Plus standing up for the seriously insecure

Big thinker

“How much angst would vanish if we cracked this one: what to do if you want to spend a life thinking but academia isn’t for you?” – philosopher to the chattering classes, asked yesterday Alain de Botton yesterday. I suspect there is a book and documentary in the works to tell us.

Nice people, for polluters

Across the ditch Victoria University of Wellington is following ANU and abandoning investments in fossil fuel. Apparently this is “ a natural step for a university like Victoria with a leadership role in geosciences and climate change research and policy.” Not that VU has anything against fossil fuel producers, heavens no – “the university recognises that the world is still reliant on the fossil fuel industry and the intent of this decision is not to vilify responsible companies in the sector.” It’s just that the industry is poisoning the planet, “research strongly suggests that unless the world reduces its reliance on fossil fuels, climate change and ocean acidification will have severe impacts on life on land and in our oceans.”


Seriously insecure

Every now and again I write something about the academic underclass – the sessional teachers who do a great deal of teaching for not much money and with few prospects of a full-time job. And when I do senior university managers who say they value their casual teaching-staff tick me off for suggesting they do not appreciate people paid by the hour. In fact, most universities depend on casuals for the productivity they often cannot extract from more senior academics. So good on the NTEU for continuing it’s campaign against what it calls “precarious work”. The union is holding a two-day conference in Hobart on November 19-20 with a speakers list ranging from scholars to stirrers, including (from the first category I hasten to add), Australian Research Council chair Aidan Byrne.

Tough at the top

“Last month I had the privilege of visiting Rome, Paris, London, Durham and Dublin to meet with senior Church officials and current and prospective partner institutions,” ACU VC Greg Craven, briefs staff yesterday.

Scary sums

The Department of Education’s annual report, just out, demonstrates why HELP debt increases under the Pyne plan look so alarming. The average outstanding HELP debt now is $16 900, which graduates take 8 and a half years to repay. Even at this (comparatively) modest level the feds estimate a 17 per cent bad debt rate. No wonder the prospect of loans twice that size and real interest rates are so scary.

No comment

According to the DoE, the department’s comms team works “to ensure the availability and accessibility of accurate information about the portfolio’s programmes and initiatives.” Just not all of them. What for example, happened to the external review of the department’s media function? Last time I asked the response was “the department is unable to comment on this review as it is part of an ongoing FOI request.”

Allies off campus?

The National Alliance for the Public University is barely a week old but it will likely reach 1000 signatories to its charter in the next couple of days. It’s a sign of the extraordinary opposition to deregulation in the sector – the question is whether the electorate at large cares what happens to university workers. Sure what degrees will cost students under deregulation worries voters but as to staff – I’m guessing not.

Assertive ACPET

Last week new ACPET chief Rod Camm committed to cracking down on crook private providers – but he is not going to let government get away with using “poor behaviour” “at the margins of our sector” as an excuse to criticise the entire private sector. Last week he told NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli that ministerial advisors had mentioned, “the current media prominence reporting the alleged unscrupulous behaviour of some private providers. I am concerned that this thinking may have impacted on the NSW approach. “ And he urged the minister to stick with plans for TAFE governance changes so it can compete in “a more contestable training environment.” “I applaud this approach, as the significantly higher costs for TAFE to deliver to students are difficult to sustain in the current environment.”


Leading to where?

The University of Sydney launched “leadership for good”, its new corporate campaign last week. I would have reported it then but mistook it for a promotion of civics’ seminars. But no, it is the way the university intends to build its reputation with prospective students, staff, research partners and donors. According to a statement quoting Vice Chancellor Michael Spence, “other universities have distinguished themselves more effectively in an increasingly competitive domestic and international market, so this campaign is a really important step for us. It’s a campaign that really captures who we are: our university has always been a place that has made lives better through the leadership of our staff, students and alumni.” But stating and selling are different things – asserting past leadership is not the same as substantiating it now. It makes for a not especially impressive contrast with the University of Melbourne appeal, which uses “I believe …” as a call to action.

Patience is a pre-req

The University of Western Australia based ARC Centre for the History of Emotions is in the market for a new director to replace Philippa Maddern, who died in June. One of the job requirements is being “able to communicate the value and vitality of the centre’s research to the public, in the media and throughout the education system.” I’m guessing that is code for getting conservative critics off the centre’s case. Australian Research Council funded research on emotions featured in Liberal MP Jamie Brigg’s “Little book of big Labor waste” last year. The centre is funded to 2018 but is up for review next year.