Plus UA asks, if not the Pyne proposal, what?

Gnawing away

“Just because you’re dogged does not mean you get a bone.” Nick Xenophon on Minister Pyne’s negotiating style, first thing yesterday. By last night Senator Xenophon had take the one bone the minister had left and buried it.


Pyne goes for broke

Education Minister Christopher Pyne always said that his deregulation package is about more than money and yesterday he showed it – decoupling a cut in government funding for student places from his proposals to give universities the capacity to set their own fees, to create publicly funded sub-degree programmes and to give students at for-profit provides access to HECS.

This is a spend, not a save. Yes, the government will introduce a funding cut in the budget session, but on present form the Senate will knock it back. In the meantime he has promised the university lobbies everything they want – no cut in funding for undergraduate places and a year’s more money for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (on top of the December concessions).

And the peak university lobbies know it. Universities Australia CEO Belinda Robinson appeared with Mr Pyne when he announced the Pyne Package MkIII yesterday. The Innovative Research Universities backed the new proposal; “We need the new approach the bill offers.” As did the Regional Universities Network, “RUN enthusiastically welcomes the government’s decision to split the higher education bill, and urges the Senate to support the revised package.”

Vicki Thomson from the Group of Eight was quick to push for Pyne MkIII’s passage. “These concessions by the government should now pave the way for the bill to pass unimpeded without the distraction of funding cuts. The Senate can now concentrate on the core principle of the much-needed reform – fee deregulation and that of making sure universities can be funded properly. This legislation is critical to the future of quality teaching for students, and quality research for our nation’s economy. For it to fail is unthinkable.”

But the unthinkable is precisely what people are thinking. It took the National Tertiary Education Union a bare hour to warn that nothing, certainly not its position, has changed. “Fee deregulation will result in significant fee increases resulting in some students paying $100,000 or more for a degree,” said NTEU National President Jeannie Rea.

Last night senators XenophonLazarus, LambieWang and it is said, Muir were not budging. If so that is it (again) –Mr Pyne still does not have the numbers.

AHEHCF 2015 Conference

Don’t get your hopes up gents

“Retired but not expired: ancient sex switch still works,” the University of Queensland announced yesterday. But don’t throw the Viagra out just yet, the report refers to a gender determining gene which researchers have reactivated in mice. If it sounds too good to be true it generally is.

Ideology not budgetary

Even with all the warnings about $100 000 degrees the dispute over Christopher Pyne’s proposals was always about the role of government in post-school education. And now the masks are off – in the crowded red corner there is the formidable tag team of Labor, the Greens, the National Tertiary Education Union, supported by higher education community opinion. The government is in the blue corner backed by the university lobby groups,. The red corner wants the government to fund universities on the basis that they are a public service agency. The blues want a competitive marketplace (underpinned by a bucket of public money). In backing Mr Pyne the prime minister has nailed the government’s reforming colours to the dreaming spires, seeking to expand the market to an entirely new area of the economy in a way not seen since the HawkeKeatingHoward years. In opposing him the red army is defending a command system where Canberra sets prices. And it looks like most of the cross-bench senators stand with the red army. Last night Senator Nick Xenophon made it plain that while he was not embracing Kim Carr‘s central planning compacts, deregulation is a “bridge too far”.  Which raises the question what, other than an inquiry does he and, come to that, his Senate allies want?

As Belinda Robinson put it yesterday: “if we vote this down now that these conditions have been met, it will be a very difficult task I think for everyone to be working together to identify what the alternatives might be in the absence of those alternatives having been put forward.”

But what do you really think

UWS is running its second My Voice staff survey. “Hope the results won’t be as bad as last time,” one veteran says, referring to the 2012 run when over 8o per cent of staff let management know what they thought of the university’s then leadership – fully, frankly, fiercely.

ANU new 4

Forlorn hope

Rod Camm from the Australian Council for Private Education and Training argued yesterday that there is more involved in the Pyne package than deregulated undergraduate fees. “The real chance this week is for the Senate to offer CSPs to non-university providers and remove the 25% administration fee on our students. These changes would open up our sector to grow Australia’s knowledge base.”

And he made the case for competition; “I remember when enrolment in a VET course required long queues, on a set day and time and the hope that you were far enough up the line to get a spot.” Students subject to the shambles in NSW, where a new TAFE enrolment system has taken an age to bed down, know what he means.

And we want a red bike, and a pony

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute is celebrating its centenary with a series of focused events explaining the great work it has done, is doing and will do. Professor Doug Hilton, WEHI director and president of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes is also very keen on the Medical Research Future Fund, as he explained in a speech last week. “We are eagerly anticipating the introduction and passing of the MRFF legislation. That alone would be a major position signal to the sector.” Say what? The way the government is saving less and spending more on existing programmes the chances of the $20bn MRFF being established as originally proposed just now are less negligible than non-existent. But this does not bother Professor Hilton, who thinks the Future Fund model is so splendid there should be a bunch more. “The government should consider a similar mechanism for funding our national research infrastructure and the non-medical sciences like mathematics, computer science, chemistry and physics. In this era of multi-disciplinary research we are dependent on them for our success.” No problem as soon as somebody invents a magic pudding to pay for it all. Perhaps we should have a MPFF to develop one.

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rot

CQU Comms Director Martin Helms points to a league table he likes, “perhaps the most comprehensive national industry ranking yet places CQUni 16th & ahead of most sandstones.” Um, it’s a Buzzfeed list, which pokes fun at Australian universities and ranks CQU 16th because it has a campus near the Bundaberg Rum distillery, “and who does not like rum?” Ridiculous you say? just wait – this will get CQU into one the global prestige league tables.

Play on

UTS is expanding in the sports education market, announcing a deal with the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust for a campus at the fabled Moore Park precinct which will be part of a new development by the Trust. The university will move its sports science and administration courses there later this year, well before building commences on the Trust’s new facility.

Who pays for NCRIS

But where will the money to save NCRIS come from? Minister Pyne says he has fixed it and found the money somewhere else– but that it is a surprise he wants to keep for the budget. That should alarm all sorts of agencies.