“in any workplace, such tactics would be regarded as hostile and aggressive. In the higher education sector they are unprecedented,” Senator Carr says

plus economics booms at ANU

and the government isn’t giving up on 20 per cent cuts



Erroll explained

“The US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney briefed yesterday on the resignation of President Trump’s national security advisor under the excellent headline “Binned like Flynn.” Presumably somebody in the consulate sent Washington an explanation.

Big lecturer is watching you

Western Sydney University is providing free e-editions of textbooks from 100 participating publishers to first year students, via content provider Proquest (Campus Morning Mail December 13). This is a spectacular scheme, cutting study costs for students and creating a precedent other universities will surely follow. But Proquest points to one aspect of the programme that may not impress students. It seems the electronic distribution system allows academics to check whether students are doing their reading. “Instructors can see the depth with which students actually engage with content,” Proquest announces in a new paper on Ebook use. But would WSU ever sanction staff snooping on students like this? Who knows, the university did not respond to a CMM request for comment.

Cuts still in place

According to Simon Benson and David Crowe in The Australian yesterday, the government is set to write off $13bn in spending cuts blocked by the Senate. But not, it seems, the 20 per cent reduction in higher education spending in the 2014 budget. CMM hears the government is not for changing.

True believer

Leigh Clifford is the new chair of the University of Melbourne fundraising campaign, Believe. He replaces Allan Myers who was appointed the university’s chancellor last year.

Selling economics

A decade back economics was on the nose with undergraduates. There was too much math, students preferred business and critics claimed the global financial crisis had discredited the discipline. Universities responded by cutting courses and sacking staff. But at ANU economists weren’t having any of it and yesterday director of the research school of economics Rabee Tourky, announced “an unprecedented turnaround,” with 1000 students enrolling in microeconomics one.

“We have nearly achieved our target of educating every single undergraduate at ANU in microeconomics, ‘no future intellectual left behind,” he said.

So how did they do it? Professor Tourky says it started in 2014. “We embarked on a strategy to decouple from business programmes, by targeting Australian students doing arts, law and flexible double degrees and setting up a major and a minor in arts.”

And economists went out into the market and sold the importance of economics, including at bi-annual pizza nights. Or as Professor Tourky more modestly puts it, “we vocally advocated to students that no education is complete without a basic understanding of economics.”

The two-step strategy worked. “The basic story is that flexibility within the Arts degrees and the liberal arts focussed flexible double degrees have resulted in students choosing economics as an option. It seems that faculty enthusiasm and institutional flexibility in degrees have resulted in students taking economics.”

At the head of the table

James Angus from the University of Melbourne will chair the federal government’s new advisory council on the medical use of cannabis. Professor Angus also chairs the Victorian government’s committee on the issue.

Carr warns university culture under threat

Murdoch University management copped a serious spray in the Senate yesterday from Labor research spokesman Kim Carr. The senator was speaking on the government’s building industry IR legislation but argued the same “smashing of workers’ capacity to defend themselves” was occurring in universities and research institutions.

“One in five science jobs in public agencies have been lost since this government came to power. It is not just a question of reducing resources at these agencies. It is about changing the industrial environment. Education department data shows that as many as 90 per cent of research academics across our university system are on limited-term all casual agreements.  … Under the so-called cover of efficiency, scholarly values that have been in practice for centuries are at risk.”

And it is, Senator Carr said, occurring at Murdoch U in particular, where he correctly said management wants to cancel the now expired enterprise agreement, the conditions in which generally stay in place until a new deal is adopted. Senator Carr added, again correctly the university is also taking legal action against union officials involved in bargaining.

“In any workplace, such tactics would be regarded as hostile and aggressive. In the higher education sector they are unprecedented. There is very broad support in this country for the public university system. People are proud of our universities. They are institutions that foster a civilised discourse, diversity of opinion and open inquiry. … Australians do not expect universities to act like ruthless private corporations or building developers, which is what is now happening.”

Senator Carr added that this was not confined to Murdoch U, it was part of “a shift towards the privatisation of the university system, a shift towards a system in which short-term commercial gain would increasingly determine a university’s priorities.”

But Murdoch U was still on his mind and he went on to detail what he saw as threats there to wages, conditions and “the free exchange of ideas.” “It takes no particular special insight to understand the existential threats that this would pose to all academic freedom in this country, should such a process be established,” he said.

Silent shadow

In addressing what he worries is the transformation of university cultures by managements Kim Carr went way beyond his research responsibilities (above). But Senator Carr’s enthusiasm is understandable given shadow education shadow minister Tanya Plibersek silence on universities. She was on Andrew Bolt‘s Sky News show on Tuesday night, where she talked about a bunch of stuff – just not universities.

Machinery of government ticking over

The government is delivering on its promise to establish a VET student ombudsman, which will operate through the Commonwealth Ombudsman. According to Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s second reading speech it will; “investigate complaints, and compliance by providers,” both the government’s new scheme and the VET FEE HELP farce it replaces.

The same bill also includes increases in funding caps for the Australian Research Council, in line with inflation. It covers the ARC through to 2019-20.

Wins for open access

There is no sign of an agreement on price and access between some 70 German universities and research institutes and the world’s largest for-profit publisher RelX’s Elsevier. At the end of the year subscriptions were not renewed, meaning researchers lost access to new content in the company’s journals. But Elsevier appears to have decided that as looks go this is nicht ein gutter blick and has restored access “while good-faith discussions about a nationwide contract carry on.”

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has also increased access to its journals by agreeing that Gates Foundation funded research can be published open-access in them. The Gates Foundation makes of reports on research a funding condition.