Peak uni lobby does not push the panic button

Universities Australia was out early yesterday, making its case for members to be looked after in the paper from Mary O’Kane and colleagues, expected Wednesday.

“Australia needs more of what universities offer, not less, to drive productivity and economic growth while preparing us for new challenges and opportunities” CEO Catriona Jackson said.

And she warned what will happen without change.

“Constant tweaks to these settings have left universities vulnerable, undermining our ability to educate the skilled workers and undertake the research and development the nation relies on.”

The statement came after days of bad news for university managements, culminating yesterday in a union-friendly survey that reported 83 per cent of respondents are concerned that universities “focus on profit at the expense of education.”  And 79 per cent agreed with capping vice chancellor salaries at the prime minister’s pay.

This followed demands from student groups Monday that the Commonwealth intervene “to protect student safety” given “shocking rates of sexual assault and harassment in university spaces and ongoing university failures to provide affected students with adequate avenues for support. “

Plus, last week university education faculties were embarrassed by federal and state ministers blaming them for failures in new teacher performance. Ministers adopted recommendations specifying what must be taught in Initial Teacher Education courses to keep courses accredited.  Education deans were then humiliated by an overwhelmingly favourable media coverage for ministers and silence from vice chancellors.

The three hits follow years of coverage of universities retrenching staff and most damningly high-profile cases of casuals being underpaid, notably at Group of Eight institutions.

Which all combine to account for why Ms Jackson was out making UA’s case, when there is no chance of changing what is in the Accord paper to come next week.

She appears to be starting stage two of UA’s Accord campaign.

While next week’s announcement will set the direction there may be time to make changes, especially for research which observers of Accord discussions say has not had the attention devoted to access and equity.

And UA may be determined it get its message out loud and long – lest the government calculate public opinion of university leaders in recent years has changed for the worse, way worse.

Many more weeks than the last couple and Education Minister Jason Clare may decide to do what he thinks best – regardless of how vice chancellors respond. 



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