Plus the ACU research dispute heats up

Banjo effect

According to friends of deregulation talks are still continuing with the crossbenchers but there is a sense around parliament that the legislation is off until next year and Minister Pyne will have to say so soon-ish. “There’s no movement at the station precisely because the word has got around,” one stockperson said last night.

Quality committee in control

Gosh I wonder what a Senate inquiry into private training providers, as floated by The Greens ( The Australian yesterday) would conclude? (After utterly objective consideration of all the evidence, of course.) Here’s a hint, from Greens education spokesman Lee Rhiannon a few days back;

TAFE in Australia has been completely undermined as a national vocational educator by successive state and federal governments by allowing private for-profit education providers to access public money. Thousands of TAFE jobs across the country have been slashed as a result of this privatisation agenda, and there have been enormous fee increases, putting TAFE out of reach for many prospective students. The federal Coalition is seeking to rollout this failed model in the higher education sector by robbing universities and students to handout $450 million to private higher education providers.”

This is clever politics. For a start it is another Greens pitch for the TAFE and university staff vote. Yes this used to be a Labor core constituency, but the National Tertiary Education Union spent an estimated one million dollars on a campaign supporting Greens candidates (and Andrew Wilkie) at the last election and Labor cannot afford to appear anything other than adamant in backing the public sector education unions.

And by besmirching the largely well-managed non university higher education providers with mud that rightly sticks to scammers skimming training dollars from state governments for VET courses of low quality and less content an inquiry could be used to discredit deregulation of higher and further education as a whole.


But this would, yet again, subordinate VET, which has more students than universities, to higher education policy debates. And Labor higher education shadow minister Kim Carr will not wear it. “The implications for the university system are clear,” Senator Carr said last night. “But (VET) always gets subsumed in the interest of higher education. VET is important to an innovative economy and just society and it requires special attention.”

Which is what Senator Carr intends to give it, with a proposed inquiry running to August. “There is no doubt that claims being made by marketers and courses being offered breach regulatory regimes and that there are unsavoury activities which regulators have failed to take seriously. I have not named colleges but we will follow the evidence where it leads.”

This is a big opportunity for Rod Camm, new head of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training. First he has to protect his members’ interests by coming down hard on the scammers who are rorting state government funding programs. And second he has to make it clear that regulatory failure and carpetbagger opportunism do not discredit extension of public student funding to VET and higher education as a whole. “Private providers are continually frustrated by attempts to tarnish all of them with the same brush. These arguments are not driven by a desire to create the best national tertiary system for local and international students,” he said yesterday.

So what should the ACPET chief do? A VETeran says Mr Camm should get on the front foot and preempt the committee by denouncing carpetbaggers, expelling a few from the industry association would be good. And he should ensure government members invite him to give evidence at any committee hearings – as the veteran said yesterday, Mr Camm can handle hard questions. And he could suggest that a Labor hero, now involved in training, should also be called to give evidence. Former education minister John Dawkins, now chair of the struggling Vocation training group is a name that some suggest.

But whatever happens it looks, and you might want to sit down before reading the next bit, like this is going to be a committee inquiry focused on VET policy not university politics.

Committee for horse design

Victoria University VC Peter Dawkins worries (The Conversation, yesterday) that the deregulation legislation could be rushed, with last-minute deals having unintended consequences and students from disadvantaged backgrounds losing as the universities they choose are undervalued in a market focused on research performance. To prevent this he calls for “an independent oversight body to monitor and review the best way to use public funding in tertiary education to achieve the efficiency and equity outcomes that will be good for the economy and society, for business and for the workforce.” Gosh, you could call it TEQSA – unless the government gave a student protection function to the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission, as one VC suggests. And of course the regulators would need an oversighting agency, called, um, why not the Committee for the Assessment of Multisectoral Education Linkages, or CAMEL for short.

Never do at ANU

Bloomberg reports Harvard is buying up US energy stocks and now holds $US335m worth of oil and gas shares. But as environmental wickedness goes this is relatively modest, amounting to a bare 3 per cent of the university’s investments.

Wayne’s world

Wayne McKenna is responding to outrage at Australian Catholic University research cuts by starting to sell the achievements of his elite institute strategy. The university has reduced or eliminated the research time for over half the university staff who applied after a performance review. It is part of a university strategy to increase research performance with resources concentrated in seven institutes.

Professor McKenna tells staff that five of the university’s seven recent ARC grants went to researchers from the institutes, mainly in education, which is “further evidence that our research intensification strategy is beginning to bear fruit.” Yesterday the university also announced the report of a research project led by Simon Stewart from the university’s health institute on post hospital heart care is being published in The Lancet.

I’m guessing there will be many more announcements like it as ACU lifts its research profile, not least among aggrieved academics who feel they are losing research time to pay for it all. One of whom was not convinced yesterday, saying appeals against research time cuts would be heard by the same people who made the original decisions, “and one of them does not even have a PhD!” As reported in Campus Morning Mail on Monday the National Tertiary Education Union is expected to launch dispute proceedings with ACU management this week.


Immortal name

UWS is not the only university to sign an agreement coinciding with the China FTA (CMM Tuesday). The University of New South Wales was onto me quick-smart yesterday regarding its agreement with Fudan University in Shanghai. The English-language course is mainly taught there, with students visiting Sydney for a unit on doing business in Australia – which hopefully includes the reasons for the university’s confusing branding. While the agreement is with the University of New South Wales Business School, the Australian Graduate School of Management (UNSW Australia) will award the degree. Back in July the university rolled the once celebrated AGSM into the business school, except for postgraduate awards. Wonder why the Chinese think we are inscrutable?