PR bloodsuckers

Murdoch University reports PR scholar Kate Fitch has published a conference paper on how the pubic relations is presented through the HBO series True Blood (in which the American Vampire League campaigns for member rights). The show’s central character, “plays with multiple identities of public relations and adopts multiple discourses from social justice to corporate greed.” Well, it’s a change from endless zombies.

No mention of money

The eternal optimists at Universities Australia say Education Minister Chris Pyne backed it’s call to “keep it clever” in a speech yesterday. Um, up to a point Vice Chancellor Copper. Certainly Mr Pyne said nice things about the clever campaign, “with its clear message that Australia must not be left behind in the face of intensifying global competition.” But while most university advocates think it is about cash (the UA petition calls for “proper, ongoing public investment in university education and research”) Mr Pyne makes it plain that the best thing government can do is get out of the way; “ensuring freedom for universities – ensuring that they are unshackled from burdensome red tape and regulation that limits their ability to focus on high-quality teaching, learning and research.” The minister went onto explain how this will be done, by passing the TEQSA reform bill, now stuck in a Senate committee and by reducing regulation and cutting compliance. And he demonstrated he intends to bring the university establishment with him. (Using Johnson’s Law – better to have them in the test pissing out …). In December UA will report on how it believes the government is going on implementing the Phillips KPA Review of Reporting Requirements. In explaining how the government will reduce the bureaucratic burden so “our universities remain competitive and are among the best in the world,” Mr Pyne reinforced the message of his Universities Australia address, that the best government can do is get of institutions way. But there was not a mention of more money then, there isn’t one now and the minister is surely signaling there will not be one in the budget. He’s certainly not inflating expectations.

Workers not united

There is grumbling in the union ranks at the University of Western Sydney over the deal with management reached by NTEU National Secretary Grahame McCulloch plus state and campus officials, (CMM yesterday). “We cannot exchange a minor pay rise for substantially increased face to face teaching and “associated” duties, unless we are willing to swallow it for what it is – a pay cut; since a small monetary increase is wholly outweighed by a large increase in work. … Our professional pride and integrity are at stake here, colleagues, and we do not have to acquiesce like lambs to the slaughter,” a critic of the draft agreement wrote to colleagues yesterday afternoon. Today’s union meetings to discuss the deal will be interesting but insiders say the local leaders know their members and will carry the day. “The members know that now is the time for a deal” one close observer of the long negotiating process said last night.

No pay back

Andrew Norton’s finding that women often do not pay their HELP debt while they are not making much, or any money, generally when their kids are young, is not exactly news. But just how little graduates in some disciplines make might alarm prospective student afflicted with optimism about what their degrees will deliver. According to Mr Norton’s paper, in 2011 some 60 per cent of women with degrees in performing and visual arts had incomes that meant they made either no, or partial payments on their debt. Humanities graduates were not far behind, with 50 per cent paying nothing or not much. Curiously, agriculture graduates were in the same position. The pattern for blokes is similar, with half the visual arts graduates and 40 per cent of the performing artists not reaching the threshold. In all other disciplines however the vast majority of men earn enough to make payments – the per centage not contributing ranges from zero in medicine to 30 per cent in humanities. Just 10 per cent of graduates in most disciplines are under the threshold.

Healthy choice

La Trobe University copped criticism a couple of months back when it announced a research partnership with complementary medicine maker Swisse. One notable public health campaigner, adjunct aspro Dr Ken Harvey moved to Monash in protest. Up at UTS however the Australian Research Centre in Complementary and Integrative Medicine attracts no criticism that I have heard. I suspect winning National Health and Medical Research Council and Australian Research Council funding helps. Now the ARCCIM has launched a leadership program intended to attract 12 early and mid career complementary researchers to build the field’s “underdeveloped” research profile. According to UTS funded “ a range of community partners and professional associations including the Australian Association of Massage Therapists and the Australian Chinese Medical Association” will fund the program. No medicine makers are mentioned.

’Twas ever thus

According to Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations President Meghan B Hopper demand driven funding means some of the increased number of undergraduates will want to go on to do PhDs. What’s more there is no such thing as too many of them. “I’m opposed to the concept that you could ever train too many PhDs, or by doing so somehow contributes too much to the field of knowledge,” she told the Deans and Directors of Graduate Studies Conference in Adelaide on Tuesday. Yes, she said there is a disconnect between industry and academy, with new PhDs finding work in industry hard to find while companies complain of skills shortages but “I don’t feel for a second that we should accept the notion that we are training too many PhDs, because there is always more to be learnt.”

Good sign, of sort

It’s an unusually quiet budget speculation season – although there are occasional signs in the skies that applied research might be ok. Signs like a speech yesterday by Bob Baldwin, parliamentary secretary to the industry minister. Mr Baldwin told a joint conference of Composites Australia and the CRC for Advanced Composite Structures, “we all have our own roles to play in helping turn good ideas into good commercial outcomes, jobs and national income and this is of course why the work of Composites Australia and the Advanced Composites Structures CRC play such critical roles.” Parliamentary secretaries generally know as much about the budget in advance as the rest of us and their words are not survival insurance. But endorsements like this are better than nothing, which is what most research organisations are getting.