They’re back and they are here to help

The NTEU national leadership is back on the job

Next steps on the long march

The top team at the National Tertiary Education Union is re-elected unopposed– with Jeannie Rea (president), Grahame McCulloch (general secretary) and Matthew McGowan all in place for another term. This isn’t especially surprising. They drove strategy, and the officers occasionally got into the trenches in the enterprise bargaining round just concluding and Mr McCulloch says membership is up by 3400 (or 15 per cent) over the last four years. While the union is not strong among researchers he says membership among research and teaching academics ranges from 35 per cent to 80 per cent and averages 50 per cent. According to Mr McCulloch, one major task for the new term is ensuring managements honour agreements to create the thousand permanent jobs for now casual staff promised by universities around the country. Another is to hold managements to restructuring agreements. “One way or another there is going to be some big restructures.” And while he will not comment on the union’s overall influence – “too many people in the union movement are show-offs” – there is a sense that he is determined to stick up for all university staff. “Vice-chancellors have abrogated their leadership responsibilities by not uniting to defend the sector – instead they have competed for scarce dollars and even scarcer political favours from government. … Universities Australia is a loose collection of warring tribes and the NTEU is the only entity with a unified view across the country. ”

Industrial strength

Seven new Industrial Transformation Research Hubs, worth $24m, were announced yesterday, (think CRCs, without too many business people). The program dates to the primeval chaos of the last Labor Government, when ministers who variously supported or opposed them came and went. But it seems the program is firmly in fashion now with the winners getting 96 per cent of the money they asked for, which is close to 25 per cent what common or garden Linkage proposals pick up. Seven successes from 15 completed applications isn’t bad either. Of the seven, two are from the University of Adelaide, with James Cook, Newcastle, NSW, Sydney and Tasmania winning one each. All the projects are about mining or agriculture, except for Professor Dietmar Muller (USyd) who will study basin sedimentation and Professor Veena Sahajwalla (UNSW) who is interested in transforming waste in green manufacturing. There was general agreement yesterday that the hubs are focusing on sensible subjects, although one close research funding observer did wonder about $4.9m to Professor Dean Jerry (JCU) for prawn aquaculture asking if this wasn’t a CSIRO speciality. Maybe CSIRO has just shut it down without anybody noticing among all the other cuts.

Common Cause

While Grahame McCulloch emphasises defending his members against the impact of deregulation, NTEU watchers suggest Christopher Pyne’s package creates other opportunities. For a start, the big private providers will use their lower cost bases to eat into TAFE’s market in sub-degree programs and this will create a membership opportunity for the NTEU. Navitas is a name that comes up. But won’t the various teachers’ federations who now represent TAFE staff kick up? Not if they have any sense – “it will not take too long for teacher unions to realise they need to make common cause with the NTEU as part of a general defence of public higher and further education,” an observer suggests.

By the numbers?

The University of Tasmania was very excited yesterday about announcing $13m from the feds for the Sense-T project. So excited that it neglected to explain what it will do Apparently Sense-T is about “creating a real-time digital view of the state’s economy by federating different public and private data sets, with a particular focus on real-time data from sensors.” The data is “made available to businesses, governments, researchers and communities to help them innovate.” Gosh, I wonder what that means? A couple of examples would help.

No blowhard that S Bruce

Macquarie University was created 50 years ago yesterday with proclamation of the founding legislation, which was celebrated by Vice Chancellor S Bruce Dowton in a message to staff. An understated statement, which certainly did not blow the university trumpet hard. Which makes the emphasis on a new branding strategy strange. Professor Dowton focused on the imminent “new visual identity” which, “will give us an opportunity to renew our links with industry partners both here in Australia and around the world.”

“Later this year, the university executive will host an event to launch our new brand to the business community, and engage them again with this university as we have done over the past fifty years. We were established to be different, and our links with business and industry are one of our most distinctive aspects. I look forward to developing and deepening these ties over the coming years,” Professor Dowton told staff. Sounds like a strategy to me. But why the emphasis on branding, as distinct from the brand? What you have to sell surely matters more than how you sell it.

But what exactly was asked?

The NTEU has released results of an opinion poll this morning showing that 70 per cent of Australians oppose fee university fee increases and 55 per cent “do not want an Americanised system.” Instead people want the government to make savings through a mining tax and “closing superannuation tax loopholes for the wealthy.”

Winners of the week

It’s been a grinding week, which I think went to veterans who just stuck to the script. Like Martin Hale, who partners with Charles Sturt University in providing IT masters. They use a MOOC model to allow people from around the world to sample masters via short courses which teach sections of degree programs for free. And like UWS VC Barney Glover who is sticking to the pre-budget strategy of expanding into the Parramatta CBD and building a research profile. Deregulation will not mean specialisation in the golden west. Maths education advocate Geoff Prince also had a good run, generating solid media coverage for his warning about the absence of maths teachers and what this means for STEM university enrolments. It’s not a new story but one we have to keep hearing until somebody addresses it. A job for Minister Pyne? University of Tasmania VC Peter Rathjen did well, stepping up for a second term in a job that cannot be easy in a market with not much chance of growth to compensate for declines in cash from Canberra. Overall the week went to Christopher Pyne, for ignoring the critics and selling his case for deregulation day in day out. Mr Pyne is betting his career on deregulation and you can’t fault him for consistency and energy.

Health management tit for clinical tat

The struggle between Charles Sturt University and the universities of NSW and Sydney for control of medical education in rural New South Wales grinds on. The former wants to establish the Murray Darling Medical School, the latter pair reply that they already have training facilities in the bush. CSU is running the more aggressive campaign but the established universities certainly don’t miss a trick to sell themselves. On Wednesday Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash opened UNSW’s new med school clinical campus in Griffith, in the Murrumbidgee region. So yesterday CSU announced a partnership with the Murrumbidgee Local Health District for a distance education health management course. Proof that all politics is local.

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