Beau Jest

David Lloyd channels Pierce Brosnan,” Charles Sturt VC Andy Vann on Uni SA’s boss @ UA conference yesterday, via Twitter. I assume it was not a joke.


Some of Sandra Harding’s speech to the Universities Australia conference yesterday was standard stuff. The UA president and James Cook University VC explained the important contribution made by member institutions and why public money for universities is an investment not a spend. But Professor Harding is far too smart to stick to that ancient script and so she reminded her audience that the nation and universities, “need to be a bit more humble and much more open to new ideas as we set ourselves on a structural adjustment path that will prove essential for the Australia to come, to our competitiveness and our place in the world.” It was as close to self-criticism as even an especially smart and self-assured vice chancellor can come. But what followed was even smarter – a brazen an exercise of charm-mail. Instead of warning Education Minister Christopher Pyne that justice and necessity dictate that universities be given everything they ask for, Professor Harding simply assumed that the government understood the importance of more funding and obviously intended to help. “The challenge is great, but the signs from the government are good,” she said, before proceeding to quote Mr Pyne – and then the prime minister to make her point. And she less endorsed than embraced the government’s New Colombo Plan, “if (its) goals are realised, it seems to me that, in cultural terms at the very least and in economic terms most probably, this will prove to have at least as significant an impact on Australia as the post World War II opening up of our country to immigration.” Admittedly Professor Harding was deputy chair of the steering group that worked on the plan. Still, for a universities conference to hear such praise for an initiative from the conservatives will surprise and delight government members who remember the Howard years. I have no idea whether the charm-mail will work when it comes to money but it demonstrates Professor Harding recognises it makes more sense to see the minister as a potential friend rather than somebody to hector, sorry lecture.

More time in the kitchen

Universities Australia yesterday  announced its new partnership with a range of peak business groups to develop work integrated learning programs for undergraduates. The statement goes on rather but as far as I can tell, in essence it is about internships, across all disciplines, rather than the usual STEM subjects. It’s good stuff of the MOU kind but there is no detail on how it will work. When I came across the plan the other day one observer described it to me as “undercooked”. They were being kind.

ANU insiders

The Australian National University was as abuzz as it ever gets yesterday as people considered student newspaper Woroni’s 2014 astute and entertaining list of campus power brokers.  Unsurprisingly VC Ian Young led the list and even he, not by other accounts a bloke who cares what anybody thinks of him, should be pleased with how he is assessed. “Young surrounds himself with competent staff and gives them autonomy to do their jobs while at the same time being clear that any proposals must be solutions based.” Spot on. After a bad start, due I suspect to terrible advice on the music school mess and how to manage cuts, Professor Young has not put a foot wrong. Other judgements that strike me as sound include placing Chancellor Gareth Evans well down the list and noting the deserved status authority of comms chief Jane “wizard of the lobby” O’Dwyer. “It is her personal style and broad experience that brings clout and influence to her office,” Woroni concludes. But I wonder whether the editors got it right re Chris Grange, who may run administration and planning but does not rival DVC Academic Marnie Hughes Warrington who is rated number two. My guess is Grange is a man to watch. Shortly after arriving from the University of Wollongong last year he masterfully managed a razor gang process and consultations to sell the cuts.  

Pyne’s platform

If anybody thinks Education Minister Chris Pyne did not deliver a comparative cracker of a speech to the UA conference last night dig out some of the text read out by the last long-serving Labor minister in the portfolio, “Silent Chris” Evans. Where the then Senator Evans read out texts which sounded like they were written by bureaucrats from the bureau of bland Mr Pyne’s speech was full of assertion and ideas plus footnoted (no less) quotes. The Minister made the increasingly familiar case that R G Menzies is the real father of the modern Australian university system and he repeated his previous points that the government is a friend to universities giving them the room they need to innovate, not least by encouraging their international and professional masters’ markets. There was also a bit about how demand driven funding allowed universities to set their own strategies and a nod to full-service universities who are spread so thin research suffers, plus the now traditional traducing of TEQSA.  He even was nice about humanities research – which was kind given the government appears intent on giving much more money to medicine.

But as to what happens next Mr Pyne was less expansive. “We need to fix the budget for the long term, and only by doing so will we ensure the sustainability of university funding, the Minister said. “The government will consider the Kemp-Norton report in the lead up to the budget alongside the report of the Commission of Audit,” he ominously added – at least linking the two documents sounds ominous. And ministers talking about the importance of philanthropy is never a good sign. Maybe Professor Harding’s charm-mail is yet to kick in.

Free chants

The ANU e-press jogs along pretty well without soliciting subsidies some of the old guard academic print publishers say they need, which is why I am shamelessly plugging the e-press’s first title of the year, McComas Taylor and Grazia Scotellaro’s The Joy of Sanskrit.  It’s just the thing for students who want to be able to “conduct a coherent conversation on a range of simple topics” and “chant accurately twenty-six well known verses.” The good news is that you can download it for free The bad news is that you cannot escape the tyranny of print altogether, to get the exercises and solutions you have to purchase a printed text.

True to form

The hostile tweeting started as soon as word got around UA last night that Mr Pyne would not take questions after his speech. Of course that was before the crowd heard the bit in his address about how the Libs are their friend.