Grainne Oates and Dan Hunter (Swinburne University)

The pair have created a “content neutral gamified mobile earning platform,” called Quitch. It won them the American Accounting Association’s 2017 award for Innovation in Accounting Education and is already licenced to Australian universities. The app sends students Q&As based lecture content which helps them and shows lecturers where they need help – plenty of potential for a product that the university and private investors spent just $400 000 on setting up.

Tony Peacock

Dr Peacock is not a lunching lobbyist. Certainly, the head of the Cooperative Research Centres Association turns up at a lot of serious policy events but his stock in trade is information and ideas about the way applied research works and the way it is funded.  Dr Peacock speaks fluent bureaucrat and crazy-brave is the CRC bid-team that ignores his advice. He also knows a bit, quite a bit, about the way other nations fund applied research.  And he speaks up when he decides he must. When a big research institution wanted a CRC bid team to guarantee a return on investment this year Dr Peacock was discrete but dismissive suggesting the institution was less interested in collaboration than a guaranteed return on investment. And when he looked at the gender split on CRC boards he told his members they needed to lift the number of women on them from 25 per cent now to 50 per cent in three years.

Tanya Plibersek

Labor’s education spokeswoman wrote the handbook for a shadow minister in a policy-rich portfolio, hammering away at government funding failings and transforming policy problems into political opportunities. Ms Plibersek was consistent and vocal in condemning any possibility of funding cuts for universities and she talked about the need to fix the training system. However, she also hammered away at government policy changes that do not have many votes attached. She fiercely opposed the budget-linked proposal to make people in pathways programmes take out student loans. And Ms Plibersek hopped into the deans of education, telling them she was “very concerned about the academic aptitude of some students being accepted into teaching education.”

Jason Potts

It must have pained the comrade members, what with his writing about the economic role of markets, but the Academy of Social Sciences made RMIT’s Jason Potts a fellow this year. Professor Potts is immensely productive, co-authoring papers which use the forms of conventional economics to advance iconoclastic ideas. One paper this year made the case for cultures of exchange to create opportunities to innovate, another explained how innovations fail when they exceed economies capacity to absorb them, using windsurfing in Australia as an example. Professor Potts’ new big project is creating a base for block chain research, which he sees as having far more potential than a crypto-currency, being a way for society to self-regulate without state intrusion.

Jeannie Rea

The National Tertiary Education Union president is the La Pasionaria of Australian universities, (what she does not want passed is any bill that hurts students or her members). She spent this year as she does every year, arguing the case for students to pay less, or nothing for university education, for higher pay and better conditions for staff at universities and for regulation rather than a market in education. She also spoke up for casual staff, pointing that some vice chancellors make more in a week than some of them make in a year and warned that the demand driven system has not improved the quality of higher education. The NTEU has political authority way beyond its numbers, demonstrated by its big role in defeating the Pyne fee deregulation plan – a great deal of it comes from Ms Rea’s appeals to true believers in a public university system.

Craig Robertson

Under new head Craig Robertson TAFE Directors Australia is back on top of the policy game. The former state and federal official has a deep background in training policy and administration and has spent the year making the case for all of VET, and his members role in it. He started the way he meant to go on, with a budget response based on how TAFE can work to rebuild training and ended the year with calls for a coalition of training community leaders to sort out the mess in setting qualifications.

Mr Robertson is an undoubted advocate for his members, he slammed the government plan for universities to build a sub degree market, but he is no special pleader.

Belinda Robinson

The CEO of Universities Australia kept the peace among the fractious coalition that is UA this year, convinced MPs that cutting university funding would be a blow to the national interest, defended her members performance on undergraduate attrition and employment outcomes and campaigned for research funding – the same as last year, the same as every year. Ms Robinson says she is going in October – nobody is indispensable but higher education policy people know she will be missed.


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