Plus Labor warns that Libs want to terminate TAFE 


Do you want, what do you call those potato things, with that?

Deakin U’s Felice Jacka and colleagues from ANU conclude that the part of the brain that deals with learning, memory and mental health is smaller in people with unhealthy diets than those who hop into veggies, fruit and fish.

Above average outcome

Vicki Thomson from the Group of Eight was on to CMM quick smart after Friday’s report that her members’ share of national equity group enrolments has not budged for the better part of a decade, it’s around 11 per cent). “Yes, that’s correct however what is important is that our retention and success rates are well above the national average,” she said. Ms Thomson pointed to Great Eight retention rates for low income, disabled, indigenous and regional and remote students up to 10 per cent above the average for all public universities “So, yes whilst numbers are low – they stay and they graduate!”

ANU Sep 15 5

Intentional irony

“About to join panel at (Australian) Society of Authors conference to talk about importance of gov(ernment) fostering creativity,” Adam Bandt MP (The Greens-Melbourne) on Twitter.

They can work it out

The Group of Eight returned to a favourite theme last week – why it’s members should get more research money. Universities should only receive funding for PhD students in disciplines where the institution has an Excellence for Research in Australia rating of three (“at world standard”) or better, the Eight argue in a submission to the Australian Council of Learned Academies research training inquiry, provided to the AFR. That Go8 members have been in the research business so long that there are few fields where they don’t score an ERA Three has nothing to do with it.

The contrast with the case presented by the Innovative Research Universities is stark. The IRU argues that the research training system works ok as it is, with most research occurring in the government’s priority areas (CMM September 9). As IRU Executive Director Conor King puts it, “universities should be trusted to enrol research students, taking account of the student’s capabilities, interests and the capacity of the university to support them pursue their research to a positive end. We would expect a high correlation with external markers of quality such as ERA but not a complete match. Universities need to develop new areas, which may not have the high ratings yet. … General ratings such as ERA miss the local level detail.”

In any case, an IRU survey of research topics at three members shows 80 per cent in ERA Three fields. “This confirms that universities and their students know what they are doing,” Mr King says.

Good as his inert word

You can’t criticise the Abbott Government for breaking promises in education, a vice chancellor says. Back in February 2013 then opposition leader Tony Abbott told the Universities Australia conference, “a period of relative policy stability in which changes already made can be digested and adjusted to (such as the move to demand-driven funding) is probably what our universities most need now.” Which is what he has provided. Within a year of the election and there is absolutely no significant new legislation on the books.

And thanks for all the HECs

“Graduating and/or have friends/family attending your ceremony next week? Parking on campus is FREE – no permits required,” Macquarie University promises. Vice Chancellor S Bruce Dowton is generous to a fault.

Where the buck starts

Training Minister Simon Birmingham had a big case of the Keatings on Friday when he followed the great Labor reformer by proposing Canberra take over training. Senator Birmingham made a solid case for the move – while he was too polite to say it to the TAFE conference in Hobart, if the states’ public systems were performing there would be no role for profiteering private providers.

“By placing control of all of the funding levers — the setting of fees, payment of subsidies, and lending of income-contingent loans — with one level of government, we would promote accountability in the system and could create a more effective market, driven by students rather than providers, than we’ve seen to date.”

Perhaps, but why a centralised national system would be more responsive to the market than state agencies is not clear. As the National Commission of Audit suggests , surely the level of government closest to consumers is best placed to provide services.

But federalism is but a proxy for the big debate in training – whether it should be a public monopoly or a competitive marketplace. As Labor training spokeswoman Sharon Bird told the conference, “the skill needs of our economy will be challenged by digital disruption, the application of new advanced technologies, the emergence of new trades and professions, and the need for ongoing up-skilling of the existing workforce. … Whilst I acknowledge many in the private sector take great pride in doing this type of work too, I don’t believe it is viable to rely on the private sector to carry the costs or change their model to deliver government priorities. Whilst private and not-for-profit provides will often be responsive it is only TAFE that can be directed by government and this needs to be part of the available resources to government.”

Ms Bird also needs to keep the public education unions onside, lest they desert to the Greens. Thus she added to her argument on Saturday, warning; “an Abbott take-over isn’t just a distraction from the government’s failure to put forward a positive plan on TAFE, on apprentices and for the vocational education sector – it’s a plan to abolish TAFE all together.”

Still intent on innovating

Back in July 2014 Chris Styles, the then new business dean at the University of New South Wales announced “innovation will be critical in the era of higher education deregulation.” He obviously still thinks so, hosting the university’s Innovation Summit in Sydney on Friday. Speakers include Chief Scientist Ian Chubb, US ambassador John Berry and Cochlear’s chief scientist, Jim Patrick.

Everyone is a critic

Thanks to the reader who pointed CMM to Chealsye Bowley’s masters thesis at University College, London, I’m cited therefore I am. Apparently, “audit culture in higher education is transforming the identities of academic scientists and influencing how the scientific identity is dependent on peer reviewed publications.” It’s what people who live by their pens in the arts and journalism call “reviews.”

The new normal

Conor King sums up why demand driven funding is here to stay at a Sydney conference, “being a graduate is no longer special, it’s just normal.” Bang on – Australian parents now think higher education is the norm for average kids and will not take kindly to any minister who tells them otherwise.


If universities and business do not do more business together it will not be for want of trying by Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane, whose officials have created an intellectual property tool kit to help establish joint ventures. So it was not surprising that Renee Hindmarsh from the applied research focused Australian Technology Network did the honours at the launch on Friday. “With 70% of our research income coming from industry we are passionate about removing barriers to collaboration between research organisations and industry,” she said.

criterion update

Wheat at the Waite

The Australian Research Council funded grain research hub opened on Friday, at the University of Adelaide’s agricultural research centre, the Waite Campus. The hub will work on drought and heat tolerant wheat with partners including Australian Grain Technologies; InterGrain Pty Ltd; Longreach Plant Breeders Management and the Grains Research and Development Corporation. But with so much wheaty goodness there why isn’t the GRDC locating all its southern states effort with the talent at the Waite? Last week the GRDC announced its ultimate southern states base will be out of town, at Uni Adelaide’s dryland farming and animal husbandry campus at Roseworthy, CMM. September 10)

Stupid o’clock

Starting school or work before 10 am is so out of whack with the body’s natural cycles that it amounts to torture, according to Oxford University’s Paul Kelley. The French have known this for centuries – ever wonder why post offices open (but only on alternate days) after lunch?