Thursday, December 16, 2010

Assange, internet, education

Just a bit of a round-up this morning.

News here is understandably dominated by the dreadful sinking on Christmas Island. One question is the apparent failure of JORN (Jindalee Operational Radar Network) to pick the boat up. There is a story here that I must tell one day. 

In Comparative Law 101: Roman law v Common law and Julian Assange Skepticlawyer had an interesting discussion on common vs roman law that taught me several things I didn't know; I knew that Scottish law was different from English law, but didn't know what the differences were; I didn't know much about the origins of roman law; and I certainly didn't fully appreciate variety between jurisdictions with apparently common legal systems.

I haven't commented on the continuing wikileaks story, although I have been reading with interest. The Lowy Institute blog has quite an interesting thread.

The Australian has now released full text of the Australian originated US cables. Our fellow blogger Paul Barratt appeared twice on national TV in his guise as a former head of the Australia Defence Department, once on SBS World News and then on the 7.30 Report. I simply haven't had the time to attempt a proper analysis of all this, although I'm inclined to share Neil's opinion expressed in WikiLeaks shock: Australian intel outfit sane!; on the American reports, Australian official opinion seems reassuringly sensible on some issues.

I did wonder what Paul might think of the criticisms expressed in reports of Australian defence procurement given his previous defence of the Department's record in this area.

In a somewhat linked story to all this, in ITWIre Stuart Corner reports that an extraordinary meeting on 6 December of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) decided to create a Working Group on Improvements to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) with a membership made up only of governments.

Beneath these dry words lies a debate as to who should control the internet. For some obscure reason, national governments take the view that they should. I wonder why?

A week back I gave something of a round-up of education issues in Education round-up. In Intellectual gains tax on Catallaxy Files, Sinclair Davidson discusses the UK imbroglio over fees. Referring to Australia, he says in part:   

While I share his concern, I think Marginson’s immediate argument is wrong. It isn’t that there is no public benefit in having an educated populace, but rather the private benefits are so high that individuals should pay more (or all) of their higher education costs. To be sure, there is an argument for scholarships and bursaries for special needs and low-income individuals and what-not but the principle of self-funded higher education should be established as the norm.

The concern I have is that government views the higher education system as some form of industry policy where they can pick winners. It is not clear that a humanities student is less valuable from a public good perspective than a science or technology graduate.

I won't comment on the argument at this point. I just wanted to record it. 

An article in the Australian by Andrew Trounson,  UK crisis sounds a warning to sector, was one trigger for Sinclair Davidson's post. Again, just noting.

At Monash University, Vice-chancellor Ed Byrne announced that 356 full-time equivalent staff had accepted voluntary redundancy packages. Monash has just under 8000 staff. The redundancies were triggered by a fall in overseas student numbers.

In a parallel  story, Decline in China numbers to persist, Michael Sainsbury reports that:

The future of Australia's $5 billion Chinese foreign student market is bleak.

Forward enrolments for critical English language courses are down by about 50 per cent next year and there is little relief in sight for at least two years.

Education agents in China expect the sharp downturn in enrolments will result in some institutions experiencing drops of more than 20 per cent in numbers of new students next year. The market is unlikely to stabilise for at least two years and then only if there is an imaginative re-think of immigration policies.

Then, too, Bernard Lane and Julie Hare report:

LEGISLATION for a new higher education regulator is just one item of unfinished sector business for parliament in the new year.

A bill to set up the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency was to be introduced last month but was held back after a sector revolt.

Legislation for TEQSA's counterpart in vocational education and training did reach the Senate on the last sitting day of November but senators had other priorities, chiefly the feud over the National Broadband Network.

TEQSA has a July 1, 2011, start-up date as a quality assurance agency and the national VET regulator is supposed to function from April next year.

The long-awaited bill to fund student amenities on campus did not make it to the Senate, despite the insistence of Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans that it had to pass before Christmas. Resolution of a conflict over Youth Allowance was deferred in mid-November with a Senate committee asked to revisit the definition of regional students. That committee will report in February.

Meanwhile, several key reports from the federal education department didn't see the light of day this year. Undergraduate Applications Offers and Acceptances 2010, the 2009 Finance Report and the 2009 Higher Education Report missed being published on the department website this year.

Sorry for the long quotes; just recording. I think that one of the reasons why the education debate gets so messy, why to my mind there is now a rolling crisis in Australian higher education, lies in the failure to stand back and disentangle issues. As a consequence, universal and often conflicting nostrums are applied combined with very specific measures based on siloed analysis. This has a kind of compounding negative effect.

Looking back over past education and training posts to add a postscript to Education round-up, I don't really like their consistently negative tone. They depress me! 

Enough for today.  

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