Plus the government’s ordinary options

The divinyl Mr P

“There’s a fine line between pleasure and Pyne,” a correspondent assured CMM yesterday. More a chasm at the moment.

Come one, come all

“For those who have not yet received an offer, I encourage you to seek advice on your options, as the door is never closed.” University of Newcastle DVC Andrew Parfitt in the Newcastle Herald yesterday. Presumably whatever your ATAR. The University of Sydney is equally welcoming. “For those students who missed out on their first preference, this isn’t the end of the road, says head of undergraduate student recruitment Kaveh Ghezel. ‘Bright, hardworking students will always have a place at the University of Sydney’ .”

ANU - uncover

Talked out

After Wednesday’s all-in Pyne MkII policy brawl everybody stopped for breath yesterday. Even the prime minister sounded out of political puff, “we are prepared to talk constructively to the cross benchers. We wouldd talk constructively to the Labor Party if the Labor Party was prepared to be constructive,” Mr Abbott told Neil Mitchell on Melbourne radio yesterday. Good lord, an obstructive opposition, now where would Labor have learned how to do that?

Expensive options

It may look as if Chris Pyne has offered just about every concession possible if he is to keep the principle of deregulation intact, but if the politics of doing a deal is now more important than the original policy objective there are still alternatives he could offer.

Mr Pyne could (a) let universities set prices, subject to approval by an independent agency – such as TEQSA or the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission, (b) let them charge anything up to a government set cap on course costs or (c) deregulate fees but set an annual ceiling on what students could borrow via HECs.

Swinburne VC Linda Kristjanson floated the third option last year, as a way of imposing market discipline on prices without subjecting students, and Treasury, to universities charging the absolute maximum they could get away with. Deregulation according to Pyne  it isn’t – but the days of policy purity in this debate are gone and higher education hard heads are starting to talk about some sort of soft cap on prices as the only way to generate more cash. But universities would wear this only if the government reduced or dropped altogether the increase in the per centage of study costs it wants students to pay. The only package that the Senate might pass could well be one that costs, not saves, the government money.


TAFE – accept no substitute

“One in eight young people are unemployed in NSW. That’s why it is more important than ever for government’s to invest in training and skilling young people for the future. Ripping funds to our TAFE‘s however, is just not helping,” NSW Labor warned yesterday (nobody seems to be much interested but there is a state election in March). So much for the state government expanding access via private and community providers through its Smart and Skilled programme.

 Shonk busters

The TAFE lobby already has an arsenal of ammunition to use against private providers, like this suggestion of who should call the new hotline designed to catch low quality courses. “If you are somebody who’s been signed up to a training course, start that course and feel that it’s really not relevant to you, that perhaps you felt pressured into it, and that you were offered inducements to start it, you don’t think that there is enough quality, that the teachers don’t have the experience or knowledge in what they are talking about – any of those sort of things that flag alarm bells with people – then they should give this new hotline a call.” Good advice, especially as it came from the new training minister, Simon Birmingham, on Adelaide radio yesterday. This is sensible stuff from the senator. The public-education lobby will go in hard against for-profit voced this year and the government’s best defense is to demonstrate the industry is already being cleaned up.

Improved or otherwise outcomes

So even without the dreaded $100 000 degrees how are people from low SES backgrounds doing on higher education access and attainment. You can learn what’s happening from the people who know when new work from the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education is discussed at a University of Canberra forum on February 11. Details are here. Gosh, I wonder what U of C VC Stephen Parker will talk about in his opening address?

Comparing academic apples with economic oranges

“Why don’t we have more universities in the world’s top 50? We’ve got one, the University of Melbourne, but we are the world’s twelfth largest economy.” Prime Minister Abbott yesterday.

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Still by the book

There was a newspaper story over the summer about a daughter dealing with her deceased dad’s large and learned library and finding she could not give it away. I’m guessing she is not alone. While the monograph is strong in HASS disciplines most of the academic action is in STEM and medicine, where the journal article-distributed electronically is now the norm. Of course there are celebrity scholars who write serious books for large lay audiences nor is this to dispute the role of the monograph in advancing ideas bigger than an incremental extension of super-specialised research. But the question is whether the 800 run hardcover, which only libraries will buy and few of their members will borrow, is the best way of using falling funding for humanities and social science research?

For many in the UK academic establishment it seems the answer is “who cares?” A new report by Geoffrey Crossick for the Higher Education Funding Council for England has found that open-access e-publishing is all very well, but not yet. Proper people prefer print, liking their books to be, well books.

“I have been struck by the strength of feeling about monographs within much of the arts, humanities and social sciences: monographs and other research books are vitally important to authors, to readers, to learned societies, to publishers, librarians and institutional managers. It is very apparent that this wide community is not opposed to the principle of open access for monographs, but is concerned that moves towards open access should be sensitive to the need to protect what is important about the monograph as it exists today and as it has developed over a century or more of research activity and writing,” Professor Crossick wrote.

Good-oh, at least for the senior scholars with the prestige that gets their work published, less so for young academics who need a monograph on their CV to have any hope of post PhD employment. As the work of e-scholarly presses, notably ANU’s, demonstrates the on-line monograph, like the journal article is fit for its purpose.

Rocked to foundations

University of Sydney business dean Greg Whitwell comes over all enthusiastic about the school’s new home, in a message to staff: “this building will be bold and energetic,” I wonder what the metric for energetic but inanimate objects is.