Plus QUT’s big international visit (and it’s not Obama)

Elite endorsements 

How well did Barack Obama go down with the UoQ leadership when he spoke there on Saturday as part of his G20 visit? “We did but see him passing by … ” quipped one mandarin. (Readers under 40 ask a passing Australian history lecturer, assuming any are left on your campus). No wonder they were pleased, what with the president being at St Lucia and saying,

“This university is recognised as one of the world’s great institutions of science and teaching. Your research led to the vaccine that protects women and girls around the world from cervical cancer. Your innovations have transformed how we treat disease and how we unlock new discoveries. Your studies have warned the world about the urgent threat of climate change. In fact, last year I even tweeted one of your studies to my 31 million followers on Twitter.”

Ye gods – there is enough copy there for half a dozen campaigns.

QUT also did well, with a visit from Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. It wasn’t as high impact an affair, Mr Modi only wrote a polite message on a QUT agricultural robot and he has a mere 7.8m Twitter followers. But India is a much bigger market for international students than the US will ever be and PM Modri is way more popular with his electorate than President Obama. Score it a prestige win for UoQ and a super sales lead for QUT.


Cashed up comrades

The National Tertiary Education Union reports it will be in good financial shape at the end of the calendar year. Revenue is $22m, total assets amount to $26m and it has no net debt. There was a $370 000 operating deficit in the last financial year, due to lower than expected member wage growth but management anticipates “a strong budget surplus” in the current one. Sounds like the union is in great shape to make trouble/do good depending on your point of view come January.

One big push

The NTEU may not like Chris Pyne but they credit him with indefatigable energy and prodigious powers of persuasion. As the Senate sits this morning the union is assuring members that the popular front against deregulation is united but that “the minister undoubtedly is prepared to negotiate on some issues and do deals and therefore we should not assume that cross bench senators’ opposition to deregulation will hold under extreme pressure.” So to ensure the crossbench, particularly the PUPs, stays solid in the cause of righteousness, NTEU president Jeannie Rea is urging members to email them, or better still call Canberra. “Let them know that the vice-chancellors who want deregulation don’t speak for university staff and students.

“You don’t have to leave a long message: just say that you’re ringing as a university staff member and that you are strongly opposed to the deregulation of university fees because it will lead to greater inequity in the higher education system, for both students and staff.”

But what does the union want? “The best outcome would be for the Senate to reject the legislation, allowing a new sector wide public discussion about higher education policy and funding,” Ms Rea says. As distinct, presumably, from the endless debate over funding since the West Review 15 years ago.

Labor lined up

There is no reason for NTEU members to ring Labor senators because their leader Bill Shorten is solid in opposing the Pyne package. As he told Paul Kelly and Peter van Onselen yesterday, “how could we wave through a package which sees a 20 per cent cut in the funding to universities? how do we agree to a doubling in the interest rate of HECSs debts which are currently in place? … This is a government which is prone to overreach and higher education is a classic example of an Abbott government being out of touch with how real Australians construct their dreams and their hopes.”

Hold the front page

Sometimes university can be just a bit self-absorbed, like the ANU, which on Friday announced to the world its, new travel approval process. “The new, streamlined process with is fully-digitised and seamlessly brings separate information together into a central location, replacing the current complex manual process, “ the university explained. I am sure ANU’s 8000 Twitter followers were fascinated.

Qualified support

The feds are not intending to release public submissions to the Miles CRC review until the new year but some of the major stakeholders in the research system are happy to go on the record. Like the Innovative Research Universities lobby, which submitted a considered assessment of the programme with qualified support for CRCs surviving.

The submission is set firmly in the context of the government’s business linked, applied research agenda however it makes the point that research teams need flexibility; “had a government 20 years ago focussed industry driven research support on a small number of sectors these would very likely be different to those chosen today.” And the IRU emphasises industry links can bind too tight; “the CRC approach contrasts with much industry driven research whose emphasis is the need of the particular company involved.” But it does advocate transforming the programme into; “a form of demand-driven industry research support.”

“to ensure government funds are well targeted, the criteria for success would focus on addressing clear industry needs for innovation, developing industry capacity to respond, commercial outcomes, and progress towards goals. Centres which achieve over their initial term would be eligible for renewal; those which do not would be removed from the program.”

I wonder how some long-running centres without anytbing approaching a commercial focus would go under this proposal.

Frozen smile

The Australian Research Council circulated Minister Pyne’s Friday announcement of $24m for Hobart based Antarctic Research. Fair enough, considering the money was removed from the ARC’s grant process in the budget the council at least deserved a mention.

Heard it all before

Yet another report on the shambles that is VET. “The governance of post-secondary professional training involves a complex fabric of agencies, reflecting a division of responsibilities between different ministries, the relative autonomy of post-secondary institutions and the separate roles of private training providers, employers and trade unions. Such decentralised governance has advantages in terms of diversity and innovation, but it may confuse students and employers, involve some duplication of tasks such as curriculum design, and complicate transitions.”

Yes, I know we have heard it for 20 years, except this isn’t an Australian assessment; it is from a new OECD review of training in Europe and the US. Perhaps Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane will take some small comfort that he is not alone in a wilderness of blather and bureaucracy

But Sharon hasn’t

Shadow voc ed minister Sharon Bird rejects the Commission of Audit recommendation for the commonwealth to leave VET to the states, “that is absolutely the wrong way to go. What federal and state governments of all persuasions have been doing now for decades is in fact getting together to better co-ordinate a national approach. People move around the country and they do expect that there is a more consistent national approach to the portability of their qualifications, so I think the Commission of Audit very much reflected a failure to understand the national significance of the skills area and the vocational education training path that so you are involved in delivering.” (speech to the Group Training national conference, Friday)

NTEU may intervene at ACU

It went quiet at the Australian Catholic University last week, with uproar apparently ending over the reduction or abolition of research time entitlements. Many among the 50 per cent plus of teaching and research staff who had their research hours reduced or abolished outright are still upset but they are “weighing up the risk and return” of a protest, as one staff member puts it. But it looks like the NSW branch of the National Tertiary Education Union will step up on their behalf, taking legal advice for the basis of a court challenge. A claim that the process was outside the terms of the enterprise agreement, including the requirement to consult, seems the most likely grounds but it is one management will vigorously dispute, pointing to the long process and review mechanism involved in determining research time.


Quality control

Sharon Bird (above) was on the money when she focused on protecting students and the taxpayers who fund training courses from shonky private providers. For start her substantive policy proposals sound reasonable. She wants the two federal ministers (education and industry) “to ensure there are no abuses of the VET FEE HELP system by poor quality or unscrupulous providers” and she wants self-regulation to apply “to only high quality providers with long term track records.” While the policy is sound the politics is suburb, the idea that VET funding is rorted by carpetbaggers providing too short courses of crook quality to students who only enrol for an Ipad is now assumed to be the norm among private providers. It isn’t, but there are enough anecdotal examples for the idea to stick.