Rent seeking with your money

There is something profoundly wrong with society when people use taxpayers’ money to lobby for an increase in their own funding – ie: to lobby for an increase in taxpayer funding. Perhaps it is not surprising – it happens quite a lot nowadays. Take the latest example of a $5 million campaign by the taxpayer-funded Universities Australia to increase both university funding and taxes.

The chairman of Universities Australia, Glyn Davis, might passionately believe that taxes should increase – but let him first contribute some voluntary tax from his $1 million package as vice-chancellor of Melbourne University.

Personally I think there is more than enough money sloshing around universities. It just needs to be better prioritised and more wisely spent. Increasing entry barriers (student fees and entrance standards) would be one area of reform – I’ve already argued that too many people go to university. Then we should close down some faculties that do not add value: journalism being at the top of that list. Nursing, too, should not be a university degree. Since all of these qualifications are a net cost to the taxpayer (student fees are a small fraction), it should be relatively easy for a persuasive and strong vice chancellor like Davis to weed out the junk from his university. Next he could go after some of the academics and administrative staff who treat university as a long vacation.

Most managers of private companies on salaries like Davis don’t immediately think of increasing prices when their competitors (overseas and increasingly online) are already less expensive.

About Samuel J

Samuel J has an economics background and is a part-time consultant
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118 Responses to Rent seeking with your money

  1. boy on a bike

    Whenever I hear universities crying out for more money, I think “Stephan Lewandowsky”. If universities have sufficient funds to support the likes of him, then their budgets need a good slashing.

  2. Bruce

    A lot of this going on. I was rung up by Newspoll last night, who asked whether TAFE’s provide valued services to the community. Yes they do said I.

    So in a few weeks expect a press release from TAFE’s or the education union waving this survey around and screeching about poor government funding and budget cuts.

  3. Token

    This is like the ABC lobby for Australian TV (which they broke the lobbying rules).

    How do we get the Coalition to grow a pair between the lot of them and make such lobbying a violation of their charters?

  4. dianeh

    Bruce, its true that TAFE does provide valued and valuable services to the community. The real issue is are all TAFE services worth public funding and the answer is a resounding NO.

  5. Gibbo

    I have worked in Universities for almost 10 years and I despair at the money we waste on a daily basis. Anyone who thinks Uni’s are not funded well enough is on drugs.

  6. Grey

    Nursing, too, should not be a university degree.

    Accountancy should not be a university degree, nor Management, Nursing should obviously be.

    If you wanted to have an aspirational goal for an election policy, it would be try to get a tech university that would play the same role as MIT, Caltech or ETH do in their higher education system

  7. Token

    Accountancy should not be a university degree, nor Management, Nursing should obviously be.

    Go back to the your peers at the Dumb – Grey.

    Your trolling is appalling as your knowledge of the real world stands out.

  8. Andrew

    Davis sent out a petition to all the students for them to sign yesterday so that they could lobby the Government through larger numbers.

  9. Judith Sloan

    The higher education sector is increasingly looking like the Australian automotive sector. As one slinks off into the sunset, another one emerges to snaffle taxpayer funds, all the time arguing about the public good, the public good.

  10. Grey

    Your trolling is appalling as your knowledge of the real world stands out.

    Accountancy training should be delivered like training for auditors. An institute that provides mail or online courses undertaken in a work place, backed up by a series of exams.

    There is no need for an accountant ever to set foot on a campus.

  11. Matt

    Accountancy training should be delivered like training for auditors. An institute that provides mail or online courses undertaken in a work place, backed up by a series of exams.

    There is no need for an accountant ever to set foot on a campus.

    Yep – agreed.

  12. .

    Accountancy should not be a university degree, nor Management, Nursing should obviously be.

    What a moronic fuckhead.

  13. .

    Accountancy training should be delivered like training for auditors. An institute that provides mail or online courses undertaken in a work place, backed up by a series of exams.

    There is no need for an accountant ever to set foot on a campus.

    I’ve been talking this up on this blog for a long time.

    The way universities offer their courses is antediluvian.

    They should basically offer classes (night, distance, online as well as day time) for people working – and most professions ideally should offer cadetships.

    A focus on quality rather than quantity of research, and transmitting research down to teaching would help.

    Universities end up subsidising the middle class (employees and bosses) by taxing the working class on low wages, who don’t go to universities.

    If universities were cheaper, the idea of paying for your course yourself or by your boss under a much lower tax regime wouldn’t be so objectionable.

    Private online colleges offer about a semester of university for about $800 or less.

  14. Token

    Accountancy training should be delivered like training for auditors. An institute that provides mail or online courses undertaken in a work place, backed up by a series of exams.

    There is no need for an accountant ever to set foot on a campus.

    Go back to the fluffy topics.

    I repeat. Your trolling is appalling as your knowledge of the real world stands out.

  15. Token

    If universities were cheaper, the idea of paying for your course yourself or by your boss under a much lower tax regime wouldn’t be so objectionable.

    Private online colleges offer about a semester of university for about $800 or less.

    Now this is a model that makes some sense.

    The role of universities will be redefined in the coming years. Not all people who get university degrees need them and do not get value from them. Using IT methods a lot of information can be transferred at a lot lower cost.

    That said, some part of the education should involve on campus engagement.

  16. Grey

    Your trolling is appalling as your knowledge of the real world stands out.

    Fair point, I was thinking of actuaries, not auditors.

  17. Rococo Liberal

    DOn’t accountants do commerce or economics degrees in which the various types of accounting (Cost, finacial, etc) are subjects? Then if they actually want to be accountantants they have to the PY or the CPA course before being allowed to call themselves ‘accountants’?

    I seem to rember in the old days you could do a TAFE course just in the accounting and then use that to becomne an accountant if you passed the PY or CPA exams. Most people did that TAFE course whilst working. Maybe that’s what you guys mean when you say that accounting doesn’t need to be taught at uni.

    It’s the same in Law. You aren’t allowed to practise as a solicitor or barrister unless you first get a practising certificate from the law society or bar association. The training for this is done in a seperate college or on the job.

    However, the idea of sending lawyers and accountants to university is to give them a chance to learn more about the world than mere law or or accounting, in an environment where the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake is encouraged.

  18. James Hargrave

    So a perfectly good science graduate then moves on to be a dud accountant. Often better take them at 18 and do articles, i.e. apprentice them.

    Far too many universities and these far too large – as a sometime academic I find the current institutions and ethos loathsome. And any extra money is bound to be sucked up by the administrators, half of whom seem to exist to find problems with the solutions the others have found to the problems largely created by, er.., other adminsitrators. A policy for everything; and ability to execute nothing. And a largely compliant set of locally ‘trained’ (educated is not the word) staff who are only too keen to roll over and comply.

  19. Has there ever been a report/study into the appropriate level of funding and demand for Universities? You know, like a Strategic White/Pink/Blue/Green paper on what the Uni system is supposed to do?

  20. Grey

    However, the idea of sending lawyers and accountants to university is to give them a chance to learn more about the world than mere law or or accounting,

    Yet clearly this policy is a failure.
    The only time I have come across a well rounded accountant or lawyer is one who eats too much.

    Since sending them to university is not having the desired results why persevere with this failed (and expensive) strategy?

  21. Token

    However, the idea of sending lawyers and accountants to university is to give them a chance to learn more about the world than mere law or or accounting, in an environment where the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake is encouraged.

    I’ve heard similar ignorant statement made of engineers by people who spend their time reinforcing the stereotypes fed to them by the other group thinkers they hang out with.

    One must be simple if you do not realise people in professions will pick up subjects across faculties like law, business, IT and language (e.g. if you really want to go places doing chem eng, you need to know German).

    Contrast this with the fluffy crap people who waste resources on arts degree spend their time on.

  22. Grey

    (e.g. if you really want to go places doing chem eng, you need to know German)

    Well, only if the places you want to go involve Austria, Germany or Switzerland – and even then you don’t need to speak German if you don’t want to.

    Your knowledge of the real world is appalling.

  23. .

    Yet clearly this policy is a failure.
    The only time I have come across a well rounded accountant or lawyer is one who eats too much.

    Since sending them to university is not having the desired results why persevere with this failed (and expensive) strategy?

    Thanks for destroying the need for liberal arts faculties.

  24. Bruce

    If you do chem eng you need to know German. In chemistry we did German in 4th year. It’s important. All the good beer names are in German.

  25. Token
    (e.g. if you really want to go places doing chem eng, you need to know German)

    Well, only if the places you want to go involve Austria, Germany or Switzerland – and even then you don’t need to speak German if you don’t want to.

    Your knowledge of the real world is appalling.

    I love free speech.

    It provides people like Grey to show how deep the well of stupidity is that he draws on.you know about

  26. Grey

    In chemistry we did German in 4th year. It’s important. All the good beer names are in German.

    When? In the 1890s? Things have moved on since then Bruce.

  27. .

    Sure Grey,

    Sigma, IG Farben, Novartis, Theiss, Krupp, Bayer, Hoechst, Henkel, UHU, Vileda, Scherring, Werner & Mertz, Merck, Dynamit Nobel, Tiger, Adling, Lenzer, Ciba-Geigy, Lonza, Calriant….

  28. johanna

    Well, there’s accounting and accounting.

    The sort of suburban accountant who helps the average punter or small business is a very different animal than the finance and accounting people at the top levels of business and even government.

    It would be sensible to have a basic accounting qualification available at low cost, delivered by a range of providers (accounting professional bodies, private providers, TAFE etc) for the former, while retaining finance and accounting degrees for the latter.

    Back on topic, it would be regarded as totally unacceptable for a government department to use public funds to lobby for more public funds – and illegal under the PS Finance and Management Act. The relevant provisions need to be extended to universities, the ABC and similar organisations.

  29. Grey

    Sigma, IG Farben, Novartis, Theiss, Krupp, Bayer, Hoechst, Henkel, UHU, Vileda, Scherring, Werner & Mertz, Merck, Dynamit Nobel, Tiger, Adling, Lenzer, Ciba-Geigy, Lonza, Calriant….

    Dorothy, I have actually worked in Basel in a spin-off company from Novartis-Ciba-Geigny and my German is atrocious.

    You don’t need to speak German if you want to work in these companies – not even in you want to work in their German based operations – and of course a lot of the operations occur in other countries now where a knowledge of German wouldn’t even be considered an important asset.

  30. .

    Dorothy, I have actually worked in Basel in a spin-off company from Novartis-Ciba-Geigny and my German is atrocious.

    No, you haven’t.

  31. Grey

    No, you haven’t.

    Or was it Syngenta? I always got confused amongst those spaghetti maze of mergers.

  32. .

    “I can’t remember who I worked for”

    LOL

  33. Grey

    “I can’t remember who I worked for”

    No, I can’t remember whether it was formally a spin-off from Novartis or Syngenta.
    Actually I do know – it was Novartis.

  34. Bruce

    Sigh. Another worked example of lefties having no sense of humour.

    BTW both Beilstein and Gmelin are in German for most of the volumes. They’re now coming out in English, but for the classic stuff you need the German editions. Which is why scientific German was required in our department of UniSyd. I have several patents which came out of stuff I read in Gmelin.

  35. .

    “I sort of don’t remember who we were spun off from, and I don’t remember where I worked, but all I can remember in a foreign country where there are few native English speakers is you didn’t have to learn to speak another language”

    Uh…okay…

    But nursing, really, really needs to be taught at universities, and accounting and finance don’t.

  36. Whenever I hear universities crying out for more money, I think “Stephan Lewandowsky”. If universities have sufficient funds to support the likes of him, then their budgets need a good slashing.

    To be fair, only a public and welfare-conscious university could provide a home to the deranged Dr Lewandowsky because, since governments decided to release deluded lunatics into the general community and asked them very nicely to keep taking their medications, he is otherwise both a menace to society and completely unemployable—unless, of course, some company created an entry-level position for awarmist, yelping, foam-flecked madman.
    The problem is not that his university employs the demented Dr Lewandowsky and lets him defame without penalty anyone who doubts his stupid belief that carbon dioxide is causing catastrophic global warming; the problem is that he’s paid handsomely therefor. If the university’s administrators had any sense they’d be charging the fatuous fraud’s guardians a substantial fee for keeping him off the street and away from any place he might bother ordinary citizens with his unhinged, self-serving ululations.

  37. Grey

    Another worked example of lefties having no sense of humour.

    No, I think the problem is we do have a sense of humor.

    For instance the idea of taking out patents on things in Gmelin is very funny – but I am laughing at you, not with you. BTW you mostly access these databases online – perhaps if you are retired you might be thinking about volumes – and most modern entries are in English.

    Which is why scientific German was required in our department of UniSyd.

    Again, when? Because it certainly is not required or even normal now. And I haven’t checked but I doubt if there is a special “scientific German” paper at Sydney. If you want to learn German you will have to trot over to the Arts Faculty. However, I welcome correction on this point.

  38. .

    And I haven’t checked but I doubt if there is a special “scientific German” paper at Sydney

    Hmm. So it must be untrue?

    If you want to learn German you will have to trot over to the Arts Faculty. However, I welcome correction on this point.

    You previously said:

    Since sending them to university is not having the desired results why persevere with this failed (and expensive) strategy?

    Just fuck off.

  39. Grey

    But nursing, really, really needs to be taught at universities,

    If you want highly trained nurses, it is good idea.

    and accounting and finance don’t.

    Can’t really see any need for it outside social snobbery.

  40. Grey

    Hmm. So it must be untrue?

    I expect it was true in the 1930s.

  41. .

    We need uni degrees to wipe dying people’s bums but we can just get some guy from TAFE to audit a major fraud case?

    No.

    Like I said earlier. Universities need to be flexible and nearly all professions should be taught as cadetships and the like.

    You are just pushing your own bigotry and some bizzare belief that every AIN needs to be a specialist nurse practitioner.

  42. .

    Is “Grey” the braindead, militant, male nurse “Jinmaro” who thinks that nurses should be paid more than doctors?

  43. Grey

    We need uni degrees to wipe dying people’s bums

    Not spend much time in a hospital, Dorothy?

    The Institute of Acturies seem to have developed a well regarded accreditation path that can bypass universities entirely.

    http://www.actuaries.asn.au/EducationandProfessional/Education/PartI.aspx

    Pretty much like I said at 09.02 am

  44. .

    The Institute of Acturies seem to have developed a well regarded accreditation path that can bypass universities entirely.

    So can nurses, you deranged, inflated sense of self worth, chip on both shoulders bigot.

    You are wrong – you need to go to London and go through the Actuarial Institue there to “avoid” universities.

    It is assumed that “Part I” for most people is a B Com (Act Std).

  45. Grey

    You are wrong – you need to go to London and go through the Actuarial Institue there to “avoid” universities.

    No, you can sit the exam anywhere. In Australia the examination site is Adelaide. You do the study using the materials provided by the Institute.

  46. Bruce

    Grey – The patents which were fairly recently awarded come from applying to new applications chemistry which is recorded in Gmelin. This is an inventive process. The patent examiners waved them through without any hassles (unlike some others I’ve done – the worst was when an examiner wanted me to fly from Oz to Washington DC for a 1 hour interview, fortunately our local patent attourney managed to talk him out of that).

    If you are laughing at me over this then you are laughing at every scientist which has patented something. All are built ‘on the shoulders of giants’ (and yes I know the context of Newton’s epigram).

    As for science German, I do not lie not least because I’m a Christian and I prefer not to be a hypocrite. But you are not so attentive to this blog as you could be, for if you’ve read my prior posts you’d know when.

  47. Token

    As for science German, I do not lie not least because I’m a Christian and I prefer not to be a hypocrite. But you are not so attentive to this blog as you could be, for if you’ve read my prior posts you’d know when.

    Thanks Bruce. I don’t understand why Grey is going so hard on the topic. I am surprised he doesn’t back down and just acknowlege he learned something today.

    Maybe if he had the intelligence to post a pertinent comment like Joanna he wouldn’t be in the bind he finds himeself.

  48. Grey

    Bruce, this may come as a surprise to you, but I don’t construct biographies of people I come across online. I don’t know how many decades ago you studied chemistry or German, but if when you did so taking German was a requirement it must have been many decades ago indeed.

    As it happens I have studied both German and Chemistry at University and the precise number of chemistry students I encountered in my German classes was zero. Not only that, when I had to get approval from my Head of Department for my German papers he tried to talk me out of doing them!

    Of course if you don’t wish to disclose when you studied at USyd and were required to take German in 4th year, that is entirely your right. I only ask because I am rather curious about how long ago this was still a requirement – rather than outright disbelieving you. Although the more you talk the less believable you appear.

    I am glad you have suddenly remember the principle of prior art in regards to your alleged patents. These days the databases you refer to are all accessed online and predominantly in English, although I grant you there may be some historical entries in German.

    I do not lie not least because I’m a Christian

    Well, I can’t say I am interested in your religious affiliation, but you don’t come across as very credible.

  49. Token

    As it happens I have studied both German and Chemistry at University and the precise number of chemistry students I encountered in my German classes was zero.

    Wow, another startling revolation. This is like a cheap midday soap opera.

    Is “Grey” the braindead, militant, male nurse “Jinmaro” who thinks that nurses should be paid more than doctors?

    Looks to me like Grey is another head from the same hydra. We all know from the tale what will happen when we lop it off.

  50. Grey

    Looks to me like Grey is another head from the same hydra.

    No, no. I am Graham Richardson.

  51. brc

    I got sent an email yesterday with this rubbish in it as an appeal to alumni.

    I felt like replying and saying ‘stop grovelling to the government for money, and use all those smart people you have to figure out an independent funding source that isn’t subject to political whim’.

    They just don’t get the fact that, what the government giveth, the government taketh away. If you make your business model depending on largess from politicians, you’re asking to be given a red-hot funding poker up the nether regions one day.

    Not only that, but accepting government cash means accepting their direction over your institution. From a proud tradition of independent university where radical ideas can be debated and accepted or discarded, to standing in line hoping for some alms, right next to all the other failed industries and pointless beuracracies in the begging line. Why have once-proud universities reduced themselves to this?

    What a competent university administrator should be asking the alumni is how to help them set a path away from government funding. Not to help them grovel in Canberra with their cap out like a failed auto industry exec.

    If you want to be a proud, long lasting institution, setting yourself like a junkie for government funds is not the way of going about it. Putting together a plan for independence and (dare I whisper it, profitability!) would be the rational way forwards. Betting on the ALP giving you largesse in return during occasional periods of government in return for sucking up to them is a pretty shaky path, if you ask me.

  52. Bruce

    Grey – I’ll accept your non apology! (/sarc) The science German course was mandatory but was probably arranged by the Department not the University. It was not a one off, but it also wasn’t comprehensive by any stretch. But yes it was arranged for precisely the reason that Dot alludes to, and what I said about historical sources.

    And yes I do know about prior art. If you had read what I wrote you would have understood this. I said “which came out of stuff I read in Gmelin”. And they did. I was quite pleased once to read a patent where someone had used my PhD research in a patent. Chuffed, actually.

    And yes I have quite a few granted PCT patents on my CV. More than a couple dozen actually. Which I have never prevously mentioned on any blog. If you want a pissing match I doubt you’d win.

    And no I’m not giving you links to espacenet. I do some paid work in the climate space and I’d really be happy to avoid the climate mafia sending me figurative horse heads in my bed.

  53. MadKat

    The Institute of Acturies seem to have developed a well regarded accreditation path that can bypass universities entirely.

    http://www.actuaries.asn.au/EducationandProfessional/Education/PartI.aspx

    Not really Grey – Part I does not a fully qualified Actuary make. You have to also do Parts II and III. Part II is done through university.

    And yes I am actually an Actuary.

  54. MadKat

    “No, you can sit the exam anywhere. In Australia the examination site is Adelaide. You do the study using the materials provided by the Institute.”

    And Melbourne, Sydney and anywhere else in Australia. The study materials for Part I are not provided by the Institute in Australia but by the London Institute through ActEd.

    You keep talking like you know what’s going on but obviously you have no idea.

  55. johanna

    As someone who knows who you are IRL Bruce (your secret is safe with me) – there is no question about who would win Grey’s absurd attempt at a pissing contest.

    He’d still be struggling to get his zip down while you were enjoying a second beer in the bar.

    As for nursing, perhaps it is like accounting – upgraded across the board well beyond a lot of the actual requirements.

    I have seen the teaching materials from a high-quality nursing curriculum, and it’s not easy – in fact, it’s at least comparable to a straight science degree. But the range of activities a nurse is required to do can be anything from emptying bedpans to administering hundreds of different drugs, each in different doses, plus other clinical services which involve a high level of skill, professional judgement and professional responsibility.

    Restructuring of both the roles and qualification requirements of patient care staff is long overdue.

  56. Grey

    Bruce, this may come as a surprise to you, but I don’t construct biographies of people I come across online. I don’t know how many decades ago you studied chemistry or German, but if when you did so taking German was a requirement it must have been many decades ago indeed.

    As it happens I have studied both German and Chemistry at University and the precise number of chemistry students I encountered in my German classes was zero. Not only that, when I had to get approval from my Head of Department for my German papers he tried to talk me out of doing them!

    Of course if you don’t wish to disclose when you studied at USyd and were required to take German in 4th year, that is entirely your right. I only ask because I am rather curious about how long ago this was still a requirement – rather than outright disbelieving you. Although the more you talk the less believable you appear.

    I am glad you have suddenly remember the principle of prior art in regards to your alleged patents. These days the databases you refer to are all accessed online and predominantly in English, although I grant you there may be some historical entries in German.

    I do not lie not least because I’m a Christian

    Well, I can’t say I am interested in your religious affiliation, but you don’t come across as very credible.

    One anonymous right wing troll vouching for the veracity of another anonymous right wing troll is fine. But as the saying goes you are entitled to your own opinions but you are not entitled to your own facts.

    It is many decades since any Australian University would have required chemistry students to learn German or “scientific German”. How many decades that might be we, alas, can not learn as Bruce refuses to enlighten us.

    Volumes of Gmelin are all gathering dust in boxes in basements, they are now all online, there was a transition period when then they were available as CD-ROM, the modern entries are overwhelmingly in English.

    I note Bruce’s delusional and paranoid claims of retribution from Tim Flannery if he reveals what his patents are. I didn’t ask him what his patents are – although his fear of retribution suggests more the mark of a man suffering from mental illness than a PhD qualified chemist with many patents to his name.
    I am still, however, curious as to when the University of Sydney was offering courses in Scientific German.

    I expect my curiosity will not be satisfied, but since Bruce informs he is a Christian I am no doubt that he what he says is all absolutely true.

    LOL

  57. Grey

    Sorry about screwing up the quote function. Ignore the double posted top half screed.

  58. Bruce

    Grey – Well I owe an apology for getting heated, but all of what I say is true. And yes I was being melodramatic, the only persecution I’d get is losing a lot of paid work from various places. CAGW people can be quite vindictive, so its prudent to remain in the climate closet until the whole stupid scare blows over.

  59. Grey

    Bruce you don’t owe me anything at all.

    Although I am STILL interested as to when USyd was demanding its 4th year (Honours year?) students do “Scientific German.”

    You are, of course, under no obligation to satisfy my curiosity

  60. .

    No, you can sit the exam anywhere. In Australia the examination site is Adelaide. You do the study using the materials provided by the Institute.

    The same should apply with nurses above AIN. They can do prac on the job. There is no need for 80%+ of nurses to do a three year degree from the get go, unless you’re some bizzare internet freak who think nurses ought to be paid more than doctors.

  61. Bruce

    Organic chemistry department early 1980′s. A required internal course as part of the honours by research, so not a formal paper. Dept requirement was you had to pass to get your hons, but it was very easy. I still have my science German-English dictionary from it.

    And you’re right its easier nowadays with on line access plus autotranslation German-English. But even as late as the late 1990′s I used to have to go to the Uni Newcastle library basement to get a look at Gmelin volumes after they shifted it out of the reference section.

    I worked out the process chemistry it the early 1990′s, but it didn’t go anywhere until about 5 years ago when it reincarnated in a couple of slightly different applications. So the patents were only granted last year or the year before, I forget which.

  62. Grey

    There is no such thing as “Organic Chemistry Department” at Usyd.
    Nor would they be offering German as an “internal course” in the early 1980s. Unless you mean being able recognize words like Sauerstoff or Natrium. But the sort of (non-existent) course you describe wouldn’t get you very far in reading technical literature.

    If you had said the 60′s I would have given you the benefit of the doubt.
    2nd rate troll is 2nd rate troll.

    Dorothy, your views of the requirements and skills of modern nursing are less than irrelevant. And no, for your interest, I am not and have never been a nurse near Bendigo or Ballarat or anywhere else beginning with B.

  63. tbh

    I read those comments from Glyn Davies and had a fairly derisive laugh at them.

    Firstly Glyn, I already pay a shit load of tax thank you very much. Our top rate is 45% (not including Medicare) and kicks in at $180,000, which if you compare with the country with most of the worlds top universities (the US) seems a bit onerous. It’s even high compared to the UK, which is a fairly high taxing country.

    Secondly, how about you put your own hands in your pockets as Samuel suggested. I get a bit annoyed at wealthy people complaining about low tax rates. Nothing stopping them from paying more. This is to say nothing of the very generous super in universities (I should know, I’ve worked in two of them).

    Thirdly, what is the optimum level of spend for higher ed in this country? Anyone know? Absolutely unquantifiable I would have thought.

    Fourthly, there are lot of people receiving subsidies for degrees where the employment prospects are pretty poor. Shouldn’t we look at reducing funded places for some Arts degrees or sports science et al? That would save some money. If people still wanted to do them, let them pay out of their own pockets.

    Lastly, because of the creeping credentialism in Australia, universities are taking more and more students. The points above about workforce training, professional societies etc are bang on IMHO. Not everyone should need to go to Uni to get a job.

  64. .

    Dorothy, your views of the requirements and skills of modern nursing are less than irrelevant

    Of course, and you’re also not a nurse…so shut up.

    My view is entirely relevant, you’re just a jumped up swampy bigot who dislikes people with commerce degrees.

    Just fuck off Grey. Your trolling of Bruce is pure made up bullshit.

  65. candy

    There’s some very specialist nurses like the intensive care unit ones but still they can’t diagnose and treat, so how could they ever be called “doctor” or be paid the same.

  66. Grey

    Just fuck off Grey. Your trolling of Bruce is pure made up bullshit.

    Ja, ja, ich kann Kohlendioxid erkennen, wir koennen also folgern, dass ich Superchemist bin.

  67. Andrew

    You don’t need to speak German if you want to work in these companies – not even in you want to work in their German based operations – and of course a lot of the operations occur in other countries now where a knowledge of German wouldn’t even be considered an important asset.

    It certainly helps and makes things a lot easier if you do speak German for those companies. The notion that we should rely on other people to speak English all the time to us is rather ridiculous.

  68. tbh

    I can tell you that in the German operation of the company I work for (where we design and build equipment) having a good command of the local language is a huge advantage. All of the British staff we have working there speak German fluently. I got on OK when I visited last year, but my German would have to be a lot better if I want to be there permanently.

    When I used to work for a large oilfield services company, the same applied for anyone working in South America and the need speak Spanish and/or Portuguese.

  69. tbh

    And we are an Australian company.

  70. Andrew

    Ja, ja, ich kann Kohlendioxid erkennen, wir koennen also folgern, dass ich Superchemist bin.

    Wir koennen auch folgern, dass du einen Dummkopf bist.

  71. Grey

    It certainly helps and makes things a lot easier if you do speak German for those companies.

    My own experience is that since the people you were dealing with could always speak English 5 times better than I could ever speak German, that it is not really much use in international operations.
    If you intended to work for an extended period in their Germany-based operations then certainly it is a good idea, but not absolutely necessary and certainly not initially.

  72. Grey

    du einen Dummkopf bist.

    tsh, tsh, I am sure Bruce will be along to tell us that the Organic Chemistry German course he did emphasised that sein takes the nominative case.

  73. Bruce

    Grey – You are quite correct, UniSyd has no “Organic Chemistry Department”. The actual title is “Department of Organic Chemistry”, School of Chemistry, The University of Sydney. Sev Sternhell was our prof.

    And thank you for calling me liar three times in this thread. That is a record!

    But you’re right about the science German course we had to do, it was mickey mouse stuff. Sorry, stoff. Schwefelsaure, flussigkeit etc. They’re about all I can remember. We did the exam with the dictionary in one hand.

  74. brc

    Hah I’m working with some Spaniards at the moment and it sure would help to have a better grasp of language other than hola and cerveza.

  75. Dan

    Your lying Grey. Everybody in Europe since the 80′s has been taught English in school. It does not mean they want to speak it. To the Germans, French whatever, the Master Language is their own.

    It’s about repore. If you take the time time to learn the language, especially the technical side of your profession, then things can move along seamlessly. Europeans test you out for fun. If you don’t pass the test, they tell their boss and slowly your shut out.

  76. brc

    Oh, and I wish I had more command of German when working on the car. Just what an Electronische Wegfahrsperre really is can be frustrating to work out.

  77. Grey

    Bruce, I haven’t called you a liar once. I called you a 2nd rate troll

    Schwefelsaure, flussigkeit etc. They’re about all I can remember.

    Mmmmmmm, and with these two words you managed to mine the dusty volumes of Gmelin to find those German entries to base your patents on.

    Oh dear.

    Hah I’m working with some Spaniards at the moment and it sure would help to have a better grasp of language other than hola and cerveza.

    South America is a different kettle of fish altogether from Germany. Anyway, I am only giving my experience both learning German and working with Germans.

    I am hopeless at learning languages and the skill of Germans had with English made it all the more daunting. In terms of speaking German I don’t think you will ever really reach any degree of fluency unless you spend a few years living there. However, I fully recognize my intellectual inferiority in this as in other matters and have no doubt my functional mono-literacy with an ability to pick my way through a newspaper or mutter a few broken sentences in one other language is very much the exception to the gifted linguists here.

  78. Grey

    Europeans test you out for fun. If you don’t pass the test, they tell their boss and slowly your shut out.

    I am sure that is true if you are working in construction, but not if you have been hired because you are doctorate level scientist or equivalent level in engineering – which is where this all began.

  79. Gab

    oops, stumbled into the Grey Thread.

    I’m outta here.

  80. Bruce

    Wasn’t so dusty. The real dusty one was a French paper in Compt. Rend. from 1865. We got a French lady we knew to translate it for us, and then verified it in the lab. Unfortunately we couldn’t make the idea we hoped to use it for work before our budget ran out, so we let the provisional lapse.

    What scientists forget is that there is a lot of good stuff in the old sources. We don’t get to see it much today as the textbooks have to throw out older data to fit the newer material.

  81. Grey

    Bruce I give you points for imagination and dedication, if not for a good knowledge of the history of science.

    By 1865 they still hadn’t worked out the periodic table and the Haber process was many decades away.

    The mind boggles at what sort of vital information you hoped to find stashed away in an 1865 French journal.

    You will tell us, won’t you?

  82. brc

    We don’t get to see it much today as the textbooks have to throw out older data to fit the newer material.

    Ooh, I know the answer to that one. co2 is the big knob on the planetary thermostat, and anything that contradicts this evidence is the work of old discredited cranks.

  83. Splatacrobat

    I know a little Italian……..He cuts my hair on Saturdays for $15.00

  84. Bruce

    Grey – Sure. The paper was mentioned in Mellor, which is how we came across it (Mellor v4, p287). It described how solid MgO could be dissolved in molten KOH. We verified this as being true (pure KOH melts at quite a low temperature, it looks a bit like molten wax – we used a simple muffle furnace and some steel pots), and also found it would dissolve in molten NaOH to a lesser extent (NaOH is a lot cheaper).

    The idea we had was if you could dissolve MgO in KOH you could possibly run a current through it and produce magnesium metal. A very similar industrial process is done for sodium metal production, called the Castner Process. And potassium metal can be used to reduce magnesium salts to Mg metal.

    At present there are only two ways to make Mg industrially, neither of which are nice for various reasons. Making it from cheap MgO would have been a breakthough, which is why we could get some money to test it. Unfortunately the lab we got to do the work were aluminium guys and had no idea about the right materials of construction (and they wouldn’t listen when we told them) so the electrowinning stage of the work was a mess. They only just sorted out their gear by the time the money’d run out. Never did get a really satisfactory test, so maybe someone in the future will reinvent the idea. Would be cool if they did, we need a better process for magnesium production.

  85. johanna

    Re Bruce’s polite and devastating response above: calling Grey … hullo … anyone there?

    Thought not.

    The troll with projection issues has flounced off after being neatly dissected by the facts one more time.

  86. Bruce

    Thanks, Johanna. I should add that Mellor is one of the last of the golden age chemistry publications from when the world was young. Volume 4 can even be had from eBay.

  87. Grey

    Re Bruce’s polite and devastating response above: calling Grey … hullo … anyone there?

    I certainly owe Bruce an apology and my delay in pro-offering one was due to do some minor research in the area.

    Bruce is not troll – a crank certainly – but no troll. It can be sometimes difficult to tell these apart online, but if that is an explanation, it is not justification.

    Alas, I had been so engrossed in reading my Mellor’s A Comprehensive Treatise in Inorganic and Theoretical Chemistry Volume 4 in the bath that I accidentally dropped it in the water. So having heard that page 287 contained such treasures I immediately hied me to an Antiquarian bookshop and picked up a replacement copy.
    And sure enough there it was

    S. Meunier found that
    molten potassium hydroxide dissolves half its weight of magnesia, and the molten mixture^absorbs oxygen from the air.

    I am guessing S Meunier was Stanislau-Etienne Meunier, the geological chemist. I think 1865 might be too early a date for his publication – but even if that is so that is a minor matter. Another minor matter is the present processes for purifying magnesium, eg the Pidgeon process, do use MgO, but they are relatively energy intensive, so there is a hypothetical gain to be made.

    So far so good, but after that we begin to descend into crankdom.
    Magnesia can mean MgO but it might not, the fact that the text says oxygen is being absorbed into the mixture is a pretty strong clue that rather MgO was being formed, not dissolved.

    So in fascinating journey into history of chemistry, I refer you Leonid Lerner’s “Small-Scale Synthesis of Laboratory Reagents” p 34: “Magnesium Oxide is one of the few materials essentially inert to molten KOH and potassium, and a non-conductor, which is an essential property as a separator.”

    In fact so inert and nonconducting was it that Davy and Lorentz and all those old names of the dawn of chemistry actually constructed their crucibles out of MgO in order to conduct their experiments in electrolysis.

    You seem to have taken a phrase out of a very old text but absent any wider knowledge to put it into context and then – in stunning indictment on the peer review grant process – manage to win grant money on the basis.

    It is not that you were re-inventing the wheel; it is worse than that, you were re-inventing the triangle and wondering why it didn’t function like a wheel.

    Nonetheless, clearly 95% of what you say about yourself is correct and you deserve an apology. And I do apologize – no one without a great deal of knowledge could come up with something so insane.

    The 5% – I still maintain you have virtually no knowledge of German and if you are a successful chemist (uncertain) you are living proof it is possible to attain this status without an ability to express anything more complex in German beyond “Me Tarzan, You Jane.”

  88. Alx

    Um, anyone…. BACHELOR of ARTS.

    The whole faculty could disappear with no negative social or economic impact. Even my wife, with a USyd BA regrets wasting 3 years and tens of thousands of dollars on fees (international student rate) studying the cultural relativism of sub-Saharan African feminism.

    Keep nursing and accounting but get rid of the entire arts faculty at every university. It is a complete waste of resources.

  89. brc

    What’s more with universities – no doubt the residents and student of same look down their nose at mere state schools – but fail to realise they have let themselves become nothing but glorified state colleges, beholden to the whims of the government of the day. Just a bunch of guilleless tax eaters kissing the feet of the king, hoping to be favoured. A group of state schools with fancy buildings and lax uniform standards. That’s what they are now.

  90. .

    The 5% – I still maintain you have virtually no knowledge of German and if you are a successful chemist (uncertain) you are living proof it is possible to attain this status without an ability to express anything more complex in German beyond “Me Tarzan, You Jane.”

    I still maintain you are a militant male nurse from Victoria who has fetishes for large men lathered in olive oil.

  91. Grey

    I still maintain you are a militant male nurse from Victoria who has fetishes for large men lathered in olive oil.

    Gosh, you mean there are people out there who DON’T have fetishes for large men lathered in olive oil?

  92. Grey

    calling Grey … hullo … anyone there?

    Ahem, it is 23:00 hours. I think we can call it.
    Right Wing Cranks: 0
    Left Wing Trolls: 1

    I have to say this Phlogiston Theory seems quite intriguing. Worth another look do you think?

  93. johanna

    So, you call Bruce a troll and a liar, and when proved comprehensively wrong, imagine that you have won some sort of victory?

    Utterly Delusional Bloviator: 0
    Bruce and those who knew he is neither: maximum available.

  94. Bruce

    Grey – Good work delving into some historical inorganic chemistry. Very impressive. I mean this. Very few chemists now would have much interest in Mellor’s Treatise. I did only because in my first job out of uni they had a full set in the table tennis room, and I got to reading it.

    Did you really drop a volume of Mellor in the bath? A sad thing for a 67 year old book. Commiserations!

    Fortunately you didn’t have immediate access to Compt. Rend. as if you did you’d've found that Mellor had made a mistake in his referencing. The paper he references turned out to be a Meunier paper on something to do with lead (from memory). When we got it we emailed the British Library and found the actual paper we wanted was another Meunier paper few pages further on.

    As mentioned, we verified it in our own lab. Because of certain experimental practical limitations we only got a 0.25 M solution of the MgO in KOH, but that was sufficient to merit funding for a small electrowinning program. We didn’t do this ourselves as we naively thought the aluminium guys would be better at molten salt EW than we would be, and it wasn’t a core project for us. So we placed it with a certain lab whom I won’t name. Unfortunately the postdoc who did the work wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. Well that happens a lot with new technology, by definition you can’t be an expert at it when you try it for the first time. On hindsight I probably would’ve been better to work through a lab in Russia which I know, given that Castner Process plants operate in Russia, but we only became aware of that lab a few years after this little bit of (failed) experimental work.

    The absorption of oxygen does occur, with formation of KO2, so you need to use a nitrogen blanket.

    Sorry I’m not familiar with Lerner. But in my experience MgO can be very refractory if it has been dead-burned. I once heated a piece of an old MgO crucible in conc HCl for some hours with no effect. Yet low temperature calcined MgO is very reactive and is widely used as an alkali. This was what I used.

    You are quite correct about my slight knowledge of German, but I haven’t needed that language having worked in R&D in Australia for my whole career. Perhaps I am a “crank” too, although the companies I work for and have worked for don’t seem to think so. I’ve been rather fortunate to have some quite large project budgets, and to do valued work for large projects. Who do you think paid for the PCT fees, which run into the millions? Not me. They own the patents, but I do get my name on as inventor.

  95. Grey

    So, you call Bruce a troll and a liar, and when proved comprehensively wrong, imagine that you have won some sort of victory?

    Actually, Joanna, having read his most recent contribution I am thinking troll and crank.

    There is too much pseudo-chemical gibberish to take him seriously. The internet really brings some odd characters out of the wood-work.

  96. Bruce of Newcastle

    Glad you like pseudo-chemical gibberish Grey. What did you eat this morning to go from saying I was 95% correct last night?

    You want pseudo-scientific gibberish mate, you should try the climate space. Its great fun overturning CAGW silliness with real data.

    And yes I get paid rather well for what I do in inorganic chem. But not for opposing CAGW guff, that I do for free.

  97. Grey

    What did you eat this morning to go from saying I was 95% correct last night?

    It was potassium superoxide that set off my crank-o-meter.

    I think Bruce is probably a high school teacher from the Central Coast. A respectable enough profession in my view, but one he feels somewhat ashamed of before the state school, teaching bashing milieu of Catallaxy.

    By day he fantasizes about pulling down the shorts of his more unruly students and giving their bare buttocks of quick taste of the cane (never did him any harm, by jove). By night he dreams of the chemistry glory that was denied him that he sees some of his old university mates achieving. So he pours over dusty volumes of out of date textbooks, building castles in the air on misconstrued sentences. Muttering to himself, “I’ll show these young whippersnappers, the old ways are the best ways.” he sends of pages of coffee-stained handwritten letters and diagrams to university departments, industrial chemical firms and the odd patent attorney (who throw them in the waste-paper bin), hoping against hope that someone will take him away from central coast state school hell.

    The psychological profile feels right.

  98. johanna

    Bruce is laughing all the way to the bank, Grey, and it has nothing to do with a schoolteacher’s salary.

    Oh, and the word you were looking for is “pores”, in case your delusions of superior literacy are still intact, along with the others.

  99. Grey

    LOL, so it is. I never realized that. Thanks.

  100. Bruce

    Grey – What’s up with the superoxide? In molten KOH the theoretical pH is off the end of the scale. Oxidation potential of O2 is ‘way up, relatively. Try it in HSC, see for yourself. I use v5.11. You know about Pourbaix diagrams?

    At the time I looked up the chemistry of potassium peroxide vs superoxide, I think in Comprehensive Inorganic Chemistry (Bailar) which I don’t have here. It seemed likely that was what was being formed. When I quenched a melt of KOH in water it would fizz like crazy, which I don’t think K2O2 would have done. The NaOH melts didn’t do this. But it wasn’t pertinent to the project because it was necessary to avoid it anyway, or it would prevent the EW step from working. Hence the inert atmosphere blanket.

    I’m used to the ad hominem stuff by the way. When I take a CAGW person to the scientific cleaners they either go ad hom or hide and sulk. Happens over and over again. Its a sign that I’m hitting a nerve. People don’t like their religious beliefs challenged when they are insecure about them.

    You actually make a better case when you stick to the science. Otherwise you just discredit your own arguments.

  101. Grey

    Crank.

    You are not going to get KO2 from melting KOH. You are making things up as you go along.
    No post-doc would ever bother carrying out the crack-pot scheme you suggested.

    End

  102. Bruce

    The postdoc carried out the experimental program because his professor asked him to do the contracted work. I know the professor reasonably well and we discussed the proposed work face to face a couple times before we commenced. He was quite keen. Couldn’t see anything wrong with it, but we both acknowledged it was a speculative program which was worth doing. A world expert in cryolite EW dontcha know?

    You really don’t know Eh-pH diagrams do you? Well I hope you’ll learn something when you look them up, they’re very useful.

  103. Grey

    Bruce, don’t get me wrong, I am sure you know far more chemistry than me – but you are still just dealing in crank science.

    I could pretend to be a doctor online – but it would just be crank medicine.

  104. Grey

    You really had me going for a while though

  105. Gab

    Bruce, don’t get me wrong, I know you know far more chemistry than grey, so why do you continue to deal with the crank? It’s not sporting when your opponent is a lame duck.

    :)

  106. Bruce

    Hmmm:

    The syntheses of potassium superoxide, KO2, and cesium superoxide, CsO2, by oxygen in their molten hydroxides are well known in the prior art, as shown in “Peroxides, Superoxides, and Ozonides of Alkali and Alkaline Earth Metals” by Il’ya Ivanovich

    US7261959

  107. Grey

    Good luck Gab – just don’t get him started on phlogiston theory or he will never stop. Or when he starts telling you how physics all went wrong with relativity.

  108. Grey

    Shall we ask for Maria Skyllas-Kazacos’s version? I have a feeling she might have a very funny story to tell.

  109. Bruce

    Gab – I’m not disposed to allow lies to stand unchallenged, nor revolting insinuations to remain without their author being taken to task. I find the truth to be the best scalpel for such dissections.

  110. Gab

    I certainly don’t ask you to stop, Bruce. Just remarked that you could run rings around the hapless Grey in your sleep.

  111. Bruce

    I have a feeling she might have a very funny story to tell.

    What might that be? I met Dr Skyllas-Kazacos once in a work context some time ago. She seems to be a fine electrochemist.

  112. Grey

    So your truth is that Maria Skyllas-Kazacos has an incompetent post-doc whose hopeless inability caused your brilliant scientific inspiration to save industry millions to fall over. Meanwhile you continue your consulting work for climatologists who appear in some strange need for services of someone who builds fantasies from single sentences in pre-war texts?

    Fair enough. No argument from me there.

  113. Bruce

    Oh, I see where you are getting at. No. Sorry, not her. And I respect the postdoc in question, as I said he sorted out most of the materials problems by the time the money had run out. It was just that cryolite is nothing like molten hydroxide when it comes to materials selection. If you do something new for the first time there is always some trial and error. The only slight mistake I made was not to more strongly insist on steel plus a cobalt anode, when he wanted to use Inconel. Which was a disaster since nickel oxide is amphoteric if the pH is high enough.

  114. Grey

    Dear Professor Skyllas-Kazacos,

    I was hoping you could give me some advice on how to procede on an interesting idea I had.

    I was reading the text Mellor’s Treatise on Inorganic Chemistry volume 4 and I read on page 287 an interesting experiment.
    ” S. Meunier found that molten potassium hydroxide dissolves half its weight of magnesia, and the molten
    mixture^absorbs oxygen from the air.”
    I was wondering if this might not form an excellent method for purifying magnesium from MgO in either molten KOH or NaOH using a variant of the Castner method. This would result it great savings in terms of energy requirements and could be potentially quite a valuable process for industry.

    Do let me know your opinion.

    Kind regards
    Grey

    I will post her answer when it comes to hand.

    BTW, does the fact that – according to your own account – you were getting no more than 10 grams of MgO “dissolved” [sic] per litre suggest to you that you and Meunieur were doing something different? Assuming you were doing anything at all.

  115. Sinclair Davidson

    I will post her answer when it comes to hand.

    No you won’t. I’ve had enough.

  116. Bruce

    Grey – I’d be interested to hear her answer. I am as you might expect slightly aware that 0.25 M MgO is less than M. Meunier found, I did mention there were ‘certain experimental practical limitations’. Didn’t want to bore you with them, but you are persistent.

    Well, as I said reactive MgO needs to have been calcined at about 600 C or less and commercial reactive MgO is a powder. It inevitably contains some MgCO3. So when you mix powdered MgO into molten KOH at 450 C you have a problem determining how much dissolves and how much is undissolved. You can’t filter the slurry, the filtration apparatus either is dissolved or the mixture freezes. We weren’t going to build a rig especially for it as we just wanted to know if it was sufficently justifiable to start a small project.

    So I used seived granules out of the bottle of MgO and let them sit in the melt for some time, with some very gentle stirring by a spatula, and then after settling carefully decanted a clear melt with remaining undissolved material on the bottom of the steel crucible. Then sent off the cooled decantation sample for ICP analysis with a blank sample of the original KOH. The melt had Mg in it, the original fresh KOH did not. Ditto the respective sodium samples. We regarded this as sufficient confirmation of M. Meunier’s original paper. The powers and principalities were happy and gave us money, QED.

    Also if you are in discussion with Dr Skyllas-Kazacos you should also point out the preference always was to use NaOH in context with the Castner Process. Note that the theoretical current efficiency in that process is only 50% due to the protons. 2NaOH -> 2Na + O2 + H2. K being more reactive would have more of a problem with the relative reactivity of the protons.

    Whether the process would be power saving is moot. Much of the cost associated with production of magnesium by the respective conventional processes is in preparing either the ferrosilicon or the anhydrous MgCl2 (which is a pain to keep free of oxygen). Using MgO directly with a mostly unconsumed NaOH bath would be even simpler than Bayer-Hall-Héroult aluminium.

    I should also say I am forthcoming with this information since the confidentiality period has expired and since the testwork didn’t succeed the sponsor is unlikely to be interested anymore.

  117. Bruce

    Sorry, Sinc, your blog. I figured this thread was so far down that it didn’t matter too much being ‘way OT. If you feel need to delete, that’s fine by me.

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