Plus business lobbies urge reform but ignore Pyne package

Facebook faux friends

A University of Houston researcher discovered people who compare their lives to Facebook friends can get depressed. But isn’t this Facebook’s function, to make posters’ lives look better than everybody’s is (including their own?

ACCI and allies ignore Pyne plan

Yesterday’s statement from a business coalition led by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry pushed all the standard economic buttons.”The challenge now is to ensure the insights from the Intergenerational Report underpin successful reforms in public spending, tax, federation and workplace relations.”

And it made all the usual appeals to patriotic perseverance; “there is no escaping that reform is hard and often unpopular in the short-term but achievements by those who came before show that long-term benefits can be achieved if approached in the right way. Our message to today’s leaders is simple: governing is not just the responsibility of government, it is the duty of all members of Parliament, and we must stand on the shoulders of reform giants before it is too late.”

But one hot button was not pressed and one big issue on which cross-bench senators could act was not mentioned, Christopher Pyne‘s proposal to deregulate higher education – the biggest reform the government has proposed. ACCI CEO Kate Carnell was out in front, pushing for the Pyne proposals last year – but she only mentioned the demand driven system in passing on AM this morning. Maybe the rhetoricians who drafted the statement forgot about the Pyne plan. Or maybe the peak business lobbies have decided that deregulation is all but dead and do not want to be associated with a policy that did not make it.


ACPET explains standards

The Australian Council for Private Education and Training is gearing up is new regulatory regime, designed to defend the industry against numerous well-founded allegations that spivs are rorting government funding and exploiting people who are enrolled into courses they can neither pay for nor complete. ACPET is rolling out briefings on working with sales agents, where most of the problem appears to be.

Setting the table

League table lovers are undoubtedly distraught that the QS subject rankings are not out yet. QS Top Universities postponed publishing for “the next few weeks” um, a few weeks back, but there is still no sign of them. According to QS the delay is due to “feedback,” presumably about the “minor methodological refinements, which have allowed for improved discrimination, particularly among specialist institutions that are now featuring more materially in our work.” QS is including a bunch of new disciplines this year, notably vet science, architecture, dentistry and business.

It takes a global village, unless it doesn’t

Marijk Van Der Wende (Amsterdam University College) on international academic mobility, European Review, yesterday: “Traditional intercontinental mobility patterns from the south to the north and the east to the west, are now paralleled within Europe, where the disparities between countries in terms of R&D investment and skills shortages increase, related to the economic crisis. Consequently, brain circulation may easily turn into brain drain, and cultural diversity may decline.

Peter Scott (University College, London) same subject, same journal, same issue: “In the contemporary environment in which academic mobility can be regarded as just one element in global mobility, especially of elites, and also in which ‘virtual’ and ‘physical’ mobility are combined in curious and volatile mixtures, this binary distinction may have a reduced explanatory value … . In a very real sense all academics are now both ‘local’ and ‘global’.”

So think globally and act locally and then do it the other way around.

ANU new 5

Higgs bogus

As the European Organisation for Nuclear Research looks for an extension cord long enough to plug the refurbed Hadron Collider into the power point publisher Elsevier reports that more research from the facility will be published open access. Problem is that while reading is free, researchers’ institutions have to pay “article processing charges” for articles to appear. This is the “gold” open access model, which presumably refers to the rivers of gold that still flow into publishers’ coffers.

People worry they won’t get what they pay for

There was an explosive op ed yesterday in the New York Times on how increased public spending on higher education had not kept pace with expenditure on administration. “The astonishing rise in college tuition correlates closely with a huge increase in public subsidies for higher education,” wrote Paul Campos, a law academic at the University of Colorado. The problem, he argued was the money went on expensive administration. You can argue that one up and down the departmental corridor but what Campos piece definitely does is demonstrate the enormous unease in the US about the cost of and return on higher education. Grumbling about paying for college is a perennial there but it is obviously on the political radar. President Obama talks about the size of student debt and floats making community college free. He even had his lieutenants (VP Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan) make the cost of textbooks a fourth-order issue in the 2012 campaign. But the costs of a degree is certainly exercising middle-class minds, as attending the local state U means taking on increasing debt, with no HECs to mitigate the pain. In the US a student loan is a very onerous loan indeed. A new lobby group, Americans for Affordable College Costs, was launched yesterday, to pressure the federal and state governments for tax concessions on savings in tuition payment accounts.

Costs also seem higher, as the belief that a degree is the basis of a solid career no longer holds. With low and middle income wages dropping in real terms for damn near a decade the best thing to be said is that pay for the generality of graduates has dropped for people without degrees faster than for those with them.

This disillusion will happen here, if the growth in graduate numbers leads to more people with expectations the economy will not meet, at least in their early working years. Which is why Macquarie University is smart to embed employment outcomes in in its proposed teaching and learning model (CMM yesterday). There will not be much point in five years or so, when graduates from the demand driven system hit the job market, for university promoters to airily assure prospective students that degrees from the University of Wherever generate high paying jobs if newly completed students say they don’t.