A least not to attention denied academics


This time is different

Back in September 2010 when Julia Gillard was assembling a ministry science initially got a mention but universities didn’t. Kim Carr was minister for innovation, industry and science, Peter Garrett had the schools portfolio and “Silent Chris” Evans had jobs, skills and workplace relations. But there was no mention of research, or tertiary education, which upset Universities Australia. As then CEO Glen Withers, told ABC radio’s AM. “Symbols alter people’s behaviour and also alter the focus of policies particularly with new ministers,” he said on September 13. Cynics suggest that universities were less snubbed than forgotten, which was rectified when they complained. As “Silent Chris” explained why tertiary education was added to his title; “while I think it’s more a question of what you do and what you deliver than what you are called, I thought it was reasonable to respond to that.” Perhaps everybody upset now hopes they can do a Dennis (below) and get Mr Abbott to change his mind as Ms Gillard did. Good luck with that, the government has made it clear that while it bears universities no ill will it isn’t all that interested in placating academic opinion.

What fun

“Can you come up with a creative or humorous idea that remixes the topic of academic integrity?” Charles Sturt University asks students. People make their own entertainment in the country.

Success by degrees

The idea that post school education is essential is beyond debate but degrees do not always deliver. The yanks have anguished over this for years and I have often wondered when people would start questioning the sovereign strength of successful study. This year’s report from the Foundation for Young Australians, How young people are faring: 2013, released yesterday, makes the point. It suggests 15 per cent of university graduates are over-skilled for their job three years after completing a degree. This is no big deal and in general graduates’ working circumstances improve by the time they are in their mid 20s. But as we continue to sell education as essential the number of people who feel let down will grow. And they will complain, loudly.

What will the minister do? Number II (in a series)  

Lots of Liberals went nuts when Labor reintroduced student service fees in 2011. Brett Mason (oh come on, you remember Brett) in particular delivered a passionate Senate speech opposing fees that October. “It is no longer Brideshead Revisited or Chariots of Fire. Changing demography and changing culture mean that most students today simply do not have the time or the inclination, or even the opportunity, to use the services offered. Universities have changed enormously since the mid-1970s—more than 35 years ago—when this debate first took place. Universities today are mainstream; they are not elite. Today’s students are older and many more of them study part time and in the evenings due to competing and family commitments. Many more take advantage of the greater flexibility and opportunities that new communications technologies bring to external study. Despite all that, this lot” (the then government Greens) “says that this new type of student should foot the bill for the inner city, middle-class, left-wing activists.” Them and the rugby players.
What the senator forgot was that the Nats like subsidies for student sport– (it’s in their 2013 election platform). 
The universities are also very careful only to use the money for services they would have to provide if students didn’t pay for them, counselling, bike paths and the like. Deakin University even asks for input on what to spend the fee on. Problem is Deakin’s off-campus students will still be slugged $45 next year for services they don’t use. Which rather makes Senator Mason’s point. So what is minister for everything education Christopher Pyne going to do about student fees? For as long as universities use them to fund services they have to provide perhaps not much. Abolish fees and guess whose door the universities will be knocking on for extra cash?

Emotive mashups

The ABC and the ARC Centre for the History of Emotions have a cracker of a research project. They are asking people to put together big life-experience play-lists. With a bit of basic demographic data on peoples’ backgrounds Jane Davidson from the University of Western Australia will use it for research on how music is used across cultures in pivotal parts of life. How long till the ABC starts selling compilations?

Dennis no menace

Liberal MP Dennis Jensen sailed into the prime minister elect yesterday, suggesting that splitting science between the industry and education portfolios was “schizophrenic.” “I guess this is the problem of not having people of scientific bent in decision making processes where people don’t understand science generally,” he said. But wait, Dr Jensen had more advice for Mr Abbott, warning, “science is in crisis”. The quality of undergraduates is reducing, industry is not interacting with the research community “in the way it should” and the Australian Research Council is “problematic in the way it goes about awarding research grants.” (More and better particulars on “problematic” please Dr Jensen.) There was still more, but you get the idea (and that’s before he got stuck into Mr Abbott’s paid parental leave policy. As a proper scientist  (PhD in materials science and physics) who last week offered to serve as science minister Dr Jensen’s outrage is understandable. However, while I have no experimental evidence to support it, my guess is that the chance of this ever happening is somewhere between Buckleys and none.  But will he be science minister in exile, embraced by members of the research community? Probably not given Dr Jensen is sceptical about climate change. My guess is that the science community will go back to ignoring him once Ministers Pyne and Macfarlane make soothing speeches.

 Delighted minister

Cooperative Research Centre Association chief Tony Peacock is too old a hand to do anything other than endorse reality, which he did yesterday, welcoming Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane’s taking charge of cooperative research centres. “I wish the minister well and look forward to working with him in the future. I know he is plenty passionate about innovation has a good record in the area of innovation and science.” Correct response.

Accepting reality or admitting defeat

You have to give it to Steven Schwartz for political insight. The executive director of the Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences tells the Canberra Times he has decided to relocate to Melbourne because there is no point staying in Canberra, where ministers and minders are apparently a lot less welcoming than they were. And then Mr Abbott makes his point by subsuming higher education into a mega-education portfolio. Good oh, but to paraphrase Paul Keating, if you want anything from the feds and you aren’t in Canberra, you’re just camping out.  Unless, he was just trying to spare the feelings of the locals in the isolated hamlet that is Whitlamminster on the Molonglo. As Professor Schwartz  told CHASS members in an event debrief; “Although we did wind up with a reasonable audience for the forum, relatively few members from other places made the trip to Canberra. For this reason the CHASS Board is considering moving the forum to Melbourne. … It will be easier for more members to attend and we may be able to hold our meeting in conjunction with the annual meetings of some of our member organisations.”