Count down

Working out what to charge students from 2016 is not that hard, that is if you understand the new model as well as the Innovative Research University’s Conor King. “As the starting point for future planning each university need to determine a simple set of charges that will raise total revenue from student and Government equal to the current revenue. They could use these charges in 2016 knowing that revenue per student would be stable or use them as the basis to set fees that raise additional or lesser revenue,” he writes. According to Mr King, recovering the Canberra cuts requires universities to increase student fees by 25 – 30 per cent. He also sets out out the cost to students by discipline group, in the process demonstrating how universities can move fees up and down, to suit their own strengths and strategies, accountabilities and aspirations.  If the cost of studying some disciplines (say engineering) radically increases it will be because universities choose to charge up for some degrees and down for others – a problem that business and law deans, used to subsidising other faculties, have long understood.

As for all the anguish about what this involves, the understated Mr King suggests advocates of deregulation should have seen the concomitant cut in Canberra cash coming. “IRU does not support the reduction but foresaw it as a probable government savings measures and an inevitable consequence of any move to remove controls over student fees. Those who advocated for removing controls over fees can hardly be surprised, albeit some are.”

China challengers

Education Minister Christopher Pyne warned parliament yesterday how Asia’s expanding universities are “coming at” Australia’s “in terms of quality and capacity to attract international students”. Um except the 600 Chinese universities which are reportedly to be turned into polytechnics – the competition isn’t overwhelming just yet.

Cut and thrust

There’s a scene in Ridley Scott’s first film, The Duellists, where a pair of beau sabreurs go at each until neither can stand – just like the National Tertiary Education Union at the University of Adelaide and the university’s lead negotiator Professor Pascale Quester. After many months of enterprise bargaining the union says there are still 16 unresolved industrial issues. Not to mention money, on which the two sides can’t even agree what the union is asking for and management is offering. As to the university’s thrust that jobs could be risked by a too-big wage increase the union deftly parried; “we commend university senior management for lasting this long through a negotiation round before trying to threaten staff with job losses just because they are seeking a reasonable pay increase. This is a tactic we have seen in past bargaining rounds and we had wondered when it would come up.”

They could keep this up for months, but the longer they do the more the ground changes under the duellists. What started as a local dispute is becoming part of the broader issue of university funding under deregulation. As the NTEU acknowledges, “the current economic climate is tough for many universities and we invite the management negotiating team to provide to us, and to the university community as a whole, any detailed financial analysis they may have that supports the suggestion that our salary proposal is unrealistic and dangerous. If such documents can be produced, we will be happy to reconsider our position, in consultation with members.” I bet the university can do exactly that as it works out the budget’s impact. But I doubt they will, the last thing Uni Adelaide, or any university management will want is to admit anything approaching financial weakness to the market.

Less popular science than piffle

A stage show called the Science of Dr Who is packing them in on a national tour (in so far as you can actually pack a Tardis) and tomorrow (5-7.30pm)  Dr Luke Hesson from the University of New South Wales will speak at Uni Newcastle’s Hunter Medical Research Institute on zombies.”Dress in your zombie finest, or human clothes, and come along to a fun lecture. Find out whether zombies could be possible, as well as tips on preparing for a zombie apocalypse and training to defeat possible zombie diseases,” the university suggests. Oh please, next thing the cast of Big Bang Theory will be writing the physics syllabus

Spot the flaw…

In Scott Ryan’s argument. The parliamentary secretary to the education minister opened the Asia Education Foundation’s conference yesterday, using the chance to sell the government’s New Colombo Plan credentials. But the senator got carried away in pointing out how demand driven funding for undergraduate and sub-degree places would address the dearth of language students. “This means universities will be able to expand their diploma of language programmes on the basis of student demand.” Good-oh, except just now the demand does not exist. It is going to take more than available places to get students who aren’t interested in Asian languages to take them up.

Funding is the art of the Pozible

Deakin University cracked the code on funding small-scale research via Pozible last year and they now regularly roll out projects. Like Mel Thomson’s Hips4Hipsters, and no this is not about assisting people who break bones when they fall off their fixies. Instead, Dr Thomson is interested in new drugs to make hip replacements safer in the imminent age of antibiotic resistant bacteria. “Big pharma is not very interested in developing new antibiotics due to rapid evolution of resistance to their very expensively produced drugs. So it is now left to academic researchers in microbiology, like myself, to attempt to develop new treatments,” Dr Thomson says. She needs $11,750 to create an in vitro pipeline to “assess the efficacy and toxicity of novel antimicrobial compounds.” Last night there was $8400 in the kitty and she needs the rest by 8.40 on Thursday morning (if the target isn’t reached the bid is cancelled and donors get their money back). On your fixies hipsters.

To go boldly where Brian went before

A reader reminds me the late Brian Harradine set more precedents for Jacqui Lambie than just pursuing special deals for Tasmania. Back in 2003 Senator Harradine extracted concessions on student fees, notably reducing the FEE HELP interest rate in undergraduate loans from 3.5 per cent to 1.8 per cent over a decade and cutting the increase in HECS from a maximum 30 per cent to 25 per cent. “This cut recognises that studies show students are not in general deterred from attending university by HECS charges, but that there should be an equitable limit to the financial contribution we expect students and their families to make.” Sound familiar? Sounds like a precedent as well.

Double shot degrees

Starbucks will pay for US employees to do degrees online at Arizona State University and keep paying for their study even if they leave the company. As applied philanthropy goes this is hard to beat, giving people who could struggle to fund and attend conventional classes a shot at education. Inevitably it only took an hour for the critics to start – staff have to be enrolled as full-time students to qualify, they will need expensive bandwidth to study, it is just a plot to monetize MOOCs. And it may not impress Starbucks workers who already have degrees but cannot find jobs that make use of their education. Still, it demonstrates how online learning can diversify and build revenues and markets. Maybe ASU can offer a course on making coffee worth drinking.