Plus trial by ordeal in Senate estimates 

Takes the cake

Librarians Sarah Charing and Sophie Kollo have won the University of Melbourne’s literary cake competition with an edible tableau of the Three Little Pigs. Their cake beat a sculpture of the Tardis and Daleks and a scannable QR code cake that connected to a book online. CMM wonders if cakes qualify for ARC excellence metrics.

Birmingham ups the argument

Federal training minister Simon Birmingham has warned that 10 000 jobs are at risk from the South Australian government’s plan to reserve publicly funded training places to TAFE for two years, which he says puts the state in breach of long-standing National Partnership Agreement on Skill Reform. “South Australia‘s training market should be more contestable year on year throughout the life of the agreement rather than less in the fourth and fifth years as under your proposed arrangement,” Senator Birmingham said in a letter to his state counterpart Gail Gago yesterday. Ms Gago has defended the policy as giving TAFE needed time to become more competitive. However Senator Birmingham argues this will come at the expense of training  jobs and the needs of the labour market.

Senator Birmingham did not threaten withholding $65m in federal funds, as widely canvassed, but his request for detailed information on the move is designed to place the responsibility on South Australia if he does.

This is a crucial argument for both Canberra and state governments across the country intent on protecting their TAFE systems from for-profit competitors and is a proxy for the national debate over deregulation in all of post secondary education. Until now public sector supporters have been able to argue that private providers have rorted the  system with sub-standard courses and that TAFE provides a superior product. But by attempting to insulate TAFE from competition Ms Gago has made the government system look inferior. “Students told me they had chosen a private training provider because the public options did not provide the flexibility they needed for their work and family situations,” Senator Birmingham said.

Popular front

The government is less hinting than shouting it wants academics to pal up with industry in research and universities are also looking for a competitive edge by creating work opportunities for undergraduates. Universities Australia has always been big on business but excelled itself yesterday in responding to the Australian Industry Group’s new business leadership plan. AIG wants to work with education institutions and encourages its members to do the same. “Collaboration between our schools, academic institutions and business will be fundamental to innovation and sustainability,” it announced. This strikes UA as a splendid idea; “it is important for our future economic prosperity and productivity to have greater collaboration between business, government and higher education institutions at all levels. We cannot be complacent about our position in the world, or take our relative strengths in industry, education or research for granted,” deputy CEO Anne-Marie Lansdown said.

ANU new 1

No accounting for taste

Social class filters musical taste according to research by Gerry Veenstra from the University of British Columbia. Poorer people (just not the same ones) like disco, heavy metal and (shudder) easy listening. Wealthier and better-educated citizens love, jazz, classical and show tunes. But how does this account for the emerging hipster affection for country and western? As Duke Ellington might have said, “it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that (ironic) swing.”

End of work outings

The future just got bleaker for everybody who has ever loved going on a course to get out of the office. It isn’t looking so flash for the people who teach job skills either. The Office of Best Practice Regulation, based in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, has just commissioned Open Learning Australia to teach a MOOC on how to deliver a regulatory impact analysis, which thousands of staff apparently need to know how to do.

“Ah,” say people running expensive pubic policy masters – “this is mere competency training, unlike the high level conceptual skills we teach ” True, CMM replies but imagine the vast numbers of customer service functions that public servants, need to know. And how much cheaper a MOOC will make teaching them compared to sending people off to three-star resorts for a few days.

Wanting what they pay for

Advocates of deregulated student fees take note – paying customers, sorry students, want what they see as value for money and are very keen to know where there fees go, at least in the UK. A survey for the UK Higher Education Academy finds undergraduates do not like less than ten contact hours a week and are unhappy if classes have more than 50 people. “They also care more about whether their lecturers are trained to teach and have professional expertise than whether they are active researchers.”

 Dolt of the day

Is CMM. University of Sydney fundraising chief Tim Dolan advises that CMM’s email edition yesterday was wrong to date the start of the University of Melbourne’s “Believe” campaign to 2013. He says it started in 2008, the same year as Sydney’s “Inspire”. Both had big public launches in 2013.

It’s all relative,innit! 

The University of Sydney campaign (above) has just beat Uni Melbourne to $A500m. This week Harvard hit US$400m – in one new donation, the biggest in its history. It came from some time student and now fundie John Paulson. Harvard’s total endowment is an estimated $US35bn.

UoQ honours

The University of Queensland has issued its service and leadership awards, with most going to the boys and girls in the backroom who keep the joint ticking over. The leadership excellence awards went to Aspro Diann Eley, for “the creation of a range of research experiences” for medical students and research manager Nicole Thompson, who looks after grants management, human ethics and animal welfare.

Trial by ordeal

Kim Carr asking Robert Griew question in Senate estimates the other night was like a medieval exchange of verbal blows between a knight with a very broad rhetorical sword and an opponent with a huge shield. Labor Senator Kim “black knight” Carr (was his black vest wool or chain mail?) delivered ponderous blows which Education Department official Mr Griew carefuly blocked. They were duelling, sorry dealing with the timing of the process to establish Bjorn Lomborg’s now aborted research centre at the University of Western Australia. After 11 hours (it seemed like it) both were upright although CMM wonders if any university will want to accept federal funding for Dr Lomborg’s project (some unnamed institutions are said to be interested) if it means attracting ponderous, but persistent interest from the relentless Senator Carr.

Less fun than it sounds

The Grattan Institute is holding a “State of Affairs” seminar in Brisbane on June 18. Yes, CMM agrees it reads like a number plate promotion of Queensland as the national leader for infidelity. In fact it is the title of a series, with this session examining the cost of chronic disease.

Few free

Peter Suber director of Harvard’s Office for Scholarly Communications is urging people to add to the list of “toll access” scholarly journals that have converted to open readership. Given there are 20 000 or so journals the list of those who have gone green isn’t long. That it is now easy (at least in production terms) for research societies to publish their own shows the hold the for-profit publishers have on scholarly publishing culture.