High Wired update: ANU’s China conundrum

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In today’s HW, we wonder about the future of a once-favoured China centre and confront the supposed similarity between universities and leeches.

Interesting times

Kevin Rudd’s political bequest to his alma mater ANU — the Australian Centre on China in the World — is under review, The Australian reports today. In a leaked email Michael Wesley, head of ANU’s College of Asia & the Pacific, says the review will look at “the future direction of the Centre on China in the World.” He goes on to say the centre “has established a strong research program and public profile, but does not relate clearly to the wealth of other China-related research, teaching and outreach across the ANU. As the university considers the future direction of the Centre on China in the World, it believes it must couch this within a broader review of China studies at ANU.” Rudd presented ANU with the $53 million China Centre in 2010; the lack of an open, competitive process raised eyebrows at the time.

Richly deserved

HECS architect Bruce Chapman has taken out this year’s Australian Financial Review higher education lifetime achievement award. The judging panel said the ANU economist’s recipe of income-contingent loans to pay students’ fees upfront, and bankroll the expansion of the higher education system, was “a world-leading innovation in public policy which has stood the test of time”. For the record, the HESnamed Chapman the most influential figure in higher education way back in 2012.

In defence of college kids

The fallout from the Human Rights Commission’s survey of campus sex abuse continues. David Daintree, who was president of the liberal arts Campion Collegein Sydney, thinks the survey and its reporting a slur on the reputation of students. “College students make very good scapegoats,” Daintree says in The Spectatormagazine’s local edition. “It could be said of them as it was once said of the clergy, that they might do some good spread evenly on the ground, but in a heap they stink. They have a high profile and will often cop the primary blame for public student misbehaviour. Sometimes such charges are just, sometimes not at all. (As a college head) I was often called to a neighbouring shop to look at CCTV images of thieves at work, but can only remember one occasion when I recognised the student as one of my own — and disciplined him accordingly. Would that have happened if he had not been a college student? Frankly it’s far less likely: parents are more likely to be protective of their children’s peccadillos than college staff can afford to be.”

Great moments in parliamentary speech-making

Last Thursday there was a rare spirit of unanimity in the land as an exercise in regulatory screw-tightening — the Education Legislation Amendment (Provider Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2017 — sailed through parliament. What we missed was a gloriously grumpy objection by

Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm. His office has kindly alerted us to it. He asked fellow senators, “what’s the difference between a public university and a leech? It’s not a joke. I’d actually like to know the answer.”

Public good, private bad

The general thrust of his complaint was that public universities were cosseted by government in a manner that put private competitors at an unfair disadvantage. “For starters the government gives public universities seven billion dollars a year through the Commonwealth Grants Scheme. No private university or vocational education and training provider gets a drop of funding from the CGS. This enables public universities to impose charges on prospective students that are well below cost. This draws customers away from private universities and vocational education and training providers. Some could call this predatory pricing.”

More red tape for you

For Leyonhjelm, the legislation he opposed was just the latest exercise in selective red tape, hampering private providers and giving public universities free rein. “Public universities lure students into courses through slick marketing. They offer shonky courses that not only will never lead to a job, but actually leave the students dumber at the end of the course than when they started. Public universities have terrible completion rates. And they pay their vice-chancellors and senior staff extravagant salaries that they could never attract in the private sector.” Any idea how Leyonhjelm might measure dumbness — before and after? Answers on the back of an envelope, please. Having emerged from a public university, HW is stumped.

The Australian

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