Who knew, universities are cash machines

Bob afraid, be very afraid

The universities of Sydney and New South Wales, which have both hired his magnificence Bob “first class” Carr might be wondering what they have got themselves into with press reports of his not entirely modest required working conditions. Here’s hoping they included a no diary publication clause in his contract.

Tight times

How generous of UWS VC Barney Glover to reach a deal involving a pay increase with the National Tertiary Education Union, when the university is so stretched. “It is useful to note that the operating result for the university in 2013 was a modest $4.5 million and reflects the need to develop new revenue streams and manage our expenditure very closely in the future. This outcome also reflects the exposure of the university to Commonwealth funding and the volatility of these funding streams in a competitive demand driven system,” he told staff yesterday. Professor Glover also reports the university’s Board of Trustees has signed off on the accounts, following a “lengthy discussion” at a meeting attended by representatives of the State Audit Office. The university bean counters must have really enjoyed that.

UWS update

Despite disquiet among some business academics, NTEU member meetings at UTS yesterday favourably viewed the heads of an enterprise agreement negotiated with management.

 Clever counting

A wonk (one of the wonkiest) wonders whether Education Minister Chris Pyne has actually read Universities Australia’s “Keep it clever” campaign because he certainly missed the best bit when he praised it in a Wednesday speech, without promising any more money. “Mr Pyne is crazy not to commit to keeping it clever! UA claims $26 in GDP and $8 return in tax from every extra dollar invested in universities as one of the major claims in the campaign. If that claim is true, the government could fix the deficit by a moderate injection of funds into universities – I’d take $8 return in tax any day for a $1 investment,” the policy person suggests. Quite right and Minister Pyne really should tell the Treasurer about this marvellous cash machine before the budget. I asked Universities Australia about the source of this very important information, and if they ever reply I will report it. In the meantime it seems, in the immortal words of Bobby Darin, “multiplication, that’s the name of the game”.

 Answers blowing in the wind

James Cook University was hawking interviews yesterday with Dr David Henderson who studies the impact of cyclones on buildings. He was in Cooktown, right in the path of Cyclone Ita, setting up a test station. Talk about research cred.

So where is Torrens’ title?

Private provider Torrens University advises students on its website that they may qualify for Fee-Help, subject to approval of the institution not being disallowed after 15 sitting days of both houses of parliament (which as far as I know has not happened). TEQSA has also registered Torrens (until 2017), along with other private providers Carnegie Mellon and University College London. However those two are listed as higher education providers in the High Education Support Act, as of March 12, but Torrens isn’t with them. And unless listed an institution’s students are not eligible for assistance. I am sure all is well and there is an explanation, just one that is hard to find.

Topical treatment of tax

“How can trust be built between taxpayers and the taxation system?” the excellent ATAX asks. I am a fan of the tax specialists at UNSW, now incorporated in the business school and expect fascinating papers at next week’s conference on convincing the goose it is being fairly plucked. One paper in particular is especially topical, a week after Andrew Norton’s report. It is by Neil Warren and Richard Highfield, both from UNSW, who ask “Does the Australian Higher Education Loan Program undermine income tax integrity by encouraging increased tax planning and evasion behaviour by HELP debtors?” Good question, which adds a dimension to Norton’s case for reducing student bad debt.

Doctorates in optimism

The Quality in Postgraduate Education conference, a biennial on the South Australian academic calendar for 20 years, wraps up today. Among many papers on the craft of supervision and the research experience University of Adelaide Vice Chancellor Warren Bebbington’s raised issues that merit a division of dissertations. Despite a bare quarter of doctoral graduates finding work in their discipline the number and quality of people enrolling in PhDs remains strong, “it’s a market that does not react to demand changes,” he said.  He also suggested a need for “more realistic advice at the point of candidate selection,” although you have to wonder whether it will do any good – for very smart people research postgrads often are very bad at facing facts. In a world where PhD supply exceeds university demand Professor Bebbington suggests the supervisor community address three issues – help research students to compete faster, involve them in the life of their department, “to combat the solitariness of their lot,” and “fresh thought about the design and career-relevance of doctoral programs.” I wonder how the third one went down at a conference on research supervision.

West moves east

The University of Western Sydney made a modest addition to its western fiefdom the other day, opening an “outreach” community campus across the Blue Mountains in the country town of Lithgow. This was followed by a grand plan for a 10,000 student tower in Parramatta which is greater Sydney’s second CBD and increasingly removed from the university’s long-cultivated image as a fortress of fibro for the educationally under-privileged western suburbs. Vice Chancellor Barney Glover did not help the battler’s friend focus by telling the Sydney Morning Herald that while the university chancellery will stay way out west, “for the foreseeable future” a move to the elegantly apportioned existing campus at Parramatta “would be considered.” (Incidentally the SMH said the university headquarters is at Penrith. In fact it is at Werrington but you can’t expect inner city Fairfax folk to know the difference).

Cushway out at UNE

Local media in Armidale is reporting University of New England chief operating office Brian Cushway has resigned after 14 months. His departure follows a restructure of the university leadership by acting vice chancellor Annabelle Duncan. Mr Cushway was linked last year to UNE former chancellor and local MP Richard Torbay who left the university and retired from public life on short notice last year.

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