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The Scan | Edition # 159

8  August 2014

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Thought bubble on patents not such a bright idea

research infrastructure - ABC8 August 2014    |    A suggestion by industry minister Ian Macfarlane – which he admitted to be a kind of “thought bubble” – that research funding should be linked to how many patents universities register would only encourage the filing of “junk” patents as the system is gamed, according to research consultant and Howard-government science adviser Thomas Barlow. Macfarlane said that using patent activity could better align university research with industry needs. Currently block funding of $1.7 billion a year is largely driven by the number of research papers published in academic journals. But Barlow said it was such journal publications that are the markers of the world class research that drives valuable discoveries.   Doing world class research that gets published in top journals is more likely to generate valuable intellectual property than taking out junk payments……[ MORE ]…..

Pyne open to deal on HECS interestCHRIS PYNE PRESS CONFERENCE

6 August 2014    |    Education minister Christopher Pyne has confirmed the federal government is considering modifying its plan to apply real interest to student debts following widespread criticism, including by university vice-chancellors. Pyne told the National Press Club the government will introduce its higher education package to the House of Representatives in its entirety with the expectation of passing it into law in September, but he expects some aspects will not make it through the Senate. It would be immature and churlish of the government if it walked away from its entire higher education package, which also includes removing the cap on university fees, if it couldn’t secure 100% support for all measures, he said…..[ MORE ]…..

An inconvenient truth

6 August 2014    |     The Victorian skills minister recently told a conference the apparent troubles besetting the state’s TAFE EDUCATION RALLY MELBOURNEsystem are the invention of a “misinformed media”. But according to the State’s auditor-general, the troubles are very real: TAFEs are facing a “significant decline” in financial stability due, in part, to State Government funding cuts. A report tabled in Parliament found the state’s 14 TAFE colleges are $16.2 million in debt. The Victorian Government cut $113 million from the TAFE sector in 2012, resulting in campus closures and job losses across the sector. The auditor-general found five TAFEs, – Advance, Central Gippsland, NMIT, South West and William Angliss – are considered to be at high risk financially….[ MORE ]…..

Budget cuts of over $1.5b per year give universities “no choice” – NTEU

6 August 2014    |    The impact of the Federal Budget’s 20% per student funding cut leaves universities with a massive funding black hole amounting to more than $1.5 billion a year from 2019 onwards, argues the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) in its latest budget analysis briefing paper.   The impact  is heavier upon regional and outer metropolitan universities that are traditionally more reliant on Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding as a source of income.

NTEU Funding graph

The NTEU calculates that universities will have to increase their fees by about 30% on average just to compensate for CSP funding cuts.  To reduce costs, the NTEU expects pressure will be on universities to further increase their reliance upon casual staff to teach undergraduate students and reduce spending on research and community service obligations…..[ MORE ]…..

TAFE should position as “discount HE providers” 

Budget HE1 August  2014   |  NSW TAFEs have been told that they should take advantage of Coalition reforms by reinventing themselves as the “discount airline of higher education” vis-a-vis universities. We see the point but you need to be careful: TAFE ought not be – nor be seen to be – as a cheap, low quality and potentially unsafe alternative.  TigerAir gets a bad press and, from our once and  only experience, thoroughly deserves it.   In a report on fees and pricing strategies, consultants SMS Management and Technology told TAFE NSW that federal government proposals — specifically, the deregulation of higher education fees, and the extension of teaching grants to non-universities — would create a unique branding opportunity. “TAFE NSW may choose to take advantage of deregulation (and) establish a branding and business model as the alternative low-cost provider of higher education services, competing directly with universities,” the report says….[ MORE ]….

Universities should slim down – BCA

24 July 2014 |    The President of the Business Council of Australia, Catherine Livingstone says that Australian universities are enrolling too many domestic students who Catherine-Livingstone-President-of-the-Business-Council-of-Australiashould opt for vocational education and training. She told the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce that a large number of school leavers would be better off undertaking education and training that gave them job-related and technical skills first.   Her comments were made before a speech by Group of Eight universities chairman Ian Young to the National Press Club when he suggested that many elite universities, such as his own Australian National University, would probably enrol fewer students under a deregulated fee system.   The enrolment figures of Australia’s top research universities, such as ANU, Sydney and Melbourne, exceed world standards; they typically reach up to 50,000 students, compared to Stanford in the US with 15,000.   This is because, under the capped fee system, universities must enrol huge numbers of students to subsidise their research programs.  If elite universities are allowed to increase their fees then they will be able to reduce the size of their institutions and offer a more personalised learning experience, Young said.   He said this downsizing would have a “trickle-down” effect throughout the university sector and lead to more high-achieving students attending regional and suburban universities.  Regional Universities Network chairman Peter Lee said he was “very sceptical” about Young’s predictions….[ MORE ]….

A curious look at mindfulness

Mindfulness

8 August 2014     |      Victoria University offers, as do most universities these days, free student workshops to equip them with the skills, tools and resources to be able to handle the demands of university life.   A curious look at mindfulness  introduces students to mindfulness and mindfulness practice for everyday life as a student. Specific techniques will be shown as well as an introduction to mindful meditation. You even get a certificate of attendance.  Here are other useful workshops put on by VU….[ MORE ]….

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UA position on university reforms dumps students – Parker

6  August 2014

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University of Canberra vice-chancellor Stephen Parker has has affirmed his complete opposition to the government’s proposed university reform package and “distanced” himself from “what appears to be the negotiating position of Universities Australia” (that is, some sort of acceptance around a deal on interest rates on student loans).  He says “we are about to inflict grievous damage on the prospects of a generation of young Australians by saddling them with enormous debt; and this is being shrugged off as a mildly distasteful consequence”.

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Stephen ParkerChristopher Pyne’s National Press Club speech on 6 August was an opportunity for the Minister for Education to show an open mind and recognise that there could be valid and genuinely held alternative views on a package of higher education changes which will transform the sector completely and irreversibly. Regrettably, this opportunity was not taken up. In fact, he has dug himself in further by claiming that the package is “essential for the future prosperity of the nation” which makes one wonder why it wasn’t mentioned in the federal election campaign last September.

I am a Vice-Chancellor who has progressively moved towards a position of outright opposition to the changes as my hopes of an acceptable compromise have diminished. These hopes are now at near vanishing point, so even if I am the only one in the sector, I think it right now to distance myself from what appears to be the negotiating stance of Universities Australia and condemn the measures as a complete package, even if there are individual details which could be acceptable.

Students seem almost incidental to the debate, but I think they should be at the centre of it. We are about to inflict grievous damage on the prospects of a generation of young Australians by saddling them with enormous debt; and this is being shrugged off as a mildly distasteful consequence. When Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize-winner for Economics and Professor at Columbia University, calls on Australia not to take this direction, as he did last month, citing his own country (the USA) as an example of what to avoid, we should listen. And if I have to choose between Stiglitz and Pyne, I go for Stiglitz.
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Top TenThe Scan’s Top Ten in July 2014

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In July, The Scan published 56 posts, somewhat down on the longterm average of about 20 a week. An issue that continues to resonate with Scan readers is the impact of “skills reform” on the future of the TAFE system, with three posts on that issue making the top ten reads list in July. Posts dealing with the issue of university fee deregulation have also been attracting significant reader interest.

 

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Talking heads

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Free creative careers seminar series.
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Talking Heads

 

From radio to TV and music to photography: hear from experts who have made it in the industries they love. 23 July to 15 October : Melbourne Polytechnic, 144 High St Prahran.

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Comment & analysis

HELP needs help

 

8 August 2014

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An important issue for Australian university funding concerns the rate of interest applied to Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) debt. For the last 25 years the debts have been adjusted to inflation; this has ensured that the loan carries a zero real rate of interest for all debtors. Times have changed. The 2014/15 budget proposes that the debt be adjusted to the long-term government bond rate, which would lead to significant inequities in the system. Bruce Chapman and Timothy Higgins (ANU) recently conducted some research on this issue, and found there are alternative indexation arrangements worth considering.

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Fee increase2
The initial decision to charge at the rate of price inflation was to protect HELP debtors who experienced relatively low future incomes. Since relatively low-income borrowers will take longer to repay a given debt, members of this group are subsidised the most.

Our calculations found that under the proposed system of charging interest relative to the bond rate, a high-earning graduate with a debt of $60,000 would repay close to $75,000 in real terms (assuming a 5% bond rate). A low-earning graduate (but one who earns above the minimum repayment threshold) would repay as much as $30,000 more. If we consider a low earner who also takes 10 years off work to raise children, the repayments may rise by a further $10,000.

Why is this a problem? Consider a scenario where a teacher and finance student undertake different degrees but with the same fees charged. Is it fair that the teacher – whose salary prospects are lower than the finance graduate – will ultimately pay a higher real amount because of real indexation?

All income earners have the option to make greater repayments, and thereby reduce their interest charges. However, lower-income earners have lower capacities to repay than higher earners. In this sense bond indexation may be considered unfair.

But, if the student doesn’t repay the debt, the taxpayer does. Is it fair to ask taxpayers to pay the costs of interest rate subsidies made to low-earning graduates?
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TDA Conf

The 2014 TDA National Conference will be held in Sydney at the Sheraton on the Park from 31 August – 2 September. register______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Life & stuff

4 August 2014

World War I

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Snapshot of Australia at the outbreak


“Qualities of independence, originality, the faculty of rising to an occasion and loyalty to a ‘mate’ ” was how renowned historian Charles Bean described the Australian national character three years after the end of World War I.

For Bean, the idolised spirit of the Anzacs born at Gallipoli and on the Western Front had become ingrained in the character of the whole nation.

But what was Australia really like when the first Anzacs sailed to war?

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Playing with the orchestra

2 August 2014

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Imagine standing on stage during a live performance by the Australian Chamber Orchestra.
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Cutting-edge audio-visual installation ACO VIRTUAL takes you there. Built using state-of-the-art technology, ACO VIRTUAL features projections of 13 musicians surrounding you on all sides, with the sound of each player coming from the direction of their projection. It’s like standing in the middle of the Orchestra during a concert. Immerse yourself in performances of music by Bach, Grieg, Smalley and Piazzolla or take charge of the band via a controller inside the installation. You can choose to spotlight one musician or many; listen to just the violins; or just the bass – the possibilities are endless.

The installation is currently open to the public at the eMerge Gallery at James Cook University’s Townsville Campus. Admission is free.

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