Plus Hoj calls for research funding reform and Murdoch (finally) advertises for a new VC

Politely damned

There is progress in talks between Swinburne University management and the National Tertiary Education Union over a long overdue enterprise agreement. Last week negotiations were described as “cordial and professional,” this, a fluent IR speaker says, means “neither side threw a chair.” And this week Vice Chancellor Linda Kristjanson tells staff discussions are “positive and productive.” This is another way of saying that negotiators have agreed to only curse each other’s descendants at the start of the meeting and then get on with doing a deal.

ANU June 2

Trust in government

The deregulation debate is now less about who sets student fees than a proxy for the role of the state in Australian society, demonstrated by Senator Jacqui Lambie’s (Ind-Tas) warning that Christopher Pyne wants “the private training industry” to access “the billions of taxpayer dollars tied to the delivery of higher education qualifications.” This, the senator explained in a statement yesterday would be a very bad thing, pointing to the VET market, where private providers, “have been more concerned with protecting profits, rather than protecting academic standards and students’ welfare.” While CMM has no view on specifics in the senator’s statement her message is quite clear – universities should not have to “unfairly compete against private training companies that don’t have the same requirements to invest in research and give back socially to our communities.”

She is not alone, most opponents of deregulation argue education is a natural government monopoly, like the public health system, with no, or little room for for-profit providers. And the electorate will never wear a user-pays medical market.

At last, an advertisement

As per CMM’s (July 31) report, Murdoch University has announced recruiting for a new vice chancellor has commenced, close to a year since Richard Higgott resigned. Chancellor David Flanagan, plus a committee including one staff and one student Senate member, a dean and former University of Western Australia vc Alan Robson will make the pick. A shortlist is expected in October with an appointment in November. The big question at Murdoch is whether acting vc Andrew Taggart will apply and the answer is no one knows.


Value for money MOOCs

There is money to be made from MOOCs and not by charging people to assemble an MBA from a cornucopia of courses licensed from MIT. The University of Tasmania shows how, reporting that its MOOC on understanding dementia has been offered three times, with 50 000 people enrolling and 36 per cent, 36 per cent! completing. As an example of research with community impact this is impossible to beat, providing people with an understanding of the disease and what it does. The University of Adelaide is offering a similar service with its MOOC on addiction as is Swinburne with one on autism, (CMM, July 29). These are vastly superior ways of providing people with information they really need to the social service comms campaigns governments run. The next time the Department of Health wants an information campaign on a health issue rather than ask advertising agencies to pitch it should invite universities with MOOCs and med schools to propose a course. Information rich, with global reach and at a fraction of a TVC.

Warp Factor unfathomable

Sydney University astrophysicist Geraint Lewis thinks Einstein’s “mathematically fiendish” theory of general relativity might include ideas for space travel, “nominally faster than the speed of light.” Professor Lewis will explain all at 6.30 on Monday at the law school auditorium, although even if he explained for a light year it would still be too hard for CMM.

Good jobs going at Edith who? U

CMM’s change of the day is at Edith Cowan U, where new vice chancellor Steve Chapman wants to buy-in talent to boost the university’s research rankings by hiring 20 research professors, and not just in areas of existing research strength, (health, education, electron science and forensics and security). ECU “may also recruit professors from disciplines not currently represented,” the university says. This will likely include researchers from overseas who do not know how much they want to work at ECU, because they have never heard of it – which is where the university is especially smart. The e-information kit is first-rate, demonstrating ECU is serious about attracting talent.

More to funding debate than student fees

Guards were doubled and university security councils convened yesterday when the Courier Mail reported UQ VC Peter Hoj had “a radical new funding plan.” It sounded like a strategic intervention by a Group of Eight vice chancellor at the start of the Senate session that could finally settle the fee deregulation debate.

Except it wasn’t, the interview with the paper occurred last month, Professor Hoj told CMM  and the “radical new funding plan” is in fact a proposal intended to kick start a debate stalled by the student fee dispute.

Professor Hoj has long argued that students at research-intensive universities subsidise what is a national responsibility. A share of the funding per place Canberra provides for them, plus the HECS they ultimately pay, is used by institutions to make up their research infrastructure shortfall, not a problem universities which lack lots of research grants have. Professor Hoj suggests that as a proposed figure to fund non university higher education providers to teach public places is around 70 per cent of a full-time student place the other 30 per cent should go into a competitive fund to support infrastructure. Yes, less research active universities would want compensation but the new scheme could be introduced over time, via a weighting on Commonwealth Grant Index payments for example. Yes this would suit his university but it is also in the national interest to invest in the institutions that produce the serious research. And no any fund should not be restricted to the Group of Eight, Professor Hoj nominates neighbouring QUT as a research rich institution that would likely do well.

Sounds like the basis of a plan to CMM, but no Professor Hoj has not explained it to the Senate backbench. Somebody should, there is more to funding reform than arguing over “$100 000 degrees.”

mindhive 2

Fixed smiles

The University of South Australia has appointed John Hill to its Council. Mr Hill was a minister in both Rann and Weatherill state Labor governments and in the health portfolio was heavily involved with the immense Royal Adelaide Hospital project and the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute. In Adelaide’s intensely competitive education market this is good news for UniSA which other universities will undoubtedly congratulate it on – through gritted teeth.

CRCs to shine

The Cooperative Research Centre Association is briefing members to prepare for a new operating environment now the Miles Review is essentially adopted by government. Centres will have to focus less on their own funding, and more on the work to be done, with their being the “vehicle for collaborative groups to tackle the challenge.” The new CRC Project funding stream ($3m for three years), designed to allow small and medium enterprises easier access to the programme could also mean major changes. According to the CRCA, “no decisions have been made on whether CRC-Ps might make up 5 per cent or 50 per cent of funds (everything is) up for grabs.”

Unsettling for sure, but a big improvement on the nervous months before Miles, when pessimists thought the programme was possibly for the push. Indeed, now is the centres’ chance to shine. As the Association puts it, they are “positioned as a key means of increasing collaboration between industry and universities and for bringing science into the heart of industry policy.”