Author Archives: PlanetGPA

Academic Freedom or Secrecy?

March 24, 2015

The University of Delaware is refusing to fulfill a congressman's request that it release information about who is funding a prominent climate change skeptic’s research. The university is the first of seven institutions facing similar requests to publicly deny them, citing concerns about academic freedom. Delaware’s refusal raises important questions about the line between protecting free inquiry and preserving research integrity, and signals a reversal of sorts from an earlier position on controversial research funding. And not everyone agrees that academic freedom covers a decision to keep funding sources secret.

Last month, Representative Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona and ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources, sent a letter to Delaware, expressing concerns about the ongoing work of David Legates, a professor of climatology there. Legates specializes in statistical methods, specifically related to precipitation, and has been a vocal critic of the general scientific consensus that climate change is a result of humans. He’s also alleged -- including in Congressional testimony -- that climate change science “dissenters” are systematically “silenced” by threats to their careers.

Grijalva wrote that he was concerned Legates might have the same conflict of interest as Wei-Hock Soon, a researcher for the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and superstar among climate change skeptics -- at least until recently, when he was the subject of an exposé in The New York Times. The piece was based on a series of documents obtained by Greenpeace through open records requests, and alleged that Soon had received some $1.2 million from fossil fuel giants ExxonMobil, Southern Company and American Petroleum Institute, along with the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation -- but failed to declare that potential conflict in at least 11 journal articles since 2008. (Soon did not respond to questions but has long stated that his funding has no influence on his findings, according to The Times.)

“If true, these may not be isolated incidents,” Grijalva wrote to Delaware, noting that Legates presented at a 2009 conference organized by the Heartland Institute, which is funded in part by the Koch Foundation, which has backed politicians who deny climate change. Legates also has co-authored several articles with Soon. “I am hopeful that a few key pieces of information will establish the impartiality of climate research and policy recommendations published in your institution’s name and assist me and my colleagues in making better law,” Grijalva said.

He added, “Companies with a direct financial interest in climate and air quality standards are funding environmental research that influences state and federal regulations and shapes public understanding of climate science. These conflicts should be clear to stakeholders, including policy makers who use scientific information to make decisions.”

Grijalva requested specific information from Patrick T. Harker, Delaware’s president, including all university policies on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, copies of and written communication about Legates’s Congressional testimony, and the professor’s total annual compensation from 2007 to 2015.

The congressman also requested a detailed accounting of Legates’s sources of external funding, including consulting fees, “promotional considerations,” speaking fees, travel expenses and other compensation than his Delaware salary. For each item, Grijalva requested the source, amount, “reason” for receiving the funding, any and all communication about it, and, for grants, a description of the research proposal and copy of the funded grant.

Last week, on Grijalva’s deadline, Harker and Domenico Grasso, Delaware’s provost, responded by saying that the institution “responsibly polices and manages potential conflicts of interest” associated with faculty research. They also shared Delaware’s various disclosure guidelines, including the Conflict of Interest Policy and Procedures for Faculty and Professional Staff. The policy requires that faculty members “conduct their professional and personal duties with maximum integrity, and [avoid] association with any activities that could diminish or could be perceived as diminishing the effectiveness of their commitment to the university.” Under the policy, professors must report “significant financial interests” by completing annual written disclosure reports to their supervisors.

As for Grijalva’s other questions about Legates specifically, Harker and Grasso declined to answer, saying the requests “intrude into areas that are protected by academic freedom.” They attached the Faculty Handbook’s statement on academic freedom, which says that if faculty members are “to teach and carry on research effectively, academic freedom is necessary.”

The statement continues, “Academic freedom is the freedom of the faculty to teach and speak out as the fruits of their research and scholarship dictate, even though their conclusions may be unpopular or contrary to public opinion.”

Harker and Grasso note that the collective bargaining agreement with the university’s American Association of University Professors-affiliated union includes a similar statement, and that Delaware “chooses not to act in a manner inconsistent with its governing principles and contractual commitments.”

It's unclear how many, if any, other institutions on Grijalva’s list of seven -- available here -- have responded similarly on behalf of their professors involved in climate change research. Adam Sarvana, a spokesman for the House natural resources committee, said the Congressional investigation is ongoing and for that reason, “we’re not discussing what we’ve found or from where just yet.”

Delaware’s response is significant on its own because it so strongly affirmed the professor’s right to privacy regarding his funding sources, and because the move represents something of a departure from a previous stance on academic freedom and research funding. (Although Delaware did decline to hand over similar information to Greenpeace in the aftermath of 2009's so-called ClimateGate scandal, in which hackers released emails from climate researchers who supported the man-made position, according to Legates's testimony.)

In the early 1990s, Delaware blocked controversial funding for two professors’ work on the possible relationship between race and intelligence. The university initially said that the educational studies’ professors’ acceptance of research dollars from the Pioneer Fund -- whose charter supported eugenics and which many critics said promoted racist research goals -- was not appropriate.

A little more than two years later, the university settled a labor grievance with the two professors, allowing them to continue their research backed by the Pioneer Fund. The A.A.U.P. supported the professors at the time, arguing that the university incursion into their research agenda violated their academic freedom.

Of course, there are differences between the two cases -- namely that the Pioneer Fund was disclosed as a source of funding up front. The president of Delaware’s A.A.U.P. chapter could not immediately be reached for comment, but Greg Scholtz, director of academic freedom and governance for the national office, referred questions to the organization’s Recommended Principles to Guide Academy-Industry Relationships.

The document says, in part, that no “contract should restrict faculty, students, postdoctoral fellows or academic professionals from freely disclosing their funding source. A signed copy of all final legal research contracts and [memorandums of understanding] formalizing the [contract] and any other types of sponsored agreements formed on campus... should be made freely available to the public -- with discrete redactions only to protect valid commercial trade secrets, but not for other reasons.”

Legates did not respond to requests for comment.

Cary Nelson, professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and author of the A.A.U.P.'s academy-industry relationships guide, said via email that "A.A.U.P. makes it clear that full disclosure of all research funding sources is essential for research integrity and the maintenance of public trust. We urge that all funding be fully and automatically disclosed on publicly accessible websites.”

He added, "A refusal to disclose funding triggers concerns that there is something to hide, most ordinarily that the funders have an interest in seeing certain outcomes, as opposed to disinterested results."

Location is key to attracting foreign students

Maurits van Rooijen
20 March 2015 University World News Global Edition Issue 359

International students are not just looking at the institution where they want to study, they are equally interested in the lifestyle they offer. And quite rightly so.

Some two decades ago, I moved from my native Netherlands to London to take up a position at the University of Westminster. Since that name was then only one year old, I thought it would be good to attend some of the British Council recruitment fairs abroad and see how the university and its new name were perceived by potential students across the globe.

Almost all started with the same question: how far is Westminster from London? It made me realise we should not overestimate global knowledge about UK geography. We sensibly introduced the strap line 'education at the heart of London'. There was, however, a much more important lesson to be gained from this. The penny dropped only a year later when I went to Australia.

In those days universities down under were well ahead in working with international students. When I shared my experience with the name Westminster, their reply was: 'No worries mate, in our case the first question is always: how far is your university from the beach?'

I checked the brochures and sure enough, the Australian beaches featured prominently. The real lesson was: students are not just looking at the institution, they are equally interested in the lifestyle they offer. And quite rightly so.

In the UK we are blessed with a wonderfully diverse spectrum of higher education institutions, also in terms of location. We have nice greenfield campuses, metropolitan institutions and a range of universities and colleges at the heart of our major cities. These very different environments are more relevant than we think.

The lure of campus universities

Having previously been in charge of a campus university, do not expect me to sneer at the 'university in the middle of nowhere'. Studying in green isolation is especially attractive for younger students who will benefit from same age group, peer learning and who might be more drawn to a well-equipped lab than to the latest West End musical.

The downside of this type of institution is that they can become rather inward-looking. By contrast, those students who want to be in the thick of the action will go for colleges in the big cities. Their community tends to be less closed, also less coherent since there are rather a lot of alternatives to the student union bar right on the doorstep.

But most students love that lifestyle (their parents not necessarily, though). Still, leaving aside lifestyle choices, a city like London will not be the obvious place of study for those wanting to study subjects such as agriculture, mining or aviation.

Ultimately it is all about horses for courses. So we have to make choices. Most business schools tend to carefully and purposely select sites in the centre of large cities. This is to enable business students, young professionals and entrepreneurs to treat their city environment as their classroom. They want to be close to the big employers, to culture and to the urban lifestyle.

From my experience, the typical business student would quite simply be unhappy locked up in a campus environment. They want to explore the world – globally as well as locally.

A rich environment

London, especially, is privileged in having some of the top knowledge institutions in the world. It is not just because it is able to attract that 'type' of student and staff, but also because its research tends to benefit from the open relationship with its environment of corporate headquarters, political decision makers, embassies, prominent NGOs etc.

The costs are higher, but the result is a much richer environment in every aspect. Anyway, this memory about my early days at Westminster unexpectedly came back to me last week when I oversaw the opening of the London School of Business and Finance’s new campus in Tower Hill.

With classrooms overlooking the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and the city skyline, it cannot be clearer about where it belongs: in the city, alongside employers and decision-makers. And, at a personal level, I suddenly realised that 20 years ago my office in Westminster – admittedly rather more modest in those days – was just a short walking distance away.

Though I would say that while over the decades in higher education the world has been my oyster, the one or two square miles that stretch out underneath my window are very much my natural habitat.

Evidently not just students vote with their feet.

Professor Maurits van Rooijen is rector and chief executive at the London School of Business and Finance, or LSBF

University World News

Even university competitors are joining forces

Geoff Maslen
20 March 2015 University World News Global Edition Issue 359

The idea of universities collaborating with others around the world is no longer unusual but, increasingly, university faculties and schools are also forming alliances with their counterparts in other institutions to boost research output, improve graduation rates, attract students to potentially unpopular programmes and improve existing curricula.

The idea of universities collaborating with others around the world is no longer unusual but, increasingly, university faculties and schools are also forming alliances with their counterparts in other institutions to boost research output, improve graduation rates, attract students to potentially unpopular programmes and improve existing curricula.

The latest example involves three of the world’s premier pharmacy schools that have joined forces to create a 'PharmAlliance' – a five-year partnership their leaders expect will transform research, education and practice in pharmacy and the pharmaceutical sciences.

University College London, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Monash University in Melbourne are partners in the PharmAlliance. The three heads of pharmacy signed an initial five-year memorandum of understanding last week that will provide a framework for the creation of the partnership between their schools.

The three deans said they would work together to “transform education and curriculum development, pursue new and transformative research initiatives, and to enhance professional practice in pharmacy and the pharmaceutical sciences”.

“The partners will form new research collaborations that will enable them to more effectively and rapidly address major international issues in the fields of drug discovery, nanomedicine development and nanotechnology. The partners will have the opportunity to access research funds that each nation allocates for international research partnerships,” they said.

Professor Duncan Craig, director of University College London’s school of pharmacy, said the geographic and quality aspects of the alliance presented an opportunity for a global perspective on pressing healthcare issues.

“The possibilities afforded by the partnership are unprecedented, and we are very excited to begin exploring these activities,” Craig said.

Dean of the faculty of pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences at Monash, Professor Bill Charman, said the alliance would address “the big issues” in pharmacy and the pharmaceutical sciences – those that could not be tackled by one institution alone.

“We have similar philosophies and ambitions for our field, and we see collaboration as the best means to rapidly and effectively address them in a global context,” Charman said.

He said that by working to inspire and train future leaders and practitioners of the profession on a global stage, the partnership would create new and transformative training, development and exchange opportunities for students and staff.

Professor Robert Blouin, dean of the University of North Carolina Eshelman school of pharmacy, said the strategic partnership would give the three institutions access to resources, talents and opportunities that no one school in one country could possess alone. “These are the leading pharmacy programmes on three continents,” Blouin said.

Competing engineering schools collaborate

In January, Canada’s top five engineering schools decided to stop competing with each and start working together to promote their graduate programmes. The engineering faculties at the universities of Alberta, British Columbia, Toronto, Waterloo and McGill University joined forces to form the Canadian Graduate Engineering Consortium.

The initiative has led to academic fairs at each institution for the various schools to showcase their graduate courses to current and recently graduated engineering students. These included panel discussions on the career benefits of advanced engineering education led by engineers with graduate degrees.

“One question that’s come up is why would competing engineering schools partner with each other? The schools were all aware of the apparent conflict,” said Bruce Hellinga, associate dean of graduate studies and international agreements in Waterloo’s engineering faculty, which initiated the consortium.

“We compete for students with all our peer institutions… but we recognise that we can work together to get this common message out about the need for graduate studies.”

Hellinga said one aim was to achieve full enrolments in their masters and PhD programmes. Engineers could usually get good jobs soon after earning an undergraduate degree and did not see the point of continuing their studies.

The consortium is now emphasising the greater professional and financial rewards for highly educated engineers in research and development, and the growing demand among employers for such professionals.

Expanding digital technology in the humanities

Elsewhere in North America, Iowa’s private liberal arts college, Grinnell, and the University of Iowa received a US$1.6 million grant last year from the Andrew W Mellon Foundation to develop humanities-centred collaborations to expand the use of digital technology among their academics and students.

This was the first time the Mellon Foundation had supported a collaborative digital project between a private liberal arts college and a public research university – institutions with different missions and strengths.

The project, titled Digital Bridges for Humanistic Inquiry, aims to increase integration of digital resources into the undergraduate curriculum at Grinnell and Iowa over four years. The grant will support creative collaboration between the two and involve academics, post-docs, graduate students, undergraduate students, library staff, and IT technicians.

"The faculties of Grinnell and Iowa have different institutional environments but a shared commitment to scholarship, teaching and public engagement," said Erik Simpson, a professor of English and principal investigator for the grant at Grinnell.

Simpson said academics in the humanities would build their digital skills, develop innovative new courses, and collaborate with students on ambitious digital projects and research projects. The Mellon money would also support Iowa graduate student instructional technology assistants who would help lecturers incorporate digital technology into their courses.

Collaborative research in arts

The faculty of arts at the University of Sydney decided in 2010 to introduce a collaborative research scheme with grants to promote new projects that would encourage academics across schools and faculties to work together in emergent areas, and build research capacity in a range of different ways.

In the initial 2010 round, the research committee awarded grants to seven new collaborative research groups, naming 57 separate researchers spread across four schools in the faculty and including outside researchers from education and social work, law and the museums.

The following round in 2012 awarded grants to a further six new groups involving 58 separate researchers spread across five schools in the faculty and including researchers from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, the faculty of architecture, design and planning, the Koori Centre (an Aboriginal group) and the Nicholson Museum.

As a result of the programme, Sydney now has eight research centres in its arts faculty as well as 19 research groups that range from early modern literature and culture to the archaeology of Sydney, the university research community for Latin America, the biopolitics of science and social transformation group, and the international migration group.

Improving graduation rates for the poor

Eleven US major research universities decided last September to collaborate in boosting graduation rates for lower-income students. They set out to develop and share proven strategies for increasing student retention and graduation, with Arizona State University spearheading the initiative.

One would think that the Arizona university president, Michael Crow, had enough on his plate, given that Arizona State consists of four main universities, plus a group of community colleges. But not so, he wants to “even the playing field”.

"Rich kids have a better chance of getting college degrees," Crow said. "We're going to even out that playing field so family income is no longer a predictor of college success. We're going to innovate together."

The 11 institutions in the University Innovation Alliance raised nearly US$6 million to create a national "playbook" of ideas that could be shared. US statistics show that about 59% of students earn bachelor degrees within six years but that students from higher-income families have significant advantages.

Wealthier families often prepare their offspring to go to college, Crow said, while lower-income and first-generation college students can have a harder time adjusting. A 2011 study found that only one in 10 Americans from low-income families had a bachelor degree by age 25, compared with half of all those from high-income families.

Crow was in Australia last week to discuss another potential partnership and deliver a keynote address at a Universities Australia conference. There the conversation among the local university vice-chancellors centred on the federal government’s plan to impose a 20% cut to their teaching grants.

Crow told The Australian newspaper that in the last six years, the Arizona State system had faced a 60% cut in its teaching subsidies from the state government. When he took over the system in 2002, the public cost of each student graduating was US$50,000 whereas it had now fallen to US$16,000, he said.

Far from decaying from the massive decline in government support, Crow said Arizona State was now stronger than ever. Echoing the goals of the innovation alliance, he said his focus since he became president had been to distinguish Arizona on two fronts: equity, so the student profile represented the state’s socio-economic profile, and research excellence.

University World News

Ban on professor raises questions for offshore campuses

Katherine Mangan, The Chronicle of Higher Education
20 March 2015 University World News Global Edition Issue 359

A New York University professor was stopped while trying to board a plane for the United Arab Emirates at Kennedy International Airport last week and told he had been barred from entering the country. The professor, Andrew Ross, said the ban could have wider ramifications for NYU and other colleges that operated campuses in authoritarian countries.

A New York University professor who was stopped on his way to conduct research in the United Arab Emirates said he wasn’t completely surprised when he learned, while trying to board a plane at Kennedy International Airport last week, that he had been barred from entering the country.

This is an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, America’s leading higher education publication. It is presented here under an agreement with University World News.

Andrew Ross, a professor of social and cultural analysis, said he had, after all, publicly criticised the exploitation of migrant construction workers who helped build NYU’s new campus in Abu Dhabi, the Emirates’ capital.

Ross said he knew that wouldn’t sit well with local authorities who he said had “kicked researchers out of the country for less”. But he and other higher education experts said the ban could have wider ramifications for NYU and for other colleges that operated campuses in authoritarian countries.

"Administrators at NYU have long insisted they have agreements with authorities to honour basic academic freedoms, but an incident like this is a clear violation of those principles," Ross said in an interview withThe Chronicle. "It also illustrates how fragile or illusory it is to make such claims under the circumstances."

Too much at stake

While NYU has too much invested in its partnership in Abu Dhabi to consider pulling out, the incident could prompt faculty members and students to question how much freedom they really have, Ross said. That was especially so if the nation was willing to ban a prominent researcher who heads the local chapter of the American Association of University Professors.

"On the upside, it might be a wake-up call that could spark something positive," Ross added. "If I were an NYU administrator, I’d be trying not just to lift the ban but to have a public agreement, a very strong and firm commitment from the host authorities, to ensure that nothing like this could ever happen again and that they will indefatigably respect these basic academic freedoms that aren’t observed anywhere else in the country."

So far, that’s not the approach NYU appears to be taking. John Beckman, a spokesman for the university, wrote in an email that the university supported "the free movement of people and ideas".

But Beckman suggested that, in this case, the university’s hands were tied: "Regardless of where NYU or any other university operates," he wrote, "it is the government that controls visa and immigration policy, and not the university."

In the five years the university has operated in Abu Dhabi, where new facilities were opened last year, none of NYU’s faculty members or students had complained about restrictions on academic freedom even when they were researching labour and other sensitive topics, Beckman said.

Mixed feelings on campus

Feelings about the case on the Abu Dhabi campus were mixed. One faculty member, who asked not to be identified and fearing retribution, said many people there were worried.

"This obviously is not a visa and immigration issue, and I hope NYU will voice its concern to the emirate of Abu Dhabi," the professor said. "It does make me less confident in NYU’s ability to guarantee our freedom of research and of expression."

But other scholars on the campus said that banning Ross, while wrong, did not undermine the academic freedom of the faculty members working there. Justin Stearns, an assistant professor who studies the intersection of law, science and theology in the Middle East, was not convinced that academic freedom was at stake.

"I don’t understand the argument that, simply because one is an academic, one has the right to cross all borders," he said. "It is a fact of 21st-century life that nation-states control their borders and prevent people from entering."

Ross, he said, was a "scholar-activist" and was "wearing his activist hat, in which he’s done a great deal of good in many ways".

Stearns said that he sympathised with the desire to push for reform in the labour system in the Emirates, but that Ross’s attitude and approach were not ones "we have adopted or found to be productive".

The impression he gets from his colleagues, he said, was that academic freedom was alive and well at the Abu Dhabi campus.

'Dodging the issue’

News of the ban in the US travelled quickly through social media. An expert on international higher education said the case raised questions about what other restrictions the Middle Eastern monarchy might impose on NYU researchers.

If Ross had been an instructor in Abu Dhabi, would he have been expelled from the country for his comments about its labour practices? asked Kevin Kinser, chair of the department of educational administration and policy studies at the State University of New York at Albany.

Would he be permitted to give a video lecture on the topic from New York to students in Abu Dhabi?

"NYU should be seeking clarification on these points, and not just saying that they have no control over visa and immigration policies," Kinser said. "That is dodging the issue, from my perspective."

Others pointed out that Ross was not going to the campus for any official events, so they could not see how his ban, however offensive, might violate the assurances made to researchers based in Abu Dhabi.

But Kinser said Ross was hardly a freelancer just dropping in. His work for years had focused on labour, so "it is completely consistent with even the most narrow definition of academic freedom for him to comment on the labour situation in the UAE and seek to better understand the conditions at NYU’s campus there".

Matt J Duffy, who teaches journalism, media ethics and international communication law, said the controversy might prompt NYU and professors in Abu Dhabi to "stop claiming that there’s academic freedom" for professors in the United Arab Emirates.

Criticising the country could get someone expelled or banned, Duffy said. He had previously asserted that he was “kicked out of the Emirates” in 2012 after a stint of teaching at Zayed University, where he wrote about media restrictions.

"While NYU values the free movement of ideas, they’ve set up shop in a country that doesn’t," he said.

Philip G Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, said he found it hard to believe that universities like NYU had no problems with the stifling of professors’ speech in places like the Emirates. If nothing else, he said, self-censorship was probably common.

"Academics are on a shorter leash in those countries than would be the case in the US," Altbach said. "I don’t think that’s a reason not to engage with these countries, but Western universities should be more honest with themselves, their faculty and students, and the public about what they’re getting into. It’s not like working back here."

Katherine Mangan writes about community colleges, completion efforts and job training for The Chronicle. Ursula Lindsey, reporting from Morocco, contributed to this article.

University World News

Reform vote leaves universities uncertain of funding

Geoff Maslen
18 March 2015 University World News Global Edition Issue 359

The Australian senate has rejected a government higher education reform bill for the second time, leaving the nation’s universities uncertain of their future funding and whether they can charge tuition fees. An inept government and its even more inept education minister have left the nation’s vice-chancellors uncertain where their future funding will come from after the senate rejected a higher education reform bill for the second time.

Strong divisions have also been created between the university chiefs and their academic and general staff following the vice-chancellors’ support for lifting restrictions on the amount they can charge for tuition fees.

On 17 March, the senate again rejected a revised higher education “reform package” that would have uncapped tuition fees and pushed more of the cost of a degree on to students.

The conservative government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott has continually miscalculated community attitudes since its election 18 months ago. Gaffe-prone to an extent unseen before in Australian politics, Abbott himself lost so much support within his own party that he was almost displaced last month and is now widely considered to be “living on borrowed time”.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne has proved to be his bumbling equal by first presenting a bill that appalled the vice-chancellors and the academics’ union with its plans to cut government spending on universities by 20% while shifting much of the cost on to students.

Pyne’s efforts to negotiate deals with a group of independent cross-bench senators included a warning last week that 1,700 research scientists would lose their jobs unless the senate passed the bill. The senators rejected the threat and the bill, forcing Pyne to withdraw it completely although he may try presenting another revised version later in the year.

But he gained the support of the great majority of vice-chancellors when he deferred the proposed 20% cut in funding. They were also mostly delighted to have the freedom for the first time to set their own tuition fees and to be certain as to the amount of money the government would give them.

A lone voice

The head of the University of Canberra, Professor Stephen Parker, has been a lone voice from the beginning in opposing the government plans to hand vice-chancellors the power to set their own tuition fees. Writing in The Conversation, Parker described the events leading up to the withdrawal of the bill as “an entire fiasco”.

“The package was amended in ways which would make the proposed system more expensive to the taxpayer than the current system. This revealed that, at their core, the measures were about ideology and not budget savings,” Parker said.

“They were about strengthening competition and private markets in higher education. Also, the higher education sector saw unworthy tactics such as [Pyne’s] threats to cut research infrastructure funding and Future Fellowships, if a package mainly about teaching was not passed.”

Union’s response

The National Tertiary Education Union said university staff would applaud the senate’s decision, given the bill would have “priced a university education out of the reach of ordinary Australians”.

“The senate emphatically voted down the deregulation of university fees, the cutting of government funding and the subsidising of private education profiteers,” said union president Jeannie Rea. “In a humiliating defeat, more senators voted down deregulation mark II than those that rejected the original legislation last December.”

Rea said the senators who had voted against the government’s “unfair, unprincipled and unsustainable higher education policies” had earned the gratitude of university students, staff and communities – and future students.

“The lesson to be learned from this debacle is that when contemplating policy changes of this magnitude, the concerns of Australian families, who aspire to go to university and gain a high quality reputable degree, must be heard,” she said.

Universities Australia

Universities Australia chief executive, Belinda Robinson, had backed the revised bill and had stood alongside Pyne when he told a press conference he had the support of the universities. But Robinson had to accept the senate’s decision and said it at least provided the opportunity “for a national discussion on a long-term, sustainable and predictable funding model for university education and research”.

“This almost year-long debate has achieved a remarkable political consensus on one critical factor: that the current state of public investment in universities is insufficient for maintaining and enhancing the quality expected by students, employers and the community,” she said.

“The parliament gives bi-partisan support for national security and defence in the public interest. This consensus should extend to the intellectual building blocks of our economic security. Defeat of the bill has created the opportunity for the government to engage with all stakeholders in developing a robust funding framework that is durable, sustainable and predictable.”

A ‘curious positive’

But Parker, rather bravely, pointed to “a curious positive” arising from the last 10 months: whether there was even a problem with university funding.

“If one starts from the premise that vice-chancellors have a conditioned reflex to say that they need more money (and according to one former vice-chancellor they have been saying this since 1947), we are now alerted to the need to greet with suspicion claims that [current] arrangements are not `sustainable’.”

In fact, Parker said, a fair examination of the evidence would show that overall investment in Australian universities was around the OECD average. As he also noted, the existing funding system had enabled more Australian universities to enter world rankings in the last decade and, scaled for population size and gross domestic product or GDP, Australia already had one of the best systems in the world.

University World News