Plus Nick Xenophon’s radical idea

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Mama Mia!

Can you hear the drums Fernando? They’re beating out the news that Australia is in the next Eurovision Song Contest (so much for the new Columbo Plan making us all Asians now). And for ambitious antipodean abba-ites who really want to be in the Money, Money, Money because they know it’s a rich person’s world, perhaps they should enrol in the University of Melbourne subject on the ESC. “Through a series of case studies, this subject will examine a range of dimensions of Europe, including language, culture, diversity, the national and the transnational, as well as issues of gender and sexuality.” Um, perhaps not, because it wont teach you how to win the contest – pop singing must be a competency, so you will have to do that at a tech. Still, if you are interested in transgender nationality in Euro-pop, ring ring, why don’t you them a call? But as for teaching high culture and timeless truths, it seems arts at Uni Melbourne (and don’t tell me you did not see this coming) has met its waterloo.

High science of policy

Science and Technology Australia and ANU’s Crawford School hosted “science meets policy makers yesterday, where the mandarins explained that policy makers are sometimes not as up on recent research into everything as they should be. Observers scored some presentations highly, “who knew Bruce (father of HECS) Chapman could be so funny” one said. Epidemiologist Emily Banks and defence thinker Hugh White also really rated. As for newly appointed Parliamentary for Science Karen Andrews, (Liberal-McPherson) “she was enthusiastic but still has the training wheels firmly on.”

Kim counts a big win

Kim Carr had a big win last night, with the ABC Fact Check unit running the numbers on Chris Pyne’s claims that Labor in government cut $6.6bn from higher education and deciding it did not. I wonder if the ABC got everything right, for example in the 2009 budget the then government took $2.5bn from the Howard Government created university investment fund to pay for climate change programs. And Mr Pyne’s office is adamant that various cuts to student assistance gets the cuts to $6.6bn.

Even so, the ABC has helped the case made by former education ministers Carr and Craig Emerson that over the life of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government university funding increased substantially.

Senator Carr is said to be very pleased with this, seeing it as vindication of what he has long argued. And he is absolutely delighted with its likely impact on Senate crossbenchers, who he believes will see it as demonstrating that deregulation is unfair and unnecessary, that Labor in government properly funded higher education and that it would do it again. Unless the minister can prove him wrong, the emerging policy argument will be less about the Pyne Package MKII than what comes after defeated deregulation.

Demand driven away

It is starting to look like the only way universities will receive an early increase in funding in this parliament is if Senator Nick Xenophon’s proposal for an alternative to the Pyne package gets up. The senator says he understands universities need more dosh and he says he is prepared to back a “modest” increase in student fees in return for a full-scale inquiry into demanding driven funding. It is hard, well actually its impossible, to imagine Minister Pyne agreeing to this without any deregulation at all, but as for the university lobbies, as Paul Keating could have said, never stand between a vice chancellor and even a mere mortar board of money. But in the dash to denounce deregulation nobody seems bothered why Senator Xenophon wants yet another inquiry – because he has made a judgement on the foundation of the present system. As he put it yesterday on AM, “a demand-driven, uncapped system is not sustainable in the longer term.” So a policy that was adopted with bi-partisan support in 2011 is now in play. Labor’s Kim Carr is on the record as arguing that with the target of 40 per cent of the young workforce degree qualified more or less reached the job of government now is to work with individual institutions to address local needs in equity, skills development and research. “He thinks there are other ways than deregulation to sustainably fund the system, that government can reach funding agreements with individual institutions,” a long-time university observer said last night.

Market at work

CMM’s irony correspondent writes, “a new report on how open access will impact journal publishing in coming years is yours to download for just US$2500.”

Look, it isn’t a leopard

Yesterday I wondered why the new Victorian inquiry into VET provision will consider state regulation when the Australian Skills Quality Authority does it at a national level. I should have known better, because according to the first principle of competitive federalism when state and federal ministers decide to do something a working party, which will never agree on what is agreed, is born. A reader wise in the wonkish ways of training administration explains my error; apparently Victoria and Western Australia did not hand ASQA authority to regulate registered training organisations south of the Murray and west of the Nullarbor when the agency was established back in 2010. But this only applies to state specific RTOs because ASQA has accepted authority over trainers that operate in more than one state and/or have international students. And it will not matter if the Vics and Westralians adopt coming standards for VET regulators. Everybody clear on that? “VET is like a leopard that changes its spots and shape-shifts at the same time – only a CGI camera can capture it,” the learned reader remarks.

ANU - uncover

Norton does know it all

The erudite Andrew Norton’s new Grattan Institute guide to Australian higher education is out and an excellent publication it is indeed. Mr Norton probably knows more about the system than anybody else and it shows in this comprehensive report on just about everything in universities. Download the file and keep it on your desktop – you will use it, a lot.

Hoping for a kindly Kelso

Professor Anne Kelso will replace Warwick Anderson as chief executive of the National Health and Medical Research Council. She is now a member of the NHMRC council and is chief investigator on a $13.5m five year program it funds on “novel vaccination and treatment strategies” for the flu, which begins this year. Yesterday prominent medical researchers were quick to endorse Health Minister Sussan Ley’s announcement. Doug Hilton, director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and president of the Association of Medical Research Institutes was lightening fast yesterday morning in welcoming the “fantastic news” of the appointment of the “stellar research leader.”

In addition to undoubted admiration, perhaps the MRIs are hoping that Professor Kelso will not be as tough on them as her predecessor. Professor Anderson is a member of Graeme Samuel’s review of the institutes, which released a discussion paper on Friday fully and frankly suggesting they could be better incorporated into universities, hospitals or area health services. Perhaps this accounts for Dr Hilton’s enthusiasm for the new CEO. “Having Professor Kelso appointed to this integral role at the helm of the NHMRC means a fresh start and fresh energy to advance health and medical research in Australia,” he said yesterday

UNSW rates ranking

The QS Intelligence Unit is holding a seminar at the University of New South Wales next month on subject rankings. “Most students begin their search knowing what they want to study before considering where. Thus, the QS World University Rankings by Subject has drawn an exponential interest from parents and students since its launch in 2011. This session will look in depth at the methodology, trends and, exclusively, some of the key results of the 2015 edition of these rankings,” QS’s Ben Sowter says.

Participants can also “attend a QSIU services presentation, in which there will be the chance to get to know in details the data rich services, ratings, consulting options, and others, that QSIU has developed to help institutions form, refine, focus and evaluate your institutional performance.”

All up general admission costs $600, which includes a welcome event where the vice chancellor will speak. Looks like the days of ignoring university league tables are over at UNSW. I wonder if the university will host events with Times Higher and Shanghai JT.

Slimming smokes

Turns out people who smoke because it keeps their weight down are right after all. Trouble is where they get the weight off. Researchers from McGill University have found long-term smoking thins brain cortex.