NTEU makes a measured submission to the Commission of Audit

England to adopt demand driven funding

The British Government will end its cap on student numbers in England “altogether” in 2015, Times Higher Education reports. Expect supporters of the status quo to tell the Kemp-Norton review about this loudly and often. It is impossible to imagine a stronger international endorsement of present policy and the university community’s core belief that education drives economic growth and social mobility.

Here’s hoping

From the Prime Minister’s Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop lecture in Melbourne last night; “under the New Colombo Plan, thousands of Australian undergraduates will study at the universities of Asia and the Pacific, complementing the thousands who come to Australia to study each year. We will return the compliment that the region has paid to us by learning as much in their countries as they have learnt in ours. Over time, a period of study in the Asia Pacific should become a “rite of passage” for Australian undergraduates.”

Case against cuts 

The National Tertiary Education Union’s submission to the Commission of Audit is around and it is predictable as it is professional. And it is predictable indeed. As with just about every other higher education submission it concedes nothing on cuts, claiming any loss of public money would be a disaster for the nation. But it is also particularly professional – making a strong case that higher education has already copped more than its share of budget reductions, losing $4bn since 2011. The submission also argues the existing contestable research-funding model is bad for researchers and productivity.

It is especially impressive in showing why selling the student loan book without destroying the purpose of income contingent loans is just too hard. The union argues that interest on privatised HECS should continue to be nominal, only increasing at the rate of the CPI and that existing thresholds and payment schedules remain. This rather makes redundant the third condition, that Canberra continues to provide student loans. Given the first two why would a bank bother?

Overall, the NTEU’s is a carefully worded, closely argued document that the commissioners will not be able to easily dismiss as yet more special-interest pleading. Except for one phrase, which will likely put their backs up, the way the focus on research quality is attributed to “the cult of accountability.” What’s a cult to the NTEU is a fundamental of good government to people charged with ensuring taxes are well spent.

(Pork) barrel of laughs

Thanks to CRC Association chief Tony Peacock for the news that “Mutton succeeds Keniry as Pork CRC chair.” Dennis Mutton took over from Mr Keniry as chair at the beginning of the month.

Good but not good enough

It’s business as usual in the voc ed industry – which is not all that flash. New stats from the endlessly energetic National Centre for Vocational Education Research set out student satisfaction and employment outcomes for 2012 completers. Some 22 per cent of course completers were not in work and of them 60 per cent of students who weren’t employed before their course weren’t after it either. The best to be said is that the situation isn’t significantly worse than the year before. The good news is that the vast majority of course graduates were satisfied with course quality and the way it met their needs.

I’ll have a short green please 

Swedish researchers find environment focused consumers prefer, and will pay more, for coffee labelled eco-friendly, even when they preferred another brand in a blind test. Standby for fast-food coffee in green cups.

Winning for Wollongong

A week that started woefully wound up well for Paul Wellings of Wollongong (alright, I’ll stop now). At the start of the week the university copped one across the chops when it was reported to be freezing appointments and investments. (In fact the rate of growth is slowing.) But it ended well for Vice Chancellor Paul Wellings, with news that the state government is kicking in $16m for the University of Wollongong’s iAccelerate Centre. This is not as impressive as it sounds – iAccelerate is a building, not a super-fast nano particle firing machine. But it’s a building intended to house up to 300 start-up businesses, with access to the university’s well-regarded IT community. It’s a good move for the Gong, suffering as its old heavy industry base less erodes than implodes and its youth unemployment rate remains way too high (13 per cent for Wollongong city, 21 per cent for the surrounding Illawarra region). Wellings has form in kick-starting research based businesses. As VC at the University of Lancaster he built industry links, lifted research performance and wrote a major report on the relationship between research and commercialisation for the UK Government. The new centre will be built in the university’s research precinct, which has some fine architecture, escarpment views and a seriously beautiful beach over the road and through a park. Lots of worse places for entrepreneurs to be.

Cut and cut again

Bond University cut 24 staff last year as the high dollar and open access in public universities reduced student demand. And now Vice Chancellor Tim Brailsford is having another go, announcing 70 administrators and 23 academics are taking redundancy, “with no forced redundancies among the administration.” Does this mean some of the academics did not go quietly? However the university is adamant a local press report that the “development institute” is closing is incorrect. In fact, the Institute of Sustainable Development and Architecture is merging with humanities/social science to form a new faculty. This, the university says, will mean “new offerings” in sustainability, global studies and creative media and “convergence” in a bunch of other disciplines. There is no word if any courses are cancelled.

If we could talk to the animals

They would probably tell us what duffers we are. Professor Maciej Henneberg from the University of Adelaide explains why are not smarter than other species; “animals offer different kinds of intelligences which have been under-rated due to humans’ fixation on language and technology. These include social and kinaesthetic intelligence. Some mammals, like gibbons, can produce a large number of varied sounds – over 20 different sounds with clearly different meanings that allow these arboreal primates to communicate across tropical forest canopy.  The fact that they do not build houses is irrelevant to the gibbons.” Unless of course the gibbons are waiting for the Reserve Bank to cut rates before beginning building.

Debt hexes

The Washington Post reports average student study debt for the 70 per cent of the class of 2012 who borrowed to study is US$29,000. It does not sound much compared to the horror stories of Ivy League tuition and board payable in gold bars, and lots of them – but I bet it is a challenge for the people who have to pay back the loans (no deferred income scheme for them). The contrast with here is instructive. The average HECS debt (admittedly for everybody not just recent students) is around $12,000.