Universities cough up while Chris cuts

The market at work

Janine O’Flynn from the University of Melbourne was selling the new masters in public policy to people attending the Institute of Public Administration Australia conference yesterday. “As a special gift to ipaa 2013 attendees … a 20% fee remission for our brand new masters of public administration,” she tweeted. Imagine the discount if you bargained really hard.

Swinburne stumps up

The dual sector universities in Victoria have had a tough time of it, what with the state government changing voc education funding in ways as seemingly frequent as they are hard to follow. And none harder than at Swinburne, where a feisty union and forceful management have not blinked in a long and bitter enterprise negotiation. (For relaxation the campus NTEU sued the university over a failure to consult on a campus closure and won in the Federal Court a month or so back). Perhaps this is why management backed its wage offer yesterday with a seven-page booklet sent to staff explaining the university’s circumstances. There is a great deal of data in the document that makes the case that state cuts, when compounded by those Mr Pyne introduced into the Reps yesterday (below), mean the university has perilously little of its half a billion dollar revenue uncommitted. It’s certainly an explanation of why 3.1 per cent per annum in three annual tranches from March 1 next year is the best management says Swinburne can do to keep salaries ahead of the CPI. Will the union negotiators think this is the final offer? Who knows, but more important what will staff think? If they are like academics and administrators at other universities many of them may well have had enough of all the arguing. So what happens now. Perhaps the union says no and management comes up with a marginally better offer. Perhaps the union says no and management takes the deal direct to staff. Or perhaps the two sides shake. Who knows, but one and two are more likely than three, at least next week.

University losses a plus for Pyne

The education minister introduced the Emerson cuts into the House yesterday and despite legislating to take an enormous amount of money out of higher education got right onto the front foot.
“The fiscal mess that has been left to us by the previous government leaves us with no practical alternative but to proceed with Labor’s cuts. … As a result, our high performing higher education sector is required to live with measures that contribute to restoring the budget to health. That we have no option but to enact Labor’s cuts does not in any way diminish our commitment to supporting a high-quality and accessible higher education sector in Australia. Labor’s cuts show how empty their claim is, to be a friend of universities and students. This coalition government is the true friend of universities, of high-quality teaching and learning as well as of research, and of students. Coalition governments have a proven track record of support for universities—and also, sadly, of having to clean up Labor’s messes,” he said.
The minister went on to list the government’s commitments to help universities by keeping out of their way. Mr Pyne has ended Labor’s ownership of higher education as a signature issue at least, or until, he supervises cuts of his own. Perhaps Labor will find a reason to vote against its own legislation in the Reps but combining with the Greens to block it in the Senate would look a little opportunist – and give the government a reason to cut further and deeper while blaming Labor for the need to do it.

Lost cause of the day

Mr Pyne was quickly condemned by National Tertiary Education Union president Jeannie Rea. “I find it extraordinary that the minister would introduce legislation into parliament which he openly acknowledges, in his second reading speech, will be damaging to our universities and their students. … It is simply not good enough for the minister to blame the previous government for the cuts. By proceeding with them he is giving them his full support and endorsement,” she said. Quite right – Mr Pyne should cancel the Labor cuts and look elsewhere for the $900m they will save – say from demand driven funding, which the minister has promised to protect. Um, perhaps not.

Lights, camera footnotes

UTS will make staff research publications freely available to all on iTunes, with videos of images and text. This goes beyond the open access repositories where universities require staff to place research papers (often the penultimate drafts to avoid upsetting publishers). It’s a much-needed move, part of the push to end the existing arrangement that allows commercial publishers to charge for research they received for free from scholars. It’s a good move but I wonder if UTS is investing in script doctors to translate academic prose into broadcast English.

Mug shots

The Invasive Animals CRC has has posted the winners and commended entries in its photos of ferals competition and a mean looking mob they are too. Despite what Roald Dahl and George Clooney tell you, there is nothing fantastic about Mr Fox (he’s in the first and second prize winners).

Deans’ dilemma

Faculties of education are in strife with NSW education minister Adrian Piccoli wanting a cap on their enrolments and federal minister Christopher Pyne suggesting a professional practice exam for graduates. This builds on still simmering suggestions that faculties accept low ability students into undergraduate degrees who they do not teach how to teach. It’s a tough spot for education academics in many ways. For a start, there are universities that financially rely on large teacher education programs, Australian Catholic University and Charles Sturt are two big ones. And while practice exams are common in all sorts of professions in this case the implication is university qualifications are not to be trusted as a guarantee of a graduate’s classroom capacity. In combination these problems put at risk the autonomy of teacher education. Some deans are doing a great deal to deflect the danger, notably Charles Sturt’s Toni Downes who engages with critics and comes up with new ideas that address concerns where she can and explains where critics are wrong on other issues when she can’t. But in general academic leaders are not for turning – answering every argument with the one answer, that entry scores are no predictors of performance. As the Australian Council of Deans of Education  put it in their annual report, “While ACDE welcomed the national approach to broad based entry requirements, improved school partnership arrangements for professional placements, and a focus on academic graduate standards for teacher education, it sought to shift the debate away from entry scores (the ATAR) to assessment at exit, practicum placements and professional development.”
This is not especially smart. There are all sorts of initiatives in education faculties especially new degrees in maths and science teaching, the areas that attract most attention in the debate over new teacher standards. If the deans want to deflect discussion from the sorts of students they accept innovative courses are what they should sell.

Not lost in space

CSIRO picked up a notable prize at the Engineers Australia awards the other night. It was for a wideband multibeam phased array feed receiver (sorry, not a clue how it works), which receives signals from space 20 times faster than standard systems. The technology is part of the Square Kilometer Array radio astronomy project being built in remote Western Australia – apart at least, from the much bigger bit of the project under construction in Africa.

Taking a break

At the University of Adelaide enterprise bargaining has gone on for nine months and they haven’t even started talking money yet. So, presumably to alleviate the boredom, the local NTEU has announced a week-long ban on submitting/processing exam results, starting Monday. This has upset DVC Pascale Quester (not as much as fans of her frank style might have hoped) who points out that the university has and will continue to negotiate in good faith, “only ongoing discussion, without the distraction of industrial action, will lead to a timely and balanced enterprise bargaining resolution in the best interests of all staff.” Professor Quester says the university is happy to talk some more “should the NTEU lift its proposed ban.” Good-o, but shouldn’t “should” be “when”? The union ban is only scheduled for a week. Presumably when everybody will get back to arguing.

All good in golden west

On the other side of the Nullarbor peace prevails with the Murdoch University union announcing it has reached an enterprise agreement with management that they will jointly send to staff for approval. In addition to improved conditions the deal includes four pay rises (including 4 per cent already paid) to mid 216. The three to come are 2.5 per cent (twice) and 3 per cent kicking in at the end of June 2016.

Quick stix

The Australian Workplace Productivity Agency is putting the 2014 skilled occupation immigration list together and is asking for submissions. It’s an important for professional associations and related university faculties but if any are giving their paper one more polish they should just hit send – today is the deadline.

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