Escalating anger and obscure undertakings

Dial r for remember

Simon Dennis, the new head of the psychology school at the University of Newcastlethinks smart phones can release us from failing memories. We just need to take photos of what we have to remember. Um, as long as you can place where you left the phone and the how damn thing works.

 Obscure, unlikely, alarming 

Science and Technology Australia has released the major parties responses to its election wish list and predictable reading it is. Labor sets out why what it has done is better than the Howard Government, the Coalition describes what they will do better than Labor and the Greens just say they will spend money.  However there are occasional reveals. For example, in response to a question about investing in R&D the conservatives promise; “a Coalition Government will maintain the level of medical research funding and provide the maximum level of funding for other research.” We have known for months that medicine is the conservatives favourite, but what does “maximum level of funding” for the rest actually mean? Whatever the minister wants it to mean come next budget is CMM’s guess.
There is some good news in the Coalition response, at least for researchers who take the less long than indefinite view. In principle, research should be fully funded and not require subsidies from teaching. However, in reality, “this will be difficult to achieve and take a long time.”
The Coalition also repeats the promise of an “expressions of interest phase” to save everybody’s time by weeding out hopeless grant applications and providing longer funding terms for research. This looks innocuous but will rightly make new researchers nervous, especially those from institutions without long track records and top ERA ratings.

Mystic power of moleskins

Veteran observer of political conservatives La Trobe’s Judith Brett says the Nationals are not getting much attention this campaign. She told APN Regional Media yesterday that the Liberal Party was taking its partner for granted. Even so, she thought the party would get “a pretty good deal with ministerial seats.”  The RUN universities will be pleased.

Union escalation at ANU

The National Tertiary Education Union tweeted a Canberra Times story yesterday quoting the NTEU on what it will do next in the Australian National University dispute. Don’t the comrades believe themselves until they read their plan it in the paper?
But they are certainly clear about the need to pile on the pressure at the university. Fair Work Australia has approved a ballot on protected industrial action, it will occur after September 27 if union members agree. According to NTEU division secretary Stephen Darwin the Monday bargaining meeting went nowhere on every issue. “The Vice Chancellor not only wants you to do more, with less and for an effective salary cut, but also to do all of this with less job security and lessened institutional diversity, “ he said.
However, money is the main thing. While ANU offers 2 per cent per annum over three years the union says it should meet the deal done at the only three universities that have signed agreements. At Curtin, Edith Cowan and CQU staff received four per cent pa for three years. “Remember ANU is one of only two universities in Australia without any real workload limits, and we have been offered a real salary cut and lowest pay rise of any Australian university,” Mr Darwin added.
This has the look of a big blue.  Management did well in the lead up to the budget, making a case for head count cuts that staff seemed to accept. However Mr Darwin obviously thinks he can convince his members (and rely on everybody else’s acquiescence) that Vice Chancellor Ian Young is bluffing and will improve ANU’s offer if pushed.

Not everybody’s angry, yet

In contrast, negotiations at the ACT’s other university appear to progress peacefully. The last report from the bargaining teams at the University of Canberra was for the August 6 meeting, which discussed workloads, casuals and indigenous issues. It all sounds civil and certainly unhurried. In fact management and union agreed to change to fortnightly meetings due to everybody’s other commitments.  But UC sources say trouble is stirring. One says staff are upset with Vice Chancellor Stephen Parker’s plan for an elite research professoriate, which they say will mean everybody else doing more teaching to pay the new professors. And then there is money – management is said to be promising to bring an offer to the table in the next couple of weeks. The university provided a unilateral 2 per cent rise at the end of May, which suggests that whatever is offered will be on top of that. But nobody outside the executive knows what it will be – and the mandarins aren’t saying. If it all comes down to not much more money for what looks like more work, there will be, according to another staff member  “a blow up.”

A room of one’s own

The University of Sydney is spruiking it’s new 750 bed “affordable” student housing complex while the Sydney Morning Herald reports a Chinese investor has bought a $17m penthouse for his student children to stay in. In Sydney real estate you get precisely what you pay for.  Which is probably why the University of New South Wales is guaranteeing on-campus rooms for all first-year international students starting in 2014. Of course the bad news is that this means they never will need to leave campus and meet the locals in the Randwick pubs. Unless that is good news.

Spending up

After Tuesday’s uncosted education announcement the Nationals got on to the stuff they take seriously – farming. The party promised $100m in new money for agricultural R&D, which, what a surprise, Labor has “shamelessly” cut. Spokesman John Cobb cited Labor’s abolishing three “vital” Cooperative Research Centres as specifically shameful, Beef Genetics, Cotton Catchment Communities and Forestry.  It sounds like standard opposition operating procedure; complain a lot so whatever you do looks better. After all, the whole point of CRCs is limited lifespans to avoid institutional inertia. In any case, there is a new round of CRC applications waiting for approval after the election-CMM will check to see how many agriculture bids get up, if, no let’s be realistic, when the Nats are in government.

But what are they arguing about?

Enterprise bargaining is bogging down at the University of Adelaide – but as union negotiators suggested months ago would happen, they aren’t even talking about money yet. The issue is workloads, which the NTEU negotiating team says, “have clearly gotten completely out of hand.” The union wants people from both sides to do “some serious drafting in an academic context on workloads” to inform negotiations.  Seem strange? Surely everybody at Adelaide is familiar with what it takes to prepare a lecture, mark a paper, lead a class and so on. They could take months codifying what everybody already knows.  Unless of course what the union is anxious about is the elephant in the room – Vice Chancellor Warren Bebbington’s plan to take course information on line so that staff focus on intensive small group teaching. CMM guesses the union wants defined workloads lest the new system turn out to be a great deal of hard work.  This should keep them going until it is time for the next negotiation, in 2016.

Old news is good news

The ever vigilant University 0f Queensland media team was promoting grants won from the Office of Learning and Teaching yesterday. These will be the 2013 grants the OLT says it announced two months back. The again maybe UoQ was not alone in missing them. The OLT is said to have had “website issues” earlier in the year so maybe only the grant recipients got the good mail.

But few clues at US News

After being named by President Obama in a speech that suggested universities game rankings and that college is too expensive, US News and World Report remains keen to cover ratings, a round it created. Yesterday it was asking people who completed a bachelors degree debt free to explain how they did it. You would think after decades covering the cost of college US News would have an idea.

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