Cutting where cutters can

Think the feds are finished with efficiency dividends following the Senate’s rejection of the Labor Government’s efficiency dividend? Think again. In what was surely one of David Carvallho’s last letters as head of the higher education and research group in the Department of Education he advised vice chancellors what the government can and will cut under regulations. Thus, “the efficiency dividend still applies to regional, enabling and medical student loadings under the Commonwealth Grant Scheme. It also impacts grant and scholarship programs except, Australian Postgraduate Awards; Higher Education Superannuation Program; Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA); the Australian & New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science (ANZAAS) and the Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme.” Discounts on upfront HECS-HELP payments and the bonus for voluntary HELP repayments continue, “for the time being.” I’m guessing that means until the new Senate sits.

 The tumult and the shouting dies

After a long and bitter negotiation RMIT and the NTEU have quietly done a deal on enterprise bargaining. The core of the arrangement is a 3 per cent per annum pay rise through to June 2017, including a 0.5 incentive to settle, backdated to August. The agreement will go to a staff vote in February. This is a good result but one that came after an awful lot of argument, with allegations of intimidation and court action over industrial bans. Still a deal is a deal – which the union now has at the majority of Victorian universities. Those still to settle are La Trobe, Swinburne, Monash and Federation University (the last less due to conflict than an agreement to bed down the new structure including the old Monash Gippsland campus).

Abbott proof fence

There is also industrial peace at Australian Catholic University (admittedly negotiations there were a good deal better natured than at many other institutions). Yesterday Chief Operating Officer Stephen Weller advised staff that management had reached agreement with the NTEU and CPSU on a pay deal – 3 per cent per annum for four years. The proposal will be published on January 24 for staff consideration and go to a vote on February 5-6. They obviously value the summer break at ACU.
But not necessarily at Swinburne, where I hear union members have voted in favour, just, for more work bans and the like. However I wonder whether it will come to this – there is an apparent mood across the country among managers and union officials both to get as many wage deals done before the government starts cutting seriously. A case of building (as one well-disposed observer puts it) an Abbot proof fence,

Bring your own Aloysius

The University of Sydney promotes the student experience, yesterday:
“As school leavers all over Australia anxiously open their ATAR results, students from the University of Sydney are planning next year’s band nights, theatre performances, quidditch matches, sporting competitions and high teas. Rather than looking at their peers’ ATAR results … current University of Sydney students advise school leavers to follow their passions on campus to find true happiness at university and beyond.”
Which may not easily apply to students who need to work to pay for living expenses and study materials and who have more to worry about than whether quidditch practice clashes with tea in Sebastian Rider’s rooms. Honestly, who said Brideshead was an English fantasy?

A don’t need to know basis

Perhaps the National Tertiary Education Union suspects the Demand Driven Funding Review is a plot against its members because it’s submission does not do anything to help David Kemp and Andrew Norton meet their brief. “It is not the intention of this submission to address the specific issues listed in the terms of reference. We would contend that it is too early to determine whether the introduction of the DDM has had significant impact on some of the objectives outlined in the terms of reference’” the union argues. Instead, the NTEU sets out how to improve the status quo through a system of quadrennial compacts with Canberra, which would specify teaching and research roles and establish funding for them at each university. In line with other submissions the union argues that Canberra should cover some sub degree and postgraduate coursework programs. But it is on its own in suggesting that the risk of some institutions losing out due to changes in demand is a bad thing. “A number of universities have found it increasingly difficult to attract the number of students to sustain the financially viability of some courses. Some universities have commenced plans to phase out programs in certain areas.
“While there might be a case for the rationalisation of some courses across the sector … any such rationalisation would be best achieved through a coordinated approach (which) would not only assure that the billions of dollars that have been invested in our universities over the decades will not be wasted, but also that Australia maintains critical capacity in specific skills and knowledge areas.”
It is a bold centralising solution, which believers in the coordinating capacity of government will admire and supporters of market solutions. “Moscow on the Molonglo,” is what one critic called it yesterday.

Bitter and sweet

Amuthan Annamalai wasn’t at the James Cook University graduation last night to collect his medical degree, so his dad picked it for him. The reason for the younger Mr Annamalai’s absence is that he died of typhoid at the start of the year, which he likely picked up on a visit to the Middle East and South Asia, invidiously ironic given he wanted to work in third world health. His family have established a bursary to fund typhoid research at JCU. Life can be cruel.
But it can also be sweet, like for Olawale Idowu who graduated earlier in the year from the University of the Sunshine Coast with a degree in biomedical science. The Nigerian (via Sweden) migrant is now working as a sleep scientist at a Brisbane hospital and studying for a masters at Griffith. At its best Australia changes lives for the better.

Staying put

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported yesterday that over 60 per cent of people with jobs in (broadly defined) education and training in 2006 were still there five years later. With health and “social assistance” it is by far the most stable workforce sector. Perhaps conditions are not as terrible as union advocates are always telling us.

Wrong number

I stuffed up yesterday when reporting the new ARC Centres for Research Excellence, writing that Tanya Monro’s nanoscale biophotonics centre at the University of Adelaide picked up the most funding. In fact it was Andrew Millar and the UWA led Centre for Plant Energy Biology with $26m, from the Australian Research Council and $14m from other sources (thanks to Bryan Gaensler for noticing).