Plus private trainers new conduct code: better late than never

No thanks

“Want to be part of creating a future for dementia in the Illawarra?,” the University of Wollongong asked the world on Friday. I’m guessing not when they put it like that.

ANU new 5

Incomplete count

Yesterday Christopher Pyne was “contemplating victory,” with the Senate set to vote this week on his deregulation MkII plan. But while nobody counting the numbers yesterday was prepared to write a last minute deal off – neither were they naming where the minister would find the votes he needed – with no sign of a change of heart from senators Lazarus and Wang, or any of the other declared opponents of the bills for that matter. There was speculation yesterday that if Jacqui Lambie stays in hospital following back surgery and does not attend the Senate the government may not give her a pair. It would be mean and tricky and by itself not enough, good reasons why Mr Pyne appeared to rule it out yesterday. The minister also said that no cross bencher had promised to vote for reform if the Chapman plan, to taper government funding per student place as university charges rise above a cap, is part of the package. This morning there is a very big gap between what the minister is contemplating and what he hopes to be enjoying at week’s end.

Avoiding the issue

The Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee has delivered its report on the Pyne Package MkII and concluded that the legislation should pass. Cynics suggest that the Coalition having the numbers on the committee ensured this, but what can you expect from cynics. The committee argues that the demand driven system must continue, even though that it is unsustainable on the basis of existing funding. “Without deregulation and in the absence of adequate government resourcing the only other way to maintain adequate funding for the system would be through increased taxation. The committee is aware that there is little public appetite for raising taxes.”

The Labor minority predictably disagrees but what is interesting is that it ducks the demand driven issue, despite shadow minister Kim Carr putting undergraduate numbers on the agenda. Instead Labor says the bill should fail because deregulation was not discussed by an independent review followed by green and white papers.

The report of the opposition dominated education and employment references committee is complete but was not published by Friday night.


Nixing NCRIS sets a precedent

The National Council of Deans of Science has gone to the top, urging the prime minister to decouple NCRIS funding from the Pyne package. “Once such a specialist workforce has been disbanded, it takes many years to rebuild. The detrimental impact on Australia’s research effort will be enormous, as will the waste of public money in prematurely closing expensive facilities that would otherwise have many years of productive contribution left to make,” NCDS executive director John Price wrote. But the PM is not for moving. While he did not repeat it over the weekend on Friday night he linked NCRIS to the Pyne Package. Granted the government has demonstrated superior suppleness in sliding away from supposedly non-negotiable savings but Mr Abbott was firm, saying while the package is “adjusted somewhat” the government stood by it. Perhaps the PM and Minister Pyne are hoping that a promise to save NCRIS might change some senators minds – or perhaps they are just digging in. Mr Abbott is definitely not backing away from deregulation – as he made it plain to Paul Kelly on weekend television, it is something the government remains committed to.

Universities should brace for more of this if Mr Pyne fails. It will be very easy for the government to cut higher education funding as budget measures but leave HECS where it is and when universities complain reply that the minister had done his best and it is all the fault of the Opposition.

New carrots

People who know their way around the corridors of policy power say we should expect the next stage of a new science policy the week after next. Chief Scientist Ian Chubb will take a proposed discipline priority list to the Commonwealth Science Council and if approved agencies will be required to allocate research funds appropriately. But before that Science Minister Ian Macfarlane will address Science Meets Parliament on March 24 and the Chief Scientist speaks at the National Press Club on the 25th. Expect more on university-industry links, specifically via block grants from both one says. Others suggest a funding stream linked to patent success.

Close but no senatorial cigar

Glenn Lazarus’s Friday split from the PUP might deliver Chris Pyne another vote for deregulation when the Senate votes this week. But it won’t be Lazarus’s. He has made it plain that his dislike for Mr Pyne and his plan is personal as well as policy, which is pretty impressive given the minister has not actually met the senator. But that still leaves his former colleague Senator Zhenya Wang who is interested in deregulation but is committed to voting against because that is PUP policy. However he could still abstain. But even if he did that would still leave Mr Pyne senators short with Xenophon, Lambie and Lazarus all opposed. What about John Madigan and Ricky Muir? Senator Muir in particular is seen as solid against deregulation, but there is a paragraph in his March 5 maiden speech that offers an opportunity for the minister.

“Like so many others, through the lessons learnt of doing it hard I was able to learn the benefits of trying hard to achieve, and the benefits of furthering my skills to give myself a competitive edge in the case of a downturn. But I also learnt and experienced how no work, knock-backs from job applications, and struggling to put food on the table and keep on top of the bills at the same time can bring a feeling of low self-esteem and depression.”

Education and training can deliver the “competitive edge”: the senator spoke of, specifically the growth in sub-degree places that are in the Pyne package. This is an argument that also appeals to Senator Madigan, who taught the minister the basics of blacksmith in February.

AHEHCF 2015 Conference

Rock and (public pay) roll

Musicians make less than average incomes but over half report “high to very high general life satisfaction,” according to a survey of musicians’ well-being by Stacey Parker from the University of Queensland. So how to cheer the rest of them up? “Whilst government-funding bodies invest heavily into creative industry companies, little financial support is directed toward individual artists,” she writes.

Better late than never

The Australian Council for Private Education and Training announced a new code of conduct on Friday as part of the for-profit industry’s long overdue attempt to restore its reputation. It follows Training Minister Simon Birmingham’s penalties for private providers who exploit students and the state by gaming government funding. ACPET’s new code prescribes conduct, which should be standard and is supported by requirement for contracting and using recruitment agents, where most of the worst alleged abuse of prospective students occurred. Both documents will go a way to defusing attacks on private providers, giving the industry evidence that its problems are now being dealt with. But it does not address the obvious question – why is the industry only now addressing problems that have gone on for years.

 Partner or purchased

The University of Wollongong is looking for a director of business transformation to work in part on its expansion into Hong Kong, “with the acquisition of a large college.” I’m guessing that’s the deal last November with the City University of Hong Kong Community College. But “acquisition”? Back then UoW described the arrangement as “a strategic alliance with UOW, under which UOW will assume stewardship and governance of the not-for-profit college and enter into a five-year transitional period.” UoW DVC Joe Chicharo also talked of the “opportunity to partner” with the college and the benefits of the “alliance”. Perhaps the new director’s first job will be to explain to the college that the relationship is well and truly transformed.