But not to worry, Lisa Paul has seen it all


Bruce Bilson was sworn in as small business minister yesterday – a post that puts him in cabinet. There was no talk of the responsibilities being subsumed into another portfolio, say industry. And there was no suggestion that the responsibility could be looked after without a minister allocated the specific responsibility. The contrast with research and science, higher education and training is stark.

Scramjet scrambled

Bad news from Norway overnight. The University of Queensland scramjet test field test failed. Apparently the rocket launched and the first and second stages landed in the ocean but “the payload did not reach the correct conditions to begin collecting data as planned.” A brief university statement advises the project is “discontinued” . I’m guessing that means this test not the whole scramjet venture.

Why undergraduate history is well, history

Mitch Musilin from Casuarina Secondary College in the NT asks, “in a classroom with online resources, it appears that there has never been a better time to study or teach history, so why the exodus from history?” And then he answers his own question; “students who excel in the humanities are moving into maths, science and IT because of the perception of greater financial reward and job security.” (Australian Teacher Magazine, yesterday)

Boring through hard boards

The  administrative orders came out yesterday afternoon and within minutes Conor King from the Innovative Research Universities raised the sort of issue that does not make for an official’s afternoon. “The Higher Education Support Act funds research block grants. On the admin orders this keeps them in education,” he pointed out. It struck him as strange given “creation and development of research infrastructure” is a task for the Department of Industry. I have no clue whether this is intentional but I suspect it will not be the only anomaly and there will be the usual skirmishes over sponduliks as agencies work out who is in charge of what. There are also potential problems consciously created. The Minister for Education gets both the beginning and the best bits of education, covering early childhood, school education policy, as well as universities. But the industry department administers, “skills and vocational education policy regulation and programs” and “training, including apprenticeships and training.” And while universities employ scientists the industry department (HESA aside) is interested in what they do. Minister Macfarlane runs both science policy and research grants and fellowships (perhaps he should add “plus science” to the end of his title on business cards). I suppose this means he also decides what to do about research impact, which surely involves decisions made under HESA. And so forth, and so on. Sure there were similar divisions in the 103 ministries of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments but I thought the new PM wanted to keep it simple
Not that this will be a problem, according to Belinda Robinson from Universities Australia who yesterday demonstrated optimism rarely seen since Pollyanna was a poppet.
“The critical role of universities for fostering national prosperity and productivity has been acknowledged by the prime minister’s decision to have universities and research represented in cabinet by two of the Abbott Government’s most senior and experienced frontbenchers – the Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne and the Minister for Industry, Ian Macfarlane.”

It’s all explained here minister

Warwick Anderson, who runs the National Health and Medical Research Council, explains why access is important and journal impact isn’t in  The Conversation. Looks like a brief to the new minister to me.

Good news, relatively

It could be worse – the prime minister could have outsourced higher education administration directly to the Finance Department (“hey, just because the budget cutters are in charge does not mean we don’t value universities”). And the appointment of Lisa Paul to head the Department of Education at least means one secretary over-sighting K to postdoc, except the bits that involve training and research and science. Ms Paul is a classic public servant, always supportive of the minister’s ideas – I remember her speaking at a lunch for Joel Klein when Julia Gillard was his fan. Whatever Ms Paul really thought about teaching to the test, she was endlessly enthusiastic about what we could learn from Manhattan. That she has run the various hybrids that have covered the commonwealth’s education interests since 2004 also means Ms Paul has the authority and experience to explain to the minister what happened when a predecessor tried his new idea.  Ms Paul “is the best bit of good news we’ve had relatively speaking,” one insider observed yesterday.

The numbers add up

Deans of education will be pleased at the new workforce stats, which they will use to make the case for enrolling many more teacher education students, whatever their ATARs. Employment in education now 897,000 people will expand by 7.2 per cent to 2017.  This is bang on the anticipated national average but even so it translates into a need for 62,000 new teachers.

What a surprise! A strike at Sydney

So much for Michael Spence’s August ultimatum to the union bargaining team at the University of Sydney that they either signed a new deal or he would withdraw his offer to backdate a 2.9 per cent (per annum for four years) pay rise. They didn’t so he did. Now the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union is trying a circuit breaker of its own – a three-day strike across October 16-18.  The union has letters for staff to distribute to students detailing what it is all about – which is money. “Once the timing of the agreement and the current inflation figures are taken into account, they are currently offering us an effective pay-cut. In other words, at the same time they are asking us to do more, management want to leave us worse off. Just like a business, they want to get more for less.” The union wants 4 per cent by four years.
So what happens now? Until last November, when the University of New South Wales over took it, the University of Sydney set the pace on pay, with senior academics the best paid in the country. With approximately the same number of NTEU members at Sydney, around 25 per cent, as at Macquarie, Southern Cross, Western Sydney and Wollongong, perhaps the union thinks that if it can win a bigger pay rise at Sydney the others will follow. But after a year of arguing I wonder what the rest of the staff think, with no bargaining meetings scheduled and no sign of a settlement in sight.