plus what to do about the mess in VET

Thomson takes over at the NTEU in NSW

and US colleges promise free subjects or study loans paid if degrees don’t deliver

Unexpected at Open Day

The University of Sydney’s Open Day included an insight into campus life that management may not have welcomed, a group of SRC women’s officers making a case to an auditorium of visitors why the university must do more to deal with sexual violence. It followed the WO’s open letter on Tuesday to Vice Chancellor Michael Spence in which they claimed university management had not been active enough over the past decade and set out a list of demands. (CMM August 24).

Mon Aug 22

And never the twain shall meet

As the for-profit training industry conferred in Hobart on Friday NSW TAFE managers fired up for their association’s meet at Taronga Park Zoo in Sydney.

Debtors denied

Education Minister Simon Birmingham was on Triple J on Friday talking to the excellent Tom Tilley about VET FEE HELP rorts and what people stuck with big bills for crook courses can do about them. Which, as the minister made plain is is not always much, for now, what with the way the legislation works. But the calls the senator took demonstrated the scope of the scandal and the feds will take a fearful hammering if students are stuck with debt while providers keep the cash. People were misled and manipulated which would not have happened with a properly designed loan system and regulators that stopped the spivs.


Careful UA call for med research funding reform

Peak higher education lobby Universities Australia has called for medical research grant reform to ensure access to funds for emerging fields, including those without strong investigation track-records, “such as nursing, midwifery, biostatistics or other interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and emerging fields.”

“Australia’s exceptional performance in health and medical research is founded on a broad base of research excellence, UA asserts in its submission to the National Health and Medical Research Council inquiry into reforming grant funding. The existing success rate is now around 15 per cent and chair Anne Kelso says new a new model could lift this to 20 per cent plus (CMM August 23).

UA does not endorse any of the three proposed models; five year grants for cross-disciplinary teams, funding for lab leaders to take discoveries to ‘commercialisation, translation and implementation’ and grants to chief investigators to run a range of projects CMM Juy 19). However it does suggest a hybrid, which is in line with Professor Kelso’s thinking.

Research dividends

Knowledge Commercialisation Australia (the association for university technology transfer people and their pals in industry) holds its annual conference in Brisbane on Thursday and Friday. Awards will be announced in three categories, best commercial deal, best creative engagement strategy and best entrepreneurial initiative. Curtin has three nominations, the University of South Australia and Swinburne two each and UNSW and CSIRO one.


Cash for casuals

Monash U and the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union have been in dispute over pay for casual academic staff for over a year (CMM September 8 2015) with the argument escalating to the point that the parties have been in mediation before the Fair Work Commission. CMM hears management has now offered a 33 per cent increase in the hourly rate.

Talk that isn’t cheap

Universities across the country (UoQ, Deakin and Flinders, for example) are investing in intern schemes and creating employment-focused courses. This is sensible stuff; with student centred funding leading to more graduates hitting the job market universities that can demonstrate they are employment focused will do well. But none are following a US trend, and putting their money where their marketing is. Beth Akers and Stuart Butler from the Brookings Institute report colleges are backing their courses with commitments to assist graduates who do not find well (enough) paying work or jobs in their field.

Davenport U in Michigan offers nursing, accounting and IT grads who meet qualifying criteria and are unemployed six months after graduation US$29 000 worth of extra UG units, “to enhance the existing degree.” Liberal arts Adrian College (also in Michigan) will subsidise student loan payments for graduates earning up to $US37 000.

Thanks to HECS, study debt is not top of student mind here, but commitments like these will provide shipping containers of credibility


Happy news at SAAD

Joanne Cys will become head of the University of South Australia’s School of Art, Architecture and Design in the new year. She is now an aspro in interior architecture at UniSA.

Matter of Interest

The feds kicked $1.277bn into the Medical Research Future Fund last week which peak lobby Research Australia greeted with unqualified approval and optimism that the fund will be allocating $1bn a year for research early next decade. Good-oh but even if the MRFF does reach the targeted $20bn in capital how is it going to generate a 5 per cent return in these days of nil or negative interest rates?

Inter-academy award

Monash trauma psychologist Eva Alisic is co-chair of the InterAcademy Fellowship, an association of 130 country based and trans-national discipline academies in science, engineering and medicine charged with supporting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

New at NTEU

Michael Thomson is the new state secretary of the NSW branch of the National Tertiary Education Union, replacing Genevieve Kelly who will retire in October after eight years. Mr Thomson has served as the union’s branch president at the University of Sydney for 13 years, leading enterprise bargaining negotiations and opposing redundancy rounds over the last four years. Dr Alison Barnes (Macquarie U) joins Mr Thomson, having won the unpaid assistant state secretary position.

One of the new team’s first tasks will be working with members at Western Sydney University’s pathway provider The College. Staff there have voted to take protected industrial action following a break down on wage negotiations after 11 months.

Inevitable inquiry

The national agreement for funding vocational education and expires at the end of this financial year, no not the VET FEE HELP catastrophe, the whole way the feds and state/territory governments pay for the 4 million student system. So what does the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia propose? “A comprehensive national review of the sector.” The call comes in a major collection of essays on the state of the training system CEDA will release this morning.

It’s not as inane idea as it sounds. The size, complexity and entrenched interests of provider, industry and public sector stakeholders, not forgetting, as often occurs, students, make the system all but ungovernable. The loan disaster is but a subset of an overall policy failure to decide how to provide, pay for and assess training for the economy now and into the imminent future.

The essays in this collection are an excellent basis for writing the terms of reference for a COAG inquiry, shaped though some are by sector interest. And while those who will say providers will capture an inquiry have a point does anybody have a better idea?


Newcombe honoured

Kathleen Newcombe is a new life member of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training. The  Sarina Russo Education Group CEO  is honoured for her “enormous contribution” to tertiary education.