And why Jetson’s Law always applies

You get who you pay for

RMIT VC Margaret Gardner is off to run Monash and her successor was supposed to be announced in June but wasn’t. So what’s the delay? If the preferred candidate is, as suggested around the traps, UK Open University VC Martin Bean, locals say money might be the issue. Who knows? Professor Bean is earning stg 407 000 now (less than Professor Gardner’s headline package) but maybe his perks are prodigious. Whatever, the university needs to get a wriggle on. Professor Gardner is on leave now but is scheduled to return to work for just a fortnight in August before departing for Clayton.

Where’s my flying car?

Jetson’s Law* holds that every list of what the world will be like in 20 years will include a flying car. So thanks to the University of Sydney for  adding a fresh version. According to engineering innovation academic Andy Dong and aeronautical engineering student Dana King personal air vehicles “are in the not too distant future.” Depends on how you define distant (see below). * which I just made up

A deal on deregulation

University of Sydney VC Michael Spence is scheduling campus wide consultations “to inform our response” to deregulation. I’m guessing the popular position on campus will be that the Pyne package is very bad indeed. However Dr Spence is regularly on the record about the need to ensure prospective students from low SES backgrounds are not excluded from the University of Sydney. As to the university charging fees to students who are better off (however he defines it) not so much. It seems the main thing Professor Spence wants, in common with just about every other VC who is on the record, is change to the HELP repayment threshold and interest rate. If Minister Pyne acts on loans will VCs go quiet on fees? Some won’t but maybe enough will to take the heat out of the debate in the Senate.

Except in Adelaide

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has announced a state taskforce to oppose the budget.“The federal government has cut health funding in a bid to push the sector towards an American-style pay-as-go system that benefits the rich. It’s doing the same thing with universities – this is not the Australian way,” he says. The feds are doing no such thing in higher education – in fact they are extending the loan system, but never mind, in SA politics and reality rarely intersect (see the election result?) The premier’s taskforce will work in sector-specific groups to lobby against the cuts. It will be interesting if any of the state’s three vice chancellors turns up on it. It certainly would not be easy for Uni Adelaide’s Warren Bebbington, who wants changes to the loan scheme but was an early admirer of deregulation.

 Pyne’s progression

On Tuesday Education Minister Chris Pyne did the honours at the opening of the CQU-TAFE merger in Mackay. Then he hopped up to Townsville to present the multi-million first tranche of funding for James Cook University’s tropical research program. Yesterday Mr Pyne visited Southern Cross University in Lismore, where he handed out $1m to “enhance” maths and science teaching in Y7-10. He then nicked over to Casino to visit an Aboriginal Medical Service. Then he turned up in Dubbo to visit the University of Sydney School of Rural Health and Charles Sturt University’s dental school. He’s in Orange today, where Uni Sydney also has a medical school branch. And every chance he gets he explains how regional communities will benefit from deregulation. There is no faulting Mr Pyne for energy, enthusiasm – especially when it comes to sticking to his script.

Prediction up in the air

Thomson-Reuters goes much further than flying cars in its prediction of what will be big in ten years time, based on a citation analysis of the Web of Science and the Derwent World Patent Index. TR predicts quantum data will be teleported thanks to developments in kinematics, which “studies the motion of points, objects and groups of objects regardless of the impetus for motion”. Other predictions include human genome engineering to prevent Type One Diabetes, a hyper wired-world where many, many more devices than people are connected to the internet and that solar will also be the planet’s primary energy source. But there’s no escaping Jetson’s LawTR also reports that improved battery power plus stronger lightweight materials will “give rise to a new class of aircraft for the masses. … Getting a pilot’s license could become the new rite of passage to adulthood in the 21st Century.” Got six year old kids? Teaching them to drive in a decade will involve parachutes.

Straight bats and short balls

As the father of National Competition Policy, University of New South Wales VC Fred Hilmer knows a bit about negotiation, demonstrated by his message to staff yesterday on enterprise bargaining. Professor Hilmer said the existing agreement was effective but the university would work through the local National Tertiary Education Union’s demands for “far more extensive changes.” He added the university could meet the 3 per cent per annum wage rise over 2014-16 “which most Australian universities have set” and which “will ensure salaries at UNSW remain among the highest in the sector.” And he announced a further 1 per cent pay rise on top of the 2 per cent awarded in January, “so that staff are not disadvantaged as bargaining negotiations continue.” Between bat and pad there is nothing at all – it must drive union negotiators nuts. The contrast is stark with the University of Adelaide, where negotiations are not especially amicable. According to the university’s lead negotiator, Professor Pascale Quester, the union’s response to management knocking back its pay demand of May 9 was to increase the amount it wants. “I would urge the NTEU to see the process as one where both parties try to converge on a shared position, rather than one where one party unilaterally alters their demands further away from their previous request,” she said. So there. The next meeting is scheduled for July 11 – where I imagine the bowling from both sides will be short.

Minister not missed

Despite the absence of a science minister the government has managed to allocate $834 000 to the Academy of Science (via the ARC) to develop ten year plans for chemistry, agricultural science, and earth sciences, “disciplines that are fundamental to key pillars of the Australian economy, such as manufacturing, agriculture and minerals exploration.” (The Academy of Humanities received half as much to map the state of the humanities in Asia and assess opportunities.)

According to the Academy of Science “the plans will seek input from across government, industry, academia and the education sector to identify the future needs of each discipline and outline priorities for investment over the next ten years.” I wonder if flying cars are on the agenda.