Senate sniping

There was a skirmish in the Senate yesterday as Coalition senators sought to sell the Pyne package. First Labor education spokesman Kim Carr took a shot at Marise Payne (representing Mr Pyne) in Question Time. Then Government Whip David Bushby moved the Senate congratulate CQU for its new partnership with TAFE and “recognises that further expansion to higher education access for all students, whether studying at universities, TAFEs or private colleges, will provide a further boost to regional economies.” It was of course a plot to praise the plan  to deregulate higher education, open access to sub degree programs and allow private providers into the market and Senator Carr was not having a bar of it. “The opposition is voting against this motion because it does not actually reflect what is happening within higher education. While some elements of the motion are clearly worthy of support, it does not reflect what is happening particularly in regard to the research community.” After some procedural argy bargy the motion was carried – which was some small revenge for Labor temporarily knocking off a government funding instrument reducing higher education spending on Tuesday. We may as well get used to it – there is going to be a lot of this sort of thing before the fate of the Pyne program is decided.

Tasting note

Eddie Oczkowski from Charles Sturt U has found price is not a complete guide to wine quality and consumers should check wine ratings before buying a case. What’s more, “producers need to sustain the sensory quality of a wine over time to sustain its reputation and maximise returns”. Who would have thought?

Old obsessions never die

Senator James McGrath (Liberal-Queensland) delivered a wide-ranging first speech in the chamber yesterday. Wide enough to include a commitment to voluntary student unionism and a promise to abolish the Student Services and Amenities Fee, which “is an attack on the fundamental freedom of association. Students, like anyone, should have the freedom to decide for themselves whether they join a student body or union. I give notice that I will be moving a private member’s bill to abolish the SSAF and bring back true voluntary student unionism—and I hope all freedom lovers will join me in supporting the bill, ” the senator said. Um, but if the government gets its way wont this be yesterday’s fight? As one policy expert put it last night, “if the government changes get through then it is pointless to attempt to monitor what unis do with the doubloons they raise.  It surely would be one of those points of choice and distinction for potential students to  consider.”

Watch out UWS

Across UWS staff are hearing the sound of scythes being sharpened as Vice Chancellor Barney Glover invites consultants the Nous Group to implement last year’s big-picture report from consultants Ernst and Young, (is there a pattern here?). “There has never been a more important time to ensure our organisational structures, services and processes are ultimately focused on improving the student experience. And, within the context of reduced Commonwealth funding, it is critical that we do this as efficiently and effectively as we possibly can, “ Professor Glover told the university yesterday. The Ernst and Young report was tightly held but the view around UWS is that the new process can only mean administrative job losses and lots of them.

Small is bountiful

The Ehrenberg Bass Institute for Marketing Science at the University of South Australia likes proving there are universal laws of marketing. Which maybe why it has added a new client to its consultancies. Joining Proctor and Gamble and Coca Cola is the Coop at Nuriootpa (in the Barossa, and very nice it is too). Smaller sales same principles.

Star System

Curtin University is very pleased with itself-announcing “QS @ TopUnis has awarded Curtin with a Five Star Rating!” Um, that will be the star system that universities pay QS for. The rating agency quotes an audit fee of US$10,800, good for three years – plus an annual license fee for the period of US$7500. There is also a special offer at the moment for “high impact banners” on the website “to promote your QS Star ratings and generate clicks to your site.” I am sure Curtin will get what it paid for.

Top of the pops problem

The estimable National Centre for Vocational Education and Training is asking its audience to identify the “hottest topic” in VET from governance, MOOCS, quality assurance, work integrated learning and youth unemployment. You can vote here. The result will be interesting. Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane gave VET a huge serve at a conference last month saying the training system’s, “excessive complexity and duplication has created a disincentive for participation for employers and students, which means Australia is not taking full advantage of opportunities to build its most productive workforce.” You would think that this alone would make governance the issue of the hour. Then again TAFE grandees had heard it all before.

A mandarin’s mandarin

Swinburne University has a new chancellorGraham Goldsmith, following yesterday’s departure of Bill Scales after a decade or so. No pressure on Mr Goldsmith but Scales is a hard bloke to replace, a giant of public policy, variously running what is now the Productivity CommissionVictoria’s premier’s department and being in on the action in many of the deregulation debates of the last 30 years. He worked on both the Bradley and Gonski reviews. Malcolm Turnbull commissioned him in March to audit the NBN. His career demonstrates what public service is about.

Calling for a vote

The cunning campaigners at the National Tertiary Education Union have opened another front in their struggle against Chris Pyne’s plan. Last week elected members of the University of Sydney Council called on the chancellor to convene convocation to debate denouncing deregulation. Now the union’s ACT secretary Stephen Darwin is doing the same, organising a petition that requests VC Ian Young to call a meeting of graduates to debate a call on the federal government to abandon the proposed budget cuts and a demand that ANU not back deregulation. Mr Darwin also urges staff contact Professor Young and point out the flaws in his thinking, suggesting the VCs comment piece in Tuesday’s Fairfax papers, “represented a clear failure of leadership: uncritically endorsing the easy options of deregulated fees, the dangerous introduction of low quality for-profit providers as ‘universities’ and escalating and inequitable HECS/HELP repayments by graduates.”

Escalating debt

A new US study finds that some 50 per cent of people with “at least some” higher education are over-educated for the job they hold after 12 years in the workforce. If the same applies here and over-educated is a synonym for poorly paid those HECS debts at a compound interest rate Mr Pyne proposes are really going to mount up.

Helpful advice from the great eight

The Group of Eight has released an  analysis of higher education providers (NUHEPs to their pals) suggesting they could do well if allowed to access Commonwealth Supported Places, as Minister Pyne plans. The Eight estimates NUHEPs have up to 10 per cent of load now, which could grow.

“From a student perspective, NUHEPs can offer a range of benefits. Many are teaching-intensive niche providers, translating into longer academic terms and thus faster progression into the workforce than is possible at many universities. Non-university providers are not required to conduct research, which means different course structures, often leading to cheaper fees. Many are staffed by industry professionals rather than academics, able to offer their students real world experience. For students with a clear focus on the career path they wish to pursue, private providers can offer a faster track into their desired industry.”

I wonder if this will make the model attractive to universities that fear they will struggle if NUHEPs are able to undercut them on course price and range. Which might be the Great Eight’s intent – the more universities that reduce their costs by abandoning research the more money for the elite.

Pirates of the Corio-bay-an

Deakin University researchers have created a digital watermark to embed in music and the university tells me, video, which transfers when files are illegally copied. This is good news indeed for copyright owners sick of having their digital property pinched and who will love a way of tracking the big pirate crews. But perhaps this is not research guaranteed to endear Deakin to its students. If they are like other Australians they are a bit hazy on the concept of copyright. As many Australians pirate Game of Thrones as watch it on pay TV.