Dan O'Heirity

Australian Universities Are in Dire Trouble

Let’s start with the good news for Australian Universities in the Australian State of Victoria. The Victorian Government has provided a $350 million Victorian Higher Education State Investment Fund to support universities suffering financially due to the drop in international student enrolments. This funding has seen the University of Melbourne’s Vice Chancellor thanking Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, Treasurer Tim Pallas and Higher Education Minister Gayle Tierney for their assistance and commitment to the sector. However, the point that really interests me in this story is not so much the funding that has been provided but the fact of the University of Melbourne Vice Chancellor Professor Markel saying that, “The university sector has been one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. The sector was one of the first to be affected when the COVID-19 outbreak led to the closure of our borders and the sector may be one of the last to recover“.

Well, of course the Australian University sector has been one of the hardest hit sectors in Australia because Australian Vice Chancellors – the majority of whom are paid over $1,000,000 per annum – over exposed their universities to the international market to such a degree that the decline in international student enrolments means that these universities are no longer financially viable. At the same time it has become abundantly clear that Australian Universities had no risk management plans in place to mitigate against a loss of their international cash cow students. Rather these universities are now scrabbling around to work out how many courses they can cut and how many staff they can axe in order to make the savings that need to be made in order to survive the next three years. The Vice Chancellor of the University where I work will be making an announcement in this respect this coming Monday, 25th May 2020.

Professor Markel also says, “We welcome this support from the Victorian Government and the University of Melbourne is, and will continue to be, working with State and Federal Government to find a way forward on opening a safe, quarantined international student corridor into Australia. So many businesses in Australia benefit from the vibrant international students in our community”. I understand that the universities need international students – a significant majority of whom are Chinese students – to return to Australia as quickly as possible. Their return will bring the money back in to Australian Universities and help the universities to get themselves out of the mess that they have gotten themselves into through extremely poor management practices. However, would it not also be timely for Vice Chancellor’s to admit their mistakes and to offer a different vision for Higher Education in Australia.

To finish this line of thought I should report that the Australian Federal Government has implemented a range of measures to “support workers displaced by the COVID-19 crisis to upskill or retrain, and support universities and other higher education providers to continue teaching.” One of these measures is to have Australian Universities develop short courses in key areas such as health, IT and Education. These courses may well help in re-training some of the thousands of Australians who have become unemployed as a result of the CPP virus. However, if you really think about the matter, it takes time to develop quality short courses and since the fees for courses that the government has deemed to be a priority will be set at significantly reduced ratees, there is no way that income from these courses is going to make any real impact on the income lost from the drop off in international students.

I came across a second story this morning about Australian Universities that is interesting for a number of reasons. First the report opens by saying that, “More than 20,000 jobs at Australian universities are at risk, including 7000 research jobs, just as scientists are trying to find vaccines and treatments for COVID-19, a peak body says“. The peak body in question is Universities Australia. My judgement with respect to the quotation that I have provided is that it is at best, a poor piece of reporting and at worst disingenuous. The reason that I say this is because only a tiny fraction of researchers in Australian Universities will actually be involved in trying to develop a vaccine for the CCP virus and I really don’t think that they are going to be the researchers losing their jobs as a result of a drop in university income from the lost of international student fees.

Next the story reports a different set of figures stating that, “79,000 people work in research at Australia’s universities, comprising 24,000 academic staff, 10,000 support roles and 45,000 postgraduate students”. The source of these figures is not provided. However it is noted that “many” of these salaries are covered by fees from international students. Well, I will say it again. Universities only have themselves to blame for finding themselves in this position, a position in which in 2018 universities made one quarter of all their income from international students, a figure that was much higher for some universities that relied on international students for 40% of their income. This fact explains why some universities are seeking low interest loans from banks and state governments in order to compensate for the massive income hit that has resulted from the loss of international students.

China Continues to Struggle With Their Home Grown Virus

The second set of stories that I saved this morning all relate to China. I’d recommend watching this “China in Focus” report in full but in summary, evidence is presented that suggests that there may be a second wave of the CCP virus in cities across China. The evidence consists of documents from mainland China posted online by a Taiwanese politician. For example, an “urgent notice” from a company in Guangdong stating that the virus is spreading again in the city. There are also videos that seem to show residential blocks being locked down in cities in China. These stories are obviously interesting in and of themselves in terms of the question whether or not China really does have their homegrown virus under control. They are also interesting in terms of indicating that the virus has spread across China, a fact that has been difficult to establish in the past.

I have reported the next story previously but the story as reported by “China in Focus” made me laugh even harder than when I first read it. The story concerns the fact that Chinese factories and businesses are catching on fire. The “China in Focus” story reports that in 9 businesses have “caught on fire” in a five day period. A Netizen has proposed two explanations for these fires. First, the business owners are setting their premises on fire in order to claim insurance. The alternative explanation is that that owners have been told by the CCP to keep their businesses running. Since they have no business, the owners are leaving lights on in the buildings and appliances running because they want to make it look as though production is continuing. However, these appliances may have malfunctioned leading to the fires.

The Chinese Virus Cover Up is Evident

The next part of the story needs to be contextualized in terms of a previous journal entry where I reported that the World Health Assembly “independent investigation” into the origins of the CCP virus had become a farce and that China had won the day by ensuring that the investigation would only take place under conditions favourable to China. The reason that this context needs to be understood is that “China in Focus” provides evidence – “Document Number 3” which is a Chinese Communist Party internal document – that once again seems to show that China covered up the virus in its early stages of the outbreak in Wuhan. The document seems to have been surfaced by Taiwanese media, by a Chinese media outlet called Caixin and by a local government in a province in China who posted the document on a website. No further information is given.

The document was sent to local health officials on January 3rd, 2020 directing that individual or organizations who had obtained biological samples of the virus from medical and health institutions should immediately destroy them or send them to a depository designated by the State. The document also stated that without permission no individual or institution should share biological samples or information about the virus and that during the CCP virus control period no individual or institution should publish any information about pathogen testing or any lab results. If this were any other country than China, then one might charitably interpret these directives as an attempt to coordinated research into the virus and to appropriately control information released to the public. However, it’s China so one’s mind immediately goes to “cover up”.

Next, China obtained the virus genome sequence as early as December 27th 2019, but no laboratories shared the information with the world until 11th January 2020 when a laboratory in Shanghai shared the information online. According to Beijing News, this laboratory had ordered the genome sequence on January 5th and reported testing results to China’s National Health Commission. The report recommended that, “relevant protection and control measures” be taken in public places. There was no response to the laboratories submission and so the laboratory shared its information on overseas virology websites on January 11th, 2020. The laboratory was shut down on January 12th 2020, presumably because it was in breach of “Document 3” which had stated that no research should be shared without permission.

Chinese authorities did not admit that there had been human to human transmission of the virus until January 20th, 2020 whilst continuing to say that the virus was controllable and preventable. As of today 23rd May 2020, and as reported by a live data source, there have been 5,304,033 confirmed CCP virus cases and 340,004 deaths. These cases and deaths are a direct result of the fact that China was not open and transparent with the world about the outbreak of the virus in Wuhan. Rather, China tried to hide the outbreak from the world, possibly in order to “save face”, a cultural anachronism that has arguably led to this pandemic. Coming full circle to the so called “independent inquiry” into the origins and spread of Covid-19, it seems manifestly obvious that China is still trying to ensure that its culpability for this pandemic is never surfaced. More face saving strategies on the part of Beijing.

First Published May 22nd, 2020

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