Plus: Uni Melbourne masters on how ageing causes, ageing

Glad game

An international research team including the University of Adelaide’s Lewis Mitchell has found people are indeed pollyannas. The researchers asked native speakers of ten languages to rate the 100 000 most used words in each as sad to happy on a one to nine scale. In all languages the skew was to positive emotions.

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Pyne pushes on

Within ten minutes of the Liberal Party vote on a spill being announced the National Tertiary Education Union was out explaining why the result meant the prime minister should drop deregulation. “It’s time to start listening to the public,” NTEU National President Jeannie Rea said. Good-oh but deregulation was not a standout issue, indeed an issue at all in the lead-up to yesterday’s spill. Perhaps it was because the Liberal backbench has written it off. Perhaps because it does not rate in the electorate, unlike submarines in South Australia, GP co-payments and Mr Abbott’s obsession with a bunyip order of knights, all mentioned as upsetting voters.

The Pyne Package MkII is scheduled for the Reps this morning and expected in the Senate in March. Whether voters are focused on it or not, the bill bothers crossbenchers and the question is will it get to a vote in the upper house. Yesterday the prime minister (after he got the nod to stay in the job) said the government would not have Senate stoushes it can’t win, unless they are essential. If he was speaking retrospectively nobody told Christopher Pyne. In a brief Question Time yesterday Cathy McGowan (Independent-Indi) asked the education minister what is in the structural adjustment fund, which is part of the deregulation legislation, for regions. Mr Pyne replied with his usual élan, quoting university leaders who agree with him, and explaining how the pathways program in his package will especially assist regional students (an issue that is important to country crossbench senators John Madigan and Ricky Muir). Despite a bunch of alternatives on offer Mr Pyne is not giving up on his present proposals.

Ladies who don’t lunch

Ontario based Algonquin College is opening a blokes-only campus in Saudi Arabia – I wonder what Dorothy Parker would make of being banned from it’s round table.

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Plans B through Z

Senator David Leyonhjelm (Liberal Democrat-NSW) was on the radio yesterday explaining how the government has stuffed things up in the Senate, in particularly by tying structural reforms to budget savings. They should be debated and legislated separately he said, using the Pyne Package as an obvious example. If the government decides  deregulation is doomed as it stands perhaps it could break it up into marginally less unpalatable parts It could, for example, agree to Senator Nick Xenophon’s call for an inquiry into student fees, which would stay the same until the report is in. In return the government could ask senators for cuts to university funding along the lines of the still not legislated Labor reduction of April 2013. This would be the worse possible outcome for universities but once the debate became more about student fees than university needs it was never going to end well for vice chancellors.

This is why policy professionals are now proposing all sorts of options that increase university funding without exposing them to as much market competition. Yesterday Victoria University Vice Chancellor Peter Dawkins got into the game, suggesting a cap on fees which universities could charge, a cap on loans (presumably HECS) and a “compensating levy,” which means universities charging above a threshold would pay a percentage of the premium to a national fund for equity scholarships. Gosh, I wonder which universities would do well out of the third one?

Sweet treat

Oregon State University biochemist Neil Shay reports a link between consuming muscadine grapes and fat loss in the liver. Too good to be true? It is – this grape is famous for dessert wines, best drunk with pudding – and slimming desserts are few.

 Powerful magic

Jay Weatherill is a political magician capable of conjuring parliamentary majorities out of a minority of general election votes so perhaps we should not be surprised at his latest example of policy wizardry. The South Australian premier has cast a spell to convince the community that nuclear energy should be on the political agenda, what with climate change and so forth and so. Mr Weatherill has announced a royal commission into a nuclear industry for SA, although he says nuclear power strikes him as unlikely for the state. However that still leaves exporting nuclear fuel rather than just raw uranium and even establishing a waste dump in the desert. Once such a step would have qualified as political courage of the Sir Humphrey kind, outraging green-energy academic advocates in the state but yesterday there was not a scholarly sausage of professorial protest. Then again, South Australia is much more mining minded than eastern states – there is no talk of Adelaide universities following ANU and the University of Sydney by selling out of carbon-heavy companies.

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Not that bad

According to Training Minister Simon Birmingham an independent report has found Labor “botched” its trade training centre in schools programme. Um, not quite. Productivity Commissioner Patricia Scott found the $1.4bn Labor scheme was established too quickly, had too many objectives and was, thanks to differing state reporting requirements, hard to assess. (CMM February 6) Was it a good idea? Up to a point. Could its introduction have been better handled? No doubt. But “botched”. Not with just about everybody the Scott review spoke to thinking it was a good thing.

Age shall whither

The University of Melbourne has a new masters of ageing (studying it, not teaching students how to do it). According to the university, graduates will be able to, “articulate the ways in which age, gender, ethnicity and indigenous status, society, culture, geography, the environment, disability and socio-economic status influence the ageing experience.” I am sure it is a marvellous masters indeed but I do wonder whether you need postgraduate study to work out that age influences the ageing experience.



I am a dolt

An editing error in yesterday’s email edition led to NHMRC chair Justice Annabelle Bennett being referred to as Justice Duncan.