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Return of the ancien regime

Just four years after demand driven funding was adopted as bipartisan national policy and one after it was endorsed by the Kemp-Norton review, policy bourbons are raising regulating undergraduate access. People, and not just Kim Carr, are also talking about compacts, which would have individual universities and Canberra agreeing on functions and funding. So we have moved from a debate over deregulation to demands for reregulation in weeks. But that’s bourbons for you, they may not like new ideas but they never forget what they want.

TAFE directors back Pyne Package

There are duelling Senate inquiries into the Pyne Package MkII, one by the Education and Employment References Committee into “the principles of the Higher Education and Research Reform Bill 2014 and related matters,” brought on by the Opposition and one by the Education and Employment Legislation Committee into the bill, which originated with the government. Both are due to report on March 17 but I wonder how organisations will create distinctly different submissions to each committee.

TAFE Directors Australia is in early with a submission to the Legislation Committee, and it will please Mr Pyne indeed. In a week when members of the higher education policy community started advocating re-regulating the TAFE directors backed the Pyne package as good for young Australians who it can help be first in their family to access higher education via TAFE. “The opportunity for students to remain at TAFE as they undertake higher qualifications is a key benefit of the reforms,” TDA argues.

“To date, Commonwealth funding is allocated almost exclusively to university students for undergraduate course enrolments and completions. Yet, many TAFE students are first in family to undertake higher education, and are often from lower SES and disadvantaged backgrounds. Domestic and international research demonstrates that the prospect of university education can be intimidating and a ‘step too far’ for many of these students. Greater choice in higher education provider, along with more equitable funding arrangements, may ease barriers to participation and will be welcomed by many students and parents.

“If supported, the Bill will address funding inequities in the current system and will have significant flow-on effects for Australia’s industries, workforce productivity and Australia’s standing in international tertiary education markets.”

This is a big, win for Minister Pyne, as he will tell everybody who will listen, and some senators who will not, in the month or so before the bill comes before the Senate.

Underwater job generator

Ex Pacific Dunlop chief John Pollaers, now a fellow at the University of Melbourne is very keen on building the new class of RAN submarines here. Apparently they must be a priority for the government’s new Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre to help build the post commodity boom economy. And there I was thinking that the priorities were to build the subs wherever the navy could be sure the boats (a) wouldn’t sink and (b) protect Australia.

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Not what the doctor ordered

Health Minister Susan Ley came close to admitting on ABC Radio’s AM yesterday that the Medical Research Future Fund is a posthumous parrot. The AMA will not wear it being funded by a GP co-payment, which means the MRFF needs new money, of which there is not much about. This fritzed the fund from the start – to have any hope of an infusion of research capital the medical research establishment needed to back the idea and hard. The MRFF Action Group never amounted to much and demands that the fund be created without cuts to other health spending areas or increased consumer costs makes it easy for the government to abandon it, which now looks like happening. It’s an excellent example of demanding everything and getting nothing – as could occur to the various lobbies in higher education, which confused the deregulation debate by demanding the Pyne reforms deliver more money to specific sectional interests.

Pyne bangs on

Senator John Madigan posted a video of him and Chris Pyne smithing on a school visit (CMM yesterday), which the minister obviously enjoyed, banging a piece of hot metal with vim and vigour. It was captioned “forging a future for young people?” which strangely has not led to any stories about a deal on deregulation! But the minister did hint on how things are going yesterday, saying the senator had “helped me gain new skills for a possible post political career.” That’s got to be enough for a “Pyne acknowledges defeat” story in the papers.

Value for money

Demonstrating some medical researchers do get out of bed for less than $20bn, Christopher Weir from Walter and Eliza Hall is using Pozible to crowd source funding for research on a protein that may make a malaria vaccine. With two weeks to go Mr Weir needs another $5000 – his Pozible page is here.

UA’s pragmatic pitch

Universities Australia’s budget submission is in and no, it is not last year’s with the dates of the budget period ending crossed out and those of the new financial year added in crayon, although given the way measures from May are still not passed UA could have.

This is a realistic pitch, calling for Pyne MkII, as amended according to UA concerns, to pass and especially endorsing demand driven funding. It makes a strong case for continuing ARC Future Fellowships, which the government warns will go unless Pyne passes and calls for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme to be funded, presumably in perpetuity, at $200m a year. UA says that number comes from “advice” from the Department of Education, which is a nice touch. The lobby also calls on the government to drop last year’s proposed 10 per cut and commensurate introduction of postgraduate student fees for the Research Training Scheme.

And while UA wants much more, it obviously understands the temper of the times. “Once a more robust budget position has been achieved, the government should consider increasing support for the indirect cost of university research in line with previous funding targets,” it recommends. “As Budget circumstances allow, the government should also consider increasing funding support for international collaboration,” it suggests.

It’s sensible stuff, asking for a bunch of new spending would only detract attention from deregulation, which for UA stays the main game. I wonder if there is a supplementary bid to go in if the Senate knocks back Mr Pyne’s package.

ANU tap into

Open UniversityTS

The UK Open University has lost another senior staffer to Australia. Just as Martin Bean, OU’s former VC, takes over at RMIT comes news Peter Scott will move to UTS as Assistant DVC education. Scott now runs the OU’s Knowledge Media Institute, which researches technology and learning. Rather than the usual tedious corporate statement the UTS announcement was tweeted by Shirley Alexander who should know. She’s DVC Education.

Ground down by age and debt

Thomas Richardson from the UK’s University of Southampton surveyed students to assess the impact of student fees on their mental health. He concludes that while young people sometimes worry about study debt in general it does not bother them. Perhaps this is why the Pyne package has not upset the generality of students all that much but is exercising their parents – home mortgages focus the mind wonderfully.