Plus Murdoch’s Higgott goes as Corruption Commission announces investigation

Higgot goes

Murdoch University Vice Chancellor Richard Higgott resigned late Friday. Professor Higgott went on leave when the university passed an internal inquiry into unspecified actions by him to the WA Corruption and Crime Commission in September. When I checked with the CCC around 2pm Perth time on Friday a spokeswomen said the agency was still considering what to do. The Commission has three options with matters referred to it, take no action, return allegations to the issuing agency for its own consideration or launch an inquiry. However an hour later the university announced Professor Higgott had resigned. It seems he decided to act because the CCC notified him that it would launch its own investigation, which the Commission confirmed it will do later on Friday night. Neither the university nor CCC have revealed the matters under investigation.

Murdoch says Andrew Taggart will continue as acting vice chancellor, with Bill Loudon (ex DVC at the University of Western Australia) brought in as “a strategic advisor”.

It’s the wooluf!

Chris Pyne described the source of a Fairfax story on Friday on what the government will concede to pass the deregulation package as “a lone wolf” making things up. Hardly a wolf, more like a flock of sheep running a wish list which has been around for weeks, including a smaller reduction in public funding per student place and a delay in letting private providers into the system. The Regional University Network’s call for a national scholarship pool to fund the most deserving cases was just about the only goodie not in the story. That one never picked up the political support it needed. Whatever the offers to the crossbenchers are we will know tomorrow afternoon – when Senator Bridget McKenzie releases the government members’ report from the Senate committee on higher education legislation and the legislation goes to the chamber.

But who has the numbers? Ask a passing wolf because I have no clue. Certainly there are more ayes than a week back – but if senators Lambie and Lazarus stay nay and friend of the PUP’s Ricky Muir votes no it’s all over red rover, at least for the first pass in the Senate.


Down to the West Wing wire

Two key members of the grand coalition against deregulation looked spooked on Friday. The National Tertiary Education Union warned the crossbench, “if the Senate agrees to fee deregulation they will simply be giving future governments and the minister a carte blanche to cut public funding of our universities further. By letting universities charge whatever they like, Mr Pyne is trying to completely remove any government responsibility over the cost of a university education.” (But the NTEU never surrenders, see below).

Then the National Union of Students got down to basics, demanding that senators Dio Wang (PUP-WA) and Nick Xenophon (Ind-SA) commit to opposing the bill Their votes are not enough to pass the deregulation package but will help. The one cross-bencher who everybody assumes is a solid no is Jacqui Lambie’(PUP-Tas) who was quoted on the weekend saying she will not change her vote in return for an aid package for Tasmania. (Well there had to be a first time for a Tasmanian politician to turn state aid down). As to other senators, there is all sorts of speculation, “it’s like a West Wing episode” one close observer who may or may not look like C J Cregg or Josh Lyman said yesterday.

Market focus

The Australian Marketing Institute Awards demonstrates there is no correlation between creativity and corporate kudos when it comes to selling education. The 2014 content marketing award went to the University of Southern Queensland and the internal marketing prize to La Trobe (so much for complaints that the VC is out of touch with staff concerns with his restructure). The education category was won by the Australian Catholic University for the “it’s our university, make it yours” campaign. ACU’s recruitment campaigns stand out for focusing on student wants and needs rather than banging on about research excellence. I reckon they are a good thing for next year’s AMI prizes with their new campaign “a life less ordinary” which has already picked up a design award (Campus Morning Mail. August 12).

UWS also picked up a prize this week – the 2014 NSW Premier’s Award winner for education exports. It now goes forward to the national competition. University of Wollongong won last year.

Consistent self-interest

The NTEU is still campaigning this morning with an analysis of vice chancellor’s support for deregulation. The union argues VCs are variable in what they want from a support package and independent oversight and that “a number” only accept fee deregulation because they will need a way to recover Commonwealth cuts. And the union makes the fair but hardly surprising point that self-interest creates contradictions. “For example, the argument that we need to move to a market-based system to overcome policy instability is contradicted when there is also a push for an oversight body to monitor and advise on policy responses to deal with unknown outcomes (i.e. policy instability) arising from the move to a market based system.” Reports that University of Sydney wants to use fee income for scholarships hardly demonstrate much faith in the market principle of the Pyne package.  But self-interest is rarely consistent. Perhaps if every lobby other than the Group of Eight had flat-out opposed Mr Pyne the minister would have not gone so hard, so fast – but they didn’t. The question is what will VCs do if the deregulation legislation is defeated in the Senate this week.

Shaken not stirred

Popular interest in military history unsettles members of the historical establishment, especially the imminent Anzac-a-thon. And so they are going to do something about it at next July’s Australian Historical Association conference addressing “foundational histories.” “History abounds with metaphors of foundation: the foundations of knowledge or the discipline, as well as the foundational narratives of nations. These metaphorical foundations do not stand on solid rock: they can be unsettled, shifted and shaken. The AHA conference will do some gentle shaking in 2015, a year when many Australians will celebrate the centenary of the ‘birth of a nation’ at Anzac Cove,” the AHA announces. Looks like an excellent example of peaceful coexistence – the historians will politely point out the errors in commemorating ANZAC and be ignored by everybody interested in the campaign.

Counting on accountability

Federation University’s 2015 charter is out and it specifies objectives for the year – by metric. Most of them will not be difficult to meet, (70 per cent of students from regional and remote areas for example) but others will take work – a 5 per cent increase in ARC-NHMRC grant applications and a minimum of five research areas rated at world class or better in next year ERA exercise. Modest perhaps, but good on Fed U in setting a precedent of publicly holding itself to account.


Stats stahkanovite

Universities Australia is in the market for an economist/statistician to advise on the state and future of higher education “to support policy development and advocacy.” Whatever happens this week there is going to be plenty to do.