Marc Parlange joins Monash from the University of British Columbia  while Helen Bartlett leaves Monash Malaysia for Federation U

 the ARC speaks up for fundamental research

plus what caused the VET FEE HELP disaster

Christmas turkey

Tim Stephens from the University of Sydney US Studies Centre asks, “will Trump give Antarctica the cold shoulder.” If he cops a plea under the lame headlines law he could be out by next Christmas.


Provost Parlange

Monash U has appointed Marc Parlange provost. The water scientist will move to Clayton from the Monash-size University of British Columbia where he is dean of applied science. Professor Parlange previously taught/researched at UC Davis, Johns Hopkin and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.

Professor Parlange is from the United States but did his undergraduate degree at Griffith University, when his father had an academic job in Queensland. He will will take up his Monash appointment in June.

End of an ERA at the ARC

The Australian Research Council has wrapped the year with a report card from the unnamed acting CEO, (there’s a picture of the lady without a caption but it looks like Leanne Harvey to CMM). The summary of achievements will be very useful for people who unaccountably missed an ARC announcement this year, including the coming engagement and impact research measurement exercise. It includes a reminder that this is “a companion exercise” to the ARC Excellence for Research in Australia, which runs next in 2018. “The ARC remains committed to supporting both the highest-quality fundamental and applied research. The new assessment will complement ARC’s existing policies and programs, which together support research across the full spectrum from fundamental to applied research,” Ms Harvey writes. Good-o, except that in 2018 ERA will have no funding attached to it. While the ARC remains keen on fundamental research the government is keener on science it can sell to the voters. The other week Education Minister Simon Birmingham suggested the goal of research should be to help Australian families, not be published in academic journals.

Smithers mystery

Does the appointment of Marc Parlange from the University of British Columbia (above) explain why Monash U staff were talking to prospective students in Smithers BC (pop 5400) last month? Perhaps they popped by while they were delivering Professor Parlange his contract. Or perhaps they just wanted him to know that Monash U will go anywhere to reach a prospective fee-paying student (CMM November 11).


Light’s are on and somebody’s home

A learned reader reports a Deakin U suggestion that staff in open plan offices should get a lamp to turn on indicating they can’t be interrupted. Perhaps a taxi meter to follow, allocating the cost of thinking time.

A price on prestige

There was much comparing of US and Australian university VC/president salaries yesterday, with the Chronicle of Higher Education publishing a list of what Americans make – which at some elite schools isn’t much, at least compared to here. Harvard president Drew Gilpin Fast grosses just under US$1m (admittedly in very valuable US dollars). There are ten or so Australian VCs who make more. Would CMM wonders, any of them take a notional cut to run Harvard.

A new VC for Fed U, finally

Just three weeks before David Battersby steps down as VC of Federation University his replacement is finally announced – Helen Bartlett, now a Monash PVC and head of its Malaysian operation since 2013. The move is something of a homecoming for Professor Bartlett who ran Monash’s Gippsland campus, now part of the Fed U chain. (Federation U has also picked up another Monash property, Berwick, on the south-eastern fringe of Melbourne.)

Professor Bartlett joined Monash in 2008 from the University of Queensland where she was foundation director of the Australasian Centre on Ageing.

DVC A Andy Smith will act as VC until Professor Bartlett arrives at her new vice chancellorial seat, just outside Ballarat, at, how appropriate,  Mount Helen.

An F for DET

No one knows just how many people were misled by private training providers into signing up for courses they did not know put them in debt to the government. But, as student funding expert Mark Warburton points out in a paper for the L H Martin Institute released this morning, if there were 50 000 victims of sharp practise the amount involved would be $1bn.

So what is the Department of Education and Training doing about? At best, it appears, not much. As Mr Warburton points out;

DET does not appear to have an active and coherent strategy to recover the large amount of taxpayer funds it has outlaid to VET providers for enrolments that were not bona fide or to assist people who have been misused or misled by VET providers.” This, he adds should be “a major concern” to legislators and the community.

Damn right it should.

In October Department of Education and Training official Subho Banerjee responded to a question in Senate Estimates about the disgracefully rorted VET FEE HELP programme saying, “there was very dramatic growth and under those circumstances, it was incumbent upon the department to monitor that more closely,” (CMM November 8). He got that right, but curiously to date DET has escaped questions about its performance. Perhaps everybody is waiting for the Australian National Audit Office report due this month. Perhaps government and opposition just want us to forget it, there is certainly plenty of blame to go round.

Well, Mr Warburton isn’t forgetting.

“Despite it being apparent by the beginning of 2015 that some providers were engaging in unacceptable practises to sign up students, DET appears not to have fully used its powers to protect government revenue, or the people being misled and signed up for debts to be repaid to the Commonwealth,” he writes.

Mr Warburton clearly knows his way around a student loan scheme and explains where and why VET FEE HELP failed and what can now be done about it. As to what has happened, overall he argues, it was the department’s administering of the programme, above the legislation that is responsible for the mess. Nor does he buy the Australian Skills Quality Authority’s argument that it’s role was not to initiate investigations. ASQA‘s act empowers it to do just that, Mr Warburton suggests.

But while his analysis of how it happened is depressing the reason he fears DET has not been called to account is appalling. “Both of the major parties are fearful that blame for the debacle will stick to them. Each side has mud that can be slung at the other and both sides know some of it may stick.”

Let us hope his analysis and the Audit Office report to come makes it impossible to ignore what happened, on whose watch and whether ministers were well advised.