Plus Andy Vann wants to stay at Charles Sturt and Brian Schmidt says no to deregulation

For those just joining

It’s back to back to business for most in the HE and VET communities this week, including CMM but here’s what you might have missed over the break. A full report of today’s mayhem as usual tomorrow.


Bye bye Briggs

The campus lamentations were restrained when Jamie Briggs resigned from the ministry on December 29 over an “error of professional judgement” involving a female public servant in a Hong Kong bar. Mr Briggs is well known in universities for suggesting the Australian Research Council “has spent millions of taxpayers’ dollars on questionable research projects.” Perhaps a university will make him a visiting professor for populist stunts.

Beginning as they mean to go on

Education Minister Simon Birmingham was fast off the election year blocks on New Year’s Day with a media release promising people with HECS debts now resident overseas will be subject to repayment requirements as if they were still in Australia. While the government estimates such debtors now cost the Commonwealth $20-$30m per annum the minister wisely declined to state how much cash will be recovered.

Senator Birmingham was followed by his junior colleague, Training Minister Luke Hartsuyker announcing the December crackdown on for-profit training providers, “will strengthen the integrity of the current VET-FEE HELP scheme ahead of a fundamental redesign of the scheme for 2017.” Funnily enough, Mr Hartsuyker did not mention any money the Commonwealth could recover from the shysters who have crippled the credibility of the entire for-profit training industry, basically because there likely won’t be any.

Flinders was the first university with an announcement, getting in early to announce that its $60m Student Hub and Plaza, opening in March would be the basis of its 50th anniversary celebrations. Victoria U followed with VC Peter Dawkins heralding Footscray firework “as VU marks the beginning of its centenary year.”

And Brian Schmidt certainly started as he means to go on, announcing on New Year’s Day his new twitter account, @VC_ANU and thanking his predecessor Ian “the gent” Young. Professor Young repaid the compliment by becoming one of the first followers. But on the morning of day two in the job the new VC was making it plain that he did not share Young‘s enthusiasm for fee-deregulation. Talking on Radio National, Professor Schmidt said that while the existing student loan system is “fair and equitable” it would “very challenging” to make it work if undergraduate fees were deregulated. “We need to think outside the current box,” he said.

Vann’s their man

Charles Sturt VC Andrew Vann says he wants to stay for a second term and at year’s end announced he was in the process of finalising renewal terms with the university council. His existing contract expires at the end of the year.

ANU Dec 15 3

QUT-rassic Park

CMM is a big fan of QUT’s The Cube, 190 sq metres of screens across two stories that immerse visitors in interactive displays. The day CMM visited a Great Barrier Reef scene was on show with digitalised fish swimming through a coral sea. It was immensely impressive, not least when its builders explained the computing-power that makes it happen. For the school holidays The Cube is presenting “Dino Zoo” with ten digital dinosaurs roaming across the screens. The AI picks up the presence of people via laser sensors and the dinos respond appropriately, which is why QUT warns, “a life-sized dinosaur isn’t cuddly or friendly. While the experience can be a lot of fun, some children might need the comfort of a brave adult ranger to ensure a positive experience.” Much like some (but not QUT‘s Peter Coaldrake) vice chancellors.

Taking it up to the opposition

The University of Notre Dame spruiked study at its Sydney campus over the summer with big banners attached to streetlights on the city’s Broadway, up the road from its compact Chippendale campus.  The polyester promos are conveniently placed outside enormous UTS buildings, one of which could probably accommodate UoND’s entire enrolment.

My Skills misses

Training Minister Luke Hartsuyker was out on January 1 talking up training and suggesting people interested in voced study should stay clear of the shonks by first checking the My Skills website. Perhaps Mr Hartsuyker should do exactly that before talking it up, because the site is a shocker. It packages course information and lists providers with no guide to quality and will be as comprehensible to most 18 year olds as an ASQA announcement (see below). To see how bad this site is compare it with the quality QILT guide to higher education.

Second to land

The University of Queensland was very pleased with itself on Christmas Eve, reporting that by combining its scramjet with a rocket launcher with wings and a propeller-driven engine it had created an 85 per cent recyclable satellite launch system. Stellar achievement, shame about the timing. It followed Elon Musk’s Space X successfully launching and landing an unmanned rocket.

Uniquely excellent, just like the competition

University information days last week prompted UNSW nano physicist Adam Micolich to offer aspiring students advice on what to expect from campus life and what to believe in marketing bumf. It was solid, sensible stuff, which marketing directors should also read.

“Universities are businesses, and in this modern era, they will throw their full marketing arsenal at you … the key trick the universities use are what I call the ‘weasel words’. Hey, why get a science degree when you can have an ‘advanced’ science degree? That other university? Well it’s nice, but look at our world-class facilities and exemplary thought-leaders who are the pre-eminent agenda-defining researchers of their generation. Blah blah blah… I’m not a commentator, but welcome to the smoke and mirrors game,” he advised.

To find their way through it he suggests people should work out what matters to them and ask lots of questions.

Quite right. It would be even better if universities actually communicated their brands on the basis of what they actually do and why they are best for what sorts of students instead of using interchangeable aphorisms. But that would mean institutions having a clear idea of the attributes that do distinguish them from their competitors expressed by distinct brands. Some do (Uni Melbourne, ACU and Fed U for example). Most don’t.

Seasonal statements

Also on Christmas Eve TEQSA chief executive Anthony McClaran was overwhelmed by seasonal sensibilities, tweeting, “TEQSA‘s Regulator Performance Framework 2015-16 approved by minister.” Serious sort of chap is Mr McClaran. But he is jovial indeed compared to the whacky funsters at the Australian Skills Quality Authority who announced new standards for Registered Training Organisations, also on Christmas Eve. They include qualifications that people who assess, but do not deliver training, must have, such as that seasonal favourite TAESS00001 Assessor Skill Set (or its successor) just the thing trainers wanted to see under the tree. scared shiftless

Some 90 delegates met at a closed Max Planck Institute conference last month to discuss how to convert subscription/pay per view journals to open access. At least that is what we are told – as the constant chronicler of OA Richard Poynder points out, we do not know the detail of what was discussed or why it was in secret. CMM has an idea it might be because what was agreed was to merely change the way governments pay publishers to package research that the state funded in the first place. Last April the MPI published a paper on how “article processing charges (aka gold open access) should become universal” and this is the payment paradigm shift it has in mind. But much of a shift it isn’t. Where publishers now charge readers and their institutions to read articles based on publicly funded research the new model will require institutions to pay to publish in journals available to all – thus protecting the principal of journal publishing, charging for content they have not created. This is undoubtedly an inconvenience for the industry but it will not scare them shiftless.