Plus Pyne package an election issue in Canning contest

Expansive character

The Chief Scientist’s office is now on Twitter. CMM suspects that it is the office not the big bloke himself because at 140 characters Ian Chubb would only be warming up.

Macquarie malaise

A survey of Macquarie University IT teams has generated a full and frank response – the frankest. On just about every question staff members demonstrate they are upset and anxious, alienated and ignored, with consistent two-thirds majorities disagreeing with statements intended to assess positive attitudes on management-staff relations and work practises.

The discontent is even deeper in responses to open ended questions. Staff members report no confidence in management’s technical abilities or management skills and say they are operating in isolation from other teams. And they are scathing, about the energy and expertise of managers.

“This workplace makes me angry, demoralised, devalued, dejected and depressed. It’s directly effecting my health,” one writes.

“Give students what we promised five years ago (a single sign-on) and have never been able to deliver,” is what a staffer wants.

“I know my role. If only management did as well, we could get things done. The objectives that are communicated to us are vague and appear to be straight from some other organisation’s management handbook. I strongly believe that management in IT do not understand these objectives themselves,” a worker worries.

There is more, much more from Macquarie U IT staff. University communities are “heroic complainers,” as The Economist famously put it, but there is a sense in the report of a workforce feeling less demoralised than defeated by dysfunctional structures and processes.

ANU June 4

Promises promises

ANU VC in waiting Brian Schmidt says he does not know what will happen after deregulation, as if it will definitely occur (CMM yesterday). Which led UoQ humanities dean Tim Dunne to ask “what else did the hiring committee promise?” Given ANU chancellor Gareth Evans is “a whatever it takes” kind of bloke CMM guesses the earth, moon and, appropriately, stars.

Right course

Steve Herbert is a big TAFE fan but you have to talk to all sorts in politics and so the Victorian training minister spoke at the Australia Council for Private Education and Training conference in Melbourne yesterday. And as is customary he came bearing a gift, granted not a big one, but certainly worth turning up to announce, Mr Herbert said the review of the training system underway found students “often report courses that were too easy, too hard, not delivered in a way that was right for them, or didn’t give them the skills they expected.” And so he announced a scheme to help trainers identify the course that is right for each student. Every registered training organisation providing publicly funded courses gets two spots in the first stage of the $1m programme. That the Victorian training crisis (and that is what it was) was due to private providers rorting the state’s first competitive VET market by enrolling people in inappropriate courses made the venue especially appropriate.

What Nick thinks

The National Tertiary Education Union is touring Andrew Rossi’s US film about the parlous state of higher education, Ivory Tower with an Adelaide screening on September 22. But the movie will be the curtain raiser for the main event, special guest Senator Nick Xenophon. The senator opposes the Pyne package but has acknowledged that the existing higher education funding model is unsustainable. I wonder whether Minister Pyne will have somebody there in case the senator suggests anything worth pursuing.


Brains as well as buildings

Growing regional Australia depends on ideas as much as infrastructure, which is why the Regional Universities Network wants a change from the traditional focus on local government driven development. “We need to get the structure right and that means involving universities. In the past regional committees have not been strategic,” RUN Executive Director Caroline Perkins told a conference in Albury yesterday.

She is proposing a new committee system, including a university focus on both research and teaching, to ensure regions have the resources they need to grow their economies. Universities are best placed to provide the ideas and advice small and medium enterprises in regional areas need and to ensure there are enough skilled workers in growth industries, she says.

Dr Perkins points to the UK model of local enterprise agencies that include local government, universities, SMEs and NGOs. “We will need some funding but first have to get the structure right, she adds.”

Fit for purpose

Edith Cowan U’s Nicholas Hart is researching whether targeted exercise can slow the growth of metastatic bone tumours; one of a bunch of ECU research programmes on the therapeutic benefits of exercise for all sorts of diseases. This is serious science, way beyond weight loss and psychology. CMM hopes they can find a way to repair knees through running.


Training in trouble

Critics of demand driven funding who argue attrition rates demonstrate too many people start, but do not finish university, who would be happier in training should have a look at new numbers from the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education and Training. In 2013 overall completion rates for all publicly funded training courses was just 34 per cent. The figures for higher level courses, Certificate IV and diplomas, are better, 40 per cent and over – but even so training has a problem which cannot all be attributed to private providers gulling people into courses they cannot complete.

Last night Training Minister Simon Birmingham put attrition down to failings in the federal Labor training model and said things will improve with the government’s reforms. Two years isn’t that long to wait to find out if he is right.

Crunch time in Canning for Pyne package

The Greens and Labor are both running on higher education deregulation in the Canning by election, with the ALP writing to supporters that “we have a chance to send Tony Abbott a message like never before: we aren’t happy with his plans for $100,000 degrees and we won’t sit down and cop it.” Whatever the swing against the government, enemies of deregulation will put it down to community opposition to the Pyne package. CMM suspects Liberal candidate Andrew Hastie will not be saying much about higher education.