Unpredictable PUPs

There are only educated guesses on how the Senate will vote on deregulation

Don’t hold the front page

The American Journalism Review  reports enrolments in hack studies have dropped for the second year in a row. I suspect this is not going to upset anybody the way declines in STEM study do.

Market at work

@ Macquarie: Macquarie University has signalled the 2015 end of its pathway college partnership with private provider Navitas. According to DVC Jim Lee “the university, now in its 50th year, has matured into a well-known and highly regarded research-intensive university … we believe that the time is right to invest in our own pathway college, as many other prestigious universities have done before us.” Perhaps Macquarie would have acted anyway but it does look like the university is pursuing the potential deregulation, could deliver – notably the extension of Commonwealth Supported Places to sub degree programs. (If it happens, see below).

@ Monash: Monash U is also getting in early to distinguish itself from the competition, announcing it intends to be the first university in the world to “incorporate faculty based mindfulness programs in the core curriculum.” And what, you ask (oh, go on) is “mindfulness.” Apparently “at its root” “it is the practice of paying attention.” The marketing opportunities are endless, not least as a way explaining what students get for their fees. “At Monash you pay to pay attention.”

Where the mid-career women aren’t

The  short lists for the South Australian Science Awards are out and interesting reading they make. There are 13, generally young women and eight men nominated in the higher education categories, which is good given the way blokes tend to dominate senior STEM. But what is bad is that three of the four nominees for the Scientist of the Year prize are blokes, the woman being reproductive medicine specialist Professor Sarah Robertson. It’s not exactly a significant sample but it does suggest the way family demands derail careers, giving women less time to work their way to the front of the line in the lab. The spread between institutions is also predictable. There are 12 nominees from the University of Adelaide, seven from the University of South Australia and two from Flinders, which just manages to equal the much smaller Wine Research Institute. All four Scientist of the Year candidates are from Uni Adelaide. As for the schools category, I do not know whether it is a great thing, demonstrating commitment or sad one, suggesting an absence of opportunity- but three of the four nominated teachers have doctorates.

A review of one’s own

The Brits have appointed Sir Bob Burgess to see how the Research Council UK’s open access policy is going. This requires publishers to make journal articles based on publicly funded research available to all without charge. While for-profit publishers in particular preferred the old way, where they got the paper for nothing and then published it behind a pay wall they live with RCUK open access, because they still have a way of making money – charging authors’ institutions publishing fees. This is called “gold,” what a surprise, open access. It is distinct from green open access where publicly funded research is freely available on publication, to the well, public. According to Australian open access stalwart Colin Steele, Professor Burgess’s review is much needed to check on the way gold access is working. “Publishers’ high gold open access charges per article need to be adequately scrutinised, particularly in the context of double dipping payments through university library subscriptions and separate gold open access fees for the same article. Not to mention UK eccentricities. The idea people must walk into public libraries to access key journals has been much criticised. This is not the way research or industrial innovators work,” Mr Steele says.

Fair enough, but at least the Brits are having a go. Both the Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council have open access policies, which are hard to enforce so that researchers and anybody else interested have quick and easy access to articles based on research the public has paid for. We need an inquiry of our own.

The numbers on reform

Critics of deregulation could have the worst win since Pyrrhus was a pup. There is a real possibility the Senate will vote fee deregulation down but pass the budget cuts to funding for Commonwealth Supported Places. Both Warren Bebbington (VC, Uni of Adelaide) and Barney Glover (VC, UWS) worry it could occur (CMM yesterday). David Battersby (Federation U) agrees, “we must avoid at all cost no deregulation combined with a 20% funding cut.”

It is what universities could end up with if cross bench senators keep hearing mixed signals from universities plus staff and students on what they should oppose. There seems no doubt that while the government does not want to lose on deregulation, it will not, not, abandon the savings it intends to extract from universities.

Pessimistic supporters of deregulation predict it is all over in the Senate, with Labor and the Greens plus six of the eight cross benchers ready to vote increased HECS and deregulation down. Optimists argue the numbers are not so set. There is general agreement that senators David Leyonhjelm (NSW) and Bob Day (SA) will back the government and that Nick Xenophon (SA) and John Madigan (Vic) are absolutely opposed.

Which leaves the Palmer United Party trio and their ally Ricky Muir to make or break legislation, assuming they all vote the same way. Which may not be assured. Certainly Jacqui Lambie (Tasmania) is on the record opposing higher student fees but in the great tradition of Brian Harradine she will surely put the interests of her state above all. In the Senate on Tuesday she questioned foreign aid when Tasmanians are doing it tough. Who knows how she would respond to a Tasmania specific higher education package.

As to the others PUPs, Senator Dio Wang is an educated man, with a post grad diploma and masters in engineering, His chief of staff is sometime Council of Australian Postgraduate Association president Chamonix Terblanche. I have no idea what senators Lazarus and Muir think but university lobbyists who have met with the PUP office say they received a polite hearing. Will it translate to votes? This could depend on how much pressure PUP senators are under to vote deregulation down. Certainly the Greens, the political arm of the National Tertiary Education Union, adamantly oppose both funding cuts and deregulation. But as for Labor, perhaps not so much. While shadow minister Kim Carr is loud in his loathing for deregulation there was not one Opposition question on the cuts in the Reps during the last sitting. If Labor stays quiet-ish and the government makes concessions on student loans perhaps the PUPs will find a way to back deregulation. Or perhaps not.

Dolt of the day

Is me. Yesterday I attributed a paper at the excellent First Year in Higher Education Conference to Professor Sally Kift (James Cook). In fact Professor Kift was praising the presentation, which was by Professor Karen Nelson (PVC, USC). Thanks to Claire Brooks for the correction.

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