A political culture of ‘consequence and retribution’

The Australian this morning reports Michael Chaney’s comment that ‘thin-skinned politicians’ are creating a culture of ‘consequence and retribution’ for businesspeople who speak out on policy.

Unfortunately he did not name names or give examples. These instances may not in reality be frequent. But the perception that the danger exists has a chilling effect on public debate.

It is one of the main reasons I oppose lowering the threshold for the disclosure of political donations. If we assume that politicians will favour their own donors, I think we must also assume that politicians will disfavour their opponents’ donors. The disclosure regime creates for the government a convenient list of opposition donors.

No wonder ‘thin-skinned’ Labor wants the current $11,500 threshold lowered to $1,000.
Update 8/10: PM denies intimidation.

Avoiding the OECD cringe

The Age this morning published my response to Simon Marginson’s earlier op-ed arguing that OECD comparisons show that we are ‘falling off the pace in education’.

My basic points are that:

* despite cuts to government funding, by the (limited) available output indicators things improved during the period that per student funding was declining; and
* differences in funding levels across the OECD reflect different ways of organising higher education finance, not necessarily better or worse ways.

It is an ‘OECD cringe’ to think that the OECD sets benchmarks that we should follow.

A couple of paragraphs were cut out, so I have copied the original in below the fold. Continue reading “Avoiding the OECD cringe”

Banning degrees

In recent years ‘Juris Doctor’ (JD) programs have proliferated around the country (eg U of M, UNSW, Monash, Sydney). JDs are initial professional entry qualifications for legal practice, but in theory at least taught at Masters level.

But now a team from the Australian Qualifications Framework Council – led by the great crusher of educational diversity, John Dawkins – has effectively recommended prohibiting the JD terminology. A report to education ministers issued late last week recommends that all qualifications taught at the various levels set out in the report be exclusively known by the names provided in the AQF. So all JDs would have to be renamed ‘Master of [Legal Something]’.

To date, degree titles have been a matter of self-regulation for universities. The current qualifications framework describes higher education qualifications, but does not prescribe them for self-accrediting institutions.

This system of self-regulation seems to have worked pretty well. The main criticism has been that some masters degrees are too light – really just undergraduate subjects, or too short, or both. Intellectually, some honours bachelor degrees are superior to some masters degrees. But there is little evidence that this has caused significant ‘real world’ problems. Employers know what is what. Continue reading “Banning degrees”

Buying your say?

The SMH led yesterday with some prematurely released information about NSW political contributions.

This caught my eye:

A Nationals lunch also secured donations from the Stonewall Hotel and Arq nightclub, both in Darlinghurst. The venues, which contributed $1500 each, were initially on the government’s list of most violent venues but have been removed after recording a fall in the number of assaults.

I expect that representatives of a gay bar like the Stonewall and a nightclub like the Arq are not regulars at National Party events. Indeed, unlike the hotel association and casino operator they probably wouldn’t even get a formal meeting with Nationals MP and Coalition spokesperson for licenced premises George Souris. But presumably they could approach him at the lunch.

These functions are always presented as illegitimate sources of influence which ‘exclude’ people who cannot afford to spend $1,500 on a lunch. But another way of looking at it is that they give access to people who are not political insiders. I know from my experience as a political adviser that functions are places where ministers get to hear things they are not hearing through their official channels. For those whose power comes from influencing the information flow and appointments diary that isn’t always a good thing. But for the overall political process, I think it is.

Are student unions anachronisms?

The bill to re-introduce compulsory amenities fees isn’t pleasing even National Union of Students President Carla Drakeford.

In an Age op-ed she complains that

there would be no legislative measure that forces universities to direct funds from the complusory $250 fee to independent student organisations … student associations need autonomy to represent the views of their students.

My view is that the role of student unions is at minimum much diminished compared to the past. When student unions started their universities had within-state monopolies and few formal means of tracking student views. Student unions were a counter-balance to university staff and administrations that had weak mechanisms for feedback and no real incentive to act on it.

Things are very different now. Students are asked their views on the university’s peformance so often that ‘survey fatigue’ is a major issue. Every university depends for its survival on the fees of highly mobile international students. Though I had my doubts about whether the demand-driven system for Australian students would work, the mad rush to enrol more students suggests that universities will compete strongly in this market too. Continue reading “Are student unions anachronisms?”