Plus the mysterious new mess at Murdoch

Plotting zombies

Julia Gillard shared her love of fiction with a Canberra audience the other night, demonstrating a taste for tales of power, red in tooth and claw. She has read, a correspondent reports, one of Hilary Mantel’s novels of Henry VIII’s chancellor Thomas Cromwell and watched Game of Thrones. Reminiscing about Canberra? More likely familiarising herself with academic culture for her work in universities. I am not sure how Ms Gillard’s affection for The Walking Dead fits with this.

Mystery at Murdoch

Murdoch University remains tight-lipped about its allegations against Provost Ann Capling. Last night the university declined to comment on whether the investigation into Professor Capling covered any action involving her and former vice chancellor, and close associate, Richard Higgott, who is now under investigation by the WA Corruption and Crime Commission. However the university did state that its investigation into Professor Capling did not predate its case against Mr Higgott. Murdoch also refuses to identify other senior staff now being investigated (CMM yesterday) other than to specify that while Professor Capling is on leave the university’s leadership team “will continue to operate, as it has done over the last few months.” The university has previously advised that no dean faces an inquiry. As to whether any other investigations are imminent, “the confidential nature of both the Corruption and Crime Commission investigation and the university’s misconduct processes, no further information can be provided in this regard.”


“Defer no time, delays have dangerous ends”*

Warnings that Christopher Pyne was trying to do too much too fast started the day after the deregulation legislation was announced in the budget and they continue still. Understandably so, with no sign the minister’s package will pass the Senate why not declare a 12-month moratorium for university leaders to discuss the detail and come up with a superior plan?

Alternatively, they could seal the deregulation legislation in a lead-lined box and sink it in the Mariana Trench – because if deregulation is defeated this time that’s it for a generation.

And if you think this is optimistic/pessimistic, depending on your point of view, consider the fate of the West Review at the end of the ‘90s, which proposed a voucher system for posts compulsory education. The review consulted across the country for months, it produced a discussion paper, which was denounced and debated with responses setting a context for the final report. And that document was live for less than a day before a leaked copy led then prime minister John Howard to rule it out as too controversial. Major reform, where the losers are concentrated and winners are scattered across the economy, always is – which is why I am guessing Mr Pyne moved so fast. He could point to years of discussion about expanding higher education and a consensus among VCs that they needed a new source of revenue, for and from students, which gave him a choice, go fast and risk rejection or take the inquiry track and watch proposals erode into oblivion in the face of gales of protest. The Bradley Inquiry is no comparison – who was ever going to oppose expanding access to, and the quantum of funding for, higher education?

But as with West, it looks like the Pyne package might turn out to be too hard a sell, certainly there seems no sign of a Senate majority. If so that will be it for another political generation, at least for a comprehensive go at restructured funding. It is hard to imagine Mr Pyne conceding the policy high ground to his opponents and letting them set the agenda in another reform round in the new year. And it is hard to imagine any other minister taking the career risks Mr Pyne has. A year of fine-tuning could quickly become ten.

(disclosure: I consulted to the West review)

Still working at it

No that Mr Pyne is conceding anything.  Discussions with cross bench senators are continuing and all sorts of interest groups will be in parliament for the Senate sittings commencing next week. Given higher education students from private providers were impressive in tbe Senate committee hearings last month perhaps we will see some more of them. Having people in private vocational education speaking up for their colleges would make a change from attacks on the for-profits by the public VET lobby.

Adelaide cool

The only thing cool in Adelaide at the end of summer will be the University of South Australia, which is sponsoring the talks programme at the city’s WOMAD (world of music, arts and dance) festival in March. And if that is not hip enough, next year the university opens the James Morrison Academy of Music (that’s the jazz James M, not the pop singer) in Mount Gambier. UniSA is obviously positioning itself in case QS starts a hipster ranking.

Colourful ideas

University of Sydney academic Caitilin de Bérigny is leading a team to create a digital art project called Mind Paintings, which uses a headset to translate the electrical signals of a wearer’s brain into abstract blocks of colour on screen. “The more meditative and relaxed the state of a person, the greater the visual impact on the digital canvas,” she says. I wonder what would happen if she hooked up people in the deregulation debate? Christopher Pyne’s brain-shade would be blue, very calm, very consistent with no hint of an off-message colour. Kim Carr’s would be red, running from fire-engine to inferno shades as the senator thought about deregulation. As for any vice chancellor hooked up, I’m guessing eucalyptus green – like the colour on the $100 note.

Oh say can you see

Some bloke called Barack Obama will speak at the University of Queensland on Saturday. I am at a loss for words to describe the reputational value of the event but I’m guessing UoQ wont be.


Longer life expectancy

It’s D, as in delivery day for submissions to the Miles review of the cooperative research centre programme. But if supporters don’t file it is not for lack of urging by Richard Thornton, head of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. “Recent announcements by the Australian Government have foreshadowed a close linkage between industry and research, which is a great thing that should be supported, but there is a real chance that this may be at the expense of CRCs, which are delivering public and community benefits rather than supporting job creation,” he has warned.

Like his – which has been at it for a long, and by CRC standards I mean, long, time. The predecessor of the centre (the plain old Bushfire CRC) reached its ten-year expiry date in June but it seems the then Labor Government did not like the idea of cancelling bushfire research and so in February last year then prime minister Julia Gillard announced a new centre, which covered the function of the old one – with “natural hazards” tacked on. Understandbly so, “government cancels life-saving research into natural disasters” is not a good headline. Trouble is CRCs are not supposed to exist forever, they are not meant to be ongoing research departments and the bishfire CRC in its two forms is now set to run a couple of years over the absolute 15 year limit.

Not in it for the money

As Treasury officials contemplate the possible/probable defeat of student fees increases, thrice vc (Murdoch, Brunel, Macquarie) Steven Schwartz describes their nightmare (@ The Conversation) “retirees are the stalwarts of humanities departments. Every year at graduation, I encountered a queue of students of a certain age, waiting to receive their PhDs.”