Princess power

The University of Melbourne reports a lecture by Danish academic Rikke Schubart which “used cognitive psychology and postfeminist theory to explain why the Game of Thrones character Daenerys Targaryen breaks the old gender stereotypes of fantasy and fairy tale.” Ye gods, what does she think Xena, warrior princess does, bake cakes?

You get what you complain about

Chris Pyne did not win many friends among vice chancellors with his deregulation plan for higher education on budget night and as far as I can tell of those he did only ANU vice chancellor Ian Young is still publicly supportive. Just about everybody else has reverted to defending their particular patch and/or rejecting the package overall. Yesterday research weak universities were condemning Mr Pyne’s proposal that some institutions should just teach. Before that all sorts were complaining about the increase in course costs that would follow reduced public funding. And others argue that setting a six per cent interest rate on student loans will shackle lower paid graduates with unsustainable debts. All fair enough – but there is one thing just about every university leader dislikes more than the Pyne proposals – the status quo.

However what they have now is what they will be stuck with if deregulation is defeated, an underfunded, quasi regulated system which maintains the fiction that all universities can and do everything equally well (when you compensate for age and income). If the Pyne package fails, it will be in no small part to opposition from university leaders whose complaints will give Senate independents cover and what future minister will want to run the risk of a repeat? There is a reason why they call it generational change – it takes that long before ministers can forget what happened to the last one who tried to reform things.

Competition picks up

Edith Cowan has joined Deakin, Victoria and Murdoch universities in freezing fee levels for second semester starters, “to provide fairness and certainty.” This means they will have until 2020 to complete their degrees under the existing fee regime. I suspect UWA will not match the offer, but with two Western Australian universities competing on price I wonder what Curtin will do.

Late yesterday the University of Western Sydney  joined them. It is the first university in NSW to protect second semester commencers.

Dead and buried in the bush

It took just 12 hours for the Prime Minister to knock off Mr Pyne’s musing about collecting student debt from deceased estates. That fiercer warrior, ACU VC Greg Craven dismissed in even shorter order the minister’s other idea of the day, that not all universities need to research (CMM yesterday). But just in case Professor Craven did not kill it stone dead the Regional Universities Network decided to make sure. “The impact of research undertaken by regional universities on the regions is significant. It contributes to regional productivity and innovation. The research is undertaken from a regional perspective which could not be achieved by a metropolitan based institution undertaking the same work.” Everybody clear on that? When it comes to research, RUN likes things the way they are. So does Federation University VC David Battersby, who adds, FUA “is strategically well-placed to capitalise on the growing need for regional research over the coming years. This is a time for universities to increase their research, not the opposite.” That is all universities. I suspect the Go8 will think differently. The more things change … .

 To each according to their needs

Michael Spence wants to increase funding for university teaching but not in a way that slugs students from low SES and middle incomes. The University of Sydney vice chancellor wants to see income specific fees, as he explained in a Fairfax papers oped yesterday. “I firmly believe that the government has a role to play in supporting higher education, given the considerable public good universities generate through teaching and research. But I also believe that students from wealthier families should make a greater individual contribution towards their education than they are today. … It is my personal view that charging all students equally regardless of their means to pay the cost of their course and their likely salary outcome is not a socially just outcome at all.”

How fortunate for Professor Spence that deregulating student fees would mean he could put students’ money where his mouth is and set fees as high as he likes for University of Sydney courses, with means based scholarships applied however he chose (as Minister Pyne’s plan proposes).

Gosh thanks

“Need some tunes to motivate you to study? Some soft instrumentals for background noise? We’ve got you covered,” says Victoria University. The  link is to a VU playlist on Spotify. Just the thing, if you go for soft background noise.

Lining up governance ducks

A governance observer suggests we could have seen coming Mr Pyne’s suggestion that some universities should switch to teaching only, if we had known where to look. And that is on page 25 of the Higher Education Standards Framework Consultation Draft, released earlier this month. The draft states that the Higher Education Standards Panel is reviewing provider categories that “may lead to the categorising of higher education providers.” Obscure ducks to be sure but it looks like the Department of Education is getting them into a row in case the distinction between universities and other higher education providers changes.

No Australian exceptionalisn

Chief Scientist Ian Chubb was on the radio yesterday making the case for a “a suite of policies” to shape priorities for Australian science. It was his usual polished performance. No he was not consulted on budget cuts to science. Yes he has access to ministers who “are generous with their time.” As to the absence of a science minister, Professor Chubb does not care what the title is as long as there is a powerful advocate in cabinet. “We just can’t assume good outcomes because we are Australians,” he said.