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Beautiful one day, Bloomington the next

ANU Chancellor Gareth Evans will be the first diplomat in residence at Indiana University’s School of Global and International Studies, albeit only for a couple of weeks in May. Two weeks! Professor Evans, will barely have time to clear his throat. I’m guessing that no one there will mistake him for the local Gareth Evans, who teaches literature.

The C stands for community

Hooray for Swinburne University for announcing a six-week MOOC for people dealing day to day with the impact of autism. Starting in April, the course is practical, not theoretical, focusing on ways to address real-life issues and connecting individuals who cannot attend in-person courses with others who share their experiences.

Swinburne joins the University of Tasmania in providing open on-line courses for people who can really benefit from academic expertise. U Tas is now running a MOOC on dealing with dementia for a second time. These are both excellent examples of on-line open access education as community service, which also build their university’s brands in the process.

Training debate will shape higher education

Training Minister Simon Birmingham is maintaining the rage against crook private providers enrolling people in courses they have no hope of completing, in order to charge fees and collect public subsidies. He promised a crackdown yesterday, for the umpteenth time since picking up the junior education post in the Christmas shuffle. “We will not support abuse of this scheme by people out to make a quick buck at the expense of the vulnerable and the taxpayer,” he told the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Given all the anecdotes of for-profits exploiting the vulnerable he has no choice. If the credibility of deregulated training is destroyed the chance of price competition among private and public providers in higher education is somewhere between zero and zilch. This is why Labor, the Greens and various education unions, are running hard on for-profit perfidy. Thus Mr Birmingham said; “ it is evident that more needs to be done to stamp out sharp practice among dodgy training providers.

“Prohibition of inducements (such as “free” i-Pads or cash rebates), tightening of marketing practices and enhanced duty of care provisions when signing a student up to a student loan are all ideas that the government will explore further. It must be clear to all students what they are signing up for every single time their debt level is due to increase.”

The minister went on to detail more rigorous regulation and to acknowledge the industry’s own efforts to remove the rorts. Good oh, but this is not going to shut critics up.

The new Labor Government in Victoria has promised an inquiry into private-sector providers and has committed $320m to bailing out TAFE’s in trouble (Bendigo-Kangan got $2m yesterday). TAFE supporters worked hard to make more resources for public sector training an issue in the Queensland election and will do the same in NSW. And Labor and the Greens have brought on a Senate committee inquiry. This is as big a fight over deregulation as the one occurring in higher education and the two are linked. If governments give up on competition in training it will be very hard to make the argument that public and private providers should compete on price in higher education.

But whose ball?

The University of Melbourne has a deal with AFL club The Demons, the University of Canberra works with teams in all sorts of sports and now CQU is getting into the game, announcing a new rugby academy, to provide the education and training needed to keep young players of promise in the region. “We’ll be encouraging and enabling players to strive for performance excellence along their education and career pathways, complementing previous CQUni partnerships with the sports of cycling, basketball and netball,” Vice Chancellor Scott Bowman says. Ye gods, can a national university football league be far away? ‘Fraid so – they will never agree on a code.

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Considering options

The news ANU is in the market for a VC started Canberra watchers talking about another plum (perhaps the plumiest) post for broad shouldered policy people who are comfortable on the national stage – chief scientist. Ian Chubb’s term expires in a few months and observers wonder whether he wants to stay. It is easy to imagine Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane being keen to keep him. Professor Chubb has made a strong case for the government’s applied research strategy, so strong that that there is barely a peep from blue-sky scientists who want to be left alone in well funded labs. So what’s he going to do? Beats me. The most anybody close to him is prepared to say is that “he’s thinking about things.”

Could be good, could be bad

The Cooperative Research Centre community is wondering what the government has in mind for funding, what with the budget a bare three months away. People with bids ready to go for the next funding round would take a dim view indeed of a repeat of the cancellation of last year’s. Optimists point out that Ian Macfarlane could announce outcomes of the next funding round with his response to the Miles Review of the programme, if it is released soon.

Optimists were also cheered yesterday by word Karen Andrews, federal member for McPherson and Mr Macfarlane’s parliamentary secretary, will host an event at the CRC Association’s conference, at the end of May, (after the budget). Pessimists responded that parliamentary secretaries are considered expendable.


Cats for comment

The Australian Technology Network met in Melbourne yesterday for a one day conference titled, “The reform of Australian Higher Education: a case of policy or perish.” Despite the title, people in the audience say there was no more gloom than is usual at discussions of the future for universities. And yes, there was the requisite reference to “herding cats.” Honestly, why haven’t the people who wrote that management primer about mice and cheese done one on campus and cats?

In breaking news …

“This bacteria hasn’t evolved in more than two billion years,” the Australian Academy of Science reports on a sulphur bacterium. Must be boring for the postdoc sitting watching. They probably dream of something really fast – like the University of Queensland pitch drop experiment.

Everything to everybody

Simon Birmingham released Productivity Commission member Patricia Scott’s report into trade training centres the other day, just four months after it was sent to his predecessor, Susan Lley. Maybe the delay was due to disappointment, because Ms Scott is not especially scathing of this $1.4bn Labor programme to teach VET in schools. The money pays for infrastructure at 500 sites, which account for 5.5 per cent of the 390 000 relevant enrolments. In general everybody thinks the programme is okay but it is hard to be precise, what with different state reporting requirements, disagreement over whether TTCs should focus on lower or higher certificate courses and expectation inflation. “At present, TTCs suffer from trying to be all things to all people.” Aint federalism grand.

Alternative entry everywhere

The number of new students accepted by New Zealand universities for 2015 is down 20 per cent on last year. According to Education Minister Hekia Parata, the NZ Qualifications Authority increased entry standards following university requests. “It is not in the interests of any students to begin their university studies without the skills or experience necessary to succeed,” the minister said. It seems nobody expected such a big impact but the outcome is not as tough as it sounds. According to Ms Parata, “tertiary institutions also had the discretion to admit students who had not achieved the new standard.”


 Not long now

Yes I know the anticipation is excruciating  but you are just going to have to wait for a few more hours until the Productivity Commission releases the childcare, education and training volume in its annual report on government services later this morning.