The Week That Was (15 February)

John Dewar is not fading away – the ex, by a few weeks, VC of La Trobe U announces he is self-employed on LinkedIn. And usefully, to be sure. He is the new chair of the Higher Education Standards Panel. and a board member of Australian Industry Group’s Centre for Education and Training.

The Opposition nails why the research community is (relatively) happy with the bill to reform Australian Research Council governance. Shadow science and etc minister Paul Fletcher in the Reps, Tuesday night warned against, “the powers of the new ARC board and the lack of effective ministerial oversight of its operations.” Which is exactly how research lobbies think things should be.

The AIGroup industry lobby is strong on skills – so much that it makes two budget submissions, one  on education and training and the other on everything else. The skills sub is shaped by AI’s engagement with improving productivity and it includes a University Accord big idea, a lifelong learning entitlement. It also advocates another Accord proposal floated in Accord papers  – a tertiary education oversight agency – which HE lobbies like (see separate story in today’s issue).

Although AI has a twist they probably won’t. “A tertiary education body, including VET, with appropriate industry representation that provides national governance, analysis, expert advice and a funding model that considers the impacts on VET and drives parity of esteem between the sectors.”  University groups have accepted they will have to work with the training sector in an Accord world but “industry representation” might be a struggle for some. 

Great news for those who believe the government is here to help. People with a VET system Unique Student Identifier, “your individual education number for life” can now link it their MyGov account.  The sell is not having to log into the USI.  A practise run for “the skills passport” the government is considering?

The jobs and skills council for the arts, personal services, retail, tourism and hospitality industries has ditched its original name, SkillsEQuipped because the brand “did not resonate with our audience. The new trading name is Service and Creative Skills Australia which stakeholders prefer. Good-o, although the new name hardly communicates all the industries covered or communicates how “the arts” is in the same training space as retail.

A few weeks back, Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic announced a blancmange of blather on “safe and responsible use of AI” including “development of options for mandatory guardrails.” Fortunately the Productivity Commission folllowed with three considered papers on AI as an opportunity and what is needed in productivity, regulation and data access. Buried in the assessment is a model for risk-based assessment; “it is misleading to measure the risk from a use of AI relative to a fictitious ‘perfect world’. Rather, the appropriate benchmark for risk‑based regulation is the expected harm from the use of the AI technology relative to the real‑world counterfactual level of expected harm that would arise if the technology in question was not used.”

The Commission suggests, as example, that in remote Australia health care shortages are best served by practitioners on the ground, but as this is not going to happen AI can help. As to education the PC concludes AI is already a happening thing, which is good, given low productivity.

The Jason Clare-commissioned House of Reps committee inquiry into AI in education has been running since late ’23, its brief is PC – style positive. 

A couple of years back the Reserve Bank’s Jacqui Dwyer warned there are not enough people studying economics at school, certainly not enough young women (Campus Morning Mail September 29 ’22). “Relentless advocacy” is required, she said. Gosh like the RBA’s s now on offer school talks on “the benefits of studying economics.” Better than nothing.

The Australian Society for Medical Research wants the budget to double investment in National Health and Medical Research Council schemes. In part this is because grant success rates at “historic lows,” “puts Australia at risk of losing more of our highly skilled workforce to overseas or other sectors.”  But it is also to ensure the Medical Research Future Fund has something to do with its buckets of money, for translation of research discoveries into clinical practice and commercialisation.”

“For the MRFF to remain successful, investment in the NHMRC must be increased to an adequate level that can sustain the discovery research needed for impactful translation of healthcare innovations.”



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