Update 11.30am 14/9: ‘Tertiary education’ to be added to Chris Evans’ ministerial title. Who is responsible for postgraduate coursework remains unclear, to me at least.
Update 9.30pm 14/9: The Coalition gets it right, with a shadow minister for education, Christopher Pyne, and a shadow minister for universities and research, Senator Brett Mason. The government has now clarified what Chris Evans will be responsible for postgraduate coursework. He is off to a shambolic start.
University lobby groups aren’t happy that there is no longer a minister for education, the portfolio being split between the minister for schools, early childhood and youth (Peter Garrett), the minister for jobs, skills and workplace relations (Chris Evans) and the minister for innovation, industry and science (Kim Carr).
The disappearance of higher education is most striking. I thought Evans might be the minister, but on Saturday afternoon I could not confirm it from the published list of new ministers. Gillard clarified the matter on Insiders on Sunday morning.
The atmospherics of this are really bad. John Dawkins is the Great Satan of traditional knowledge-for-its-own sake academics, but his policy documents always had a nod to the humanities and there was no significant steering of the system away from generalist degrees. Whatever he thought about arts academics or academics in general, he respected their self-conception as being about more than the service of the economy or whatever other goals the government of the day had.
By contrast Gillard as minister did not even bother with lip service support of the arts. The word ‘humanities’ doesn’t appear in her main policy document. Gillard seemed to have an instrumental view of higher education – it is there to provide skilled workers and create opportunities for the ‘socially excluded’. This was why I thought Gillard would put higher education in with vocational education under ‘skills’. That may be her policy priority, but it reflects tone deaf politics. A different set of words would have saved her this morning’s negative media.
What hasn’t appeared in the commentary is that the two men she has appointed as minister responsible for higher education are the two men whose decisions (or at least the decisions they announced) have done/will do most financial damage to higher education in the history of federal involvement in the field.
Simon Crean, minister from July to the weekend, was also the minister in 1995 when the Keating government announced an indexation system which cut per student funding in real terms every year from 1995 to 2004 and then again from 2008 to 2010.
And new minister Chris Evans in his previous capacity as immigration minister changed the migration rules in ways that will reduce the flow of international students, and the fees they pay that sustain the dysfunctional public core of the higher ed system. At least he will understand what the unis are complaining about….