Thursday, October 16, 2003

Brendan Nelson – make your mind up

Today, of course, is higher education strike day. Up in Darwin, blogger-academic Ken Parish is scabbing – albeit with some qualms and qualifications (typical lawyer!), while in Brisbane fellow aca-blogger John Quiggin is firmly downing tools, including to the point of making sure his pay will be docked.

More ambiguously, down the road from chez Watson, at the dreaming (although cream-brick and squat) spires of Melbourne Uni, Andrew Norton – blogger and policy aide-de-camp to that institution’s outgoing VC – has successfully braved the picket lines, only to then sit down at work and tap-tap at his blog. Which is a tried and true form of passive resistance-style industrial action in Australia – doing one’s private stuff on the boss’s time.

On the other hand, Andrew could well argue that his blog’s description of today’s strike as “pointless” is well within the general duties of his job. After all, Education Minister Brendan Nelson had used that exact same adjective in a news report 41 minutes earlier, and re-transcribing what the Great Leader has previously said should, at least in the current political climate, be applauded as well-intentioned homage (and certainly not derided as lazy, private partisan politicking in place of doing actual work).

And speaking of Dr Nelson, I am unsure what to make of this, his latest ultimatum:

"If Australia is to continue to enjoy a world class higher education system, change and investment is urgently required." (same URL)

When my expensively educated – but now sadly little-utilised – mind read this, I distinctly recalled that Dr Nelson has previously spoke of regaining our “world class” higher education system. In other words, that such a status had been lost, albeit hopefully only temporarily. (As to why this tidbit stuck in my brain – I half-wrote a blog some time ago regarding a somewhat fanciful legal action, in which I would demand a “put option” of my (earning-power-sending-backwards) degrees from the government; under which I would renounce them, but in return be reimbursed for the half-a-million dollars or so they have (not-at-all-fancifully) cost me, as naturally set off by the (relatively piffling) government subsidies I received while doing some of them.)

Anyway, back to the main issue – does Australia enjoy “a world class higher education system” right now, according to Brendan Nelson? Today, it’s clearly a “yes” but funnily enough, in September, it was this:

They said to me throughout the course of the review that it was critically important if we're going to have a world-class higher education system that the universities themselves be able to set the HECS charge.

and similarly, in July:

We will not ever have a world-class higher education system or individual university in this country so long as we continue with an arrangement that says every university is the same. It's a fantasy that needs to end.

“It's a fantasy that needs to end”. Touché, Dr Nelson.

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