Why the wheezing Mr Ed?

“Do you and your horse both have asthma?” the University of Adelaide asked yesterday in a media release. Presumably U of A has no interest in plebs who walk.

Undercooked interns

As I tweeted last night, Universities Australia will announce good news for delegates to its conference, which starts this morning – an agreement for an internship program with peak industry bodies. People briefed on the plan say it comes out of Chief Scientist Ian Chubb’s thinking on industry-education links, although some observers suggest the scheme still needs work. “Undercooked” was how one described it to me the other day.

Big asks

The campaign at Swinburne University to ratify/reject management’s proposed enterprise agreement is in full swing with the two side’s strategies revealing how they are feeling. Staff will vote tomorrow. The National Tertiary Education Union is keeping the no case short and sweet. It warns that voting for the management offer will mean, “senior management accountability: GONE?”, “protection against bullying: TO BE SLASHED?” and so forth and so on. As for management’s offer of a $1000 signing on bonus – it’s in the bag. “Voting NO will strengthen our bargaining position and the sign-on payment will be a feature of any future agreement.”
In contrast, management sets out the university’s case in a ponderous point-by-point pamphlet, which answers its interpretation of union allegations. But it also concludes with cash; “the only way to definitely secure your 3.1.% salary increase, sign-on bonus and all the staff benefits available is to vote YES this week.” Do many Swinburne staff understand all the issues? I doubt it. Which makes urging a vote for change a big ask. Are people sick of a year-long dispute? I am sure of it. Which ensures the status quo is equally unpalatable. I wonder if there is a “plague on both your houses” option on the ballot.

Leader Linda steps up

Last night Swinburne VC Linda Kristjanson made a last-minute appeal to staff to vote for management’s offer. It’s a well-written document that appeals to the entire university community, “while the NTEU represents its members, we want to ensure that all of our staff have an equal and direct voice in this process,” she writes. Professor Kristjanson sticks to the high policy ground, presenting the new workload model as fair and equitable and she appeals to staff pride in the university, calling on them, “to set a confident direction for our future, to stop the harmful industrial environment we have all endured for the last 12 months, and refocus on the things that matter – our people, our university and our future.”
There is also an underlying realpolitik in her message, which raises, but does not resolve, the fundamental issue. “With two federal government reviews currently underway and the federal budget approaching in May 2014, we know we will continue to face uncertainty this year. … If our funding or revenues are cut and we don’t have a new agreement in place, we will need to re-evaluate our 3.1% salary increase and sign-on bonus, depending on our financial situation. This isn’t an idle statement – it is simply logic and will be our reality, as following the federal budget outcomes in May, what we can offer in any subsequent vote may be very different. This is what we stand to lose in not securing an agreement now, and returning to bargaining with indefinite uncertainty around our people’s pay and benefits.” Good-oh, but even if staff endorse the university’s offer, what will happen if the university’s expected increases in public funding are reduced so that it will struggle to fund the pay rise in the out years? Just asking.

Worse at UWS

And if you think things are tough at Swinburne, at least people have a chance to vote. At the University of Western Sydney bargaining started in November, that’s November 2012. And there is no sign of a result. The NTEU says rolling strikes start on Friday.

Opaque arts 

Adepts of the dark ARC arts will want to read Tim Cahill and Christopher Curran’s guide to changes to Excellence in Research for Australia 2015. They are described as “proposed changes” but does anybody want to argue with the people who really understand this stuff – and who work for metrics wizard Aiden Byrne? There is a bunch of administrative issues  (a standardised list of publisher names) but also some significant sounding stuff. For example, there is a new report to, “provide universities with more detail for each peer reviewed unit of evaluation” by showing how individual reviewers judged quality of outputs. Sound simple? I’m betting it isn’t.

The cut you have when you’re not having a cut

Close observers (aren’t we all?) of Christopher Pyne’s pronouncements know he does not shy away from expensive generalities – like his suggestions demand driven funding for undergraduate places is a pretty good idea. Other ministers are equally expansive. Yesterday at the bionic brain bash (ours for just $250m) Health Minister Peter Dutton said the government would “continue to work with the research sector” and “a strategy for implementing the recommendations on inspiring smarter brain research in Australia is due to be released later this year.”

But given the government also says spare sponduliks are elusive in these hard times where is the cash to come from, especially as the government promises no cuts? By reducing the rate of spending growth in other areas is where, as Minister Pyne made plain to Fran Kelly on RN yesterday. Sound familiar? What it sounds like is Craig Emerson announcing his higher education efficiency dividend last April? “The efficiency dividend only means growth will moderate,” he said. Universities that have budgeted on indexation increases from Canberra to pay for programs and pay rises should pay close attention to what Mr Pyne says next.

Where’s Di?

The Equity and Diversity unit at Macquarie University will celebrate International Women’s Day with speeches by DVC Deidre Anderson and university council member Sandra Nori. Did they forget Macquarie’s own pioneering vice chancellor Di Yerbury?. 

Tackling TEQSA

The joint government party room approved sending TEQSA reform legislation to the parliament yesterday. While no one is talking about the contents it is a fair bet that it is in line with the Lee Dow-Braithwaite report, which politely but firmly suggested the agency stop throwing its weight around. Anybody interested might get a sense of the bills content when TEQSA appears before Senate estimates tomorrow. What will be equally interesting is what Kim Carr does there. Certainly he commissioned Lee Dow-Braithwaite and appeared impressed with its outcome. Then again, now he is in opposition he is agin the efficiency dividends proposed by his predecessor as university minister, Craig Emerson.

Watts on first

Copyright reform, that’s what. Tim Watts, the (Labor) member for Gellibrand,responded  in the Reps the other night to Attorney General’s George Brandis’s  speech on copyright reform. The Attorney said he was sceptical about the Australian Law Reform Commission’s case for a fair use clause.  Mr Watts was reprising his maiden speech, in which he argued, “in the absence of a broad-based fair-use exception, innovations like the Google search engine and the iPod were legally problematic under Australian law upon introduction—chilling incentives for digital innovation in this country.”  Good-oh. I wonder if Mr Watts wants to extend his interest in open access to ideas to the journal publishers’ ability to restrict access to publicly funded research?