Wednesday 23 October

Commission of Audit

The government has announced a wide-ranging Commission of Audit, which will examine every area of government spending and federal-state relations in an effort to return the budget to a sustainable surplus within ten years. The Commission, chaired by Business Council of Australia president Tony Shepherd, is charged with identifying unnecessary waste, federal-state duplication, greater efficiency in spending and areas where the Commonwealth should not be providing funds. Treasurer Joe Hockey has also announced a decision to increase the federal debt ceiling by $200 billion to $500 billion. "Wasteful" government spending on research grants was identified before the election as a target of the commission’s cuts, but with former Education Minister Amanda Vanstone also on the panel, commentators have speculated that student debt could also be in the spotlight, particularly the income threshold for repayments.

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TEQSA and red tape

Education Minister Christopher Pyne has directed TEQSA to cut red tape through simplifying documentation, processing registrations and course accreditations more quickly and improving consultation with the sector. Minister Pyne also confirmed that the government would give full effect to the findings of the Lee Dow-Braithwaite review into regulatory red tape. Research red tape is also in the news, with ANU Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt slamming the delay on announcing 2013 Future Fellowship winners which is forcing some researchers to spend weeks re-applying for the 2014 round. Education Minister Christopher Pyne has attributed the delay to the election, caretaker period and change of government, and has foreshadowed an announcement "in the near future". A leading biomedical researcher has also criticised the amount of time that Australian researchers “waste” on research bureaucracy, proposing fewer fellowships but more funding tied to grants; five-year grants rather than three-year grants; and shorter grant periods for early career researchers via a separate scheme.

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New Colombo plan gathering steam

The government’s flagship New Colombo Plan for outbound student mobility is gathering steam, with Universities Australia incorporating the scheme into its World Class campaign to promote study abroad experiences. Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Senator Brett Mason has highlighted that study abroad can be a "transformational" experience for students as well as a vital element of two-way exchange and mobility in Asia. Mobility experts back this claim, with research from ANU finding that overseas study experiences are most valuable for students’ acquisition of "soft skills", such as independence, maturity and communication skills. However, some commentators highlight the problem with an "Asia literacy" approach to building partnerships, suggesting that Australia’s interests would be better served by research-focused initiatives such as exchange schemes for postdoctoral researchers and visa and grant eligibility relaxation for academics from the Asia-Pacific region. Meanwhile, the University of Sydney has turned its focus to the USA, offering its students a "full-service" combined study and internship experience in either California or Washington.

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Google partners with USyd

In innovation news, Google has partnered with the University of Sydney’s student and staff business entrepreneur program Incubate to take the program nationally, with the university hoping to partner with two or three universities across the summer break. A recent study by the University of Melbourne has found that organisations perform better when management champions a "structured, planned, and organisation-wide approach to innovation", and that innovation provides a significant competitive advantage to businesses across a number of metrics of business performance.

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