Plus the Group of Eight explains why things are ok in the US (sort of)

For those who wait

“Save the date: @ NHMRC grants announcement between 10-15 Oct,” the agency announced yesterday. That should give applicants plenty of time to be make themselves sick with nerves.

Premium packages

The NTEU will be as popular as Pyne in Stephen Parker’s office this morning following release of its analysis of what VCs packages are worth. There are quite a few big pay days, with six VCs earning over $1m and another 13 between $800 000 and the million mark. The overall range is $445 000 (Edith Cowan’s recently retired Kerry Cox) to $1 095 000 (ACU’s Greg Craven).

As to how who gets what is determined – it looks like the market at work, with universities paying according to satisfaction with performance and probably capacity to pay. Certainly Go8 VCs are paid a poultice, ranging from Uni Sydney’s Michael Spence at $1 075 000 down to Ian Young at ANU on an $848 000 package. But the reasons for the $167 000 difference between Professor Young and Peter Coaldrake (QUT) is not immediately apparent. And on recent performance you would think Andy Vann, at the head of innovating Charles Sturt would be on more ($539 000) than any vice chancellor of UNE ($785 000). Then again, given the years of turmoil at Armidale perhaps the package includes a substantial stress allowance.

There are a bunch of caveats to the data – package does not mean cash, some institutions report in bands (the union takes the midpoint) and when people are not named in the books the NTEU assumes the highest paid is the VC. This may mean errors, but as the union correctly calls it; “if universities want more accurate information published, there is nothing stopping them publishing such data.” Specifics on outcomes against KPIs would not hurt either.

Fewer than you might think

According to new stats from the Australian Public Service Commissioner, some 43 education department ongoing employees have doctorates, just 5 per cent of the 950 staff whose qualifications are known (those of another 899 staff aren’t). There is just one doctorate at the ARC and six at TEQSA.

Nowt about NCRIS

The science community was pleased when the Government found a year’s funding in the Budget for the National Collaborative Infrastructure Scheme, to keep existing programs running. But it is already October so somebody, somewhere, in education officialdom thought it was a good time to demonstrate NCRIS’ strengths to members and senators. So yesterday there was an NCRIS showcase in Parliament House from noon to 3.30pm. “The showcase will bring to Canberra an exciting interactive display of what some of Australia’s best research infrastructure does to support research in fields as diverse as advanced manufacturing, microscopy, geology, astronomy and ocean observation,” an anonymous official promised in advance. So who organised it, what did it cost, why now and to what purpose? Nobody in the researcheratti I checked with new anything about it so I asked the Department of Education media team who took a couple of hours to tell me it was the work of, yes, the Department of Education, but declined, despite my best efforts, to expand on this. I hope everybody enjoyed themselves, which might have been the afternoon’s objective, but then, I would not know – it is probably a state secret.

All agreed

Tania Aspland from ACU is the new president of the Australian Council of Deans of Education, taking over ahead of tough times. NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli is quizzical about the quality of teacher graduates, so much so that he wants them to sit a test before they qualify to teach in his schools – a slap for sure in the face of education faculties. And then there is Chris Pyne’s review of teacher education chaired by Greg Craven – yes, the VC of ACU. Good thing that, dean and VC are already as one on many issues. “ACDE joined with ACU and Universities Australia in opposing minimum ATARs for teacher education and developing alternative selection methodologies. ACDE has also played a leading role with UA in developing a literacy and numeracy test to ensure that Australia’s teachers meet the national standard. … Tania Aspland is playing a key role in helping to develop all of these new policy directions,” Professor Craven told ACU staff yesterday.

 Debt is in the detail

The Group of Eight is pumping out papers variously explaining why deregulation would be good, or at least not bad for universities, their staff and students. Its new effort rebuffs warnings that “Americanising” universities will lead to $100 000 degrees and that US graduates owe a trillion dollars in course debt. It’s standard Go8 style, comprehensively researched and carefully written but cursed with a tin ear for debate. The paper supports all the familiar points, that the debt looks ginormous because the student numbers are humongous, 4,300 degree granting institutions with 17.7m undergraduates, that bachelor graduate debt is not too bad, $29,400 for those that borrow any money, that virtually nobody pays quoted top whack for elite institutions thanks to all but universal financial aid. So that’s all right then.

Not quite. The big debts, the Go8 acknowledge, come from “loans associated with professional postgraduate programs (such as law, medicine and pharmacy) (which) are significantly higher than for undergraduate programs.” Gosh like the professional qualifications Go8 members, like Uni Melbourne and UWA, want to make postgraduate programs?

And the US undergraduate market is based on price. For undergraduates at a four-year public institution average annual tuition costs in 2012/13 was US$3050, at not for profit privates it was $11 900. Supporters of deregulation will suggest this demonstrates a price-based market at work but opponents will say students get what they pay for.

Walk on the miles side

The long awaited Cooperative Research Centre review by David Miles is underway. Dr Tony Peacock from the CRC Association says a discussion paper will be followed by submissions and hearings. Standard methodology, but the CRC tribe’s fierce loyalty to their model will ensure Mr Miles will get their messages loud and very clear.

The sharp end

It looked like being the quietest Question Time since the budget. Well into the bating and bellowing the only question Christopher Pyne had taken from the government benches was representing employment minister Senator Abetz. He answered with his usual enthusiasm but staying silent on university reform must have hurt. But then Bill Shorten tried to trip Mr Pyne up on whether or not the Liberals had announced a higher education policy before the election. And the minister was off, explaining why universities had to change and how the government would help them – but there was no specifics. And when Claire O’Neil (Labor-Hotham) accused him of wanting to double student fees he was off again, quoting university lobbies and arguing Labor had dealt itself out of reforming education. But with universities in a lather over student fees and debt I wonder where the detail is? Being hammered out in offices in the Senate wing?

He who wrote the book

A collection of essays in honour of Patrick Weller was launched yesterday at the Australian Political Science Association conference. Edited by Glyn Davis and Rod Rhodes it includes essays by James Walter and Peter Shergold. And a good thing too. Patrick Weller is a great, for 30 years he has explained how we are governed, how whisperings in the corridors of power are shaped by ministers, minders and mandarins into decisions that shape our lives. His mid ‘80s book on the Fraser governments, based on Mr Fraser’s cabinet papers set a standard for analyses of the contested ground where policy, personality and politics intersect. And he has not stopped since –with a current ARC grant on prime ministerial success and failure.

Past is present

Veteran historian Henry Reynolds has long campaigned against what he considers “the militarisation of Australian history.” It skews our sense of the past, elevates the soldier over the legislator and makes it easier for governments to go to war. It has happened because “for a generation, federal governments have funded an intense program highlighting the importance of our military history,” he argues in a new essay in the excellent Inside Story (from Swinburne U). Not in the academy they haven’t. Australia has some fine grand strategy scholars, and excellent campaign historians – but many, my guess most, of the latter are outsider universities. Last time I checked Peter Brune (WWII PNG campaigns) and Mark Johnson (Second AIF divisional histories) were both school teachers. My guess is that military historians (as distinct from war and society scholars) have not had much grant money from agencies, including the ARC in the last ten years, certainly less money than historians of Australia Professor Reynolds would approve.