Saturday, September 24, 2011

Saturday Morning Musings - economic turmoil, education, New Zealand & the Armidale Express

I am feeling a bit moody this morning, not really wanting to concentrate. It's part connected with the Australian papers; depression in talk, depression in mood. Not happy, Jan.

I find the detailed economic reporting difficult to read at the moment. Quite a bit of it is actually dominated by ideological positions of one type or another. I would find it easier if there was some re-weighting between specific analysis and attacks on opposing views.

I am not being especially critical. I just find it hard to read.

National planning for global downturn is the start of an attempt on my part to refresh my own thinking. I suppose that I am trying to define to my own satisfaction an approach that might actually allow Australia to take some advantage of its relatively strong position at a time of continuing economic turmoil.

I have had many goes at what I see as short termism in Australian politics; Belshaw's World - big issues missed in political discourse is a recent example. On 23 September, Opposition Leader Abbott outlined his approach to improved productivity. Outside the ideological stances that affect the varying approaches, I actually see little difference between the two sides in that both have a mechanistic focus on a small number of policy measures; pull this policy lever, push that policy bail and the sun will shine again.

I said that I was feeling moody!

In earlier posts, I discussed the mess that had been created for Australia's export education sector by (among other things) shifting Government visa requirements. During the week the report of the Knight Inquiry into student visa requirements was released. I quote from Bernard Lane's story in the Australian:

UNIVERSITIES will be allowed to entice foreign students with quick visa approvals and the right to two years of work after graduation as part of a reform package to stem further losses of overseas student income.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen and Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans said yesterday they would act on a remarkably frank report on Australia's education export industry by former NSW politician Michael Knight.

By mid next year, foreign students keen on an Australian university degree will have access to a new, fast-track visa system.

Those who are interested can find the full report plus Government response here. I haven't read it yet, but it's apparently a very readable report. Blind Freddy could see that something would have to be done, if only to counter successful competition from New Zealand's eight state universities!

One issue that I haven't looked at for some time is the relationship between the university and vocational education sectors. The latest changes again favour the university sector.

On New Zealand, I have often tried to point to the importance of that country to Australia. This is not just my Kiwi side coming out, nor am I talking solely about economics. Relative to its size, New Zealand has had a disproportionate influence on Australia. If you doubt this, have a look at this 2006 post of mine, Changes in Public Administration - the New Zealand Model.

As a small, open economy perched on the edge of the world, New Zealand is exposed to change in a way that Australia is not. As an example, consider this quote from a paper by Dr Andrew Butcher of the Asia New Zealand Foundation:

New Zealand, among Western countries actively engaged with the Asian region, has a significant Asian population. At the 2006 census nine percent of New Zealanders identified themselves as ethnically Asian and we can reasonably suppose that had the census been held this year we would see that percentage increase. Based on projections from the 2006 census, 16 percent of New Zealand’s population will be ethnically Asian by the year 2026.

I have said before that the changes taking place in New Zealand and especially in Auckland dwarf those taking place in the larger and more insular Australia.

Border myopia is an interesting thing, Just as most statistical analyses of NSW ignore the presence of the ACT (an absurdity), so analysis of Australia ignores New Zealand. Yet for many practical purposes, Australia and New Zealand form a single entity in social and economic terms. Of course there are differences as there are between WA and the eastern states, yet New Zealand change does flow on to Australia, if with a lag.

Changing directions, I was fascinated by a story on the ABC, Aboriginal DNA dates Australian arrival. I quote:

The finding, published today in the journal Science, rewrites the history of the human species by confirming humans moved out of Africa in waves of migrations rather than in one single out-of-Africa diaspora.

The study is based on a lock of hair donated to British anthropologist Alfred Haddon by an Aboriginal man from the Goldfields region of Western Australia in the early 20th century.

The genome, shown to have no genetic input from modern European Australians, reveals the ancestors of the Aboriginal man separated from the ancestors of other human populations 64,000 to 75,000 years ago.

Leave aside the rather breathless reporting with its modern attitudinal overlays. The key thing is that it suggests that the Aborigines arrived early and by a southern route. On the surface, the story actually fits with some earlier DNA analysis carried out in India that I reported on back in 2009, An Ancient Australia-Indian connection.

I do love the way that science allows us to lift the veil from aspects of the human past!

Finishing this post with a change in direction, my Armidale Express column Belshaw's World - the online myth discussed aspects of education delivery in the on-line world. A little later, the paper carried some remarks by UNE VC James Barber on on-line education that I thought were remarkably silly. That reaction may be unfair; I will review and write later. 

I have been arguing for some time with my Express editor, Christian Knight, that he has to put more of the paper on-line. I say this now because the Barber story is not on-line.

The Express is a slightly unusual paper because of Armidale's role as an educational centre. It's not just that I write for it, but so do many others. Here I want to quote from Janene Carey, an Express journo who has by-lined national stories from her Armidale base:     

I'm always surprised by how many people discount country journalism and don't bother to buy the local paper. I had lunch with an academic friend recently who seemed bemused that I'd want a part-time postdoctoral fellowship so I could continue working at the Armidale Express. She even asked me if I'd 'ever considered journalism as a profession?' - by which she meant a job on a "real" newspaper, a daily in the city covering serious, important stories.

Although the list of things that I'll be working on today by no means represent a typical day at the Express, tasks like these do come along often enough to keep me hooked:

1. Writing up the speech Walkley-award winning journalist David Marr gave in Armidale on Tuesday about the 'politics of panic' driving Australia's asylum seeker policies
2. Waiting to hear back from federal MP Tony Windsor about his reaction to what Armidale-based environmental activist Carmel Flint said about the bill he's just introduced to Parliament (it's aiming to protect water resources from coal seam gas exploration - something dear to Carmel's own heart - but she's called it 'a toothless trigger')
3. Interviewing former PLC student Fiona Simson, who in July became the first woman to head the NSW Farmers Association (largely on the strength of her campaigning against CSG exploration and its effects on food production) for a profile in our next glossy Seasons magazine

I reckon that sounds like an interesting day's work!

And indeed it does, Janene!

Christian, I will continue my campaign. You are downplaying your own paper, and its contributors!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The economic situation needs to be improved.
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