Lee Dow speaks out: deregulation will hurt regionals and women

The case for open access

CMM will publish a second issue later this morning setting out the Australian case for open access to publicly funded research publications. Written by open access experts Colin Steele and Danny Kingsley it demonstrates why Australian universities and research funding agencies should build on the foundation work of institutional repositories. Do they obvious thing when it lands in your inbox and circulate it to the world.

Enduring achievement

There were Friday farewells for UTS out-going vice chancellor Ross Milbourne. If you want a sense of what he achieved have a look around the Broadway campus transformation – there aren’t many VCs with a Frank Gehry building on their patch.

Lee Dow speaks out

Higher  education elder statesman Kwong Lee Dow has intervened in the deregulation debate, warning of dangers to regional universities and lower income families in a carefully worded speech in Ballarat on Friday night.

“Whatever finally emerges from the political machinations with the Senate, students will be paying significantly more, and rural and regional students will be disproportionately affected. Remember too the challenge for students and their families of the actual costs of daily living, especially if living away from home, and the seemingly lengthening years needed to complete professional qualifications,” Professor Lee Dow said.

The influential Professor Lee Dow’s statement is a significant set back for Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s proposal for a market based higher education system. Professor Lee Dow is a former vice chancellor of the University of Melbourne and a governance expert who has conducted inquiries for both state and federal governments on both sides of politics, including the TEQSA review commissioned by Labor and acted on by Mr Pyne.

Significantly, Professor Lee was a member of the West Review, in the late 1990s, which called for a deregulation of higher and further education with institutional funding based on a voucher system.

In his speech Professor Lee Dow also rejected a key claim for Mr Pyne’s package, that regional universities will benefit by being able to under cut the fees charged by high status city campuses, suggesting increased course costs will be a marker of status and as such will be charged by all sorts of institutions. “Families will not be able to meet these higher fees, so the institutions will have less funding and so become less competitive over time.”

He added he doubted Canberra was aware of the different needs regional universities. “Believe me, it is hard for people of goodwill in Canberra to gain an ongoing appreciation of the factors involved and their relative importance, while at the same time their energy necessarily is directed towards the complex interplay of institutions in each of the national capitals where most students, staff and institutions are found.”

But above all Professor Lee Dow joined the many critics of the intended increase in student loan repayments, to 6 per cent, warning it will be “alarming” for people on low incomes, especially women graduates.

Professor Lee Dow’s carefully calibrated remarks will be quoted throughout the sector. Coming from such a respected figure they are a significant setback for Mr Pyne’s plan.

Defying Dewar

The La Trobe University restructure grinds grimly on, with management talking about options to cut costs and end employment and the campus National Tertiary Education Union standing its ground, arguing that none of it is necessary. The union’s new protest is a petition which makes its case and calls on Council to rescind its endorsement of Vice Chancellor JohnDewar’s plan. “The financial case made by La Trobe University for savings of $65M, and therefore sack approximately 350 staff is totally contrived. The university has elected to spend on projects such as buildings and IT enhancements rather than on staff who deliver quality education and support for our students.” Will this change anything? Probably not but the union is conceding nothing.

Badly engineered outcomes

The Alcoa Foundation is funding five $10 000 scholarships for women in the final year of their engineering degree at Deakin University. Good-oh, but isn’t the problem as much about women staying in engineering after graduation as it is completing their course. While recent Australian stats are sparse it seems the general Anglosphere experience is that half the women with engineering degrees create careers as engineers. There are all sorts of polite explanations why this is so, with one underlying cause male engineers are not especially wiling to welcome women in their workplaces.

Policy profanity

A reader suggest that CMM’s use of the F word (that’s family, as in the way caring for them slows women’s careers) is topped by the C word, used to describe a certain long established group of universities. C – for cartel.

Stout rope 

The National Health and Medical Research Council is hinting at unpleasant outcomes for research bodies that do not share its freshly expressed concern for gender equity in research. And those that know what is good for them are working on the required policy and performance statements, now due (with an extension) at the end of August. It will be interesting to see (if we ever get to) what they all come up with because the key issue for women keen to build a research record is career disruption, generally due to family responsibilities – which is all devilishly complex.

As one expert puts it; “how much in-built flexibility is there in the actual funding schemes themselves?  Can fellowships be held part-time due to carer responsibilities particularly in the early and middle stages of a research career? If so does a 4 year fellowship award then become an 8 year fellowship if held/converted to PT or is there simply a part time option with no extension of time/duration or award? Alternatively are researchers forced to make a decision to work full time or pursue other (more family friendly/flexible) career options? The NHMRC now has a policy on career disruption, “but it is not clear if all universities provide detailed advice/guidance about how to address it,” this observer suggests.

The Australian Research Council is also covered, with its Research Opportunity and Performance Evidence policy. ROPE is designed to assess a researchers performance in the context of “periods of unemployment, or any career interruptions for child birth, carers’ responsibilities, misadventure, or debilitating illness.” I wonder how many women who did/did not win future fellowships last week invoked the policy.

 Empathy adapts

CMM’s”you don’t say!” correspondent reports a paper co-authored by William von Hippel (University of Queensland), which suggests individuals who can adapt to changing situations in social circumstances get on with people. Who would have thought?

Certified complexity

The ocean that is vocational education is vast and no one knows all where all the eddies and shallows are, where rogue waves and worse weather will occur. But while no one can chart a course to improving outcomes for the millions of students and employers adrift on the boundless sea on training at least the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research provides guides to the problems they face. Like the new study by Josie Misko and NCVER colleagues that examines assessments of Certificate III courses in aged care, business and electrical skills. They found that regulatory issues are “key drivers” of quality assessment in aged care and electrical certificates, but these are not as important in business courses, which “are broader in scope.” The authors also report practitioners struggle to distinguish validation and moderation. But what is especially interesting is buried in the body of the report. “Practitioners found it challenging to keep up with training package changes and versions and to stay abreast of government legislation, regulations and standards (for electrical). Plain sailing training is not.

Cleared up

The Australia-China Council has announced small grants for 34 projects. Some sound like out outright industry assistance, like “improving confidence in the quality and safety of Australian dairy products for Chinese quarantine.” While others are obscure, I wonder what the University of Business School and KPMG are actually doing with a grant described as “upgrading ‘demystifying China’ ”.

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