Plus more ARC 2016 Linkage grants to come

Uni Melbourne’s new dean of medicine

And all the Group of Eight wants is policy  

Labor will push for an education election

For readers on Mars over the weekend, the election was called yesterday, with neither Malcolm Turnbull nor Bill Shorten mentioning universities, presumably leaving it to their lieutenants. Labor’s Kim Carr is keen on the way things were when he was last minister and will warn that the government’s discussion paper signals higher student fees and deregulated degrees. Incumbent minister Simon Birmingham will say as little as possible, basically because it does. The more voters hear about higher education the worse it will be for the government, except in Warrnambool and maybe northern Tasmania.

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More and better policy particulars, please

The Group of Eight has set out its election wish list and what it wants is policy from both sides.

“The government has now released its Options Paper on alternatives to full fee deregulation of university student fees – a welcome stop-gap that at least delivers short-term funding certainty. The Opposition has made a number of declarations about its intent for the sector, and we await its detailed higher education policy,” Executive Director Vicki Thomson said last night.

“The Go8 contends that the election campaign must now provide more policy substance from the Opposition for debate, and additional clarity from the government on the parameters of its funding solutions. For the Go8, the bottom line is policy delivery of long-term sustainable funding and the removal of the current distorted funding model whereby students cross subsidise research in the absence of required government funding.”

Optimists all they are at the Eight.

ARC has more to come

There was less than the usual carry-on over who got what in Friday’s announcement of Australian Research Council Linkage grants. Perhaps it was because of the imminent election, or perhaps research experts recognised that it is too early to be claiming wins given that the new continuous award process starts in July, which means there is money in reserve for more 2016 grants to come. This means the existing 31 per cent success rate may improve.

There were also suggestions that the government’s applied research agenda had led to big wins for applied research applications. It certainly looks like that with, successful engineering grants (70 or so) way ahead of every other discipline. But overall the distribution of Linkage grants by broad discipline group is much the same as in recent years. In 2013 some 42 per cent of applications in physical sciences, IT and engineering were successful, compared to 39 per cent of all applications. The gap was narrower in 2014 and last year, 36 per cent for science and engineering, less than 1 per cent higher than the all-applications figure.

Win for Warrnambool but how is Launceston’s luck?

Warrnambool will have a university campus after Deakin U departs, at least if the government is returned. On Friday local MP Dan Tehan announced the feds would kick in $14m to keep the campus open. Last night Education Minister Birmingham’s office confirmed this. The government was also talking last week to the three Liberal MPs with northern Tasmanian seats about Uni Tasmania’s expansion plans on their patches but nothing was announced before the election was called. Perhaps Senator Birmimgham wants some good news for the campaign.

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A self-help CRC

The feds have released a forward “indicative” schedule for Cooperative Research Centre and CRC Project applications for the rest of this year plus 2017 and 2018. So that’s the “they told us too late” excuse gone for missing deadlines.

Applications for CRC Round 18 are also in Most of them fit the government’s nine research priority areas, food, soil and watertransportcyber securityenergy, resourcesmanufacturing, environmental change and health (food, soil and watertransportcyber securityenergy, resourcesmanufacturing, environmental change and health ( CMM April 14 2015), although CMM wonders what “a mental wealth CRC” would work on, other than self-help manuals.

ASQA appointment

VET minister Scott Ryan just beat the caretaker closedown on Friday to appoint Mark Paterson as one of ASQA’s three statutory officers, the commissioner for regulatory operations. His colleagues are chief commissioner Chris Robinson and Michael Lavarch. Mr Paterson replaces Dr Diane Orr who left the agency late last year, “to spend more time with my family and try new things,” CMM November 13 2015). This appears to be Mr Paterson’s first appointment in the VET sector. He is a previous permanent head of NSW and federal departments and far enough back ran the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Ombudsman assemble

CQU will host a conference for student ombudsman tomorrow and Wednesday with delegates from 18 universities attending. There are papers on issues including how to refer students to counselling services and “dealing with unreasonable student behaviour,” by assistant Queensland ombudsman Peter Cantwell. One that looks especially interesting is Leslie Walker’s (CQU) “working with research higher degree students.” The issue is attracting attention, with a NSW Ombudsman paper and complaints forum in January.

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Local derby

James Cook University has responded to southern neighbour CQU’s move into Cairns. JCU has long had a monopoly on higher education in the city, with a suburban campus outside the CBD, on the narrow road to the deep north. But this was no longer enough when CQU opened in the heart of town last year, with plans to teach everything from engineering to aged care. So JCU is now moving into the city centre next year to teach law, business and medicine (JCU has a medical school but certainly not because CQU doesn’t).

Uni Melbourne’s new dean of medicine

Shitij Kapur is the new dean of medicine at the University of Melbourne. Professor Kapur is now executive dean of the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at Kings College London. He replaces Stephen Smith, who spent two years restructuring the faculty and establishing “clear research directions,” before deciding to return to England, for unspecified family reasons last September. Then PVC (external relations) Mark Hargreaves has acted as dean since then.

Not so easy money

A reader points out the University of Western Australia is as keen as Curtin and Murdoch universities on broad acre building (CMM May 6). The state government gave UWA 118 hectares around Shenton Park 110 years ago as a development site and the university is keen to build to 12 hectares of housing with the profit going to the UWA Endowment. As with Curtin and Murdoch, UWA is waiting on amendments to its act to allow it to develop the site. Legislation doing this is said to be imminent. The problem for UWA management is that their site is a remnant bushland home to for the Carnaby Cockatoo and the last thing management will want is a blue with environment activists while it is pushing through its not universally admired management restructure.

UTS recruiting a provost

UTS is in the market for a provost to replace Peter Booth, in the job since September 2014, who announced in March that he had decided to retire. He will leave in June next year and his job was advertised on the weekend.

Professor Booth is now on leave, with law dean Lesley Hitchens acting, although her university biography describes her as “provost and senior vice president.”

If Labor’s cap fits …

Labor has seized the high ground on VET student funding and it will be impossible for the government to push them off it this side of the election. With Labor’s announcement of an $8000 per annum cap on student fees and encouraging in economic-demand courses the Opposition has overwhelmed training minister Scott Ryan’s defence, that the VET FEE HELP shambles started on Labor’s watch and that he has a discussion paper on a solution. It looks like the government is talking while Labor is acting.

Of course the Australian Council of Private Education and Training, warns that a government imposed price of $8000, with no reference to market forces, will punish good quality private training providers and “put thousands of jobs in the private training sector at risk.” Minister Ryan’s discussion paper also makes the point, that while the Commonwealth can set prices this “requires a high level of government intervention in the market and assumes the Commonwealth has the capacity and capability to determine fees. Price setting also prevents providers from charging fees based on the cost of delivery and effectively eliminates price competition among providers.”

Sensible stuff but no one is listening. The spivs and shonks who rorted VET FEE HELP have crippled the industry’s credibility, certainly for this election and probably the one after the one after it.

But why $8000? In NSW, TAFE courses cost from $3690 to $14 000. And why does the cap apply to the public sector, given “ Labor has a plan to protect and strengthen TAFE and restore integrity to Australia’s VET system.” The TAFE Directors’ Association says it is news to them and that it “looks arbitrary and may disadvantage some TAFE courses.” Perhaps Labor, “ the party of TAFE ” does not think public providers would use a cap on their rivals and the dominant market share of the training market state governments guarantee them to charge a bit more if allowed. But as everybody who watches how the states shift hospital costs on to the Commonwealth knows state governments would.