Happy days

University of New South Wales students allege Education Minister Chris Pyne has a birthday next month, which they want to (not) celebrate by holding unhappy birthday events. They urge people to email (not) greetings to the minister, get their parents to “send lovely old-school birthday cards to Pyne’s office,” and in general party like its 1955. Has it occurred to anybody that Mr Pyne might enjoy the idea?

Donnelly’s appeal to the past becomes a big problem for Pyne

Kevin Donnelly, co-chair of Christopher Pyne’s school curriculum review,  did himself no favours last week when he said he had no problems with corporal punishment in schools “if done properly.” He did not help the minister much either. On the weekend Dr Donnelly’s co-chair, Professor Kenneth Wiltshire dissociated himself from his colleagues statement, adding that corporal punishment was not on the review’s agenda. And last night other academics went further, 167 education researchers to be be precise.  An open letter to the minister they signed states “in a community where neglect and violence against children has been on the increase, corporal punishment must be seen as a totally inappropriate and ineffective behaviour management strategy for school … harking back to community standards of more than 30 years ago has no relevance to the realities of today or 21st century community expectations.”  They also call on the government to “remove Mr Donnelly from his position as advisor on any matters related to the education of children in Australia.” Education academics are often easy targets, accused of being out of of touch with what is going on in schools – but not this time. Minister Pyne distanced himself from Mr Donnelly’s statement  days ago, he may need to do more.

CAPA’s case

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations says it’s no fees on PhDs campaign is picking up pace. Eight senators have now signed the CAPA petition, Joe Bullock (Labor-WA), Kim Carr (Labor-Vic), Sue Lines (Labor-WA), Scott Ludlam (Geeens-WA), Jan McLucas (Labor-Qld), Claire Moore (Labor-Qld), Deborah O’Neill (Labor-NSW) and Lee Rhiannon (Greens-NSW). Notice who is missing? David Leyonhjelm (LDP) and Bob Day (Family First) for a start, but this no surprise as they are in general agreement with the government on higher education policy.

What is interesting is that there are no PUPs on the petition, interesting given the party’s predilection for voting against higher education funding cuts. But neither are independents Nick Xenophon (Ind-SA) and John Madigan (DLP-Vic), who also oppose the generality of campus cuts. I wonder if political sympathy on fees only extends to undergraduates because senators erroneously assume that all postgrads are setting themselves up for high paying jobs and can afford to pay for some of their course costs. CAPA warns silent senators that it will start a write-in campaign in August; perhaps it should include stats showing how a PhD is not always a meal ticket.

Keep it in order

The Speaker of the House of Representatives  is holding a competition for university students who make a three minute video on “freedom of speech in a modern day democracy’. CMM does not recommend a piece on which party has had the most members thrown out during Question Time.

Business as usual for Dewar

La Trobe Vice Chancellor John Dewar must have a hide measured in metres. Last week he copped it over what his working party on deregulation was working on – there were less leaks than an angry of ocean alleging dissent among members. And now the La Trobe branch of the National Tertiary Education Union has detailed an armoury of allegations that he wants people to think the university is in worse shape than it is to justify what the NTEU considers is his unnecessary restructure. Amongst many other things, the union alleges Professor Dewar has set enormous enrolment targets without adding resources to meet them, is committing money he is not raising and then claiming cuts are essential for the university to stay in business. “The fanciful student load projections in 2012 ,which we never received additional resources toward, are the basis for the vast majority of the job cuts,” the union asserts. What’s more the university is “introducing trimesters, weekend and weeknight teaching.”

With regard to the specific charge of a longer teaching week the university says there is an existing summer semester and night teaching in the MBA but not a trimester for all student. The university is also working towards online teaching, including tutorials. As to all the other allegations, Professor Dewar has been making the case for cuts for months – but he obviously hasn’t convinced the union.

Mixed findings

Charles Sturt and La Trobe want to establish a rural medical school, to be called the Murray Darling MS, which they argue is necessary because the best way to address the shortage of doctors in the bush is to educate them there. This drives nuts city medical schools that have short country courses as part of their degrees, notably the universities of Sydney and New South Wales, which they say meets this need. Their argument is supported, in part, by new research in the Medical Journal of Australia by Julian R Wright and a corps of colleagues, which finds a three-week rural placement increases awareness and understanding of country community needs. But they add that no one knows how long students need to spend in the bush to decide they want to practise there. Guess which bit CSU and La Trobe will quote.

The mood at ACPET

It looks like business as usual for the Australian Council of Private Education and Training  in Perth at the end of August. There are papers on partnerships and pedagogy, technology in training, collaboration and quality assurance in further and higher education. But there is not even a hint at what members could do with all the dosh deregulation would deliver. Perhaps the ACPET organisers expect the various bureaucrats speaking will address the open access revolution, if it actually occurs. Or maybe optimists at ACPET do not want to gloat that they will soon have access to Commonwealth Supported places, something some public sector competitors hate. Unless pessimists among the private providers suspect that by the end of August deregulation will have gone Pyne shaped and they will continue excluded from the main funding game. That the conference keynote speaker is Karen Andrews, certainly suggests there is going to be not much to celebrate. Ms Andrews (Lib-Queensland) is a well-regarded MP who has a couple of university campuses in her electorate of McPherson, but surely ACPET merits a minister. And if Chris Pyne and Sussan Ley are busy, then surely that is why God created parliamentary secretaries. I can’t help but wonder that booking in a backbencher is the government suggesting ACPET members should not get their hopes up.

In the chair at Charlie Sturt

Charles Sturt U has announced its new chancellor, Dr Michele Allan, a woman well connected in the bush. Dr Allan is on the boards of half a dozen rural research bodies. She has a doctorate from RMIT and extensive management experience in food companies.