The peak body agrees to oppose the government’s cuts to university funding and hikes to what students pay

What’s Simon Birmingham really up to? Glyn Davis has an idea

The deal at Deakin isn’t a model other universities can afford to follow, warns management advocate

Casual academics: more, many more, than there were a few years ago


Guard always up

It seems no Aus education organisations were caught in the weekend file-lock. But a prominent representative body was compromised a couple of months back. Despite state of the art security policed by people whose reputation relies on keeping files safe staff arrived one Monday to find everything locked. On advice, they paid the couple of thousand of dollars, demanded in ransom.  The price of secure data is eternal vigilance, either that or a quick and easy bitcoin payment.

Whopper whammy

Australia’s vice chancellors oppose the government’s proposals to reduce university funding and increase students’ contribution to their course costs, calling it a “double whammy.”

“Students and graduates will be carrying higher levels of debt into an increasingly uncertain future,” new Universities Australia chair Margaret Gardner said yesterday after a meeting of the peak group.

However while UA says opposition to the proposals on funding and fees was “unanimous” not all vice chancellors were prepared to call on crossbench senators to reject them. UA says “an overwhelming majority of vice-chancellors agreed they could not recommend that the Senate crossbench pass the legislative package.”

Some in the meeting found things to like in Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s plan, legislation to protect the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Programme and university provision of subdegree programmes. However, these were balanced by concerns with a voucher system for professional masters places and the establishment of contestable funding allocated by the government on the basis of yet to be established objectives.

But UA understated the issue it is most upset about; “The legislation would also hard-wire continuing cuts into university funding in perpetuity.” Observers suggest this refers to the way the two-years of efficiency dividends taken from Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding will permanently reduce the base on which annual indexation increases are calculated. For VCs facing wage rises that surely is a whopper of a whammy.

All on the record

Group of Eight CEO Vicki Thomson was onto CMM quick-smart yesterday responding to news that consultants  Strategic Political Council list the Go8 as a client on the government’s  lobbyist register. The Go8 did not need any help making its case was the gist of her message and did not retain SPC. So CMM asked the company’s Michael Kauter who said; “SPC’s relationship with the Group of Eight is based on our mutual interest in the higher education sector, and while we are not retained by the Group of Eight, in the interests of openness and transparency, all businesses and entities we provide advice to must be on the register, and of course, the Go8 is on that register in accordance with the Act.”


The deal at Deakin

The peak university industrial relations agency rejects suggestions that today’s announcement of terms for a new enterprise agreement at Deakin University will set a national standard.

Stuart Andrews, executive director of the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association, says he “is not expecting other universities to start jumping in with similar offers.”

Deakin management and the National Tertiary Education Union are recommending staff vote for a new agreement which provides a $1000 signing payment and 2 per cent wage increase this year and annually through to 2020. As CMM reported yesterday, the proposal also extends the 17 per cent superannuation contribution management pays to permanent staff to Deakin workers on fixed term contracts. (The union failed in its push to have the 17 per cent also go to casuals).

Mr Andrews says the pay rise is Deakin’s original offer and is at least 0.5 per cent per annum above what all other universities are offering and he suggests that Deakin can agree to increase super for fixed term staff from the government mandated 9.5 per cent to 17 per cent because Deakin U has “significantly fewer fixed-term staff than many other universities.”

“Each university also has its own bargaining agenda and objectives, and all universities now have a Federal Budget funding dilemma to be grappled with.  I’m therefore not expecting other universities to start jumping in with similar offers,” Mr Andrews says.

At Deakin yesterday it was all-smiles. Vice Chancellor Jane den Hollander sent the proposed agreement to all staff, urging they vote for it and complimenting the NTEU for; “their positive and collaborative approach to bargaining throughout this process. The final proposed EA reflects the commitment of the bargaining teams to bargain effectively and productively to achieve a fair and reasonable agreement for staff, in a challenging environment.”

The shape of things to come

TEQSA stats show a growth in casual academic FTE numbers at universities, they were up 14 per cent between 2013 and 2015. In combination with part timers casuals now make up 33 per cent of the 56 000 workforce.


Dark plot of the day

Think Simon Birmingham just wants to save money? Think again, because the minister could be up to no-good of the no-goodest nature. Asked by the Group of Eight what he thinks about Minister Birmingham’s plans University of Melbourne VC Glyn Davis says they look “over-engineered,” which “likely signals broader ambitions.”

The broadest. Professor Davis suggests the proposed vouchers for Commonwealth Supported Postgraduate Places will be hard to establish and expensive to run. “However, if this a trial for moving to a voucher based system of undergraduate education there would be some logic to the move.”

Plus there could be a push for teaching-only universities.

“New requirements around reporting teaching costs and a review of TEQSA provider categories, suggest the government is keen to introduce teaching only institutions,” he says.

Gosh, now where could he get that idea from? Well, how about from Senator Birmingham’s pre-budget surprise package? There was a reference there to commissioning the Higher Education Standards Panel to review, “the criteria for higher education providers … including the possibility of a teaching-only university category.” (Campus Morning Mail May 2).

Sky-high campus

Western Sydney U formally opens its 14 level $220m vertical campus in the Parramatta CBD today. Teaching 10 000 students in business and other disciplines, the building is named for WSU chancellor Peter Shergold.


SA education sets sail

The three South Australian public universities plus TAFE and industry groups are focusing on the $90bn navy building programme. In March (CMM March 29) they indicated they were interested in bidding for the federal government’s proposed shipbuilding college, to be headquarted in SA (if not them, who?). And now they have formalised the partnership in a Defence Industry Education and Skills Consortium.

 Rodely to run free

Peter Rodely’s escape plan from Universities Australia has finally worked. CMM hears he joined UA when it was called the Australian Vice Chancellors Committee back in the ‘90s. He worked first in research policy, then in education policy before he took over the secretariat for the board and plenary meetings. Mr Rodely leaves in a month, but yesterday’s was his last big UA meeting. His friends say he will be missed and that his departure should be marked by affection and respect. Too right.

VU’s new model

Victoria U has announced two new elements of its research, and teaching and learning redesign, creating a new research school and an undergraduate academy for elite students. They join the previously announced universal programme for all first year students.

The research school will embed staff across campuses and focus on the university’s areas of strength, including high performance in sport, evidence based public policy; teaching and learning in diverse communities and industry responses to change. It will oversee existing research centres, including the vocational education and training policy developing Mitchell Institute.

The VU Academy will provide leadership learning opportunities to outstanding students, emphasising leadership, entrepreneurship and community engagement.

The common first year scheme, which involves a loss of 120 or so teaching and research academic positions, is not popular with all staff – a protest is planned for tomorrow’s university council meeting is planned. With these new initiatives protesting staff might decide they need larger placards but while there are industrial issues around the staff cuts, at least VC Peter Dawkins is having a go. VU regularly runs a deficit and does not rate strongly on the QILT student satisfaction survey.