The Education Minister has not had a good week 

But then she would say that 

Department of Education Secretary Lisa Paul tweets: “the Minister for Education, the Hon Christopher Pyne MP, got a great reception from his Department yesterday!” It was more than his floating a cap on undergraduate places and the abolition of the student amenity fee received from just about everybody else.

Pyne back in his box

Yesterday the Prime Minister nailed the lid on cancelling the student services fee, floated briefly by Education Minister Chris Pyne on Wednesday. He did not have much choice given the immediate and enormous anger generated by  Mr Pyne’s half-baked suggestion. Does this mean the idea is off the agenda? You bet, when the government takes on the higher education community it will be over an issue that saves Canberra cash, perhaps capping student places. The prime minister confirmed yesterday that a cap on places was not imminent but that quality as well as access mattered, which means whatever Mr Abbott will want it to mean when the Finance Minister gets around to the cost of higher education. But selling any cap will be done quickly and cleverly – not by a new minister floating foolishness.
This has been a staggeringly bad start for the new government in education – just months after ripping bilions from the system Labor is now able to sell itself as a friend to the universities with a (sort of) straight face.

Hard to tell them apart really

CSIRO promotion on Twitter, yesterday; “Curiosity is gathering info about Mars. Our Outback Rover is providing clues to what’s happening on Earth.”


Beginning of the end on bargaining

Union activists at the University of Melbourne are pretty pleased with two days of industrial action, reporting well-staffed pickets. But whatever their impact, it was ignored by management – there is no mention at all of classes cancelled or student services disrupted.
At the Australian National University in contrast, management got amongst it. Yesterday campus activists told me that 95 per cent of union members voting in a Fair Work Australia ballot supported industrial action. The university responds that the FWA  report indicates a less activist outcome. Of the various options put, support was strongest for overtime bans – carried 481 to 41. An indefinite strike was backed 345 for to 178 against.
There are certainly other universities where there is no sign of a deal being done soon – James Cook and the University of Sydney for example. However there is a sense that the staff vote at Charles Sturt, which accepted management’s offer against National Tertiary Education Union advice, set a precedent for a 3 per cent annual rises which other university communities will follow. And if agreement can’t be reached at others, well why not put negotiations on indefinite hold?

Everybody wins a prize

The University of Canberra is the winner of the education and training prize in the ACT Export Awards. I am sure the competition was stiff, if not numerous.

Dismal science delights

The Economic Student Society of Australia is a student association worth funding (although its members can probably explain why you shouldn’t, on sound public policy grounds). I came across the ESSA via a Youtube clip of Professor Rodney Maddock from Monash talking about public debt on its site, just one of many useful resources for economics students – and oped authors. The ESSA is a Monash and Melbourne initiative  by and for very serious students indeed – no one is ever going to accuse its committee of frivolity. But in an era where economics is not exactly top of the undergrad pops it is a great resource – demonstrating what economics is about and why it matters.

 Scarily smart

Jackson Huang is the second Queenslander in a row to win the International Brainbee championship in Vienna, the University of Queensland reports. The worldwide contest is for teenagers who are (very) interested in neuroscience – as so many are. I wonder what the name is for psychological discomfort caused by knowing there are young people around who are much, much brighter than me? Mr Huang probably knows.

Published but perished

The other day I wondered when the feds would publish as promised the 2012 University Experience Survey National Report. In fact they have. I cyber-stumbled across it yesterday, while lost in the wilderness of mirrors passes for a website among Canberra edu-crats.  At a macro-level it is superb piece of work, well worth reading. The question is what will universities do with their own survey data collected for it. They could report it – or they could hide it from the  community, lest something critical appear. I’m guessing most, probably all will do the former. After all universities have had specific data from Graduate Careers Australia and campus specific reports never emerge.

Crowd fun not funding

Crowd funding is turning into the solution of first resort for raising cash on campus. There are at least three commercial services spruiking research projects for a per centage of what is raised and local community arts and activist site Pozzible is also in on the act. The Pozzible team just helped Grant Meredith from the University of Ballarat, (sorry Federation University Australia) raise $25,000 for software that allows stutterers to practise handling different social situations. I like crowd funding a lot but I worry that it’s potential to fund serious projects is not honoured by variations of the “donate and I will walk/swim, read/run” school fundraisers we have all coughed up. The University of California, for example, is running a six week campaign featuring semi-celebrities donating time and loss of dignity to raise money for scholarships, which rather demeans the dignity of what needs to be an ongoing project.

Rating the rankings

Critical scrutiny of university rankings has picked up in the US since President Obama decided to commission a performance table of his own. There is an excellent piece on the state of the debate in the current issue of the Herringer Report (and thanks to the expert reader who pointed it out).  But do rankings really matter all that much?  Perhaps not, according to an 2012 survey of commencing college students by higher education researchers at UCLA. They found 18 per cent listed “rankings in national magazines” as “very important” in choosing where to study. This was 12th of 23 reasons and way behind academic reputation (63 per cent) and job outcomes (55 per cent). Then again, these are the sorts of attributes ratings agencies include.