Deregulation off agendas

Class act but where’s the big plan?

In Opposition Christopher Pyne promised to continue Labor’s Teach for Australia program, which gives graduates with no teacher training a crash course in classroom management and sends them into disadvantaged schools. Yesterday he delivered, committing $22 million to fund 240 new teachers. Good-oh, but where is Mr Pyne’s teacher education review, designed to ensure all new teachers have what it takes? It was announced in February and promised by mid-year – which is now. Still, we will know when it is complete, having Australian Catholic University VC Greg ”goannas” Craven in the chair ensures that.

Counting who cares

The government must regret Cathy McGowan (Indi-Independent) is in the House of Representatives, where it has the numbers and not in the Senate where it doesn’t. While it seems the community connected bush MP (she took an ultra safe seat off Liberal Sophie Mirabella) believes universities matter to her constituents she is not all that fussed by Education Minister Chris Pyne’s plan for higher fees. On Thursday Ms McGowan used a valuable Question Time slot to ask the minister about higher education – but not competition or higher course costs. “If regional universities are not in a position to increase fees, I am concerned that this will mean they will not be obliged to offer new Commonwealth scholarships, which are funded from increased fees. Minister, would you please consider pooling the scholarship funds and redistributing to all students on a needs basis?” Um, if regional universities do not put up their fees then low-income students wont need scholarships to meet a fee increase will they? Whatever, in response Mr Pyne stuck to the script, explaining how deregulation would be good for country campuses and communities. What’s interesting is that Ms McGowan focused on a second-order issue, which is dear to the hearts of Regional University Network VCs, in Parliament House talking to members and senators last week, instead of thundering against deregulation as a whole. You have to wonder whether MPs, and VCs in touch with their communities, are deciding that there is less opposition to the Pyne package than might appear.

Does that include Tasmania? On Saturday Palmer United Party senator elect Jacqui Lambie told Matthew Denholm (The Australian) who she would fight to protect, including, “Tasmania’s sick, elderly, children, families, businesses, workers and unemployed .” Which is surely just about everybody other than students. Mr Pyne should drop in to see her when she gets to Canberra.

Odd uni out

Staff at the hermit kingdom that is Flinders University started voting on the proposed enterprise agreement on Friday, which looks a sure thing, given it endorsed by management and both staff unions. A mass of working conditions is addressed but the core of the arrangement is a 3 per cent per annum pay rise for four years. Flinders will join Uni SA, which has had a deal for months, following a concise and cordial negotiation. But while everybody else is happy, union and management show no signs of reaching an enterprise agreement at the University of Adelaide, where duelling negotiators continue to hack away other. There is talk on campus that management has surely had enough and will take an offer direct to staff for a vote but wise heads suggest the university intends to give the union negotiators more time in the arena to fight over not much in the hope in the hope that rank and file staff will abandon them in exasperation.

Cited significance

Thanks to research strategist Bradley Smith (James Cook U) for pointing out changing research performance metrics in the Thomson Reuters list of research citations for 2001-13 (CMM Friday). While the Group of Eight account for close to 50 of 78 Australian based researchers in 2013 this is down from 90 per cent in 2001. The disciplines in which Australians excel are also changing, with environmental and social science up and astronomy, animal and plant sciences down.

Does “closer links” mean “shut down”?

It looks like the Badanami Centre for Indigenous Education at the University of Western Sydney is set to lose roles, if not all reason to exist, following a Friday statement by the university’s DVC Education Kerri Lee Krause. Professor Krause proposed “closer links” between Badanami’s assistance role and mainstream student services and she spoke of transferring the indigenous studies major to the School of Humanities. Marketing and entry arrangements will also move to the main administration. Why? Professor Krause does not say but mentioning two internal university reviews which pointed to “the need to improve services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students” should give everybody an idea. Not that this is all a done deal, heavens no, these proposals are out for consultation and “Badanami Centres on each campus will continue to give students access to support services, including academic literacy support and visits with Elders on campus.” Which means? “Badanami is being closed down,” one veteran UWS observer says.

Peace, perfect peace prevails

There is consensus among the comrades in Victoria where the National Tertiary Education Union has just not had elections. All university branch presidents were returned unopposed as was state secretary Colin Long. While a contest was expected at RMIT president Melissa Slee was unchallenged – this surprised close union observers who expected a brawl between the left and lefter factions on campus. However there are contests for committee positions. Queensland appears the only place where there is a race for a top spot, to replace the retiring division secretary. John Fitzsimmons from CQU is running against state industrial officer (sometime CQU based) Michael McNally.

Accrediting on-line learning

Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane states the Unique Student Identifier scheme will start next year with transcripts available in 2016. This will provide a universal, uniform record of a person’s training record, making life simpler for individuals, voc ed institutions and employers. I wonder if there is any reason why the system could not extend to cover MOOCs. As the number of courses grows, and if they are (as they surely could be, say by TEQSA) accredited, people will want a record of their achievements. If accredited universities create MOOC subjects based on existing academic units a transcript of what an individual has completed will provide a record of their achieving low-cost competencies. Ah, I think I worked out why universities will hate this idea.

Worth what you pay for it

What commercial journal publishers make on the swings of not paying for the contents they publish they compound on the roundabouts of how they charge for their products. Need a subscription to the Journal of Really Important Analysis? Your library will have to buy it in a bundle with the So-So Stats Quarterly and the ever-obscure Proceedings of the Institute for Being Ignored. Even worse, your library will have no idea whether it is paying top wack or a competitive price for the package. This is aggressive business practice given publishers are not exactly stretched in publishing and distributing product. As Theodore Bergstrom and colleagues point out in a new analysis of the economics of journal bundling; “with online editions, there are no printing or mailing costs, and the marginal cost to the publisher of permitting another user is essentially zero.” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Science).

Their study shows that the commercial publishers bulk up the price of journal bundles, compared to not for profits, and require libraries to sign confidentiality agreements to stop customers comparing, (the authors had to FOI contracts). However this can be self-defeating with libraries refusing to sign-up for big bundles in the absence of market-wide price information. Overall, the authors conclude that the deal a library gets depends on how well it negotiates. “Some institutions have been quite successful in bargaining for lower prices, whereas others may not have been aware that better bargains can be reached.” Or how hard they look for information – as is the case in finding out the content of this PNAS article, which is behind a pay wall.