But even ANU is losing interest

Butt out

As well as “no new fees” the tobacco free bandwagon rolls on. It was smokes out at La Trobe as of Saturday, when the University of New South Wales and University of South Australia also went fag free. This was a biggish deal in SA (cynics suggest “news” and “Adelaide” is an oxymoron) but perhaps not the newsiest of news- everybody on the University of Adelaide had to give the gaspers away two years back.

ANU abandons bond rate

“Though Ian Young has been talking at students all week, he hasn’t budged one bit in his position on deregulation – join us to help keep this administration accountable to students,” the ANU Education Group urged before Friday’s protest at the Council meeting. And protest students did with plenty of police keeping them company. After the meeting Vice Chancellor Young, Chancellor Gareth Evans and council member Robin Hughes spoke to students, explaining that the university was solid in support of fee deregulation but opposed the proposed increase in the student contribution to Commonwealth Supported Places and setting the HELP interest rate at 6 per cent. They added that the university is determined to deliver “Oxford and Stanford quality” with equity, via scholarships. Maybe this will convince the ANU community but the main message was for Christopher Pyne. A majority of the Group of Eight, his strongest institutional supporter, at least to start with, is now opposed to the increased interest rate.

Young will explain (again)

Neville Wran is supposed to have said that when a politician was sick of making a point people are just beginning to listen if he did Ian Young heard. ANU student paper Woroni is hosting a debate on the Pyne program tonight at which Professor Young is speaking, presumably to explain ANU’s support of deregulation for student fees, but not for debt. So are University of Canberra VC Stephen Parker, plus Labor senator Kate Lundy, Liberal senator Zed Seselja economist Phil Lewis and HECS creator Bruce Chapman. I am sure everybody will have get a hearing, but it will be interesting to hear who got heard.

But is Pyne losing nerve as fast as he is losing supporters?

The minister was on ABC TV yesterday, talking about the way universities that hike fees would be undercut by competitors. His point was made last week by the way universities across the country are promising to pay the extra course costs students who enrol in second semester will be up for from 2016, as an example of how price competition will work for students. Flinders is the first South Australian university to make the move, announcing it on Friday and putting pressure on its competitors in the intensely competitive Adelaide market. And the impetus in NSW to do the same will increase, with UTS joining UWS on Friday afternoon. That Mr Pyne referred to universities picking up interest payments increases for second semester enrolers as showing how “competition weaves its magic” was brazen but it demonstrates the minister is certainly not for turning, at least until he talks to crossbench senators..

Not a bit

The general view is that Mr Pyne will make concessions but on the big issues fight on. A ring around policy veterans over the weekend indicates insiders think the minister will abandon the Commonwealth bond rate as setting interest on student debt and that he will tinker with the new funding formulas for the Commonwealth contribution for student supported places. The first issue has been on the agenda since the budget and the second is gathering pace with universities warning of huge increases, which Fairfax papers beat-up over the weekend, warning of “double fees for some arts degrees.” (According to Andrew Norton, “some” means journalism courses.) By leaving the HELP interest rate at CPI and reducing the Commonwealth cut in funding for STEM subjects observers argue the Minister could calm things considerably (nobody much cares whether there are fewer journalism graduates). They might be right, universities want deregulation if it means more money for them – they just did not think through where it would come from. As one especially astute observer put it yesterday; “the sector did itself a disservice by not being clear on what it does and does not want. We knew deregulation was coming. Did we seriously think that they would deregulate without other measures attached to the entire package? Did we seriously think that in a deregulated environment students would not bear a greater financial burden?” If a cap on interest rates and more Commonwealth money for some discipline clusters shuts universities up and buys passage through the Senate it may be a price the government is prepared to pay.

Brand building

Meanwhile smart marketers are selling on their strengths. The astute Jan Thomas explained how her University of Southern Queensland can compete the other day, telling the local ABC “many of the rankings used to order the top ranked universities in the world is based on research. The older the university, the more established their research record is. That gives them a brand in the marketplace that may or may not translate into a good student experience …One of the questions that needs to be asked by potential students is ‘how are fees going to be used?’ If you’re looking at an institution where fees may have doubled, ask them ‘is that increase going to go into providing me with a better education, or will it fund the research endeavours of that institution?’ ” Heavens, next somebody will be proposing great teaching institutions do not need research to provide students with an excellent education. Oh, wait, Warren Bebbington already has and Keith Nugent, DVC (R) at La Trobe also has a go in the AFR this morning.

Doesn’t add up

The soon to be skint NICTA has sold a start –up. One of the attractions for the US purchaser , according to Fran Foo’s yarn in The Australian is, “the proximity of more than 100,000 engineering students to research body NICTA’s Sydney offices.” Really? UniSydney, UTS, UNSW and Sydney TAFE have way more than 100,000 students but I’m guessing they aren’t all engineers.

Sticking to the same script

Would be a start as ministers struggle to sell the budget. CMM’s Consistency Correspondent points to Treasurer Hockey’s National Press Club statement (May 20) that Australia needs a university in the global top 20. But how does this fit with Minister Pyne’s quote in The Australian, “We are not doing this because we want to improve university rankings; we are doing it because we want to improve equity and quality in the market” (May 29)? Make up your minds boys.

Darwinian selection

Good for Stephen Darwin, National Tertiary Education Union secretary in the ACT for completing and submitting his PhD thesis on student feedback in evaluating higher education.