Plus more Senate strife for training reform and the government asks the obvious question on innovation

Big night out

The Victorian branch of the National Tertiary Education Union is holding a ball. As in dinner, drinks and awards. Details are sparse but the awards and who wins them are bound to be fascinating. CMM guesses it will be red, sorry green, tie.


Engineering elite

Times Higher continues with its remorseless ranking of universities by discipline area. Today it’s engineering and technology – next week necromancy.* But nobody will have needed any dark arts to predict the results (apart from for Australia). As usual the world top ten is occupied by the Anglosphere, with Stanford first followed by Caltech, MIT, Cambridge, UCal Berkeley, Oxford, Princeton, ETH Zurich, Imperial College London and Carnegie Mellon.

But there are other interesting outcomes. Demonstrating what can happen when governments spend serious money on education and research, the National University of Singapore is 13th and the Nanyang Technological University is 20th. In contrast, India finally cracks a top 100 listing, but just one, with the Indian Institute of Science at 99.

All up there are 31 US institutions listed, 9 from the UK, four from Hong Kong, the University of Science and Technology is 16th, plus six from the rest of China (Peking University is 24th). And while Israel is the innovation flavour of the month, it has one entry, the Technion Institute of Technology at 80th.

Australia and Canada are level pegging. The University of Toronto is first of five at 25th while in Australia, Monash (53rd) leads the seven entries, followed by UoQ (54th), Uni Melbourne (56), UNSW (68), UniSyd (73rd), ANU (90th) and the University of Adelaide at 95. Yes, Uni Melbourne is not top of the Australian rankings!

*CMM made that up. The next discipline ranking is thaumaturgy.

Writers craft

It’s novel writing month, when people with a yarn in them are encouraged to get it all out. It’s celebrated today by Gary Fishlock from NSW TAFE who encourages us all to improve “our storytelling skills” So much for expensive creative writing masters, novelising must be a competency.

More of the same in the Senate

Government plans to deregulate student protections shouldn’t be rammed through before Christmas. Must make sure the Senate gets this right,” Labor education spokesman Kim Carr said yesterday. That’s entirely up to him. Yes, the government rejected Labor amendments to the bill in the Reps this week, which is designed to increase protection for people being exploited by unscrupulous for-profit VET providers. However yesterday Training Minister Luke Hartsuyker’s office was making it clear he wanted a deal done, referring CMM to what the minister said in the House on Tuesday; “I trust those opposite are assured that the work the department has in train will give effect to its substantive amendment. I am happy to work with those opposite to ensure its implementation is in keeping with the intent of their proposed amendments.”

But Labor is not having any of it. Last night, the party announced a Senate inquiry into the government’s legislation. “Labor’s focus in this inquiry will be on our proposals to establish an industry funded ombudsman, further protections for students when taking out loans and capping student fees and VET FEE-HELP loan amounts,” Senator Carr and shadow training minister Sharon Bird said. Yes, another Senate inquiry into shonkery among private providers. CMM cannot imagine what this can possible achieve other than embarrass the government, which cynics suggest is the point, but what can you expect from cynics?

On the one hand this is easily dismissed as a stunt. On the other, the Opposition has a point in arguing, “the Liberal government has had two years to put measures in place to protect students yet they have merely tinkered around the edges which has allowed the shonks and sharks to continue to prey on vulnerable students.”

ANU Sep 15 1

On the subject of stunts

In Question Time yesterday Ms Bird (above) asked Minister Hartsuyker if he would rule out a GST on TAFE fees. The minister responded by not answering the question, for what CMM suspects is a very good reason – he knows about as much of what Treasurer Morrison is thinking as Ms Bird. But what would be the point of a GST on TAFE fees? The feds would just have to loan students the GST amount and collect, some of it later, much later through the tax system. And if a government applied GST to TAFE surely they would have to do the same to HECs debt – and wouldn’t that go down well with all the university lobbies.

Earthy images

As everybody but CMM undoubtedly already knew, we are in the UN International Year of Soils, which is being marked by the University of Tasmania with a photography competition. Apparently the judges, “are looking for striking images of soil in Tasmania.”

Obvious outcome

Industry and Innovation minister Christopher Pyne took a dorothy in Reps Question Time in which he talked of the wonders to come in the Innovation Statement, notably government procurement policy and tax. CMM suspects there will be much more of spending substance about the latter than the former in the document. Word is that the ANU Centre for International Economics is working on a tax study for the statement and is briefed to survey claimants using the existing research and development deduction. CMM’s writer on rent-seeking says every one asked will warn the existing deduction is all that stands between the economy and ruin.

ASQA exit

Dianne Orr will leave the Australian Skills Quality Authority next month. She is now the deputy chief commissioner and commissioner for regulatory operations there. Dr Orr has been with the Authority for of all its unhappy history. Back in 2014 then Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane refused to allow it to increase regulatory charges and gave the agency a fearful bucketing at a training conference (CMM June 26 2014). This year ASQA’s has responded to endless tales of rorting among private sector trainers by saying it is cooperating with other agencies and meeting its statutory obligations.

Dr Orr says she is “immensely proud to have played a role in the move to national regulation of VET and have seen the many benefits this has bought. However the time has come to set back and spend more time with my family and try new things.”

While her boss, Chris Robinson farewelled Dr Orr there is not a word on the record from Training Minister Luke Hartsuyker. His office did not respond to a request for comment.

Middling market

German international education event consultant ICEF reports the standard story on international education, the size of the Chinese and Indian markets but the way China is looking to create its own export industry. However it also points to the growth in demand for “middle skills” in VET, stating two-thirds of jobs growth in Europe will require certificates and diplomas rather than degrees and that China, India, Malaysia, as well as the Saudis and Thais are increasing voced budgets. This has to be a growth market for Australian training.