Plus no Senate surprise and why people purr at cat videos

To dream the impossible dream

University of Western Australia Winthrop Professor Peter van Onselen on Sky News (Wednesday): “I live and dream of the day that I’ll get essays from students who can string a sentence together when they arrive at first year university to mark because I lose the will to live reading the rest of them.” CMM wonders whether this is why UWA’s new advertising campaign is called “pursue impossible.”

CEF June 15 3

Senate surprise suppressed

While Christopher Pyne was focused on international education yesterday Senator Zhenya Wang (PUP WA) tried to break the deregulation deadlock in the upper house. Just before lunch he, with senators Bob Day (Family First-SA) and David Leyonhjelm, (Lib Dem-NSW) gave notice of a motion to extend Commonwealth student funding to private providers, without deregulating fees, as a means of encouraging competition. But if the Greens-Labor alliance on education in the Senate was caught unawares they did not show it. The Senate declared the motion formal and voted it down on the spot, 31 to 28. This is significant, up to a point, demonstrating that with the PUP now a one-senator show Senator Wang no longer considers himself bound to back his former colleagues Jacqui Lambie and Glenn Lazarus in their opposition to all elements of the Pyne plan. But even with Senator Wang, Mr Pyne is still short in the Senate.

The vote will have been an enormous relief to the universities, which want the ability to charge more, not to be undercut by private providers. And the National Tertiary Education Union was pleased indeed, “the prospects of the minister being able to get his policies through the Senate seem all but impossible. The only rationale for Minister Pyne persisting with his attempts to get his polices through the parliament is that that the government can continue to count these unlegislated savings in their budget forward estimates.”

Cosmopolitan optimism

Minister Pyne’s international education council of elders convened in Canberra yesterday where, among others, Mr Pyne and Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, (covering all of DFATTrade Minister Andrew Robb was busy) spoke. And interesting indeed they both were.

Mr Pyne announced a new report into the economic benefits of international education at regional levels – to help convince people that offshore students create opportunities rather than exclude locals. “Why in fact rather than taking Australians’ positions at university, they are creating those positions at university because of the revenue that flows to our sector,” as Mr Pyne put it. And there CMM was thinking this furphy was 20 years gone.

Ms Bishop advised DFAT thinks doubling internationals studying on-shore is possible and that the goal is to have ten million people using Australian education offshore. Training Minister Simon Birmingham expanded on the offshore option, telling the meeting there will be global demand for 3.5bn skilled workers in 15 years time “and Australia wants to make sure that we are doing the best we possibly can to contribute to the delivery of those skilled workers wherever they may be working.” This is going to take more than Austrade’s “Future unlimited” advertising campaign.

ANU June 4

Panic stations

A University of Adelaide team has found a “clear association” between panic disorders and coronary heart disease. If, or how, sufferers can panic themselves into heart attacks is not settled and what people think is panic might actually be heart attacks. Whatever, this is all enough to make you (sorry) sick with worry.

CRC success

The CRC programme is back in favour with the feds, if the new one announced in yesterday’s white paper on developing northern Australia is an indication. The Commonwealth has committed $75m to create the CRC for Developing Northern Australia, which will focus, initially, on agriculture, food and tropical medicine.

This confirms the future for the programme set out in the Miles review, before which budget cuts created a sense that CRCs were on the way out. But not now. “The government had a choice whether to fund this vitally important collaboration as a cooperative research centre or some other mechanism. We are naturally delighted that the government has favoured the CRC model and are confident it will pay off for Australia,” CRC Association chief Tony Peacock said yesterday.

There is more money for deep north research in the white paper, (although how much is new is unclear), with $15m for tropical health, including tropical disease research. The $142m National Environmental Science Programme will support three research hubs; Charles Darwin U (sustainable development), the Cairns based Reef and Rainforest Research Centre and UoQ (threatened species recovery).

No selling science

A reader responded to Australia’s absence in the top 100 list of universities taking out US patents in 2014 (CMM yesterday) by pointing to the national presence, or lack of it, at big industry fairs. The Australian strength at Bio International (for biotech) this week in Philadelphia was much smaller than it was a decade back, now being a third the size of Taiwan’s and a fifth India’s. And at Tech Connect (“accelerating the commercialisation of global innovation”) in Washington this week, New Zealand had a national presence but Australia didn’t. The only Australian university a visitor noticed there was Griffith.

Certificate in smoke, diploma in mirrors

There is nothing about training in yesterday’s South Australian budget the Weatherill Government wants to talk about. There is plenty about schools, a bit about water and minerals research and even a campaign to recruit international students, but nothing in the headline brief about training. Given the government is taking a hiding over its plan to give TAFE a near monopoly on publicly funded training places and cut the private sector out next year perhaps this isn’t surprising – especially as buried in the budget papers is a cut of $16m next year for skills training, as part of a $40m drop over the estimates. But not to worry, this is just about reallocating funds for the new WorkReady scheme. “This program will ensure that the government’s investment in training is targeted to areas of strategic need to industry and a transitioning economy,” presumably including courses in smoke and mirror manufacturing. CMM sees nothing for private sector training in the budget.

Ready for my close-up Comrade deMille

The CPSU is running stop works across CSIRO this month and has published a guide for media focused militants on how to present for the camera. Item one is make sure members wear their labcoats, “it might be a science cliché but the white coats make a great visual impact and symbolise the research industry in the mind of the general public.” It certainly worked for the medical research lobby back in 2011, when rumours of budget cuts brought legions of lab coats into the streets, after which cuts were heard of no more.

Humble Herbert

According to Group Training Victoria, state minister Steve Herbert opened their conference with “an inspiring address.” CMM knows this because the news turned up on Twitter, retweeted by, Steve Herbert.

Working out The Wasteland

Watching cat videos online energises people, encourages positive thinking and helps viewers understand T S Eliot’s cat-free poetry (alright, CMM made the last one up). But the other benefits are from real research, by Jessica Gall Myrick, at the University of Indiana. Apparently two million cat videos were posted to YouTube last year, which were watched 26 million times. Professor Myrick surveyed 7000 people and found, “results support a conceptual model arguing that the happiness gained from viewing Internet cats can moderate the relationship between procrastination motives, guilt, and enjoyment.” Her research points to the possibility of using cat videos as low-cost pet therapy but strangely. does not mention reading poetry.