Plus what’s in a name at WSU and university utopias in the thick of it  

Eric the ill-informed

Employment Minister Eric Abetz responds to Kim Carr asking what start day is in the next iteration of the deregulation legislation. “I think everybody on our side would like to see a commencement date of 1 January 2016.” Ye Gods, does the minister have any idea the problems start in 14 weeks would create? Silly question really.


If Australian higher education was a television series which one would it be, Group of Eight CEO Vicki Thomson wondered aloud yesterday. Perhaps, she said, it would be Utopia, but CMM suspects not, it is far too optimistic about the way we are governed. Or maybe, she suggested, The Thick of It but that can’t be right – Malcolm Tucker would be way too naive for a Universities Australia meeting. What about Hollowmen? Hardly – higher education politics staggers under the weight of debates not slogans. No, it has to be The West Wing, where brilliant policy wonks always manage to convince enough senators to support more education funding. Oh that it was so.

ANU June 4

How markets work, and don’t

John Daly from the Grattan Institute delivered his usual content-rich address to the TAFE conference in Hobart yesterday. There was much in his presentation the public sector providers must have liked. Such as his list of the limitations of markets in education and training, notably the way consumers do not have all the information they need to make informed decisions and the fact that they do not spend their own money. However they probably accepted rather than embraced his suggestions that consumers generally know what they want which can lead to institutions focusing on them rather than “farming the subsidy”. But no one could argue with his overall conclusion that market design is critical; “government subsidies require government controls on quality and if prices are unregulated outcomes need to be visible.”

People skills

Toby Walsh from NICTA suggests, “robots will do almost every job better than humans” (Twitter yesterday). Perhaps excepting spending of public money on IT research.

What’s in a name

At Western Sydney University, UWS as was, the university council has endorsed the new name, which is good given the millions reportedly spent on the rebranding and the political capital it cost, with students petitioning management to stick with the old logo.

Problem is that the new name has no standing under the university’s legislation. As DVC Denise Patrick reports to staff, the Australian Research Council will continue to refer to WSU as the University of Western Sydney, which is the legal entity under its NSW incorporating legislation. CMM asked about this back in May and was told by a university spokesperson that, “the university has no intention of changing the University of Western Sydney Act” (CMM May 14). This is true sort-of, state parliament must make the change but Professor Kirkpatrick says the name change process “has been instigated.”

In the meantime, “when drafting letters of commitment, support or clearances for proposed projects we recommend that you make a reference to our legal name … perhaps somewhere within the footer and note that we are now trading as “Western Sydney University”. Heaven forfend that anybody would ever miss the “western” and confuse this Sydney university with that other one to the east.

Big for the band

The UoQ Big Band will tour the US in April, playing in Los Angeles and New York (at Carnegie Hall no less!). What’s more it will appear with sax man Bob Mintzer and trumpeter Randy Brecker. Even better, they will get to play with Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band. For everybody but CMM and the readers who dig jazz (how are you both?) this may not sound like a big deal but it really is big for the band.

What price funding security

The frank Vicki Thomson, CEO of the Group of Eight, was at her frankest in a speech yesterday, where she made the case for sustainable higher education funding in general and for her members in particular. But her frankness was fullest in describing why Labor and the Coalition get away with underfunding universities and the price of funding security.

“To some extent we have ourselves to blame. Universities have not been good at spelling out how essential they are to every Australian or even how much they deliver into the economy, which is a lot. I’m not sure why this has occurred. Maybe we felt we should stay above the fray and concentrate on delivering. Admirable but it hasn’t worked.”

So what will? “Maybe in time if this is not resolved it will take an Australian university to close its doors before we can have politicians from all parties seek a viable funding solution,” she said.

If this ever happens, take it from CMM, it won’t be one of the Eight that goes under.

Headline of the week

The winner is Flinders University, for “seaweed research steps up pace.” That is all.

Same old at the eight

Want to know why demand driven funding is here to stay? Regional University Network chief Jan Thomas explains. “There is still a long way to go before there is parity in higher education participation between regional Australians and those in capital cities. That is why keeping the demand driven system for undergraduate students is so important.”

Professor Thomas was commenting on a new analysis of equity groups enrolments by Paul Koshy and Richard Seymour from Curtin University (CMM yesterday). There would certainly be uproar in the bush if enrolments at country campuses were capped.

But who weren’t commenting on the new equity stats yesterday were Group of Eight VCs. This might seem strange given the way some of them talk up their commitment to access for disadvantaged Australians. But maybe not, the new figures show the Group of Eight did not lift its proportion of low SES enrolments from 2007 to 2014, In ’07 low SES students accounted for 16.2 per cent of total enrolments, of which the Eight took 10.1 per cent. Last year the biggest equity group made up 17.9 per cent of the undergraduate total but the Eight took just 11 per cent.

Change agent of the day

The process for a restructure of services at Charles Sturt University rolls on with the National Tertiary Education Union increasingly anxious over how many staff and which workplaces across the network will be affected. According to NTEU branch vice president David Ritchie, “there are now suggestions that staff groups previously thought to be untouched by the current reviews, such as catering, will be revisited. It appears that the lower levels of employment categories are likely to be the most adversely affected, and this has implications for the ongoing casualisation of the workforce with an erosion.

criterion update