Plus tales of two Sydneys and McKeon steps up at Monash

Bucks from Big Bang

UCLA reports the cast and crew of Big Bang Theory have established a $4m fund for undergraduate STEM scholarships. Don’t know Big Bang? Not to worry the NBN will be along to connect your residence on Mars as soon as they work out how to connect fibre to the planet.

ANU Sept 15

More of the same @ Monash

Banker, philanthropist and advocate of research funding Simon McKeon is replacing Alan Finkel, as chancellor of Monash University. This is an astute appointment, which will ensure a continuing high-profile for Monash research in particular and the general case for national research investment, if Mr McKeon continues neuroscientist, engineer and entrepereneur Dr Finkel‘s  practise of speaking out out on policy issues. Mr McKeon is a former chair of CSIRO and chaired the 2013  Strategic Review of Health and Medical Research. 

Tale of two Sydneys I: WSU open-plan plans

WSU DVC and business school dean Scott “Focus” Holmes has already told staff that it will be all open access when staff move into their flash new downtown Parramatta, (CMM October 7) digs. But Western Sydney U insiders are talking behind closed doors (while they still exist) that management plans to extend open access across the university, that deans are under orders to get people out of offices and onto shared work spaces as opportunities arise. If the Parramatta build is any indication they will occur often.

TAFE wins from for-profits’ problems

The scathing Senate Committee report on for-profit training (CMM Friday) is a huge win for public providers who now need only point to problems in the competition when asked about TAFE’s performance. It might even get South Australian Training Minister Gail Gago off the hook for the way she has provided TAFE with a near monopoly on federal money, which Canberra intended to fund students studying with private as well as public providers. Back in May Ms Gago justified this on the grounds that under-performing TAFE needed time and money to sort itself out. “TAFE SA has an important role in vocational education. So we are supporting TAFE SA while it transitions to more innovative and flexible training provision that better responds to community and industry needs and is more sustainable in a competitive market ” she said (CMM May 22).

As gall goes this is hard to beat but despite warnings from training, now education minister Simon Birmingham, Ms Gago has not budged.

CMM suspects she will also ignore Rod Camm from the Australian Council for Private Education and Training who bought into the argument on Friday.

TAFE South Australia does not have the capacity to provide the level of training for which the SA government has allocated funding and therefore has to subcontract to private registered training organisations to fill their quota. … “The fees are up to 3 times more than what is charged by the RTOs, which means far less places are subsidised for the unemployed who are desperately seeking to retain or up-skill their qualifications – this is an absolute outrage,” Mr Camm claims.

So if this is correct, TAFE is basically taking a commission on work the private sector ends up doing. Well, Ms Gago said she wanted to help the public provider. But after last week’s Senate report CMM wonders if anybody outside ACPET is going to go to bat for private providers.

ANU Sep 15 5

Light on for Auslit

The University of Melbourne has appointed Booker Prize winning novelist Richard Flanagan to a new chair in Australian literature. However undergraduate admirers hoping to study with him may be disappointed. The university’s Coursesearch reveals just two bachelor-level Auslit units. One is on Aboriginal writing and the other is, “The Australian imaginary,” “which looks at what a national literature means and how it makes itself significant to the nation and beyond.” And no, none of Professor (to be) Flanagan’s novels are set.

Jackson to innovate elsewhere

First the bad news for beat-up merchants, Christopher Pyne’s outgoing chief of staff Meredith Jackson is leaving the minister’s office because she wants to, which is not how some unfairly reported higher education advisor Don Markwell’s move to the Attorney General’s office.

Now for the real news, that Ms Jackson decided not to move with Mr Pyne from Education to Industry and Innovation. CMM hears that after two political years (equivalent to a decade in 40-hour weeks) Ms Jackson decided she likes the idea of staying in education, perhaps in the international space and will announce plans after taking the summer off.

The idea that staffers only leave the min wing when beaten or betrayed is plain wrong. Granted it isn’t all Leo McGarry and C J Creig in The West Wing, but political offices are generally united workplaces – they could not function if they weren’t.

With Ms Jackson gone Adam Howard, one of Mr Pyne’s media advisers in Education, is stepping up as CoS. His colleague Rory Grant has also moved with the minister, as senior media adviser.

Fact to one, ideology to another

UofQ economist John Quiggin explains why supporters of for-profit training refuse to accept that the public sector does it better; “as I regularly observe, ideology always looks like common sense from the inside.” Which argument could never apply to assumptions that TAFE is in great shape.

Tale of two Sydneys II: longer degrees and focused research

Acting University of Sydney VC Stephen Garton has reported the senior executive group’s thinking on the restructure now being considered. Of course nothing is decided, but CMM suspects Sydney staff are already planning for a new undergraduate structure and fewer faculties as outlined by management.

Professor Garton says the executive likes the idea of four-year undergraduate degrees in liberal arts and sciences, building on the existing architecture for three year courses.

Research should be “rankings focused” not “rankings dominated,” which can mean whatever good/bad outcomes in the ARWU listings merit. And everybody agrees the university “should explore further the notion of ‘research impact’.” When they work this out perhaps they could tell all the peak agencies working on ways to measure it.

Sun shines @ U Sunshine Coast

Enterprise bargaining negotiations at the University of the Sunshine Coast have gone from stalled to smooth, well smoothish. Last Monday CMM reported management and the National Tertiary Education Union were split on a wide range of workload issues. But it seems the week went well following DVC Birgit Lohmann getting involved on the management side. There is another meeting today and a conciliation in the Fair Work commission tomorrow.

Motorway to mateyness

Good to see University of Newcastle DVC Andrew Parfitt addressed a Friday business breakfast on the NSW central coast, the university’s southern catchment. The university got something of a scare when a local government push popped up for an independent university at Ourimbah, on the coast, (CMM June 4), since when CMM hears Professor Parfitt is not the only university leading taking relationship building trips down the M1.

An out for ASQA

For fans of Pirandello-style parliamentary proceedings Senate Estimates are on Wednesday and Thursday. The session CMM really wants to watch is Thursday afternoon from 2 to 4.30 when the acronyms appear, the ARC, TEQSA and ASQA . The Australian Research Council session is always entertaining as chief executive Aidan Byrne answers exactly what he is asked, except when he explains why the question is irrelevant, out of order or incomprehensible. But this week’s star turns should be from the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency and the Australian Skills Quality Authority. CMM suspects TEQSA will get asked a bunch of questions about private providers and the week after a Senate committee slammed for-profit providers ASQA will be invited to explain how many private providers have broken the rules. If so, ASQA will count itself lucky –because the question it should be asked is how and why so private-sector trainers have got away with so-many red-hot rorts on its watch.

U Tas urged to ice investments

Students at the University of Tasmania by students are aggrieved that after a three day protest the university has not decided to sell its fossil fuel investments. “UTAS is globally renown for its leadership on climate research, it was just awarded a $26m grant for Antarctic research–but there won’t be any ice left to study if it and other institutions keep investing in fossil fuels,” student spokesperson Mell Jones says. CMM suspects the Finance Department will be on to the university first thing this morning advising that the grant is cancelled because the subject will melt.