The Week That Was (27 March)

Defence Minister Richard Marles announces skills programs for the AUKUS submarine program including “non-destructive testing traineeships.” Always wise not to blow up the workforce.


The Australian National University has 150 buildings, with only five named for women. The university intends to improve on this, asking the ANU community for “outstanding female-identifying graduates, former staff, or individuals who have made exceptional achievements and contributions to our university’s development.” A committee will select eight names for the ANU Council to consider.


Federation U is in strife. A staff briefing states that declining international and student numbers mean the university needs to reduce costs by $40m – half of which must come from staff savings. If not enough people accept voluntary redundancies, “we will unfortunately have no other option but to consider forced redundancies.”  Unions note that this will amount to shedding 12% of ongoing staff. Management wants it known that it is not mucking about, “any delay in realising the savings identified will increase the fiscal challenge by $1.4 million per month.”

To which National Tertiary Education Union branch president Mathew Abbott, responds, “Fed Uni has revenue problems due to declining student numbers, but by removing academic offerings and student support services these cuts will make these problems far worse.”

The Union described the Future Fed program as, “a hamfisted euphemism for brutal cuts, with 200 ongoing staff to be made redundant.” The university says that Future Fed responds to ongoing decline in enrolments and will streamline internal operations, “to allow for strengthened investment in the student experience”. International enrolments fell by 49% between 2019 and 2023.


IBM announces a “future lab” at Edith Cowan U, building on a pilot programme there. The intent is to, “provide successful students with a paid internship working in areas aligned to their studies.” 


Education Minister Jason Clare generally has an answer for everything, (often involving a new inquiry) but he struggled in the Reps on Monday. Dai Le the independent member for the western Sydney seat of Fowler asked what the government was going to do for young people struggling “with an increased mountain” of HELP debt.

Mr Clare responded that Fowler is a splendid electorate, poked fun at Opposition MPs and reminded the House about the achievements of the Hawke and Keating governments. As to the actual question, the answer was nothing yet. Mr Clare said the government would respond to Accord recommendations on HELP “in the next few months.”  Which could be before, in, or after the budget.


New ABC chair Kim Williams announced three more years of funding for the Top Five program, residencies, “for the next generation of inspiring research communicators.” There are five each for HASS, Science and the arts.


Despite deploreagrams about the Government’s plan to reduce international arrivals suspected of wanting to work more and study less, numbers in January for HE were up on last year. HE had 44,700 this year, (compared to 30,500 in 2022) and they were stable for VET at 16,400 (13,600).  However, all international arrivals were 8 per cent down on pre-Covid  (January 2019).


A learned reader responds to Future Campus’s suggestion that the authority of the all-but announced Australian Tertiary Education Commission will extend to infinity and beyond by pointing to Hugh Hudson’s 1985 review of a predecessor which became too big for its bureaucratic boots.

“I have become convinced,” Hudson wrote “that the existing … structure is too complex, administratively cumbersome and inhibits cross-sectoral developments. In particular, I am concerned that the processes for the preparation of commission reports and council advice tend to encourage ‘ambit claims’ from state authorities, institutions and councils, and produce much wasted effort on the part of all those involved, both in Canberra and in the states. Expectations are created which cannot be fulfilled. The commission, in this environment, appears to be excessively reactive rather than innovative or an initiator of policies. Any commission policy thrust tends to be diluted and lost in the complexity of the arrangements.” As a chairman of the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission he would have known.


The proposed Australian Tertiary Education Commission as a planning agency looks like a classic straight from Leonid Brezhnev’s greatest hits, a learned reader remarks. But not if it has the fire-power to predict the future and accordingly allocate resources – which sounds like a job for an LLM that can assemble and analyse data in a way no Soviet ministry of training and tractor parts could have imagined.

Alas, or thankfully, depending on who or what you trust least, it won’t happen.  Sinclair Davidson (RMIT) explains in a new paper that what AI can’t do is solve the economic knowledge problem. “AI can simplify complexity but does not resolve contextual knowledge problems. Human insight and decision-making remain necessary to resolve the economic problem at both the macro and micro levels of the economy,” he writes.

Which FC thinks means that all the data in the world cannot account for the human whimsy and wisdom of individuals making up their own minds.



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