Plus the mess at Murdoch: anybody who says they know what’s going on doesn’t

Let them eat cake first

The (federal) Department of Education turned one on Friday and allowed itself a small celebratory cake. I wonder if they sent the minister a slice and if so did his staff insist on trying it first. Secretary Lisa Paul must be pleased with the way things are going, not least because it is so much easier to get the new name in when singing “happy birthday to you”. It’s not so long since well-wishers had to sing, “Happy birthday dear Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations …”

An end but not outcome in sight

Oh good, another sitting week which means Labor asking Christopher Pyne why he wants to “Americanise Australian universities” and Mr Pyne quoting university lobby groups who agree with him, if only up to a point. Don’t expect anything extra. The Senate committee inquiring into deregulation is not due to report until October 28, which leaves the two remaining sitting days that week and then the last week in November and first week in December for the upper house to debate the bill. So there is still plenty of time for all sides of the argument to make their cases to the Senate crossbench. For the moment some of the smartest of money among university lobbyists thinks the minister might get there, suggesting senators are listening to universities on their respective patches who support the package with amendments. However two observers say whatever Clive Palmer and the other PUPs do Senator Lambie will not budge. And one suggests it will take a strongly expressed request from Queensland VCs to make it possible for Senator Lazarus to reverse his adamant opposition to deregulation. But if anything is passed it will be different to what Mr Pyne first proposed.

Sign up for solidarity

Sounds like the University of Melbourne wants people to brace for tough news in the Business Improvement Programme. There is a self-help seminar next week on “managing myself through change,” followed by “building optimism and resilience.” And for those who suspect choruses of we shall overcome will not be enough the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union tells non-members who fear they may be BIP targets to join up by October 1 to qualify for help.

Big bucks

In the great tradition of upsetting powerful people the NTEU has compiled a new list of what VCs are paid. Last year the union estimated the VCs of Melbourne, ACU, Monash, UofQ and Macquarie all had $1m plus packages. Kim Carr provided a curtain raiser for this year’s performance when he tried to needle ACU’s Greg Craven over his pay in last week’s Senate committee hearing on deregulation. This is a perennial of higher education politics that started in the 90s, when the arrival of international students created revenue streams which universities did not have to account to Canberra for. But it will bite this week – vast VC salaries suit critics claiming Minister Pyne plans to “Americanise universities.” Except that the generality of Australian VCs already make more than their US and UK equivalents – as Timothy Devinney and Graham Dowling demonstrated last year (CMM August 12, ’13) the generality of university heads in those countries make roughly the same as each other and less than Australians. “There is also no reason to believe that Australian universities are any more difficult to run than major US universities or those in the UK or that the individuals chosen to run the Australian universities possess any special skills that demand greater compensation,” they wrote.

What journal deals cost Kiwis

Good for RadioNZ science reporter William Ray who has reported the $55m New Zealand universities and major research agencies spend on journal subscriptions, which does not include the benefit publishers enjoy of not paying for articles based on publicly funded research. I wonder if the Key Government, celebrated for being particularly careful with the punnies, will take this up with more energy (that is to say some) than successive ministers here.

Unanimous opinions

The medical research lobby Research Australia has created the Medical Research Future Fund Action Group to make the case for the $20bn MRFF endowment – Ogilvy PR’s health group manages it. And very busy they are to – there are regular social media statements supporting the MRFF, which is obviously a big hit among medical researchers. But is anybody else paying much attention? The Medicare co-payment which is intended to fund it, is not due to start until next July so maybe the MRFF is still drilling the ducks it intends to get in a row. Or maybe it hopes somebody else will deliver the dollars. As it is, research institutes are just agreeing with each other.

Distaste for change will be highly regarded

The University of Canberra is in the market for a new VP Operations, presumably replacing Bruce Lines, who has moved to the University of Adelaide. “Be part of a breakthrough,” the job ad in the AFR on Friday enticed. Breakthrough? Given VC Stephen Parker is the only university chief on the record as flat out opposing the Pyne package to completely change universities operating environment perhaps not. The line was dropped from the version in The Weekend Australian, which stuck to the usual “strategic and critical thinker, vibrant and exciting environment” HR guff.

The mystery at Murdoch

There was a media flurry on Friday with hacks chasing the rumour de jour from Murdoch University, where VC Richard Higgott is stood down, pending a WA Crime and Corruption Commission investigation into allegations passed it to by the university. Journalists were interested in the whereabouts of staff closely associated with Professor Higgott, some also wondered where HR director Karen Lamont had got to. The university says she was on personal leave for a few days but returns to work in her regular post tomorrow. Otherwise, acting VC Andrew Taggart is telling people, the only change in the leadership is his appointment.