It’s only taken the ALP 40 years

“I’m going to resist the temptation to give a 50 minute dissertation on Whitlam or Chifley’s contribution to higher education,” Labor university spokesman Kim Carr said at the Universities Australia conference yesterday, poking fun at Minister Pyne’s praise for Bob Menzies as the founding father of the modern university. So what did the senator go on to do? Why, invoke Menzies instead, suggesting he “would roll in his grave” at what the Libs are up to. I’m now waiting for Mr Pyne to start quoting Paul Keating.

Dancing to different drummers

The Brits just love a report about students in the sex trade. A couple of years ago there was much tut-tutting about medical students selling sex, although the story was heavier on anecdotes than evidence. And now the Times Higher reports students are employed to strip in clubs. Researchers from the Benny Hill Institute (alright I made that up), say some students are not doing it for dosh but because they like “engaging in a transgressive world” (that bit I didn’t). Oh, and you will never guess the conclusion of the academics whose work is reported, ”more research is needed”. I suppose it could explain drinks bills on university credit cards.

Creative Kim

Senator Carr’s UA conference speech yesterday was a work of rhetorical magic, along the lines of his recent book, Why Labor, which argued that the ALP is made up of decent folk and the Liberals aren’t and that this means whatever Labor spokespeople say is so. Thus he explained at some length to UA why the government is the enemy of education and has already announced cuts to ARC funding (although he did not mention that the money goes to medical research). And he suggested that it was a worry that “the entire research enterprise is now in the hands of the commission of audit.” I must have missed that bit when a Senate committee quizzed the commissioners. “Personally, I am not surprised by the conservatives’ hostility to the sector, or to what they describe as the ‘cultural left’ as represented by the ABC (and) other people they don’t like. What has been of interest is how quickly the new government has reverted to type,” the senator said. And this the night after Minister Pyne had gone on at length about how much he admires universities as drivers of opportunity, engines of economic growth, powerhouses of national improvement and so forth and so on. Senator Carr also magiced away past unpleasantness, like Labor’s April 2013 efficiency dividend. “I remind you it’s not just Labor that has rethought its position on the efficiency dividend. In opposition, the Liberals attacked Labor’s university funding. The new government has walked away from Labor’s school reform funding initiatives, and consequently Labor will oppose the government’s cuts to universities.” Good-oh, but remember how Adam Bandt (Greens-Melbourne) moved a motion condemning the Labor cuts in the last parliament? The major parties combined to vote it down. Senator Carr is in the happy position this far out from the next election of being able to play to the gallery – and he is very good at it indeed.

Sick of it at Swinburne

At Swinburne the National Tertiary Education Union alleges management “has inserted new provisions into a special part of the agreement which excludes protections against domestic violence being provided to casual staff.” The university flat out denies this saying it is a desperate attempt to scare staff into voting against management’s proposed enterprise agreement. Observers suggest that many, many staff are tired of the endless argument but whether that will translate into a vote for the proposal is the known unknown.

End of the TEQSA train wreck

When TEQSA was created a strong supporter suggested to me that with education exports going to Austrade and the new agency taking on oversight of the universities there really wasn’t anything for the education department (or whatever it was called back then) to do. It was an idea that some in the agency seemed to share but it is all over now with legislation to reduce what (many would say) is its over weaning authority in the Reps yesterday. The explanatory memo to the bill is simply scathing on the need for change. “Since commencing its regulatory functions in January 2012, TEQSA has developed a significant backlog in provider re-registration applications and course accreditation and re-accreditation applications.’’ it states. And how’s this, “where decisions have been made at the highest levels within TEQSA, applicants cannot access internal review mechanisms, so if they wish to appeal a decision they must commence proceedings in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.” The legislation addresses both issues. Above all it leaves TEQSA to “focus on its core functions of provider registration and course accreditation” without “a quality assessment” function. And it splits the now combined role of CEO and chief commissioner. This should all be a bit of a hint for people in the old TEQSA hoping to stay on in the new one. That it? Not quite. The bill also asserts ministerial oversight with the minister empowered to give “direction” “in relation to the performance of TEQSA’s functions and the exercise of its powers’’, but only in a “general” way of course.

Don’t blame the bureaucrats

Wonder why the16th CRC round, announced last week, took so long? I’m guessing so do officials involved. As Senator Carr discovered in Senate Estimates, recommendations went to Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane’s office the week before Christmas.

No dogma Dennis

While everybody at the UA conference was contemplating Minister Pyne’s speech to come on Wednesday evening the Liberal member for Tangey Dennis Jensen was speaking in the House of Reps about science, a subject on which he has many opinions, which he frankly expresses. Regular readers (hi mum) may remember CMM reporting his remarks after the election about why Australia needs a science minister. The other night Dr Jensen let fly again, suggesting that science education is in crisis and that we should pay much more money to engineers and scientists who are keen to teach in the schools and not “bog them down by saying they need to do a full year’s teacher-training diploma” He made a case for longer funding periods for science research, more links with industry and full funding for successful grants. All good stuff and it made me wonder why UA did not invite him. Until I got to the bit where he said climate change should not be a research priority. “Science is not supposed to be about convenient definitions and conveniences as far as funding is concerned; science is supposed to be about a search for truth,” he added. And wouldn’t that have gone down well.