Optimistic announcement of the day

“New research sheds light on fascinating cuttlefish parasites,” the University of Adelaide asserts. The report is here for anyone interested.

Political and policy pros pull it off

David Kemp and Andrew Norton are old political pros, (the former was a Howard education minister and the latter was on his staff) and it shows in the success of their review of demand driven funding. From the government’s perspective at least they have delivered the elusive double, good policy, which is also good politics. The policy plus is that they have endorsed demand driven funding in a way which includes something for just about everybody. The university lobbies are happy that demand driven funding has survived. Private providers, university innovators  (Stephen Parker at Uni of Canberra will be pleased) and TAFE,  plus deregulators all over are undoubtedly delighted that Kemp and Norton want to expand access to publicly funded places to all TEQSA approved providers teaching everything from diplomas to masters. While many of the first group do not like this they are too relieved that DDF has survived to grumble greatly. They will know that expanding access will help neutralise distrust of DDF in the government on quality and costs grounds. And the others,  see opportunities. In essence, Kemp and Norton have sold a massive expansion of publicly funded education as a market driven program. Even better for the feds, while the winners are powerful and vocal the many losers have no clout. Kemp and Norton say if the feds cut funding for places students should pay more through the loan system and they suggest slugging them with a fee for the privilege of borrowing. While they say deregulating fees was outside their brief they manage to make understanding noises about why some universities want this. And it is as if students and their few supporters have given up already. While the National Tertiary Education Union and opposition spokesman Kim Carr criticised fee rises, student groups were stupefyingly silent yesterday. Maybe they think it is only a report but if they do they should think again.

So what will the minister do?

Nothing before the budget, but you can bet the Kemp and Norton framework is fundamental to university funding for years to come. My guess is the government will endorse demand driven funding but argue that paying for it requires more student contributions. Yes the universities will complain but not much and when students protest Minister Pyne will say the growth in undergraduate places demonstrates the government’s commitment to education.  Cynical and sellable for sure but in politics that’s a synonym for brilliant.

Surely not Navitas

The Australian Technology Network is not happy about Kemp and Norton proposing that private providers access Commonwealth funded places. On Sunday the ATN contrasted the capitalists’ motivation with the way universities focused on teaching, research and student services. “Profiting from the taxpayer is not part of the equation. …The contrast in motivations and outcome focus should be front of mind for government in making its decisions,” the ATN said. Surely this is not the experience of ATN member Curtin University. In Sydney its pathway subsidiary Curtin College is operated by prominent private provider, Navitas.

Stirling steps up

Curtin University Provost Colin Stirling is the new VC at Flinders University. He will take over from the less low than no profile Michael Barber at the start of 2015. An intrigued observer wonders whether this is part of an Australian Technology Network strategy to take policy control of the system – Professor Stirling’s appointment means there are now 13 ATN related VCs – those running the five member universities plus ATN veterans who are in charge of universities right across the network.

Quick and painless

University of South Australia VC David Lloyd signed a new enterprise agreement last night, and modestly posted a photo of the historic occasion. Quite right too – this is an achievement. Negotiations at neighbouring Uni Adelaide are taking forever and who knows what is happening in the hermit campus that is Flinders, where management started bargaining late and is proceeding very slowly. But at Uni SA a deal was done, no muss, no fuss. The National Tertiary Education Union agreed to a pay rise of 16 per cent over five years, 40 permanent teaching places for sessionals/casuals staff and a range of improved conditions. And the deal was done in a year – less than half the time taken to negotiate the previous agreement.

Where path breakers prefer

There is a table floating around which lists universities by the per centage of students who are the first in their family to attend university – and interesting reading it makes. For a start the data demonstrates regional universities deliver on their rhetoric about serving people with little background in post school education. Some 65 per cent or more of students at Central Queensland, Federation U, Southern Cross, UNE, USQ and the University of the Sunshine Coast are first in family. At the other end this applies to just 23 per cent of the Australian National University’s students. Privileged, Canberra – where would any one get that idea from? Also interesting is the access to established institutions by people with no family background in education – some 45 per cent of University of Adelaide students are first in family, although this is nearly 15 per cent lower than Flinders and Uni SA. And some institutions are not serving as many disadvantaged students as they might think (assuming, that being a first timer denotes disadvantage). The University of Western Sydney, which endlessly markets the region it serves as disadvantaged, has 55 per cent first in family students, the same as the much longer established La Trobe. Perhaps the starkest sign of a community without much interest in education is Tasmania, where 58 per cent of people attending U Tas, are the first in their family to study for a degree – it’s not as if their parents could have studied at another university in the state.

Communicators over and out

On Friday CSIRO management briefed union representatives on more staff cuts – a briefing which found its way to the ABC within hours. Since then science advocates have warned against cutting CSIROs core capacity. Fair enough too – sacking scientists is not smart, but not all the jobs at risk are researchers’. According to the CSIRO Staff Association, of 300 jobs that might go up to 45 are communications staff, from a total of 100. Even given CSIROs achievements that seems an enormous number of people pumping out PR. I can’t imagine even the largest universities having the number of comms people on staff the CSIRO does, even if the threatened cut occurs.