ANU VC commits to equal opportunity for excellence

plus Tanya takes over: Labor’s Plibersek starts listening

and La Trobe’s pragmatic approach to funding

Labor listening

Labor’s shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek and her junior higher education spokeswoman, Terri Butler met with their newest bestest friends yesterday when a half dozen VCs, representatives of another 25 and higher education lobby leaders assembled in Sydney. “I appreciated the candid discussion and genuine goodwill,” Ms Plibersek says. CMM hears she intends to repeat the experience a couple of times a year as well as hold smaller discussions. Can’t fault her for enthusiasm – or her quick grasp of where the funding levers are. It appears she, rather than innovation spokesman Kim Carr will have responsibility for research block grants.

Tuesday July 26

Still not out

Remembering1895 when Melbourne University scored 1094 in a single cricket match,” VC Glyn Davis tweeted yesterday. Please note the absence of any joke about Professor Davis not looking an over above 80.

Schmidt’s smart strategy

Brian Schmidt’s ten-year plan for the Australian National University includes initiatives already adopted by various universities across the country. But it builds on the university’s unique national capital advantages. ANU draws students from across the country to live on campus and it is many mandarin’s preferred source of choice for research and analysis.

Yesterday the VC made the most of ANU’s advantages by committing to programmes, including;

– “substantial” funding for early and mid-career researchers to “embark on their big ideas at the height of their creativity, free of the constraints of overly conservative grant funding”

– courses and quality of student life, “to make sure that an ANU education sits comfortably amongst the top ten in the world

– a national undergraduate admission scheme that recognises, “co-curriculum and community contributions.” “Students applying to ANU will be considered on the whole person, not just their ATAR score.” Similarly a national scholarship programme will consider “academic results, non-academic achievement and financial need”

– opportunities for all students, including postgraduates and people with children, to live on campus

– a distinguished educator award with funds attached, to “further extend their teaching and share their knowledge”

– post doctoral fellowships for indigenous PhD graduates

– majors in “innovation and professional practice” in all undergraduate degrees taught by university industry and government created “with guidance” from business. Westpac CEO Brian Hartzer will chair an advisory board

– a commitment to 50:50 gender balance in leadership appointments.

What it will all cost and where any required savings will come from will wait on the coming strategic plan. (The university does say the research scheme is budgeted at $20m over five years). But overall what the Schmidt strategy signals is that universities have learned from the deregulation debacle and realising they must run their own reforms at an institutional level.


Jeff Grey gone

Military historian Jeffrey Grey has died unexpectedly. Professor Grey, from UNSW Canberra, was a fine scholar and a good bloke – long admired by CMM. “He performed the central invaluable task of pronouncing orthodoxies, decreeing what was reasonable and what was rubbish; his judgements will stand for some time because they were based on a huge amount of reading, a rapier wit, and a lack of malice,” military historian Craig Wilcox said yesterday.

Curtin up on minerals Moran

Chris Moran has started work as DVC R at Curtin U. Professor Moran joins from the Sustainable Minerals Institute at the University of Queensland. He replaces Graeme Wright who has retired (CMM March 1).

Realism at La Trobe

La Trobe University’s response to the government’s discussion paper on higher education change is a model of realpolitik. Certainly La Trobe speaks up for its own interests, recommending its long proposed but ignored joint venture with Charles Sturt U, the Murray Darling Medical School. But the paper also proposes significant national change. In particular, La Trobe makes a strong case for an extension of demand driven funding to sub degree courses, which suits the interests of both individuals and the economy. Thus La Trobe recommends reconsidering;

“the distribution of public subsidies across course levels, using demand driven funding mechanisms combined with enhanced accountability measures. In this way growth at sub-bachelor level may mitigate the pressure for growth in bachelor load. Concerns about the cost of extending demand driven funding can be addressed by policy incentives and re-engineering higher education financing.”

Accountability measures” keep coming up in the paper but in a way that implies an acceptance of some sort of regulation as the price of continuing demand driven funding. Thus another recommendation is; “retain demand driven funding for bachelor level study, subject to redesign of higher education financing and enhanced accountability measures that optimise student success and curtail unsustainable growth rates evident in some institutions and areas of study.”

Sounds like realpolitik to CMM.

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Another argument about SCA

On Thursday the University of Sydney abandoned its plan to fold its College of Arts into the University of New South Wales, saying it would continue, but in new accommodation on, or near the main campus ( CMM July 29). It was a big win, but not big enough for SCA supporters who want it to remain in its existing plein air premises at bayside Callan Park. The university branch of the National Tertiary Education Union is holding a protest against the proposed move a fortnight today.

Brave funding reviews

Cynics suggest asking medical researchers how best to spend public money is the equivalent of inviting Dr Dracula to consult on building a blood bank. But this is exactly what the Australian Medical Research Advisory Board is doing. The board “guides” disbursements from the Medical Research Future Fund, (or at least it will when there is much to disburse). It has already collected written submissions, which it wisely restricted to three pages  and consultations are now underway. This is occurring as the National Health and Medical Research Council hears what the research community thinks of its options paper on how to divvy up research dosh CMM July 15. No faulting both bodies for courage, it is never wise to stand between medical researchers and money they need for research.

Small grants, great ideas

Literary editor and publisher Matthew Lamb has a $10 000 grant to work on a cultural biography of novelist Frank Moorhouse, using the resources of the University of Queensland library. Jessie Lymn from Charles Sturt U receives the same sum to fund a study of early Australian science fiction fanzines, using Murdoch U’s “unique collection” (who knew?) The Council of Australian University Librarians and the Australian Society of Authors award the grants.

Signal for Singapore

James Cook U is keen on the Singapore market, moving to a flash new campus last year and winning top accreditation from the government. But it’s a crowded market and with the two national flagship institutions, the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University rocketing up the rankings, JCU needs to say sharp. It’s much deserved award of an hon doc to Philip Green, Australia’s high commissioner to Singapore, will demonstrate the university honours people who are the republic’s friends.

Good, just late

In news just in CMM’s “this would make a horse laugh” correspondent reports that the Australian Skills Quality Authority has “strengthened communications protocols” with the Victorian government. “Working together in this way, and sharing information more proactively, means we are both better placed to predict and respond to poor provider behaviour and minimise marketplace risks,” ASQA asserts. This is splendid idea but it would have been a better one before wholesale rorting of VET FEE HELP on ASQA’s watch traduced the reputation of legitimate private providers. Yes the Victorians have kept a degree of independence from the national regulatory system but a national problem surely required a national approach, in place years back.