But permanent staff at Sydney should be pleased

The big news this morning is the rush to reach an enterprise agreement at the University of Sydney. According to the National Tertiary Education Union management is now offering a total 14.5 per cent pay rise to March 2017 plus three research/career development days and a $540 sign-on bonus. The union is recommending staff adopt the deal at a lunchtime meeting today.  Sydney is the first of the Group of Eight universities to reach a deal – my guess is the others will rapidly follow.

Good on Gillard

Julia Gillard announced last night she will be a Brookings Institute Fellow in education. This is an excellent appointment, the sort of thing the Americans (who accept that policy nous survives into political retirement) do much better than we do. Ms Gillard was a reforming education minister and she has great deal to contribute to the debate on school education – even though she will not please everybody. Her interest in Joel Klein’s work as chancellor of  New York city public schools certainly did not please teacher unions and their academic allies five years or so back.  Between this and her appointment at the University of Adelaide it looks like Ms Gillard is going to do some work – and good luck to her for being game to have a go. She is way too young to retire and now has a chance to influence the ideas that change policy over time. Being prime minister it ain’t but it is an honourable and important calling.

Garlanded with gladdies

The University of Melbourne has done well in enlisting Barry Humphries as a patron of its fundraising campaign.  It is hard to imagine a better example than the elegant, erudite entertainer of how a liberal education is the basis of the most individual of careers. Mr Humphries also makes a change from all the other worthy patrons and campaign board members. Dull he is not. As far as I know none of his characters attended U of M (grant-mongering academic Neil Singleton is from Sydney).

Terrific timing

Just as Education Minister Chris Pyne announces he wants to know what goes on in teacher education course the University of Queensland announces a $2 million dollar grant to develop maths content and communication programs for trainee teachers – the sort of practical thing the minister wants more of. Uof Q joins Queensland colleague James Cook, which announced a maths in education subject in a teaching degree back in August. And Alison Sammels at Griffith has an entire degree, which combines content and teaching for maths and science teachers.

No big branding deal

Good for Trade Minister Andrew Robb in talking up the importance of higher education exports yesterday. The minister is quite right to remind us of the importance of the industry and the way competitors want to share off Australia. So what he is going to do about it? Well, there is the “digital postcard competition” he announced yesterday. Yep, in a global market up against the Brits and the US and the very creative Kiwis that will do it. There is also a problem with the creative- it uses AusTrade’sFuture Unlimited” campaign, which started in June 2011. There is nothing wrong with the premise, branding Australia education as helping people meet their potential, rather than selling Australia as a fun place to study. But the creative is not especially well, creative and the marketing is cumbersome. Yesterday’s bigannouncement invited people to register for a competition to win a trip to visit Australian education institutions. Not a chance to win but the opportunity to register for a chance! In any case there is a strong case against national brands. Branding expert Simon Anholt argues they generally don’t work and those that do are very clear about both the attributes and the benefits they sell. New Zealand’s “stress less, learn more” links both brilliantly. But “future unlimited” could be used in just about any market. Unless I am missing something the promise is also meaningless – the future is inevitably unlimited, what with it not having occurred.

Fair and balanced

As University of Sydney students contemplated yet another staff strike over wages Lucy Hughes Jones reported what it was all about in student paper Honi Soit, and I mean reported, sticking to the facts in a rhetoric free piece. It’s out of date as of this morning – but hey, that’s a hack’s lot and her piece is enough to restore one’s faith in journalism.  

 Less professoriate than proletariat 

There was an excellent op ed in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday by University of Western Sydney academic George Morgan, about the condition of casuals there, indeed across the country. Morgan makes the familiar point that casuals are either over-worked or unemployed out of session and that those whose research is not in market demand have few options. “Too often their interests have been traded in favour of those of tenured staff,” he writes. Morgan’s right and just about everybody knows it. At the beginning of the year National Tertiary Education Union officials proposed pushing universities to create more career positions for causal academics as part of this year’s bargaining for new enterprise agreements. This did not go over well with all campus officials. They generally represent older staff whose concerns focus on more money and maintaining existing conditions. Career paths for causals has not been top of mind in many of the bitter pay disputes this year, which must suit managements, which rely on casuals to contain costs. With academics in their ‘50s showing no sign of retiring en masse and even junior-ish jobs attracting immensely qualified applicants from recession wracked US and European universities the future for the casuals Morgan mentions is grim indeed.

 Nothing to report

Perhaps the announcement that ministers must clear interview requests with the PMO reflects a broader disinterest in keeping us all informed of what the government is up to. Whatever the reason, the bureaucracy is certainly slow to sort out its websites. There are no links to the two education ministers and portfolio  parliamentary secretary on the government’s umbrella site. And the Australian Research Council is listed under the industry portfolio – despite it being announced as going to education last week.

A chemist in the house

A new report from the Grattan Institute pointing to the shortage of health care in the bush has some good news for the endlessly energetic urgers of Charles Sturt and La Trobe’s proposed Murray Darling Medical School. Apparently southern NSW, (including Goulburn, Bega, Cooma and go figure, Queanbeyan) which the MDMS would serve, is in the bottom quintile for access to GP services. That’s the bit the MDMS lobby will quote. They will not be as keen on other bits, notably “current responses – such as training more doctors, or paying them bonuses to move to rural areas – haven’t done enough. More of the same won’t fix the problem. “  The report proposes empowering health providers, notably physician assistants and pharmacists, to supply services.  Sure CSU and La Trobe could train them, CSU already teaches pharmacy and dentistry on country campuses). But status wise these don’t do what a med school does.