Plus why students don’t get up and go 

No brainer

Cornell University statisticians have crunched the numbers to conclude the safest place in the US in case zombies attack is the Rocky Mountains. According to a Phys.Org report the project is a great way to teach epidemiology and statistical method. But they missed the other safe place – reality.


Mike muscles up

Mike Gallagher may have retired from running the Group of Eight but not from advocating university deregulation, making a submission to the Opposition sponsored Senate inquiry into the Pyne package. Mr Gallagher’s case for change will be familiar to his many admirers but what they, and his sadly numerous opponents, will find interesting is that he also addresses the implications of compacts, a policy dear to the heart of Opposition education spokesman Kim Carr.

“Compacts have the potential to authorise external intrusion into the substantive and operational autonomies of universities, such as in mission determination, course approval, student mix, and research orientation,” he warns.

As for the various counsels of caution and calls for more consideration of deregulation Mr Gallagher has no doubt of the direction they point higher education. “Any of them would involve the re-insertion of a strong government role in steering or driving the nation’s higher education system and a reversal of the tendency of increasing individual and institutional autonomy. Such a move would not represent some kind of ‘transition mechanism’, ‘staging point’, ‘middle ground’ or ‘third way’. To the contrary, it would signal a turnaround against the progressive course of higher education policy in Australia over the last 30 years.”

It’s even bigger than that; along with the brawl over private providers in voced the deregulation dispute is a proxy for a philosophical dispute over the role of the state in society last seen in the 1980s.

Doctor, doctor, give me the news

Deakin academics Matthew Dunn and Christina Cheng have surveyed Australian health websites and found that they are written above the reading level of most adults. Just like the way conversations with doctors leave people confused?

Keeping TAFE safe

The Australian Council of Trade Unions demonstrates the push to minimise markets in education in its submission to the Senate committee inquiry into for-profit voced. The peak body points to problems in the private sector and demands “the national entitlement to a guaranteed training place” only be available at TAFE, until the training market is “stable and mature” and free of problems. It also rejects calls for the public sector to be more competitive. “This is not a genuine reform if it is simply code for reducing the wages and conditions of TAFE workers, and for contestability based on price, rather than quality and fitness for purpose.”

The ACTU also joins the push to cap for-profit participation in training to 30 per cent of the market, “to ensure that TAFE remains able to perform its historic role as the public provider of quality vocational education and training to all fields of education, all student backgrounds and all areas of Australia.”

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Growth economics

UWS is expanding at home and away. Yesterday NSW Premier Mike Baird turned the first sod on the site of the university’s $220m future high-rise campus in the Parramatta CBD. This week Vice Chancellor Barney Glover has also mentioned “a small but strategically important joint campus for UWS” to be established with the University of Economics in Ho Chi Minh City. I guess the Vietnamese aren’t bothered that UWS retrenched a bunch of senior economics researchers a couple of years back.

On the ball

The University of Melbourne has a deal with The Demons and Victoria U one with The Bulldogs, but La Trobe is mates with the mighty Manchester City FC, through its Melbourne City subsidiary. (For people focused on football these are soccer clubs). This morning Melbourne City will announce its City Football Academy based at La Trobe. The new facility features playing fields and sports science research facilities. It sounds like a good fit, teaching and researching sport, from medicine to marketing, is a foundation of La Trobe’s growth plan and Vice Chancellor John Dewar says La Trobe is already “the number one sport university in Australia.” I asked what club Englishman Dewar barracks for in the UK competition but nobody knew – I’m sure it’s Man City.

Why no get up and go

New research from the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research reports that young Australians from relatively poor regional and fringe urban areas do not always use education to get up and go. According to Susan Webb and colleagues from Monash University, schools alone cannot beat the hold of family and place in shaping young people’s ambitions, or absence of them. “Even where schools encouraged young people to consider university study, the influences and expectations of families, friends and other social networks often meant that young people chose to stay in the local place, adapting their aspirations in ways that were gendered and which replicated family and local traditions. This was found to be the case for young men in particular, “ they write.

But as the authors point out, while where kids live and the values and expectations they grow up with are important in not encouraging them to break out, “in many instances, a specific experience or the influence of an individual or encounter served as a turning point, enabling them to navigate complex choices and circumstances or to imagine a future different from that of their family and friends.” It’s called life.

Feds focus on new funding plan

It’s not just Bruce Chapman’s course funding plan that is attracting favourable attention from the feds. Peter Noonan and Sarah Pilcher from Victoria University have a proposal for a single post school system to assist students with course costs, instead of the present binary divide between higher education and training. The word is people working on the Federation White Paper are paying particular attention to Noonan and Pilcher’s work.


Winners of the week

It was a scrappy political week, with everybody waiting for the big blue to come in the Senate over deregulation but winners just got on with their work – although some scored political points in the process.

Like Steve “who?” Herbert, the Victorian training minister who announced employers banned from employing apprentices for ducking their training obligations. With for-profit-training enduring image issues created by industry shonks this is a politically good look.

And like national president of the National Tertiary Education Union, Jeannie Rea. Her union has long led the campaign against university deregulation and it excelled itself this week with a new attack ad, featuring a young mother failing to find a doctor to see her baby. This will happen, the union assures us, because deregulated course costs will push the cost of studying medicine up and graduates will have to become specialist instead of GPs so they can pay their HECS debts. It’s an outrageous stretch but there is no faulting the union for staying on message.

In contrast, Phoebe Phillips was a winner of the week with a new job. The University of New South Wales pancreatic cancer researcher will become head of the Australian Society of Medical Research, the peak professional body, with 120 000 members (many more supporters than scientists). She also wins for optimism, saying she will work hard to have the Medical Research Future Fund established. Good luck with that one, doctor.

Kate Warner also stepped up to a new task. The recently appointed governor of Tasmania is chairing the advisory board for a new university research centre on the state’s woeful education outcomes. As a former academic Her Excellency is well placed to push a project Tasmania desperately needs.

And finally Craig Fowler, on behalf of his organisation, did well. Dr Fowler has a public profile that makes “Who” Herbert look like a rock star but as CEO of the National Centre for Vocational Education Research he leads an organisation that pumps out research which is essential to understanding VET. This week’s NCVER’s submission to the Senate inquiry into for-profit training provides much needed policy data to stop the debate plummeting into polemics.

Cashed up

If anybody doubts the industrial acuity of the National Tertiary Education Union have a look at yesterday’s wage growth figures. Across the board wages rose 2.3 per cent last year, 2.7 per cent in the public sector, and economists don’t expect any early acceleration. Which puts university staff way ahead, with the union negotiating around 3 per cent annual increases for the next three years at campuses across the country.

What would Leo do?

Enrol in Harvard’s new MOOC, via edX, “central challenges of American national security and the press,” is what. This is a great alternative to watching endless repeats of West Wing on pay TV dealing with the same perennials of US foreign policy. As the advert says, “Want to advise the president? Get started with Harvard‘s new free MOOC on national security.” I wonder if anybody in the West Wing, the real one, not Jed Bartlett and Leo McGarry’s, has signed up.

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