Why Chris Pyne’s job just got harder

Dialogue of the deaf

Nick Xenophon and I met today. We know each other well and we both want a better university system. We will keep talking.” Chris Pyne via Twitter, Friday. Each hearing the other is another matter.

UA Conference Campus Morning Mail 728 x 210

 Knock of doom

No one will ever say Christopher Pyne did not do his damndest to sell his higher education plans. He said last year that if it was possible he would go door to door to explain them and late last week he did the media equivalent. He appeared on Channel Ten’s The Project, where a selection of hipster savants asked him questions on just about everything other than education. But he still got his message in; “good government policy isn’t always immediately popular. But good government policy is what makes our country great. It’s what’s made it great for many decades. When the Labor Party introduced the Higher Education Contribution Scheme, it was opposed by the very same people that are opposing the reforms that I’m introducing right now.”

And he went on Triple J where he said while he was keen to negotiate with senators he would not budge on the principle of deregulation and that there was not much point in another review because, “the sector has been reviewed root and branch many times.”

He also appeared on Sky News with Peter van Onselen where he said that there is indeed a Plan B if deregulation does not pass and it is to end the National Collaborative Infrastructure Scheme and the Future Fellowships programme and not to expand the demand driven system through pathway programs for want of funding. “The status quo will actually mean that people will potentially lose their jobs, less students will get the opportunity to go to university, there’ll be less money flowing to universities because obviously you won’t increase the funding because there isn’t the money to do that so the crossbenchers need to take those things into account,” he said.

So early career researchers watch out if deregulation fails, Mr Pyne turns up at your door he won’t be there with good news.

UA on the mark

Mark Warburton is joining Universities Australia from the Commonwealth Government, where he spent nine years working on higher education funding and before that welfare policy. This is a good move by UA; Mr Warburton is well regarded by politically astute policy people and with the sector not really knowing where its next billion will come from as the budget approaches his policy smarts will help.

CEF Jan 15

The day after

Universities will face bigger issues than what happens to NCRIS and future fellowships if the Senate rejects the second Pyne Package and political hard-heads are starting to think about what happens next – which is not much. The best university managers are hoping for is either no cuts in funding per student place, perhaps via the government abandoning the Emerson cuts of April 2013 that are still not through the Senate. The government might also push for small and capped increase in course costs via a hike in HECS to keep the idea of competition alive but that would likely be it, at most, for the rest of this term. Lobbies also started floating the idea of an independent regulator setting fees last week (Campus Morning Mail January 23). “Mr Pyne will be game to carry on but even though deregulating university fees did not get a mention in the Queensland election result the government will not go boo at a goose now lest it annoy any loud interest group,” a long-time education policy observer said yesterday.

There to learn

Today’s seminar on rural and regional higher education in Albury looks like being just that, rather than a proxy Senate debate on deregulation. Yes, the day is being organised by La Trobe University, where VC John Dewar supports the Pyne package and Charles Sturt, whose VC, Andrew Vann is on-side but is less keen, however as of Friday neither federal officials nor anybody from Mr Pyne‘s office was down to attend.  People on the other side of the argument who will be there  include Labor’s training spokeswoman Sharon Bird, member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie and independent member for the local electorate of Indi, Cathy McGowan. Caroline Perkins, who runs the regional university lobby, Sue Trinidad from Curtin University’s National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education and Susan O’Neill from Albury-Wodonga Health are also attending. While cross bench senators may not make it “most” of their offices will be represented.

 The bottom line on the bottom line

No university likes to admit demand is down so there was all the usual spinning of statistics last month to demonstrate new students were clambering over each to enrol at just about every university. But you can rely on Charles Sturt VC Andrew Vann to tell it like it is; and that is that CSU is ok-ish on 2015 enrolments. “We were hoping to lift student numbers in 2015 but at this stage that looks unlikely,” he told the university community on Friday. In particular undergraduate distance ed applications are down, which he says is likely because this group is especially sensitive to talk of fee increases. International interest in rural campuses is also down However higher research degrees are up, as are full fee masters. Overall Professor Vann is probably less pleased than relieved that the university screwed down costs last year, coming in slightly under budget.

ANU computing

Nick sticks

Many of Nicholas Saunders admirers were upset when he firmly ruled out staying on at TEQSA as CEO given he had done such a good job in calming everything down in the aftermath of the scathing Lee Dow-Braithwaite report. (CMM January 19) But all is not lost, with Minister Pyne announcing the former University of Newcastle VC will continue at the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency as part-time chief commissioner.

Professor Saunders takes over as founding commissioner Michael Wells joins consultants Phillips KPA. A second part time commissioner joins Saunders, higher education governance expert Linley Martin, whose senior appointments at a range of universities informed her work as an adviser to the Bradley Review.

Applauding open access 

I am of a fan of open-access university presses, which publish real scholarship on-line. Their titles lack gorgeous cover art and elegant binding I grant you but then again they come without the appalling price of short-run hardbacks. One of the presses I especially admire is Monash University’s staffed by Nathan Hollier and a small team who produce scholarly works in a way that makes them universally available, which a print-run cannot. Nor am I alone, Monash VC Margaret Gardner presented the press with a 2014 performance award.

E-publishing, especially in HASS disciplines is not popular with people at the top of the publishing pyramid, demonstrated by the UK Crossick Report (January 23). But for young scholars open access on-line makes publishing possible. It should make it credible with hiring committees as well. Monash is no less a university press for not printing all its list.