Tuesday, June 28, 2005

the degree factories.

Last night on Four Corners, the ideologically blind Brendon Nelson was asked if there was any incentive for lecturers to “dumb down” courses in Australian universities.

A couple of lecturers had asserted that they had felt the various “pressures” and “temptations” to lower the standards for their courses. It has been well known for a long time that universities fall to these temptations and place their lecturers under pressure to accede to their demands. It is patent that they do, given that:
1. Australian universities are completely dependent upon full–fee paying international students (something in the order of 30-40% of their revenue -- I am unsure of that number). Easier entry requirements mean more students (in the short term), and more revenue. At the same time they require easier courses if they are going to pass. (Really, how can you have a business degree with no economics component?)
2. The increasing importance accorded to student review mechanisms mean that declining popularity of a course may lead to its demise.

I have seen both of these things happen.

The only incentive remaining for academics to maintain standards is that of academic integrity, which is certainly not unimportant. But I am sure it would be difficult to maintain standards, especially if you are teaching in a small university course that is pitched primarily at international students to garner revenue for the university. (And in this case the university overrides your marking anyway, so it is impossible to maintain standards).

Brendon Nelson’s *considered* response to the suggestion that there may be some perverse incentive to lower academic standards in Australian standards:
“Absolutely ridiculous. You show me these lecturers — that’s absolutely ridiculous”.
I agree. This is fucking ridiculous. You wonder if our Minister for Education got his degree off ebay from an Australian university starved of funds and willing to prostitute itself for whatever money it can find*.

*Actually no. He got his for free from a university that had sufficient funding at the time.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

IR reviews

Someone asked me ages ago to write about what I thought about the imminent IR 'reforms' and I still haven't got around to it. It is a subject that I feel that I know very little about and don't really feel confident talking about it. Still, I am slowly getting a clearer idea as to where things are going, and it is, well, scary.

However, a good overview of the changes and their potential effects are found here, in the form of a 'report card' on the government's IR reform process, produced by a range of IR and labour market academics. They feel that it is a good idea that "industrial relations policies should be informed and led by research and evidence". Reasonable.

They conclude that the reforms will:

  • Undermine people's rights at work

  • Deliver a flexibility that in most cases is one way, favouring employers

  • Do - at best - nothing to address work family issues

  • Have no direct impact on productivity

  • Disadvantage the individuals and groups already most marginalised in Australian society

  • In addition to the overview page there is a range of accompanying (draft) papers that are of interest. I am currently looking at the one on wage inequality by Peter Saunders (the 'good' one, not the 'evil' one). Keep you posted on that one.

    The only thing that I can add at the moment is that any negative effects that are to be felt now are only going to be amplified in times of lower (or negative) economic growth. If these reforms are increasing the market power of the employer at the moment, with unemployment at one of its lowest levels for donkey's years, what is going to happen if/when things get a bit tighter? This extra leverage in the labour market will be fully utilised by employers and the consequences realised by employees in times of economic downturn and an excess supply of labour. You think that it is bad now, just wait.

    On the upside, with the collection and concentration of control of the IR realm by the federal government, if a Labor government was to return to power (hah!), they would be able to institute their changes.
    (Whatever such changes would be... how the fuck would I know what the ALP are thinking? They are such non-entity. Come on guys, we are talking about worker's rights here)

    Thanks to Robert for pointing me towards the UNSW page. It is both interesting and useful.

    Wednesday, June 15, 2005

    on credibility.

    Who has more credibility? Politicians who are willing to go against the flow of their party to fight a matter of unconscionable immigration policy, or brown nosers who resort to labelling their colleagues “terrorists” for objecting to institutionalised human rights abuse in Australia?

    Rool klassy, Soph.

    Update: The daily flute (via Guido) is waiting for the Georgiou Four to be to be "packed off to a gulag", on the basis of the ASIO bill.

    suppressing and internalising discussion.

    In the absence of any effective opposition from the ALP it is good that there is still some political exchange continuing on the subject of mandatory detention and immigration law.

    It looks as though now the Georgiou bills will now be introduced on Monday next week, barring a spectacular backflip (which would not go unappreciated) from our PM. On the breakfast show on RN this morning, the Member for Pearce, Judy Moylan, said something along the lines of;
    “Party room solidarity needs to be put aside in the interests of human rights”.

    Nice idea. Only took eight years of government to for you to realise.

    And, while he is letting the two private member’s bills be introduced to the House of Representatives, our wonderfully open-minded leader is not going to give these bills any precedence, therefore limiting Parliamentary time to Georgiou’s introductions of the two bills and not allowing them to be debated.

    You could easily read this as Howard suppressing debate on human rights issues in Parliament.

    Of course, another interesting bit of all this is that to allow the bills to be debated, the dissident Liberals (Georgiou, Moylan, Bruce Baird and Russell Broadbent) will have to cross the floor, something that has not been an issue for a long time, if at all, under the Howard regime. Am waiting.

    Thursday, June 09, 2005


    noun . the acquisition of gain or advantage by dishonest, unfair, or shady means, especially through the abuse of one's position or influence in politics, business, etc.

    On the front page of the Age* today, it was reported that an astonishing 16 out of the 27 ‘special sports grants’ awarded prior to the federal election last year went to the one seat of Mcewen, held by the Minister for Small Business and Tourism, Fran Bailey. The Liberals had only held the seat in the 2001 election by a slender 1.04 percent advantage, and so there was a considerable realistic chance that the ‘honourable’ member would not get re-elected.

    The article also points out that another 6 of the grants went to another marginal Liberal seat, Makin, where Trish Draper (who we know is not averse to a good rort if she can find one) was re-elected.

    Minister for Sports, Rod Kemp says that there is no problem, because over half of the total money awarded went to Labour seats — it is my thought that John Howard chucked $8 million at Whitten oval in Footscray (a non-marginal ALP seat) precisely so that this line of defence could be offered.

    Apparently, a “dozen of the grants were for $10,000, regardless of the cost of the upgrade they were undertaking”. As Labor's regional development spokesman, Kelvin Thomson, said the pattern of grants had “all the hallmarks of election bribes”. Thomson goes on to say;
    “One electorate gets more projects than the other 149 electorates around Australia combined, and 12 of the 16 projects just happen to be for the same amount. What an astonishing coincidence.If something like this were to happen in Papua New Guinea or the Solomons, the World Bank or the IMF would cry graft.”

    Another coincidence is that Bailey had a favourable swing of 5.18 percent in the 2004 election. It works.

    Wednesday, June 08, 2005

    but he’s sooo beautiful — he must be innocent.

    I am now awaiting the cultural backlash following Russell Crowe being charged with assault in NYC, and facing up to seven years in jail.

    I think that this means that we really should cancel all aid to the USA (manifested as the recently enacted FTA, over support of ongoing imperialism) and start boycotting America completely (no more watching the OC …)

    Where is Howard on this one? What is Downer doing? What are Bolt and Ackerman saying?

    Don’t worry Russell, I heard from a mate that I sort of know through work that someone’s cousin was sitting on the train to Lilydale and overheard this dodgy fellow talking about how someone had told him that it was the baggage handlers chucked the phone. You'll be right, mate.

    Tuesday, June 07, 2005

    obligatory corby post.

    I wasn’t going to post on the Corby case … but (and you knew that was coming) but when reading about it today, a couple of things came to mind. I can go on about this for a while, but I will try and keep things somewhat to a minimum.

    I agree with Ken Parish that the initial evidence does sway me towards thinking that she’s guilty. Cited in support of this Troppo line is Federal Court Judge Ronald Sackville who says;
    “having a large amount of a prohibited drug in a person's luggage is ordinarily enough to establish a prima facie case against an accused in any legal system.”

    Despite this that we can’t really know because we haven’t heard the evidence ourselves, and I for one don’t know anything about criminal law in Indonesia (or Australia, for that matter) anyway.

    Throughout all the bullshit being slung around, I have become aware of the case of Chika Honda and her three fellow Japanese tourists who were convicted in Australia for trafficking heroin 13 years ago. This case has a number of striking similarities with the Corby case, and was discussed by both Sushi Das and Guido. One of the things that struck me about this case was I had no idea of it whatsoever before I came across Guido’s post, yet this has been going on for 13 years, and there is still a campaign to have Chika Honda’s conviction overturned. We didn’t care about it at all then, despite the same protestations of innocence, claims of people being used as unwitting ‘mules’, and allegations of bias in the foreign court system that we have been shouting so loudly. Listen to the discussion on this morning’s Radio National if you want more information on this case.

    Other interesting facets of this saga are the initial reaction and outrage (pretty girl, big tits, lets have hoax a terrorist attack on the Indonesian embassy, take our money back, I’m not going to Bali anymore …), and the ensuing reaction to the reaction, including Piers Ackerman and Andrew Bolt telling the rednecks to chill out (!) — which, despite the seriousness of the matter, is quite amusing.

    The sheer amount of bollocks that has been spread around by the wider media has been covered extensively in the media. And then you have the sheer amount of bollocks that is being spread around on the sheer amount of bollocks that is in the wider media. Go to Liz Jackson’s Mediawatch for an exposition of the spineless and pandering News Limited written media shock jocks of Ackerman, Bolt and Kelly.

    It must be recognised that this bollocks is by no means limited to News Limited. My own (comparatively mild) example of this, that struck me this morning, is the use of the Roy Morgan poll on the Corby case that was used in the Age.

    On Saturday, they used the poll as a basis to claim that,
    “Most Australians believe convicted drug trafficker Schapelle Corby is innocent”

    They go on to say that a *massive* 51 percent of those polled thought Corby was not guilty.

    Today (Tuesday) they come out with the question, “Corby: what do most believe?”, and answer their question with the statement that,

    “Australians are far more ambivalent about the Corby verdict than her supporters and the media coverage have suggested to date… For all of the vociferous outcry on talkback radio and the vigorous campaigning in some sections of the media, the results suggest a healthy degree of public scepticism about the way in which Corby's plight has been portrayed.”

    Using the same poll, they point out that only 17 percent think that Corby was definitely not guilty (which means that 34 percent think that she was probably not guilty). Nice cutting of the data, guys.

    The same criticisms that Liz Jackson levels at the News Limited parrots apply here — the Age is willing to run with the hype when it suits them, but when it is recognised that the unsavoury public reaction to the Corby verdict is a direct function of the sheer bullshit that has been heaped on the public, then they are totally unwilling to admit any role that they have had themselves.

    That is enough ranting for today.

    Monday, June 06, 2005

    the DSP offensive.

    The Australian Federation of Disability Organisations is initiating ‘Campaign Enable’, a targeted offensive seeking to achieve changes to policy relating to Disability Support Pensions (DSP) announced at the last budget. They are targeting marginal electorates that have a significant population of disabled people and unemployed people:

    “Campaign ‘Enable’ is targeted at 16 electorates where the Government is likely to sit up and take notice of our concerns. In 14 electorates the number of people with disability and on the Disability Support Pension exceeds the number of votes needed for the seat to change hands, e.g the Government holds the seat of Bass in Tasmania by 2.6%, the number of people living in Bass in receipt of the Disability Support Pension is 6.9%. We have also included the seat of Deakin as there is only 1% between the number of people on DSP (4.0) and the margin (5.0%) The 16th target electorate is the Prime Minister’s seat. At the next election 16 seats will decide who wins Government. As the following table shows, the significant number of Australians with disability living in these electorates means that policies affecting people with disabilities will be one of the deciding issues in the 2007 election.

    We believe the Government’s changes to the Disability Support Pension will force many people with a disability on to unemployment benefits – leaving them $44 a week worse off.”

    A list of the targeted electorates and current members, electoral margins, and percentages of electorates that currently on DSP or unemployment benefits is to be found in the campaign kit. The reaction of the AFDO to the recent changes is found here.

    Wednesday, June 01, 2005

    the tiebout hypothesis.

    It is supposedly the 50th anniversary of what is referred to as the Tiebout hypothesis*. I was unaware of this hypothesis until today (a reflection upon tertiary education in this country?) but it is always good have learnt something that I probably should have already known about. (Even though, as usual with economics, it just seems like common sense).

    The way I see it, governments are subject to a sort of competition (with each other) as suppliers of public goods. People will move elsewhere if they are not satisfied with the services they receive from their government for the taxes they pay, imposing a competitive pressure toward efficiency in the government sector. Specifically:

    “Tiebout argued that individuals select the communities in which they live by carefully balancing the taxes they must pay against the level of public services they receive in return. Rather than waiting for annual elections or voting referenda to express their preferences (which are satisfied only if they are in a majority), people find more immediate solutions to restoring imbalances that may suddenly arise between taxes and services: they move. One result of the threat to move is that it imposes competition on governmental units and, theoretically, forces them to be more efficient in supplying goods and services out of taxes.” (more to be found here, link found via catallaxy).

    This is probably most applicable at a local government level, although this immediately suggests to me that the restriction of migration removes most of this competitive pressure that is placed on national governments (even though we already know that restrictions on the movement of labour is uncompetitive). Further inefficiencies would result from any costs associated with relocation.

    The other interesting thing about this is how this might be realised — catallaxy refers to a post about Christian fundamentalists mobilising to take over Alabama (or somewhere) when the;
    “federal government forces sodomite marriages on our local communities.”

    I didn’t realise that it was part of the Bush agenda to make married people sodomise each other. Whatever. I do think that it would be good if Christian fundamentalists went and hung out all together and stopped trying to impose their ideas on the rest of the world. Or maybe Tiebout thinks that we should try and move away from Christians.

    * This was put to me by a learned colleague a bit prone to distraction. However, from what I see, the paper was not published until 1956. So maybe we will talk about it again next year. We were meant to be discussing the problems of (not) including behavioural components in the model which I am currently working on. Actually, you can see why we are both prone to distraction.