NTEU demands a bigger role in fund that manages uni staff super savings

In breaking news …

Just not from this week – Labor shadow assistant higher education minister Amanda Rishworth warns, “independent Parliamentary Budget Office costings confirm uni tuition would rise 40 per cent under Malcolm Turnbull’s plan for deregulation and $100k degrees.” Talk about a political gift that keeps on giving. Whatever is in the budget we will hear about the dangers of deregulation all the way to the election.

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For the union will make them strong

The National Tertiary Education Union has won its first argument with UniSuper management, but the big one, over the union’s role in the fund, is to come. On ANZAC Day the union attacked fund CEO Kevin O’Sullivan for rejecting the idea of a royal commission into the banks. “Fund members certainly don’t pay UniSuper executives millions of dollars to do the bidding of Malcolm Turnbull and his banking mates,” NTEU president Jeannie Rea said, CMM April 26). The union called on members to demand the fund’s board retract Mr O’Sullivan’s statement

Ms Rea followed up on Tuesday by asserting the union’s right to intervene in the fund’s affairs and raised what the comrades have long considered their under-representation on the board; “UniSuper manages super for people employed in higher education and research. UniSuper enjoys this coverage of higher education staff as the super fund named in the enterprise agreements negotiated with the union. However, the NTEU only has one nominee director on the UniSuper Board.”

The board, which includes NTEU general secretary Grahame McCulloch, was scheduled to meet next Wednesday and Ms Rea added she would “like to be a fly on the wall,” there.

But not now. Last night a joint statement by UniSuper chair Chis Cuffe and Mr O’Sullivan reported the board had met, “to discuss the strong reaction from fund members.” The board noted the O’Sullivan statement, “was motivated by a genuinely felt belief that such a royal commission would not be in the best interests of UniSuper’s members …“there was absolutely no intent to make a political statement.” And management will not do anything like it again. “UniSuper will refrain from any further comment on the matter and will continue to keep under review its procedures relating to public comments on public policy issues, particularly in the environment of an election campaign.”

The intended kicker is, “the UniSuper Board confirms that the Chief Executive has its full support, including the support of UniSuper Board member and NTEU general secretary, Grahame McCulloch.” Good-o but Jeannie Rea’s suggestion (CMM April 26) “none of this would have happened if UniSuper members had a real voice in its operation” is still out there. Perhaps another board position for the NTEU, or a change to the membership and/or election of the fund’s member oversight committee would help.

Mr McCulloch made the same point in a statement last night in which he explained why O’Sullivan’s statement was “a very serious error of judgement” which “has the potential to be a serious distraction” to the introduction of the fund’s proposed “FlexiChoices” product. “Introducing this product is a very complex matter involving the interaction of many political, industrial, technical, investment and planning considerations, particularly because developing a consensus around the implementation of the product’s contribution flexibility component has still not been achieved.”

And while he assured members that UniSuper is “overwhelmingly the best managed and run fund in Australia,” he joined Ms Rea in demanding a bigger role for the union, notably in the 144 member committee that oversights the fund.

“The only thing it lacks is a proper voice for trade unions and fund members in the core of its structure – the shareholding company (USL) and its consultative committee.  Had there been such a voice in these structures then this distraction would not have occurred.  The fundamental issue is that NTEU must have a genuine ownership share and there must be deep reform of the consultative committee.”

This isn’t an ambit claim.

Time of their lives

A boffin of scientists convened at the Australian Academy of Science yesterday for a planning session of the 22 discipline committees, focused on the strategic future of, the committees. Wow, there certainly has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian scientist.


Go forth and innovate

Science and Innovation Minister Christopher Pyne has announced a Berlin “landing pad” for Australian start-ups. “Berlin is an emerging major tech hub with an increasingly international start-up community. Placing landing pads in innovation hot-spots will help entrepreneurial Australian companies access complementary entrepreneurial talent.” The German capital joins landing pads in San Francisco, Tel Aviv and Shanghai. Grants range from $69 000 to $1m. Good-o, but doesn’t public funding for entrepreneurs to go overseas and innovate rather miss the point.

Biden their time

A reader points to US vice president Joe Biden’s new call for open access to cancer research papers.

“Right now, you work for years to come up with a significant breakthrough, and if you do, you get to publish a paper in one of the top journals. For anyone to get access to that publication, they have to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars to subscribe to a single journal. And here’s the kicker — the journal owns the data for a year. … And by the way, the taxpayers fund $5 billion a year in cancer research every year, but once it’s published, nearly all of that taxpayer-funded research sits behind walls. Tell me how this is moving the process along more rapidly.”

Not that this will worry the for-profit publishers, after all they only have to ignore Mr Biden until March.

Careful budgeting

Yesterday’s Victorian budget includes $2.477 bn for post school education and training, up 2.6 per cent. It estimates the participation rate for 15-24 year olds participating in government subsidised training and further education will be 18.7 per cent, down from 22.5 per cent in 2015-16. However the budget is silent on major new VET initiatives (outside schools), leaving the pressure on Canberra to address the VET FEE HELP mess. The budget predicts 53.2 per cent of VET completers will have “an improved employment status after training,” up from an anticipated 50.7 per cent for 2015.

The government has made much of its (CMM March 18) international education strategy which it supports with a budget spend of $6.6m. There can’t be much left of that now the the strategy development and corporate glossy are paid for.


Ready for my close-up Professor deMille

Universities that want to boost international student numbers need a movie shot on campus the BBC suggests. As long as it does not star the VC.

In contrast, the University of Sydney is going less for style and more for substance in building its brand. Research librarian Michelle Harrison is testing a new training tutorial to show researchers how to raise their profiles. Imagine, using real researchers to present a brand!