debate drags on.

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No antidote

The National Tertiary Education Union has a new attack advert denouncing deregulation (when does it not?). A young mother holding a baby rings the GP for an appointment but is told the doctor is fully booked. The voice-over explains that (a) deregulation means higher medical school fees (b) which means graduates will have to become specialists rather than GPs so they will be able to pay their debt (c) which means mums will not be able to take sick kids to the doctor. As a policy statement it is a super stretch as a political message it’s enough to give advocates of deregulation a bad case of despair. How do you argue with motherhood?

IRU adamant

The Innovative Research University group’s submission to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee inquiry into Pyne MkII repeats its previous support for deregulation, qualified by calls for more money, notably a smaller cut per student place and a five hold increase in the proposed structural adjustment fund. No surprises there, but what is interesting is the IRU’s determination to knock off emerging alternatives to deregulation. For a start IRU sees no choice but to increase student contributions.

“The lesson is clear. Governments will invest in additional students. They will not invest more for each student, regardless of the resources universities need. A wellresourced, primarily government-funded system is a chimera. Student contributions have grown from around 20% of the resource in the early 1990s through to just over 40% now. The expansion in places since the 1990s has depended on the student payments to offset some of the cost. There is no return from that position.”

This will upset Labor education spokesman Kim Carr who argues the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments substantially increased higher education spending. He has, and I am sure, will, go toe to toe with anybody who argues otherwise.

Nor will many people much like the IRU’s argument that capping student numbers is no an answer to declining funding. “Restoring limits to the number of students who are funded is not a solution. It would undermine the fundamental achievement of the past halfdecade. To allow all eligible students a place at university is a fundamental transformation that makes higher education an integral part of the education pathway for Australians. The Kemp‐Norton Review of Demand Driven Funding confirmed the value from, and success of, this change.”

That the IRU feels the need to speak up for demand drive funding demonstrates how seriously its supporters see the new push to cap places and otherwise re-regulate undergraduate places. I wonder if the IRU will expand on what is wrong with regulatory funding options, say Bruce Chapman‘s idea for a super tax on universities that jack up fees  above a ceiling, in any submission to the other Senate inquiry (the Labor-Green-cross-bench one).

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Southern (very) Cross 

At Southern Cross University the National Tertiary Education Union is set to escalate its dispute with management, following members voting in favour of industrial action. The union did well last year, with threatened redundancies not occurring as the university’s finances improved, but a pay deal is still not done

UA not budging

Universities Australia agrees with IRU on the need for demand driven funding, in its submission to the Senate HE Legislation Committee;

“The higher education policy environment has been one of frequent change, and investment spikes followed by funding reductions. This imposes continual adjustment costs on universities and undermines their capacity to plan strategically and their ability to invest with certainty in improving the quality of education services.”

UA also repeats its oft stated amendments to Pyne MkII, that funding cuts be reduced and international fees not be a ceiling on domestic charges at a subject, rather than degree level. Overall it joins with IRU in arguing that undergraduate fee deregulation is essential because government can’t be trusted to fund universities appropriately. UA’s Sandra Harding and Belinda Robinson squared off with Senator Carr last time the Senate held hearings on deregulation. They are obviously game to have another go.

“Got no numbers senator”

Senate estimates are on tomorrow, with the emphasis on estimates – given universities and related agencies still do not have funding certainty for the financial year coming to an end, let alone any clue to what will happen in the next. Funding programmes, on after dinner, should be most interesting, mainly for senators’ lines of inquiry.

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Governor in the chair

While the University of Tasmania issues endlessly optimistic announcements on student achievements and research programmes the state is in strife, with an under-performing economy and 10 per cent fewer 25 to 34 year olds in higher education than the national number. The Tasmanian establishment knows there is a problem and is looking to education to solve it, with the state’s university and government, yesterday announcing a dedicated research chair, “to focus on the causes, nature and implications of educational underachievement for individuals, society and the economy.” Oh good, another research centre– except that this one has an advisory board chaired by the governor, former U TAS law professor Kate Warner. This is a good move the governor understands how universities work and she has the authority to ensure this project is taken seriously and Tasmania needs it to be.

Birmingham’s on the case

Training Minister Simon Birmingham has sent lord knows how many members of the voced community a personally addressed email message setting out (a) how busy he is (b) how he wants to see rorts in training ended, which by the way are the previous government’s fault (c) how people tell him how important more quality and less red tape is and (d) how Labor mucked everything up.

“I will be taking strong action to stamp out the abuse of the VET FEE-HELP scheme by people out to make a quick buck at the expense of the vulnerable and the taxpayer,” the minister says. Good-oh, which leave three questions, what is he going to do, when is he going to do it and, as one voced expert points out, it was cutting regulatory red tape that allowed the rorters to run amuck in the first place.

All politics is local

Incoming Universities Australia president UWS VC Barney Glover is not talking on national policy but all politics being local he has plenty to say about a big issue on his local patch, a proposed light rail route in western Sydney. Of the four options Professor Glover likes the one that services the university’s proposed Parramatta high-rise campus and its existing one across the river at Rydalmere.

 All smiles

Macquarie VC S Bruce Dowton wished Chinese people a happy new year via video tweet yesterday, before getting down to seriously spruiking the university as a great place to study. Nice touch – and he did not announce any resignations!

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