Weekend reflections

It’s time again for weekend reflections, which makes space for longer than usual comments on any topic. In keeping with my attempts to open up the comments to new contributors , I’d like to redirect discussion, as opposed to substantive new contributions, to the sandpit(s). As always, civilised discussion and no coarse language please.

44 thoughts on “Weekend reflections

  1. That’s good, John. Hopefully more people will read the book.

    OTOH, though, this could bring on an attack from the flying monkeys.

  2. Jill, I understand your argument and I’d like to give support to your point @13 regarding the outsourcing of public services (an element of the so-called ‘third way’). IMO, the outsourcing of public services requires, in many if not all cases, a doubling of technical knowledge and a multiple of information flows and analysis, if it is to result in ‘quality’ outcomes. (‘quality’ meaning good quality). The public sector department has to have people who are at least as knowledgable as the most knowledgeable private service provider (thus there is no saving on relatively highly paid public sector staff) in order to assess the services offered. Potential private sector providers have to write submissions (bids) knowing in advance that only 1 will get the job (thus there is duplication of work and this will be costed in). Then the government departments are supposed to monitor the services provided (duplicating the managerial jobs of the service provider). But the monitoring of outsourced jobs by governmet departments is limited to what they are allowed to look at. It does not surprise me that many people complain about declining services (quality and amount) at higher prices and greater government expenditure, not to mention the time spent by people in trying to find out who is actually in charge of anything and who is responsible (trying to get a light bulb replaced in a street light is no longer just a call to the local council – it is a mini research job!) Then there is the problem of contracts and their enforcement. One of the practical nuisance outcomes of this approach is the generation of mountains of reports without consequence other than the wastage of paper and time.

    My point about terminology is aimed at not allowing the ‘third way’ people and ‘new public sector management’ people to deflect their mis-interpretation of the theory of competitive private ownership economies (‘market economy’). IMO, this theory can continue to provide insights into practical problems but it cannot be ‘applied’ in the way these people seem to want to do it. Attempts to do so result in versions of zombie economics. This is so because in these models there is no government and there are no corporations governed by corporate law and there are no managers who behave as they can under corporate law. Hence the useful bit of the theory (the welfare of all individuals matters) is lost and the practical usefulness of a competent public sector (governed by different rules) is lost too.

  3. @Alice
    Alice, using the proceeds to invest in coal doesn’t surprise me; after two decades of clear science telling us we need to reduce emissions we get more coal mines, coal exports, coal export infrastructure, coal fired power plants. That’s from the ‘side’ of politics that publicly acknowledges the reality of the problem! I think la Nina is having an impact on the political psyche as much as the weather; rivers flowing, dams full or filling, fire hazard reduced, cooler weather – perfect conditions for putting off difficult long term policy decisions on climate change and focus on short term expediency.

  4. Dear Prof,

    I cant think of where else to post this comment bvut you must make public what is going on in our universities. There is a core meltdown happening. Apparently 90 academics have been stood down at MQ, academics have been stood down and havent been paid for two months at UWS, the same is happening at UNSW.

    It is quite clear uni managements are treating their staff like utter cr….p. Casualisation is the neme of the game. Pressuring existing permanents to increase their workloads is the name of the game.

    The NTEU is next to useless because it failed to acknowledge the casual academics working in permanent part time capacity using their own resources years ago (hence no casuals joing the NTEU). The NTEU is bleeding members every year as unis pput more and more academics on ficed term uncertain contracts.

    We all know its been happening for quite some time but there is real discontent emerging in academic staff. Those who still have some permanency are now being treated badly (I wont comment on the fact that I could see this coming).

    Its disgusting. Uni corporate managements and the profit motive is destroying our universities and the livelihoods of Australias brightest.

    What fools are we? What fools do we have as governments?

    Is this any way to treat our academics?

  5. And the profit motif in Australias univeristies is destroying the lives of our youth by saddling them with debts they should never be paying.’
    Thats just great isnt it/ Unis now screwing students and academics to make a buck.
    Move on corporate managers and let us clear the cretins out of management of the uni system. They are just degrading it.

    You know, even Navitas treats its employees and stidents better than public unis do and they are a private organisation.

    What a come down. How far we have sunk.

    But mostly I object to the way universities treat students as cash cows that they can keep drawing blood from.

  6. But Ill tip my hat to the Chinese – the great copiers that they are! My students tell me you can name your textbook and buy it for $5 or $10 from copy shops in the inner city!!

    Yes! A fightback fromstudents for the exorbitant marketing of textbooks (and the new editions every year and the skinny inadequate dumbed down textbooks and the scams involving publishers to rip students off by charging ridiculous rates for textbooks).

    If any students want the phone no – ask me. You can buy your two hundred dollar textbooks for $10. So publishers and uni profiteerers – take that. You wont stop the copying. Students already know.

    Chinese do what they are good at and thank goodness they do.

  7. And just so every one knows exatly how useless the NTEU is,
    where exactly is the news of all these styand downs if academics on their website or in the news?

    If Id been paying union fees for years Id be pretty ticked off (except that I realised years ago NTEU were useless).

    NTEU need to go for training (professional development) on how to be a good union. Id suggest they take lessons from the TWU. It could take a while.

  8. Here is the information for MQ


    similar is happening at UWS and UNSW

    Those MQ staff should do en masse what the staff did in the UK to the VC they have now. The guy is a ruthless right winger and everyone at his uni in the UK walked out and sat on the grass and called for his resignation.

    So why did he end up at MQ?? (he must have been appointed under Howard – who else would employ such a person??)

  9. Hello I’d just like to thank JQ for hosting an excellent blog over the year from a frequent reader though less frequent poster.

    I posted this on another blog and I thought it might interest some here:

    This is a link to an excellent site of the US Economic Policy Institue and their report: State of Working America. This November story pulls no punches on the US job market.

    The more I follow the US economy, Obama proclaiming the recession as over is looking more and more like George W Bush standing on an aircraft carrier with a banner saying “mission accomplished” behind him. In both cases, their only real accomplishment seems to have been getting elected, and in Bush’s case re-elected.

    I do not suggest that Obama caused the recession. But his efforts to fix it have been feeble. If he thinks 10% unemployment is doing OK, with no foreseeable prospect of jobs for 75% of the unemployed, then I’d hate to see failure. Unless he turns this around soon, I’d bet money on a Repug President in 2012.

    To further illustrate the point, in November the US economy generated 39000 new jobs. That is in a population of 307 million, with 9.8% unemployment. By comparison, Australia generated 54,000 new jobs. We have a population of 22 million, and unemployment of 5.2%, with a higher participation rate.

    So Australia now is creating more new jobs than the United States, despite half the unemployment rate and 1/15th the population. Pretty grim if you are out of a job in the USA. Spain and Ireland are almost twice as bad.

    If this keeps up, Obama is toast. As Clinton said, “its the economy stupid”.

    Conversely, I don’t think most people realise how well we are doing here now. On that thankfull note, I’ll wish Ken Henry a happy retirement, and you all a happy christmas.

  10. @Socrates
    Socrates – I dont want to agree we are doing well here when its all relative. So what if the US is doing really badly? So what if Ireland is doing worse. To imagine we are doing well when Muns and Dads are bailing out their kids till they are nearly 30 and beyind because youth unemployment is high and rents are even higher – well to say we are doing well relatively isnt good enough. We are doing worse than we were 30 years ago. I want to be saving for retirement not supporting my kids who unis are ripping off and the private rental and housing market is excluding.
    Nonsense we are doing well. We are just doing marginally better than countries who have hit a brick wall and are sliding down it.

  11. @Socrates

    Seing as I have an axe to grind – take a read of VC Schwarz trepid response to the tripling of fees for British students. My god – the man even quotes the “Oz” as an authority. Oh dear – so much for VC of universities.
    How old is he? Certainly not old enough to even realise what education as public good is.

    To quote VC Schwarz

    “I say that Australia’s stronger economy means there isn’t the same pressure to increase student contributions via HECS, but circumstances can change.

    But, I add, most universities still had some scope for improved efficiencies before they could justify arguing for fee increases. ”

    Ill bet Schwarz will be looking for those efficiencies and the circumstances to change, and even if they sont he is warming up to justify fee increases for students on the mining boom

    Yeah right, as if. Maybe Schwarz didnt sell as many parking places as he would have like too. Why are the premium E spots still empty? Has Cochlear (Ltd) laid off staff?

  12. Maybe someone need to remind theMQ VC that the students that attend his uni are hardly likely to be beneficiaries of the mining boom.

  13. Im still here batting for uni staff because over 15 years I have seen conditions and treatment of academics go from decent to utterly appalling in the main Sydney universities.

    Its a national disgrace that our main universities have become so addicted to the use of short term casuals and fixed contracts that they now think the students can be utterly neglected and left to run on auto pilot each semester with a revolving door of inexperienced new grads as classroom teachers and short fixed term contract lecturers who are so damn busy running around like B…A….F…..s wearing multiple hats and being so paranoid about their own fixed term contracts they wont even speak about it. Academic freedom of speech, the first casualty of casualisation of our universities.

    They have become a miserable work place, no longer a place of intellectual enlightenment.

    Yet Uni managements are happy to take every extra fee and charge from students and staff, and squash more and more into classrooms, that they can get away with.

    I really dont know anymore how academic staff can enter the univerities without first pegging their noses at the stench of greed around them.

    Our main unis think that people should fund entirely the study towards their own phds over many years, and then only offer them casual or short fixed term contracts with no guarantees as they do so.

    Its disgusting that they use casual tutors (often those poor sods working towards a phd whilst living on an absolute breadline with no guarantee of work even one semester ahead) and expect them to stay on line for students with their own technology and their own office at home, to save the universities paying the cost for facilities.

    Its an ugly way to treat our brightest students who pursue higher learning.

    It is almost at the point where there is no point in pursuing higher learning when both governments and university managements are so stupid that they offer no incentives, and every deterrence, for academic progression.

    A pox on both but the biggest pox on John Howard who did his utmost to degrade and ruin our once excellent and well respected university system.

    There is more dignity of employment (and it is about dignity and treating staff and students with respect) in many other government departments.

    Who are these University Vice Chancellors that in the space of 15 years have so trodden on our university academics.

    Zombies – every last one them – not men of learning at all.


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