Plus why Greg Craven is one of this week’s winners

Taking it on the chin

“What farmers know and do about stubble,” Charles Sturt U promises to inform us. And there I was thinking organic hipsters favoured full beards.

& do what you are told!

There are times when you would not believe me if I summarised some news – and this is one of them. So here, verbatim is the University of New South Wales policy on ampersands:

“The UNSW Sommet font uses an adapted ampersand. This ampersand is a design file, which means you cannot simply type it into your document as normal text. It must be placed as a design item via a design program. … These branding requirements set out required standards regarding the production of visual communications and under no circumstances will a departure from these standards be permitted without written approval from Marketing Services.”

Ampersand bandits are warned.

The name on the cheque counts

The feds have combined a couple of programs to create the National Environmental Science Program, which has $25.5m per annum for six years to spend on research. Six thematic hubs, clean air, earth systems, marine biodiversity, northern Australia, threatened species and tropical water quality, will distribute the money. Hubs will be based at a research institution and led by an “outstanding researcher of international repute.” The Department of the Environment runs the programme, which sounds like an awful lot of effort for not much money. Surely they could have contracted the ARC to do it for them, leaving the environment minister to get the check signing glory.

World war zzzzz

From Melbourne, the City of Boroondara reports Swinburne students filmed a “zombie-inspired short film” there yesterday. Perhaps not the best location, given zombies move faster than local government.

Stockholm Syndrome

It seems people are struggling with the idea of competitive markets in education. On Tuesday ACU’s Greg Craven suggested to the Senate committee inquiring into deregulation that a watchdog should have power to approve/reject course fees. He thought TEQSA could do it. La Trobe VC John Dewar had the same general idea (CMM Wednesday). And then senior economist Stephen King told Bernard Lane (The Australian) that universities should be accountable to parliament. Ye Gods – have they all forgotten the way VCs fought tooth and nail to have TEQSA’s powers reduced? And can you imagine the opportunities for interference parliamentary oversight would provide. There is not a journalist alive that would not love to report VCs appearing at Senate Estimates but after generations of complaining about bureaucrats sticking their bibs in I cannot imagine many university chiefs enjoying it. Then again, perhaps it is a case of Stockholm Syndrome, perhaps Canberra has bossed universities around for so long that people can’t imagine an end to the intrusion.

However it isn’t just academics who like the idea of oversight. The Business Council of Australia‘s submission to the Senate review calls for; “an oversight role to monitor the market to minimise the potential for long-term costs to government, overpricing and poor value for money and recommends it intervene, if necessary, in thin markets. This role could be given to an already established body with knowledge of market design, or the government may wish to establish an independent body.” Gosh, they could call it (and here’s one for the veterans) the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission. Even among declared supporters of deregulation ample ambivalence about the way it would work is starting to show.

Quick questions

For the last couple of years the National Tertiary Education Union has worked on a better deal for predominantly teaching sessional staff and now it is extending its interest to research-only workers. The union is circulating a survey on working conditions and while it is relevant to all researchers the questions particularly apply to people on fixed term contracts. HR directors watch out.

Out of the ground

The state of the deregulation debate was summed up in Question Time in the Reps yesterday, when Amanda Rishworth, Labor’s higher education spokeswomen in the chamber presented Chris Pyne with a free kick. She said the Australian Technology Network was not happy with the plan to set HELP interest at the Commonwealth bond rate and when will the minister abandon his plan to “Americanise Australian universities”. She gift-wrapped a second free kick by saying Universities Australia opposed the bond rate and when will the minister etc. Then Terri Butler (Labor, Griffith quoted criticism by CQU VC Scott Bowman. Mr Pyne duly took his gifted kicks and booted thrice the rhetorical ball out of the ground. He quoted ATN, UA and CQU supporting deregulation, adding that yes they wanted amendments and he was talking. But, he added Labor had dealt itself out of the policy debate and “was standing on the sidelines whistling Dixie.” Funnily enough Bill Shorten did not come over all outraged at the accusation he is a latter day confederate, instead Labor switched targets and asked Nats leader and acting PM Warren Truss why his party was selling out country kids by, you guessed it, Americanising the system. Mr Truss marked easily.

Kim kicks one back

But Kim Carr never gives up. Yesterday afternoon the shadow education minister seized on a submission to the Senate deregulation inquiry from the Western Australian National Party critical of the Pyne package. “The WA Nationals have belled the cat. It’s time for this charade to end, for the Federal Nationals to admit they’ve got it wrong, and demand that its Coalition partner go back to the drawing board with their unfair changes,” Senator Carr said. Sure it was against the flow of parliamentary play but a goal is a goal.

And Bill wants to film it

Right after Question Time yesterday Labor leader Shorten sent the cyber hat around party loyalists, “we want to make an ad showing just what an American higher education system looks like. We’ll put it out online, targeting people we know the Liberals will try to win over in 2016. Can you chip in $25 to make this happen? … The Liberal’s changes to university funding is something that all Australians are worried about -– from students to grandparents, people don’t want to see a university education depending on a parent’s bank account instead of hard work and good marks.  But once the Liberal ad blitz of Campaign 2016 starts, Australians might forget just how harsh these changes are. So we want to make an ad that Australian voters won’t forget.  We have a production crew on standby and if we raise $10,000 we can start filming right away.” Is that a concession that Mr Pyne has the numbers in the Senate and the fight is all over? I doubt it. He doesn’t, at least not yet, and it isn’t.

Charming chancellor

Macquarie University Chancellor Michael Egan set out his law of graduation ceremony success, yesterday: “if a baby cries in a ceremony they are certain to come back within 25 years to take out their first PhD.” He added that upset infants should stay in the auditorium, “we have all heard crying babies before”. As a way of putting the mums in the audience at ease it could not have been bettered. As a way of demonstrating that the day belonged to graduands and the people who love them it was first rate.

Investing in advice

The Financial Services Council has reversed a long-standing policy and is now calling for government regulation of the advice industry. I’m guessing this would ultimately involve more oversight of academic standards and more opportunities to run accredited masters. Preferably ones with really hard units on ethics.

Winners of the week

With the university lobbies as much on side as they will ever be Christopher Pyne is in as good a position as possible to lean on the cross benchers to pass his package, making him a big winner this week. But for poise he could not compare with Australian Catholic University VC Greg Craven, whose performance before the Senate committee on deregulation was so calm that even Kim Carr needling him about his salary had no discernible impact. In contrast University of Canberra VC Stephen Parker’s submission to the same committee was all passionate opposition to deregulating student fees. Other VCs share his concerns but Professor Parker is game to go unequivocally on the record. In the real, well real-ish world, two UWS emigres had good weeks. Wayne McKenna, sometime DVC research at UWS moved to the same job at ACU in 2012. Since then he has worked on a bold research strategy, which now seems set with the appointment of leaders of the last two research centres. And Kerri-Lee Krause announced she would finish up as interim DVC education at UWS to become provost at Victoria University in the new-year.

Field speaks up

Claire Field, former chief of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training, has made a considered submission to the Senate inquiry on deregulation. While Ms Field does not give the government a free pass on the detail, overall she backs the plan. “The reforms proposed in the bill are significant and will make a profound difference to the higher education sector. In their current form they will bring greater equity to non-university higher education students. With minor modifications the reforms will provide greater student benefit, strengthen the higher education system by encouraging institutions to deliver a wider range of specialist, high quality programs, and ensure a maximum return on public investment in the sector.”  It’s an independent assessment not a partisan endorsement but one with detailed criticism.