Plus why Belinda Robinson and Kim Carr are winners this week

F for frugality

Spotted at Canberra Airport yesterday, ANU VC Ian “the gent” Young and Senator Jacqui Lambie boarding a flight. But Professor Young missed the chance to make the case for deregulation to the senator – she was flying at the front while he was back in the cheap seats. Unless of course, Professor Young had noticed that Future Fund chair and friend of fossil fuels Peter Costello was also at the pointy end and did not want to discuss ANU’s sale of old-energy shares.

Cop this Colin

La Trobe University Vice Chancellor John Dewar has let fly at the National Tertiary Education Union with a spectacular spray that describes the NTEU as “arrogant and out of touch with its membership,” and “at odds with the overwhelming majority of staff.”

Professor Dewar was responding to yet another union move against his restructure plan. On Wednesday night NTEU Victorian Secretary Colin Long announced the union was going to the Federal Court for a permanent stay of retrenchments (CMM yesterday). “La Trobe University senior management have shown a flagrant disregard for their legal obligations,” Dr Long said. This appeal comes after a long campaign on campus, in the community and via the print and broadcast media, which has delayed but not deterred the university’s plan to cut hundreds of jobs.

And now it appears the comrades have exhausted the VC’s considerable reserve of rectitude.

“It smacks of desperation and disorganisation that a union that purports to represent La Trobe staff has sat on its hands for a month since the Fair Work Commission case was concluded and now decides in the weeks before Christmas, as the process nears its conclusion, to generate needless anxiety and uncertainty for our staff and their families in the lead up to the festive season,” he said.

“Of course the union is entitled to pursue their legal options, but the only people to benefit from this additional court action will be lawyers. The cost of this action is money we could otherwise be spending on our students.”

Everybody clear on that?


Fed fans

While an admirer of Federation University’s student recruitment marketing I did not much like its foundation corporate campaign, “new name, ordinary ad,” (CMM October 2 2013). But what would I know? Fed U and its agency, Publicis Cubed have just won the Henry Hoke Award from the US Direct Marketing Association.

 Hard data

With casual teaching today’s equivalent of the post doc (just with less future and worse money) it was not surprising that the organisers of this week’s casualisation conference in Hobart invited Australian Research Council chief “Affable Aidan” Byrne to speak. It was equally unsurprising that he agreed – if there is one thing that comes with the job at the ARC it is telling people they are not getting the money they want.

Yesterday Professor Byrne set out stats that just about everybody understood – that a touch over 10 per cent of Discovery Programme applications for 2015 were successful, the lowest figure in seven years. And the winners are old, well oldish– with the average age of DP chief investigators remaining around 45 for a decade plus. And as well as being oldish they are also blokes. Around 7 per cent of CIs with a career age of 5-10 years are women but this falls to 2 per cent or so for those working in their disciplines for 20 years or more. As Professor Byrne said yesterday, “our (selection) panels have to be sensitive to people’s experience. For example, systems are incredibly skewed against people who take time out to have a family or work in industry.”

Professor Byrne also addressed, without arguing a case, issues that excite every early career researcher – the way some universities and their senior staff game research metrics and why high chief investigator salaries soak up grant money. Hard issues all, but as an ARC ally said later Excellence in Research for Australia is meant to measure the system overall, adding “its universities data and universities that misuse the outcomes.” As for CI salaries, if grant money was piled into research casuals would do more of the extra work – as occurs in the medical research institutes.

For young researchers wondering about work, yesterday must have felt like less a case of no than never win.

But will he wear it

At the casual work conference (above) NTEU President Jeannie Rea was spotted giving Professor Byrne a “$100 000 degree” t-shirt. I wonder if he will wear it to a meeting with his minister, Chris Pyne?

Winners of the week

Despite no Senate action on the deregulation legislation it was a big week in HE and voced with winners on five fronts. The alpha achiever was obviously Trade Minister Andrew Robb – there does not appear anything special for education in the China FTA – but any agreement that reduce/remove market access restrictions is a good thing. Now on to to India!

Universities Australia chief Belinda Robinson spends a bunch of time talking to politicians but a long yarn with Barack Obama at the G20 summit dinner last week was surely more memorable than most. They are said to have talked about how to encourage universities and industry to innovate but I’m betting that was cover for the president asking how to handle an uncooperative Senate.


Kim Carr (Labor shadow higher education minister) and Sharon Bird (Labor shadow minister for vocational education) did very well by putting policy above politics. Senator Carr stopped the terms of reference for a Senate committee inquiry into course quality and enrolment practises in private sector VET being used as a stick with which to beat non-university higher education providers. “The implications for the university system are clear, 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,” the senator said on Tuesday. Ms Bird also did well in urging the two relevant federal ministers, Messrs Pyne and Macfarlane to act on private trainer quality – a rare example of great politics and sound policy meshing.

It takes a rare industry leader to turn a beating into a win – which is what Rodd Camm from the Australian Council for Private Education and Training managed. Mr Camm agreed there are shonks around the edges of the private training industry and said he would do something about them, before, I’m guessing, the Senate committee convenes.

And hooray for James Cook University’s Mark Wolff (marketing director) and Angela Hill (dean of learning). They have written a new TV campaign targeting young people trapped in aimless unemployment and giving them a reason to do a pre-university bridging diploma. It is that rare thing in higher education advertiser, a campaign written to appeal to the audience not university management.

Share the wealth

The other day University of Sydney VC Michael Spence told the Australia-Latin America Business Council how the former could help companies from the latter which want to “gain a foothold in lucrative Asian markets” but lack “regional know-how.” I wonder if he wants this to extend to education exports.

Marketing metrics

In a strategic move designed to embed its products in the foundations of worldwide research publisher Elsevier will provide its Scopus data measurement to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. THE will also use Elsevier’s Scival analysis tool to refine its rankings. This partnership, plus a move to in-house data collection, ends THE’s metrics partnership with Thomson Reuters. This is a big move, which looks like it is intended to knock the QS competition out of the ranking ring.