Privatising the profit

Thanks to Alex Holcombe for comparing scholarly publisher profits with those of companies that do not get their labour for free. Woolworths operating profit is a solid 7 per cent and BMW makes a hefty 12 per cent. In contrast, he says Elsevier returns 36 per cent and Wiley 42 per cent. How do they manage it? By paying authors nothing and charging taxpayers to read work they funded. Colin Steele and Danny Kingsley explain what is going on in the Campus Morning Mail Brief on open access (link is  to the right on the web page).

This troubadour walks into a bar…

Flinders University announced a “public lecture on humour,” yesterday. Sound like scholarly stand up? Up to a point Seigneur Copper, the full title is “Rhetoric, Humour and Persuasion in Mediaeval French.” It’s by Professor Olivier Bertrand, University of Cergy-Pontoise and Ecole Polytechnique, Paris and is on at Flinders, at 5.40pm on August 28.

Comrades in arms

As Ian “the gent” Young buckles on his armour before addressing the National Press Club today another champion of reform enters the lists. Larry Davis, acting CEO of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training is urging members, “to provide whatever support is possible to the proposed changes to higher education.” Ring the rhetoric does not but Mr Davis makes it plain that the Pyne package is the private sector’s best shot at an over-due “fundamental shift” in funding. He urges members to make the case to MPs and the community and says the ACPET board will consider communications strategies “in the coming weeks.” They might consider mounting up a little earlier than that – opponents of reform are making the rhetorical running just now.

Bad numbers, worse timing

Yesterday’s employment numbers from Graduate Careers Australia could not come at a worse time for Chris Pyne – with just under 30 per cent of 2013 graduates looking for full time work, four months after completing courses. This is 5 per cent lower than for 2012 and is said to show that the employment market still has not returned to pre GFC levels. Over time the power of a degree asserts itself and graduate unemployment drops below the figure for the community at large. This will not stop people questioning the capacity of graduates paying higher fees.

Leading lady of lobbying

The endlessly energetic, ever-astute Vicki Thomson is the incoming executive director of the Group of Eight secretariat replacing the long serving Mike Gallagher. This is a smart appointment indeed. As the head of secretariat at the Australian Technology Network she is always on message, making a coherent case for her members while working comfortably at the direction of the ATN chair, QUT VC Peter Coaldrake. Ms Thomson understands the politics of policy and the politics of politics and will subtly sell the G8 agenda as the fragile unity of the entire university system fractures. There is said to be no replacement lined up at the ATN, which is not good. This is not the time to be without an operator who knows the secret places and players in the corridors of power. Especially when nobody has a clue what is going on. Whether all, some, or none of the Pyne package will pass the Senate is just about the knownest of unknowns since Donald Rumsfeld was a pup (no, not that sort of PUP). But until what deregulation will/wont look like is clear bureaucrats cannot plan university funding – the Department of Education is presently modelling many, many options for course funding and student loans. And universities have no clue which undergraduates they can charge how much. A great deal depends on advice from La Trobe VC John Dewar’s working group on course costs, which after dissenting leaks a couple of weeks back has gone quiet. This is a time for system knowledge and political nous, but no pressure Ms T.

Unequal engineering

Alcoa is funding five fellowships for women in undergraduate engineering (CMM Monday) at Deakin University but while getting them to graduation is an excellent thing it is not the big challenge. As an under-reported federal government report study shows, the problem is keeping them in the workforce. There were 20 000 women engineering professionals in 1993 and 36 500 20 years later, but the number of women practising their profession actually dropped by 0.7 per cent, to a bare tenth of the profession’s workforce. So what’s the problem? Problems actually, there are plenty of them, including gender based pay gaps, lack of part-time work and flexible hours – and the big one which the report under-statedly explains as “persistence of gendered roles and expectations by managers and colleagues.” Which means, we have seen the problem and he is bloke. As focus groups for the report found, the way some women engineers dealt with discrimination at work is to deny there is a problem. “In such workplace cultures, women often find they have to choose between their identity as a woman and as an engineer while men rarely face the same choice.” . Think professional workplaces value ability overall? Think again.

What’s in a name?

Yesterday I reported that the long honoured Australian Graduate School of Management name has gone to Gowings, as the University of New South Wales rebadges biz ed as the UNSW Business School. I got one bit wrong. In fact the AGSM name lives on, for postgraduate courses. The bit I got right was suggesting how academics always want their own preferred identities, whatever the marketers advise – so AGSM exists as part of UNSWBS. Um, except that as of lunchtime yesterday the website carried the old name, the Australian School of Business.

No one is listening

Want to know why the life and death debate about the future of higher education attracts so little attention outside universities? New Business Council of Australia president, Catherine Livingstone explained why in her inaugural address “Vision for a competitive Australia.” Ms Livingstone argued Australians must learn to innovate and to face a future where; “we are seeing a worrying increase in youth unemployment as digital technology drives the phenomenon of jobless growth, and exposes a serious mismatch between the skills and capabilities of our youth and those demanded by business. “ But she mentioned universities just once, listing them as one foundation of the nation’s “knowledge infrastructure.” For higher education to be so ignored in such a speech demonstrates that business thinks little about universities and cares less. Scary stuff.