Collegial comrades

I wonder what University of Sydney academics who do not like Israeli government policies and accordingly oppose scholarly links with a university there will make of management’s enthusiasm for closer ties with the Chinese Academy of Social Science. It is led, according to UoS yesterday, by a member of the “powerful Central Committee.”

Carvalho leaves confusion for coag

With a new minister handling a very big portfolio now is not a good time for higher education to lose any expert administrators. But it happened last night with news David de Carvalho will leave his post as head of the Higher Education and Research Group in the Department of Education on December 20. Mr de Carvalho will move to Prime Minister and Cabinet where he will lead the task force working on the future of federalism white paper. A case of from confusion to COAG, as it were. The department says a replacement will be named “soon”.

Micawber’s Law of enterprise bargaining

It pays to play a long game in industrial relations; you never know what will turn up. Back before Craig Emerson cut university funding in April three optimistic universities led off the present round of enterprise bargaining with pay deals of 4 per cent per annum for three years. After the cuts university coffers closed quite a bit. Pay rises in the dozen deals done, or in the offing, range from 2.6 per to 3.1 per cent per annum. So if the cuts are cancelled the three market leaders are back to par and others with an agreement are quids in – unless they generously up their offers, which I suspect is no sure thing. But what of all the other universities that are still arguing, sorry negotiating? The National Tertiary Education Union could stick to its original 4 per cent ask, arguing universities now have their original capacity to pay. The union could even seek supplements from universities where deals are done. It’s an unlikely but not impossible ask – at least not to anybody who remembers when pay rises were secured in Australia on the basis of “comparative wage justice”. And wouldn’t that go down well with the expenditure review committee. Will any of it happen? My guess is no – still there is no harm in the union asking. If, that is, anybody has the energy for another argument.

Cuts are (still) coming 

So how will the government claw back the equivalent of the cuts parliament looks like blocking? A policy wonk (one of the wonkiest) suggests there are plenty of programs the feds could trim, notably the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program and funded postgraduate and sub-degree places. And if the Australian Research Council wasn’t in the frame to lose more money before it may well be now. In any case, the restored funds are only safe until the middle of next year, when the new Senate sits.

Book him Denno!

La Trobe’s Dennis Altman bemoans the dominance of the North Atlantic literary world in our book chat culture (my words not his) @ The Conversation. Um, is this the same Dennis Altman who wrote a major study of Gore Vidal?

Golden ERA

Aidan Byrne explained the achievements of ERA in The Australian yesterday. According to the Australian Research Council chief the Excellence for Research in Australia measure, “is improving the quality of research by focusing behaviour of researchers on measures of research quality. It’s driving the performance of domestic universities in the global research rankings and it’s helping to concentrate research efforts into areas of strength.” An independent report commissioned by the ARC says so!

Equally important, “ERA is a positive for industry engagement.” Undoubtedly correct, but perhaps not in every case. As the report states (39); “ERA has had only a limited influence on business interest and philanthropic support. It was reported that businesses tend to have a pre-existing network of university partners which they work with, and that industry partners often already know those researchers who are at the top of their field. Hence it was suggested that ERA results are not greatly used by business to identify potential research partners. It was noted however, that in some instances ERA ratings have been used by businesses to confirm that existing relationships and partnerships with universities are with the top ranked institutions.”

On the subject of “top ranked institutions” the report team interviewed the Group of Eight but appears not to have bothered the Australian Technology Network, the Innovative Research Universities and the Regional Universities Network. Snub or oversight it sends a signal I am betting the lobbies representing a majority of Australian universities received loud and clear.

Therapeutic use

Monash research into the properties of whisky, brandy and rum has shown that some types have supplementary medicinal health benefits – and the better quality the greater the benefit,” the university advises. Apparently the good stuff is the antioxidants released from copper during the distilling process. So when will to be on the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme?

Spot the flaw in this argument 

Education Minister Chris Pyne was on the front foot yesterday explaining what he would do to save school students by addressing standards. “We will establish the fund for principle autonomy to expand autonomy. We are planning a guide for parents on parental engagement and we are reviewing the national curriculum, but one of the things that I intend to do is have a big emphasis on teacher quality through the training of teachers in universities because the federal minister of course is responsible for universities,” he said. Apart from their being governed by state legislation that is. But heaven forfend, the minister explained, that anybody assume this is some sort of federal takeover. “At the end of the day we don’t own and operate any schools, something I tried to explain to the Labor Party yesterday, and we aren’t going to try to have a central command and control from Canberra operation.” Tell that to the deans of education.

Open all hours

At 3pm AEST time yesterday James Cook University tweeted “for those still on campus the new Woolworths within the clinical practices building is open.” Was the message meant for people who had knocked off for the day, or the year? Whichever, the accompanying pic showed Woolies to be utterly empty.

Griffith counts

You can’t fault Griffith University’s eye for the main chance. At the height of yesterday’s lament-a-thon over poor PISA school maths scores the university was selling. “Starting uni next year & want to improve your maths? The school of engineering runs bridging courses next January,” it announced. The two and three week intensive courses are a snip at $450 and $580. Griffith has a good story to tell on lifting the quality of maths and sciences in schools. This year Alison Sammels started a teaching degree for future maths and physics teachers, which combine preparation for the classroom with subject knowledge.