At best he is a senator short

Seasonal stories

Murdoch University is looking for some positive media coverage, (it will make a change) and has put tougher an expert list for print hacks and broadcast producers in search of a summer yarn. There is serious stuff, from AIDS to terror and seasonal stuff, keeping pets cool, swimming with dolphins,  that sort of thing. But for a story out of the ordinary journalists will be calling Dr Jeremy Hultin who is an expert on “foul language in early Christianity.”

Delayed or defeated

The head counting started early yesterday but at day’s end none counting the cross bench could come up with a majority for Christopher Pyne’s deregulation legislation. The consensus is Leyonhjelm and Day are solid for the government with Xenophon reluctantly prepared to agree at a price, but one which he would prefer to extract later, wanting the bill deferred to February. PUP senator Wang long ago made it clear he thought well of private providers in his hometown Perth and is impressed by what the University of Western Australia (where VC Paul Johnson is solid for deregulation) wants to accomplish. As for senators Madigan and Muir, both are from rural Victoria and are interested in opportunities for country kids. They were the target of a Regional Universities Network statement first thing yesterday urging the Senate to pass the package (as amended to suit the RUN). “The extension of the demand driven funding to diploma, advanced diploma and associate degree courses proposed under the bill will provide more opportunities for regional students.  Sub-bachelor degrees are a useful first step into higher education for those who are not well prepared for university study,” RUN assured the senators.


There are signs that Senator Madigan is listening. On Monday (CMM November 25) he spoke of the importance of pathway programmes. There is also talk of a fee regulator being proposed to assuage his fears for young mothers out of the workforce being caught by big debts. He has previously called for a moratorium on (the existing HECS interest) rate for graduates who are caring for young children. However he is caucusing with Senator Xenophon and may well prefer to see the legislation, including what he wants, offered held over.

But Senator Muir is sending no signals and without his vote it is all over red rover for the government. People who have watched way too much West Wing suggest newly independent Senator Lambie could be convinced if offered a deal on defence pay, her signature issue. This seems unlikely, it would take acrobatic opportunism to pull it off and Senator Lambie has not shown herself to be all that politically flexible. Her former colleague PUP senator Glenn Lazarus also declared his opposition to deregulation early and shows no sign of doubt.

The bills were briefly debated in the chamber yesterday, jammed into a schedule not of the government’s making, but to no avail, which means it will be on for one and all when the Senate sits next week for the last time this year. Unless it isn’t. Some suggest that Mr Pyne will sit tight and use the summer to make his plan more appealing to Senate holdouts. Of course while he was doing that his opponents would hammer away at the $100,000 degree line – the only aspect of the argument that the electorate has heard. The minister has endless energy and optimism – he will need it if this debate rolls on for three more months.

Pressure on the PUP

Not that opponents of the legislation aren’t edgy, with a couple of old Canberra hands saying some senators are not as happy to talk as they used to be. This might be why yesterday the National Tertiary Education Union used social media to re-issue an old photo of Senator Lazarus holding a poster opposing deregulation, just to remind him where he stood (and I hear still stands). And it might be why the National Union of Students delivered invoices for the cost of deregulated degrees to ministers’ offices yesterday in the hope of attracting media attention.

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Innovative ACU

As VC of the Australian Catholic University Greg Craven has enough skin to cover a mammoth in the teacher education game. ACU is the second largest trainer of teachers in the country and Professor Craven has long defended the academic quality of teacher education students and the numbers of graduates universities pump out. He also chair’s Chris Pyne’s inquiry into teacher education. So industry observers were interested in ACU’s announcement of a new education masters yesterday, to “address the lack of adequate expertise in educational assessment.” The new course is needed because of the demands of TIMSS, PISA and NAPLAN the university says. There is no word on whether it will include a unit on identifying acronyms.

Wrong direction

The National Alliance for Public Universities will hold “a public assembly” condemning fee deregulation on Monday, to be addressed by University of Canberra VC Stephen Parker. The protest will be at, um the University of Sydney. Which is where the crossbenchers who need convincing will not be. Given Professor Parker is the only VC whose opposition to the Pyne package is on the record shouldn’t the protestors have gone to him? A rally somewhere very visible near Parliament House might have worked.

Design flaw

Never underestimate the National Tertiary Education Union’s ability find a failure in the tightest management case. The Australian Catholic University had written what appeared a binding mechanism to cut staff research time into the new enterprise agreement. But following staff outrage when over half academics outside the elite research institutes had their research allocation cut the union had a look. And lo, they found a flaw; at least enough of a flaw for the university to announce last night; “the university has confirmed with the NTEU that some matters raised in their notification of dispute do constitute a dispute about the application of the agreement. The university will meet to attempt to resolve the dispute in line with the requirements of the enterprise agreement.”

Free kicks

Macquarie University is comparing a coming seminar on assessment practise and moderation to Roy and HG’s AFL/NRL “festival of the boot.” Student assessment and football grand finals? Hard to tell them apart really.

Here is the news, to be sure

Regular listeners (how are you both?) to ABC News Radio can regularly hear Irish accents on air; there was a Russian sounding voice as well the other day. They are all competent and coherent but if they are not permanent residents or citizens you have to wonder whether broadcast journalism is on the skilled migration list. And if it is what, pray are the mass of journalism schools teaching. For graduates who want to report the news it does not get much newsier than News Radio. I asked the media academics association how many of their members teach broadcast news majors and if they ever tell me I will tell you.


Winners of the week

It was a week for people who kept making their case while the stoush in the Senate sucked the intellectual oxygen out of the higher education atmosphere.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief Kate Carnell did well, making the business case for deregulation at time when the government needs friendly voices – which reminds me, anybody noticed the Business Council of Australia saying anything lately.

Paul Wellings’ address comparing the UK and Australian university systems, delivered in London on Wednesday night, was a solid effort but what made the VC of Uni Wollongong’s analysis important was his examination of how deregulation would change, not end, the challenges university managers face.

Rod Camm has not led the private voced organisation ACPET for long but he already faces fire. There will be a review of his members if Labor wins Saturday’s election in Victoria and a Senate committee inquiry is planned. Mr Camm has kept his nerve, foreshadowing a strategy to defuse the attacks. I suspect he will have a very short summer break.

David Battersby is out selling the Gippsland campus of his Federation University – including accommodation discounts for new students and a tutoring service. Good on him, the region’s young people are under-represented in higher education. Universities bang on about community service, Professor Battersby is doing something practical.

And then there is Jacqui Lambie, whatever you think of her consistent opposition to deregulating higher education funding it seems the senator is not for bending, which in the limbo land of parliament has to be a win.


Accessible ancestors

The University of Tasmania understands the opportunities of online education. For a start it teaches a MOOC on dementia – which is a brilliant way of usefully extending awareness of its socially significant research around the world (Campus Morning Mail October 20). And now it is offering a cyber summer school on researching family history. This is an equally excellent idea with surely an enormous audience, although why the state should pay for a share of course costs, the subject qualifies for HECs, escapes me.