Yes the year-end tidy-up is underway

Demand for demand  

Glyn Davis with (Australian Catholic University’s) Greg Craven was in the AFR yesterday praising demand driven funding, saying it is “among the great reforms in the history of higher education.” Yes, that Glyn Davis, the vice chancellor of the University of Melbourne who told The Australian on November 8, “open-slather funding for university enrolments, which caused a budget blowout under Labor, must be replaced by an entirely new system that caps funding to institutions but allows them to set their own goals.” Damascene conversion? I doubt it. Perhaps The Australian missed the subtlety of Professor Davis’s views because yesterday he spelt out issues he and Professor Craven believe the Kemp-Norton review of demand driven undergraduate places should address. For example, the way university prep places are controlled. Both authors’ institutions would also benefit from more flexibility in public funding for professional masters (lawyers and doctors at Melbourne, teachers and nurses at ACU). And they ominously mention “fee flexibility”, perhaps assuming that if the government allowed competitive fees it would not reduce public subsidies. But lest anyone misunderstand, the pair repeat their point that policy change must improve not replace demand driven funding; “we must not break bipartisan commitment to one of our nation’s greatest achievements – equal opportunity and rising national productivity through quality university education.” With Minister Pyne’s Sunday statement of support for the existing undergraduate funding model now backed by an endorsement fromVCs leading an elite and a not so much university it seems demand driven funding is set to stay. Universities Australia and a majority of its members can stand-down. For now.

Degrees of default

In the US Jordan Weissman reports student loans 90 days in default now exceed similarly overdue credit card debt – financial benefits of study don’t flow immediately for everybody.

Damn near done deal I

In a discretely done deal representatives of the three unions at the University of Tasmania and management have established the terms of a new enterprise agreement to send to staff.  This looks like a good deal, at the top end of those already done,  with pay rises over four years of 2.2 per cent, 3 per cent, 3 per cent and 3.8 per cent through to Jun3 2016.  But it is the new workload models that look especially interesting. They, “will allow each faculty, school or institute to develop their own models and to apply their own specific discipline expertise and requirements,” Vice Chancellor Peter Rathjen told staff. Given union concerns over the future of academics with weak research records over the last few years a deal that everybody agrees with on workloads is impressive. According to the vice chancellor the agreement will be put to a staff ballot in early December.


On Thursday stalled negotiations at the University of Canberra led to management announcing it would put an offer on wages and conditions direct to staff. The National Tertiary Education Union  was unsurprisingly upset, urging staff to wait for the union-approved genuine article of an agreement. They did not have to wait long. Yesterday management and union announced they had settled terms on a new enterprise bargain. The salary component is based directly on the commonwealth salary indexation in place (a key union concern) until the start of 2015 and on an agreed projection of what the feds will agree to that March. All up it will translate to 3.3 per cent per annum for 2012-15. The rise is marginally above the one recently settled at the University of Sydney and the same as Deakin University. The NTEU lost the last vote on an agreement it did not back (at Charles Sturt), which may have added an impetus to its desire to reach an agreement at Canberra. (Although the university’s Professor Nick Klomp hardly needed to make a sniping point of telling staff yesterday that the deal was pretty much the one the union knocked back last week.) If the staff ballot on the agreement at the University of Sydney is any indication there is not much stomach for continuing strife on most campuses. According to Vice Chancellor Michael Spence yesterday, some 3660 U Sydney staff turned out for the ballot on the new enterprise agreement, with 94 per cent voting in favour.

Agreement in offing

For months enterprise bargaining at Murdoch University has included  Vice Chancellor Richard Higgott getting very cross indeed and union bargainers presenting as the voices of good manners and moderation. But all of a sudden there is movement at the station. While the word has not got around, at least to me, as to what is going on, all of a sudden management wants to talk Timor ponies. Yesterday union president Anne Price announced all industrial action and a planned protest in Kings Park was off. “Significant progress has been made in bargaining with university management representatives this morning,” she said.

But nothing doing at La Trobe

The wheels of industrial conflict grind slow but exceedingly fine at La Trobe University. Enterprise bargaining has now gone on for over a year but there is still no sign of a deal on pay or conditions – and there is another argument in the offing, which will start when management releases its savings plan. Union members will meet on Thursday to vote on a 24-hour strike.

Next big thing

MOOCs are so last month. Critics could not contain their glee when Sebastian Thrun announced Udacity’s pivot from higher education to training last week as if it discredits online open access altogether. The same will undoubtedly occur down the track to crowd funding – which is now the next big thing in paradigm shifting. Deakin has done well using crowd funder Pozible to raise money for research projects and Janette Corcoran from the University of Ballarat (when does the name change kick in?) outlined how the Regional Universities Network could tap community support at its conference last week. She proposed network members establish a combined project to investigate options. This makes sense for the not-inconsiderable backend involved in crowd funding. But when it comes to appeals each university would need to be on its own. As Dr Corcoran points out; the RUN members strive for engagement with their own region. As to what they could raise money for she suggests targeting alumni to fund academic positions plus raising money for university-led local causes and for campus infrastructure. Good-oh, but two things bother me. For a start this all reduces crowd funding to giving by another name. Surely the success of the idea is based on its empowering people to fund research that appeals to them rather than just making a donation. And what happens if the feds decide to tie specific program funding to what universities can raise themselves?

Unjustly ignored

Terry Wall is the Australian Institute of Energy’s Baragwanath Award winner for the year. The honour goes to the University of Newcastle chemical engineer for his work on coal-fired power efficiency and emissions control. His win follows another recent Newcastle success. Professor Graeme Jameson is the NSW scientist of the year for the Jameson Cell. This improves extraction of minerals from host rock and miners in 25 countries use it. I suspect Professor Wall will not get the coverage his award deserves, what with coal not being mineral of the month. Professor Jameson didn’t. The Sydney Morning Herald ran an advertisement congratulating him but did not cover him or the reason for his prize on the day of its announcement. Now if they studied wind power …