Universities demand education election

Plus innovation on all agendas plus ANU leads in QS subject rankings

Great eight

Is there no end to the power of the Group of Eight? It is cited in Niki Savva’s new book on Tony Abbott’s prime ministership as helping to bring him down. But it’s not that eight; actually it’s eight MPs and senators. However there is an education connection Simon Birmingham and Scott Ryan are both named as members of the other Eight.

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Education ignored

“The construction industry is vital to our transition to the new economy. Additional costs of construction are a handbrake on economic growth,” Malcolm Turnbull tweeted yesterday. This is very bad news for education, signalling the government will fight the imminent election on everything but funding for voced and universities.

The closest thing to education reform the government will want to discuss is the innovation agenda; Treasurer Scott Morrison raised it yesterday just after the prime minister announced parliament would be recalled in April with a double dissolution to follow if the Senate does not pass the IR legislation.

Of course, if the government wants another policy issue to campaign on Christopher Pyne’s deregulation savings are still in the forward estimates. But CMM suspects they will not get a mention in what will be the election budget to beat them all. The most the government will do then is increase HELP repayments, claiming it is necessary to deal with the deficit. The reforms to VET FEE HELP will not get up either, on the not unreasonable grounds that the new policy isn’t written.

Overall the prospect of the all but certain election being fought on issues other than education is very bad for universities and voced and industry leaders were quick to demand political parties set out their plans

“After years of budget cuts and policy uncertainty from both of the major parties, students, their families and the community are right to question how genuine is the commitment to sustaining our nation-building higher education and research infrastructure. The impending election is the opportunity for both major parties to make clear their plans to maintain a properly funded, affordable, world-class higher education and research system, ” Universities Australia’s Belinda Robinson said yesterday.

According to Conor King, from the Innovative Research Universities lobby;

“The government has attempted major changes to the way in which higher education is funded, which have not succeeded.  Its position is based on greater freedom to institutions to set charges to raise the needed revenue and a desire to open up the system to a wider set of providers. Labor has announced policies to ensure universities have the needed resources through additional government investment, albeit without committing yet to the funds. The two positions are clear and distinct. Whoever wins will have a claim to get its approach through the next Senate.”

If the coalition is returned it will claim a mandate without having run very hard on education. In contrast CMM suspects Labor, well Kim Carr at least, will run very hard indeed and worry about paying for its proposals if it wins.

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Advice from ASQA

While the Australian Skills Quality Authority is not reporting the trip anywhere CMM can find agency staff have visited Taiwan to discuss vocational education quality systems. Presumably ASQA wanted to warn the Taiwanese against stuffing things up as badly as it has done.

Top marks

The QS subject rankings are out, listing 50 top institutions in 42 disciplines, based on research citations and judgements of academics and employers. Australia ranks third with 52 top 20 places and 6 per cent plus overall, behind the US and the UK.

The Group of Eight led the country with the universities of Melbourne and Sydney making the first 50 in 41 subjects, followed by Uni Queensland (40), Monash and UNSW (37, UWA and ANU (32) and Uni Adelaide (31).

Monash has the highest placing, being fourth in the world for pharmacy and pharmacology. But ANU has the most top ten scores for anthropology (4th) and archaeology, politics and development studies all 8th.

The Australian Technology Network also gets a run  with QUT being listed for 23 subjects, RMIT for 20, Curtin 18, UTS 15 and UniSA 13.

Overnight QS issued a revised list of first place institutions by subject. Harvard and MIT are equal first with 12 each, not eight as first reported.

Watt steps up

They like mandarins at the University of Wollongong, where former head of PM&C Ian Watt is the new chair of the SMART Infrastructure Facility. Dr Watt succeeds sometime treasury chief Ken Henry. Dr Watt recently completed the government’s review of research policy and funding CMM December 7).

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A bucket of bidders

The first round of applications for Cooperative Research Centre Projects is in, since the prime minister declared the age of innovation, with a substantial 91 starters. The new CRCP project category is for “small collaborations working on short project timelines with simple governance and administration arrangements.” CRC watchers say this is a big number, demonstrating business enthusiasm for the programme. There is enough funding for about a third of them although with two further rounds due this year policy observers suggest the government might hold money back. However politics watchers say the government will want to front-load as many announcements as possible for the election.

From Bedford Park to Ulaanbaatar

Celebrations of Flinders turning 50 reached way beyond Adelaide – to Mongolia, where an alumnus hosted a small celebration. Can any other university claim graduates who are more loyal, or remote?

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Uni SA and premier unite in innovation

Given its success in the QS subject rankings (above) the University of South Australia was in luck with its announcement of its new innovation policy, Inspired, Partnered, Excellence yesterday. Where the university will commit resources is not entirely clear but the overall industry engagement message is loudly on-song with the governments’ strategies. That’s governments’ as in federal and SA.

In a happy coincidence, the university just happened to announce its plan as Premier Jay Weatherill released a report on commercialising research. This proposes a single innovation policy statement, a $50m venture capital fund plus $10 to support start-ups. UniSA will be there to help, as its DVC R Tanya “Photon Girl” Monro explains, “we are also moving to fast-track the development of high potential innovations through the refinement of our commercialisation arm, UniSA Ventures. This will help create jobs both in start-ups and by enabling innovation in existing companies.”

CMM wonders what the state’s universities will make of the premier’s other proposal yesterday, to merge all university commercialisation divisions along the same lines as the last time he proposed doing it, in 2014. Probably what they made of it then, which was not much.

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