The Minister would not be making YouTube clips if he was confident

What a difference a day makes

On Monday morning it looked like Christopher Pyne was going to pull off his plan – but then Clive Palmer changed his position/clarified his opinion/messed with the minister’s mind (take your pick) by announcing that while universities can charge international students what they like true-blue Aussies should be educated for free. Given Mr Palmer is not a plastic dinosaur short of a tropical resort I suspect his initial position is no change from the status quo rather than a return to free universities. This is, of course, before the horse, sorry dinosaur, trading starts. Certainly things have gone quiet since ANU VC Ian Young led the change endorsing M fee deregulation last week. Vice Chancellors and lobby groups are starting to suggest that 2016 is too soon for fee deregulation, a polite way of keeping their options open until they can work out what will actually happen in the Senate.

Hard sell

You know people are worried that their message is not getting through when they start advertising – which is what Minister Pyne is doing. Granted the 60 second YouTube spot on the expansion of the higher education system (but, funnily enough not higher fees) isn’t running on broadcast media but the sense of a debate being lost is there just the same. I wonder why the comment space is disabled. That Minister Pyne and the Prime Minister have cancelled a visit to Deakin University that coincided with today’s students protest should help the government look like committed reformers facing obdurate opponents – the risk is they will end up appearing to have lost control of the agenda. Labor certainly thinks this is an issue to run on. Tanya Plibersek was on Radio National this morning arguing that the Pyne package would create “an American-style deregulated university system” that discriminated against students from low income families. Mr Pyne was probably hoping that his endorsement of demand driven funding and HELP for all had buried that one but it does not look like it.

Perhaps a reprieve for CRCs

According to Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane last night, “the Australian Government is supporting world-class scientific research and fostering new links between science and industry to ensure the best scientific breakthroughs benefit the community.” Um, tell it to people from Cooperative Research Centres, at their conference in Perth where they are contemplating the cancellation of  Round 17 bidding and an inquiry into the program’s future. Because this is pretty much what they exist to do.

And looks like could continue, because the minister also made encouraging noises about the future. “The Government is reviewing the programme to ensure future investments are made in the most effective way. It will also examine how effectively the programme encourages and facilitates industry and the research sector working together to develop and transition to Australia’s industries of the future.”

If nothing else this  gave Parliamentary Secretary Bob Baldwin, something positive  to say when he addressed the conference last night. People there say Mr Baldwin committed to there being an 18th round of CRCs. However he also indicated that maybe centres did not need Commonwealth funding. A reprieve of sorts?

All is forgiven

Craig Emerson has joined former cabinet colleagues, Julia Gillard, Nicola Roxon, Stephen Smith and Bob “three chairs” Carr in taking on an adjunct appointment. Dr Emerson (nothing honorary about his scholarly credentials) is to be an adjunct professor in Victoria University’s business school. Obviously there are no hard feelings about the funding cuts he came up with as education minister in 2013, yes the ones which Christopher Pyne is now being blamed for.

Position on mission

With the fee debate degenerating into speculation on what will Clive Palmer say next the obvious question is being ignored – what would universities do if they were deregulated. Not by University of Adelaide VC Warren Bebbington, who has original ideas, though. He argues Australia needs multiple missions among its universities and should follow the lead of elite teaching-only US colleges.

“We have no universities who have chosen to eschew research and focus primarily on first-class undergraduate education. We have none that require the residential education experience of the US colleges. And thus we offer students little of the sheer variety of choice of the US,” he writes.

“I yearn for the day when Australians can choose undergraduate colleges focussed on a particular educational philosophy, or targeting the specific employment needs of its local community, or embracing ethical principles for life, or celebrating our indigenous peoples or serving the needs of a particular disadvantaged group.”

Good piece-but not everybody agrees with some suggesting scale makes US comparisons irrelevant. Others considered it ill informed and were generally cross, with Bebbington (and me for praising it) last night. I don’t get this,his argument is deregulation is about more than money to rise up international rankings, with which surely the most adamant endorsers of the old order agree.

The shape of things to come

Staff at La Trobe Melbourne will go out for an hour to day in protest over working conditions but the strike is intended to make a broader point about private providers. “Navitas, the private provider that in partnership with La Trobe University runs La Trobe Melbourne, is a highly profitable company that will soon have access to taxpayer funds via Commonwealth Supported Place funding, the National Tertiary Education Union states.

This public funding will directly boost the profits of a private company in what can only be described as a subsidy arrangement.

Laying down the law

The University of Queensland is threatening to sue a bloke if he publishes university-owned data he has, data which is used in a paper on global warming, (the excellent Graham Lloyd had the story in The Australian on the weekend). But the university goes further also threatening to sue the bloke if he publishes the text of the letter threatening to sue him. Which he duly published. I checked with the university, which confirmed the letter threatening to sue twice, by acting Director of Research Partnerships Jane Malloch, is genuine. As to the original dispute over information the university wants to keep private, acting PVC Research Alistair McEwan says, “only information that might be used to identify the individual research participants was withheld.This was in accordance with university ethical approval specifying that the identity of participants should remain confidential.”

To the barricades! (with a permission note)

Last night UTS Vice Chancellor Ross Milbourne repeated his promise not to penalise students who miss a class because they are participating in tomorrow’s protest march. They will get a day’s grace on assignments and exams/quizzes will be rescheduled. Professor Milbourne added “classes are expected to go ahead as planned tomorrow unless your lecturers (or other faculty representatives) contact you to tell you otherwise.” Apparently you can’t believe everything in some Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, which reported Monday “some” classes were cancelled.

Philanthropy is the art of the Pozible

A Deakin University team is expert in crowdsourcing money for small research projects. They got half a dozen up last year via Pozible and now they are doing it again, demonstrating that research on problems that are nonetheless real, although they do not bother many people, can still find funds. Jessica Brown and Adriana Ventura are creating a survey to determine discrimination against diabetics (who knew?) and have raised 80 per cent of their $5000 target from 61 supporters. With three weeks to go they look like a sure thing to get the rest. Good stuff. I doubt anybody will ever crowd source a synchrotron, but Deakin demonstrates the technique can fund smallish projects that might otherwise never occur for want of attention from the lofty research agencies.