From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Private colleges struggling. Crikey has run stories lately on complaints that academic standards at universities are lower than many expect they should be. Now an education insider tells us some private colleges are struggling, as their lucrative international student trade dries up.

“The private colleges are now under enormous financial strain because of the changes to visa regulations. A young person located overseas who wants to study in Australia gets a visa without difficulty if they apply to university, but will almost certainly be rejected at the Australian Embassy if they apply to a private college. Combined with the high Australian dollar, the GFC, the violent attacks on Indian students, and eased student visa granting from countries such as the US, NZ, Canada, etc, the private colleges are haemorrhaging.”

Our source reckons there is “a strange two-tier system in the world of private colleges” because some have been forced by the feds to lift their standards and ensure students attend for 20 hours a week, while others have not, so students can still attend for a “nominal few hours” a week. The source claims students are leaking to the latter camp.

Exit questions. This tip is not anonymous; Fiona Stewart, from Exit International, is concerned that The Australian’s Dennis Shanahan knew about a second inquiry into euthanasia advocate Philip Nitschke’s fitness to practise medicine before Nitschke did. “Why is it that the Catholic media know before him?” Stewart asks.

Time for a change. Is it true that Bruno Bouchet, sacked as a producer for the Kyle and Jackie O breakfast radio show in July after tweeting jokes about the US Batman movie massacre, is now working as a watch salesman? We also hear that he may be writing a book and contemplating a return to radio.

Pollies’ lit picks. Crikey is in a literary frame of mind this week after musing on Tony Abbott’s racy reading habits (Fifty Shades of Grey and Nikki Gemmell’s With My Body and The Bride Stripped Bare). Some Crikey readers rather looked down on Abbott’s choices, but Gemmell has leapt to his defence, telling Crikey: “Regardless of your politics you’ve got to admire Tony Abbott for at least trying to understand the minds of women. If it encourages more men to read these books and understand what women really want, then I’m all for it.” Hear hear!

We’re relying on tip-readers to fill us in on what other politicians read in their leisure time. There are plenty of stories out there on what they claim to read — Nelson Mandela, Tolstoy, etc — but we want the real story.

WA Labor Senator Louise Pratt, who lifts the standards in the Senate with her stylish soldier-style jackets, has been spotted devouring The Hunger Games. New Greens Senator for Tasmania Peter Whish-Wilson is apparently a fan of war history (Les Carlyon’s The Great War is a favourite), while Joe Hockey freely admits to loving Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Crikey rewards Hockey by declaring him to be similar to the character of Colonel Fitzwilliam (only true fans will get this). But which Austen character is Tony Abbott most like?

Got a tip for us on what you’ve seen a pollie reading? Drop us a line, and our literary spies are welcome to stay anonymous.

SackWatch: another TAFE? We’ve heard a whisper that Yeronga TAFE in the Brisbane area may be closed down, which could cost 60 jobs.

*Do you know more? Send your tips to or use our guaranteed anonymous form.