Dark times and blue skies: while the union warns Universities Australia hopes for the best

Stormy weather: The NTEU prepares for the worst

The National Tertiary Education Union’s budget preview released last night is a solid piece of research making a plausible case for what universities and students could cop on Tuesday night. It suggests student fees will rise, with Canberra cutting its payment per Commonwealth Supported Place and transferring the amount to students via the loan scheme. While the union does not expect any deregulation of fees, it suggests that the government could cut its contribution by, say $2000 per head but add $3000 per annum to student debt – with the balance going to the university. I suspect something along these lines is what the prime minister meant at last week’s Sydney Institute dinner when he said sources of university funding “would shift.” As to loan repayments the union suggests the Commission of Audit recommendation for a much lower repayment threshold and an administration fee are likely. In research the NTEU estimates the ARC has already copped its cut (a view shared by research establishment observers) but that CSIRO management is wise to anticipate a funding loss and that there is climate change research that is for the chop. Other anticipated research changes are around the edges, indexation of grants and simplified funding applications for longer grants, example. The big one for the union (see below) is indexation of university grants, which are now funded according to CPI increases plus a proportion of growth in the Professional and Technical Labour Market Index. While the NTEU does not mention it, this Higher Education Growth Index is a major reason why university management’s have signed off on relatively generous pay rises in the bargaining round now concluding. Returning indexation to CPI alone would not save much money now but would certainly reduce room for universities to commit cash without productivity improvements in the future.

I have no idea how right the union’s Paul Kniest has got it but when it comes to policy the man is a wonk’s wonk.

Your research dollars at work

CSIRO news advises, “in your lifetime, you will produce enough saliva to fill two swimming pools.”

 Blue skies please: UA hopes for the best

University Chancellors and VCs met at Swinburne yesterday for Universities Australia’s annual meeting. They issued a statement last night, outlining not what they expect on budget night as much as the way they would like the world to be. Given UA is about as united as the United States Congress in 1860 a prevalence of platitudes over policy was inevitable but a carefully worded statement on fee deregulation was significant. “UA acknowledges the case for price differences taking account of differing cost bases, and course and programme offerings.”

And after last months controversy over UA’s alleged distaste for higher education providers in trade a careful explanation why universities need more money than NUHEPs (non university higher education providers) was unavoidable, “UA is not opposed to greater competition. … The relative funding of universities compared with non-university higher education providers (NUHEPs) should take account of the obligation of universities to invest in research, public good and community engagement activities.” Otherwise it was the usual demand for more money, or at very least no less – especially via indexation, “which should be at least maintained a existing levels … in the national interest.” UA is obviously reading the same signs in the skies as the NTEU.

To go boldly where Pyne has gone before

Good for La Trobe VC John Dewar who is down to speak at a live all-campus open student forum today. Granted Professor Dewar will have four members of his team with him but it’s a fair bet he will cop all the hard questions. “You will have the chance to ask the vice chancellor your questions, your concerns,” the La Trobe Student Union advised members yesterday. But just in case people did not have questions of their own the LSU thoughtfully provided a list of issues around Professor Dewar’s restructure. Which he will undoubtedly will answer. Dewar has form in tackling hostile questions comprehensively and courteously – he did very well in the face of Fiona Parker’s insistent questioning about job losses at the Bendigo campus on ABC Radio there on March 3. Here’s hoping he gets a better hearing than Chris Pyne on Q&A.

Facing the common foe

When National Tertiary Education Union members meet today at Macquarie University they will hear how well enterprise bargaining is going. A 3 per cent per annum pay rise for the life of the deal is agreed, “with federal budget cuts almost certain, we have no real prospects of advancing this matter any further, “ the union negotiators advise. Existing conditions are protected, 24 EFT teaching fellow positions established, and teaching hours are capped, “to ensure all staff get sufficient time to undertake quality research and scholarship.” It is standard stuff, similar to deals across the country – but why the rush to get it done? “NTEU is anticipating a horror federal budget with major cuts to higher education on the way. We are also contending with a federal government which is hell-bent on imposing its agenda on the enterprise bargaining process and will almost certainly interfere in our process if given the leeway or opportunity,” the bargaining team writes. Whatever management thinks, it seems both sides at North Ryde want an application for a ballot into Fair Work Australia by today week.

Research mystery

Another day, another explanation why the Commission of Audit was clueless in calling for the CRC program to close and its funding allocated to ARC Linkage Grants. In yesterday’s effort CRC Association chief Tony Peacock published supporters explaining why this is a bad idea in its newsletter. But if so many people approve of the CRC’s where did the CoA get the idea of closing the program? No, that is not a rhetorical question, somebody influential out there can make a case the ARC would spend the CRC’s budget better, but who and why?

Super-skilled migration

A standard panic in US education is the way foreigners, rather than locals, dominate science and engineering PhD programs. But turns out this isn’t that much of a problem- because many of the graduates stay in the states. According to newly published figures, some 61 per cent of 1995 doctoral graduates were still in the US 16 years later. In 2011 the five-year stay rates were highest for computer science (79 per cent) and computer/electrical engineering (71 per cent). Overall China and India account for half the PhDs and 60 per cent of those that stay on in the US for five years. It’s a bit different to the cooking and hairdressing courses here as de facto migration programs of infamous memory.

(Very) north terrace

The University of South Australia is excited that Jordan Louviere from its Institute for Choice will sit on the selection panel for a major US research in marketing award. Quite right too – Professor Louviere is veteran of consumer choice modelling with a (very) long publication record and (vast) consulting experience. But perhaps UniSA should not make too much of his SA connection. Up until March, when he and many of his colleagues defected, Professor Louviere was part of the Centre for the Study of Choice at UTS. Nor has he moved that far – while he is works for Uni SA his Centre is in a North Sydney office.