Friday, May 10, 2013

Branson tells UQ forum not to waste money on degrees

Billionaire Sir Richard Branson used a university-sponsored lunch to tell a room full of MBAs, undergraduates and high schoolers not to waste money on business degrees.

The entrepreneur and businessman also said the Australian economy would benefit from the adoption of a formal quota system to get more women on big company boards.

Speaking as a guest of the University of Queensland Business School, Sir Richard said there was an argument to be made in favour of redirecting government funding from the tertiary system into the hands of would-be business students by way of an entrepreneurial fund.

His comments come as the Gillard Government propsoses $2.8 billion worth of cuts to universities and self education to free up funds for its Gonski school reforms.

“When it comes to things like business education, we have an interesting debate," Sir Richard said.  “[Success] is far tougher to teach at university.

“As an entrepreneur, you just need to be able to add up, subtract and multiply.  "You should be able to do that by the time you're 15.

"What matters is you create products that people really want.  "You can always get someone else to add up the figures for you.”

Mick Spencer, a young business leader and successful entrepreneur who sat with Sir Richard on the panel, agreed with the Virgin boss's appraisal.

The 22-year-old OnTheGo founder said universities teach people to become employees, not employers, and that undergraduates interning at his company often said they learned more on the job than in the lecture theatre.

"It would be better if there was more real-life experience put into universities," he said.

But Professor Andrew Griffiths, Dean of the UQ Business School and fellow panel member said that's exactly what modern tertiary institutions offered.

"Part of that is saying that as a university, as a business school, we're about lifelong learning," Professor Griffiths said.

His view was echoed by Professor Iain Watson, Executive Dean, Faculty of Business, Economics and Law from the UQ Business School who listed several of the university's programs that connected students with the “real world”.

"We pride ourselves on our educational program," he said.

"It's without question the relevance of that and the recognition of that that's really important to us."

On the subject of what could be done to improve Australia's business culture Sir Richard said now was the time to tap into the Asian market and take advantage of its geographical proximity to booming South East Asian economies.

However it was another recommendation that stirred whoops from the room. "I think that companies as a whole should embrace ... women more," he said.  "It's incredible that most boardrooms have a maximum of one or two women in them."

He says since Scandinavia "forced" businesses to include women on boards, there had been significant improvements to their business culture, society and bottom line.

"I haven't managed to get that in our own companies," he says. "I think it's something that needs to be forced through by law."


NT Teachers slam Education Minister who wants them to work more

TEACHERS wanted to go on strike and picket outside the Education Minister's office after he said they had a lot of "down time" and could afford to look after more students.

Education Minister Peter Chandler made the comments after his Government decided to increase student-teacher ratios in senior and middle schools.  The ratios determine how many teachers are sent to a school, not the number of students in each class.

He  said on Friday: "There's quite a bit of down time for teachers.  "If there's 27 students in a class with one teacher, but you've got a teacher-student ratio of 14:1, what are all the other teachers doing?"

Australian Education Union NT president Matthew Cranitch   said teachers were "livid" and wanted to protest after they read the comments.

"It demonstrated to me, and many others, that he doesn't quite understand education and what teachers actually do," he said.

Mr Cranitch said primary school teachers were given three hours of non-classroom time a week, while middle and senior school teachers had 5.2 hours.

"In that time they've got to do all the marking, preparation, writing reports," he said.  "The list goes on and on."

Mr Chandler last week announced  middle school ratios would increase from 17 students per teacher to 20 and in high schools, from 14 students per teacher to 18.

He said it was part of a plan to improve education in the early years with transition to Year 2 classes seeing a drop from 22 students per teacher to 20.

He said there was no clear research that suggested students performed better in small classes and said fringe subjects, such as drama or languages, would not necessarily be cut because it was up to the individual school how  to distribute the teachers.

Opposition leader Delia Lawrie said the plan would see good teachers forced out of the Territory.


Retrospective legislation disallowed

It is sometimes attempted in a good cause but is always obnoxious in principle

The High Court has ruled a 2011 law targeting welfare recipients cannot be applied retrospectively.

In a test case, Victorian single mother Kelli Keating challenged the law after Centrelink tried to prosecute her for overpayments of $6,942 in 2009.

The Federal Government had changed the law after an earlier High Court challenge over whether omitting to inform Centrelink of changes in income was criminal or not.

The law was made retrospective to 2000 to ensure up to 15,000 prosecutions since then would not be compromised.

The court has found the omission is a criminal act but not if it occurred before the new law was introduced.


How to save the health system

This week, the CIS released the third TARGET30 report on Australia’s unsustainable health system.

The report, Saving Medicare But NOT As We Currently Know It, argues that creating a health savings-based system would go a long way in solving the affordability problems facing Medicare.

Instead of the federal government paying for medical services and medications through the MBS and PBS, these health dollars could be better used to fund contributions to personal Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), which people would use to pay for their own health care.

Because they would be spending their own money, consumers would become far more cost-conscious users of health care. Overuse of heavily subsidised health services would be reduced, and as HSA balances increased, health costs would be shifted off government.

The principle of allowing people to save up to pay for health care is not as radical as it might seem, given that a similar approach has either been proposed or implemented in other ageing-sensitive areas of government expenditure.

The definitive 2012 Productivity Commission report into the challenges facing the aged care sector recommended that capital and operating costs for nursing home providers be self-financed by requiring residents to pay an accommodation bond.

The commission recognised that the only feasible way of addressing the financial sustainability challenges facing the aged care sector was to release the equity accumulated in the family home. Bonds are financed by requiring residents of aged care facilities to sell or reverse-mortgage the family home, the principal asset most Australians use to save for over the course of their lives.

Thanks to the compulsory superannuation system (and tighter means testing), Australia does not face as large an unfunded public pension liability as comparable countries in the OECD.

Only modest growth in the cost of the old age pension of 1.2% of GDP is expected by mid-century due to the self-funding of retirement incomes having reduced government responsibility for the cost of caring for the elderly.

We need to make the same transition to a pre-funded health system if health care is to be affordable in the twenty-first century.


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