Plus, the correct answer is Swinburne

Rhetorical questions

Murdoch University has announced a parliamentary studies subject, taught in part by Western Australian state MPs and parliamentary staff. It will have “a strong skills focus, sharpening academic learning while enhancing the future employability of our students,” says Professor Benjamin Reilly. And there I was thinking question time abuse could only come from the heart not the head.

Expensive ERA

A research metrics fan (everybody’s got to have a hobby) reports an innovative (but not top eight) university in New South Wales has ten staff working full time on Excellence for Research in Australia 2015. If that is around the average it means there are around 400 metric mavens assembling (certainly not gaming) research performance data  to advise the Australian Research Council. Enough of an audience for a journal of their own! If the total package value of the 400 is a relatively modest $100 000 each there is enough money for an ARC research centre. All, as the metrics observer suggests, to produce figures, which are as close to research citations as carbon emissions are to climate change. Of course as far as the ARC is concerned ERA is money well spent. The Council’s submission to the Senate innovation inquiry explains in great detail how important ERA is; certainly worth the $48 million it has cost government since 2009. I’m not sure what this has to do with innovation but its good to see the ARC is anxious to explain why metrics merit money.

Unlikely allies

University of New South Wales outgoing VC Fred Hilmer is not always a fan of Universities Australia – at times it seems that if the peak body came out in favour of cute kittens Professor Hilmer would advocate competition payments for universities to eradicate feral cats. On June 4 he said UA did not speak for UNSW when the former released modelling of course costs under the Pyne plan. So it is something of a surprise that Professor Hilmer is calling on Christopher Pyne to postpone the proposed real rate of interest for HECS debts for five years. Sound familiar? It should – On May 21 UA chair Sandra Harding warned there is no chance of the proposed system being in place by 2016.

Navitas bounds back

The Navitas annual results last week included $30m in impairments, covering poor performing divisions and a $23m for the loss of the Macquarie University pathway business (the university is going to run its own college). But not to worry, Navitas said new initiatives would “mitigate” Macquarie’s departure, which sounded a little desperate. But the company is as good as its word, announcing a new deal yesterday, a ten year pathway with Florida Atlantic University, a 30 000 student comprehensive public institution in the US.

 Abundant acronyms

Every new minister makes a speech complaining that the training system is as cumbersome as it is incomprehensible. As Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane said back in June, “employers are concerned they aren’t getting the skilled workers they need. … Training providers feel weighed down by red tape, endless process and excessive regulation… “Students, parents and employers tell me they can’t always get the information to make the right decisions about the training they need” And just like every minister before him he has a point. The excellent National Centre for Vocational Education Research demonstrated this yesterday, reminding us of its excellent 2013 Glossary of VET – a 127 page (yes 127) list of all voced agencies, issues and initiatives. My favourite is the DPMC, established by the MCTEE, which reports through the NSOC to SCOTESE. All is explained here. A demonstration of streamlined federalism this is not.

Pax in Victoria

There is quite confidence in union ranks that Mr Pyne’s plan will sink in the Senate, with people saying the PUPs are immovably opposed to the reforms. Certainly the Victorian branch of the National Tertiary Education Union is working on business as usual. Enterprise bargaining is underway at Federation University where a deal is expected shortly – one of the benefits of having agreements in place just about everywhere else to use as models.

It’s not serene at La Trobe however. Fair Work Australia is about to begin a four day hearing of the NTEU’s claim that the university does not face big budget problems and that the retrenchment round now on the table is not needed.

And peace does not prevail at Swinburne. FWA will hear the union’s challenge against the staff vote in favour of management’s enterprise agreement offer in October, around eight months after the ballot. And the possibility of a union case in the Federal Court over employment conditions at a Swinburne subsidiary remains.

Plus nobody sings!

While earnest universities bombard prospective international students with marketing material, in Vietnam smart Swinburne sponsors a 20 million audience quiz show- with the winner getting a bucket of dosh from an advertiser and a full scholarship to Swinburne in Melbourne. As a low cost, huge exposure promotion this is impossible to beat. Trong Nhan Nguyen won in a live a broadcast on Sunday night.

Non-essential information

A few years back the previous government empowered Austrade to manage its engagement with international education, which did not especially amuse whatever the Department of Education, was called then. The result is exporters now enjoy, if that is the right word, the assistance of two agencies, Austrade and the department’s Australian Education International. To suggest the pair are pals is not entirely accurate and there are times when it looks like they are trying to outdo each other with services to the sector. Like yesterday, when Austrade reissued an explanatory note on how enrolment and commencement data can over-state the number of international students in the country – the one student can enrol/start in multiple courses in the one year. I’m guessing most people in the industry already knew this.