Christmas cuts: 300 jobs to go at UWA

Plus Uni Super duper savings scheme and why impact will make history history

Both actually

The WA National Tertiary Education Union is featuring a photo of Malcolm Turnbull and Christopher Pyne with a sign between them reading; “this is our greatest natural resource” above a drawing of a brain. “We couldn’t help but wonder which of these two the slogan in the middle refers to,” the cadres muse. To both, comrades, surely, both.

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UWA Christmas cuts

The University of Western Australia will cut 200 professional staff positions in the new year and reduce academic staff by a net 50 positions, with 100 jobs to go and 50 new ones created, “to enhance our capability and impact in areas of comparative advantage.” Vice Chancellor Paul Johnson announced the job losses in his end of year message to staff yesterday afternoon.

“This is not news delivered lightly, particularly in the lead up to the festive break. But, I also recognise that there will never be a good time to share such news. I am also aware that there has been much speculation on this matter across campus, and so I want to provide what certainty I can, as soon as I can. This is something I personally commit to as we navigate this process,” Professor Johnson said.

The vice-chancellor also announced, “a modernisation of the academic calendar, with ideas including introducing a short summer semester or transitioning to a full three semester year.”

The announcement was carefully orchestrated with Professor Johnson addressing staff in person, then a release to Perth media. This was followed by an all-staff email. National Tertiary Education Union WA Division Secretary Gabe Gooding said last night that staff were “shocked and outraged to be hit between the eyes with redundancies at a meeting where they thought they were hearing a Christmas message.”

“This is a cynical exercise completely unjustified by the universities financial position.” she said.

Ms Gooding added the announcement breached the obligation to consult in the university’s Enterprise Agreement and that the NTEU would
“explore legal avenues this morning.”

“We will also be mobilising our members in the face of this ideological agenda which Professor Johnson has pursued for some time.”

No place for-profits

The Greens want to socialise vocational education and training. According to party education spokesman Senator Robert Simms (SA) continuing cases of for-profit shonkery mean, “the best way to protect students and build trust in our education providers, would be to allocate the money currently funnelled to these private for-profit providers into TAFE – where there is stronger public oversight and a reputation for quality service delivery.”

This is certainly what the National Tertiary Education Union thinks and just now CMM suspects a majority of voters agree that there is no place for profit in education. It is impossible to over-estimate the damage done to the private sector in education and training by the VET FEE HELP scandals.

CEF Dec 115

Pricing parked

CMM’s car-park correspondent laments UoQ’s parking policy will solve nothing. As reported yesterday, the university is jacking up prices to pay for a new 500 bay underground park. But the correspondent points out that the expansion of spots is futile because even the increased price is cheaper than public transport. This leaves the university with three options; increase parking fees to align with public transport, convince the government to cut commuter fares or “symbolically trim the hedges.” “It seems like they are going with symbolism,” CMM parking pundit suggests.

Future funds

Now CMM knows why the UniSuper members consultative committee has changed the fund’s trust deed (CMM December 8). It is so the fund could launch a new scheme yesterday – a product that delivers a lifetime pension funded from member payments, which can vary to suit changing financial demands through their working lives, and pooled resources, to cover long retirement lives. This sounds like a big improvement to the existing market-based fund which most university staff (and CMM) are in but not as good as the old defined benefit scheme, (the munificent terms of which we will not see the likes of again). The new Comprehensive Income Product for Retirement, called FlexiChoice is likely as good as people with decades to go before retirement are going to get. The approach was certainly recommended by the Murray Inquiry late last year.

OLT obscurely honours

Will anybody other than people who have won its awards notice the closure of the Office of Learning and Teaching? CMM suspects not, given the OLT has a profile less slight than subterranean. This is entirely of the OLT’s choosing – enhancing and celebrating university teaching should be a big deal indeed but as things are it took a bit of digging to discover who was honoured at its awards ceremony in Canberra on Tuesday. CMM discovered who the two teachers of the year were on Tuesday night, Halim Rane  (Islamic studies, Griffith) and Kevin Tant (finance, Monash). But the other winners were only announced to outsiders yesterday They are:

Awards for programs that enhance learning: QUT (two), UTas, Monash, UniSydney, Notre Dame, Uni New England, UWA.

Awards for teaching excellence: Craig Engstrom (UoQ), Mike Weston (Deakin), Peter Denney (Griffith), Catherine Frieman (ANU), Elizabeth New (Uni Sydney), Caryl Bosman (Griffith), Simon Mcintyre (UNSW), Tim White (ECU), Asmi Wood (ANU), Joe Hope (ANU) Michael Jennings (UoQ), Gery Karantzas (Deakin).

Their work deserves to be better known. With teacher education faculties criticised for sending under-prepared graduates into the nation’s classrooms surely teacher education needs all the evidence of innovation and excellence that exists in their programmes to be widely known.

ANU Dec 15 2

Gosh thanks, tell me more

Flinders University made the most of its ERA result, booming its five “well above world standards” (up from three in 2102) and its overall 42 subjects at or above the rest of the world. But space archaeologist and Flinders star Alice Gorman responded to the university’s not especially egregious self-congratulation by tweeting “My research happens almost in spite of being at a university, not because of it.” Which Vice Chancellor Colin Stirling copped sweet; “ouch! How could we do better. Happy to hear more,” he responded. CMM is guessing with an invitation like that he will.

Dodds to dean at UNSW

Susan Dodds is moving up from dean of arts at the University of Tasmania to the same spot at the University of New South Wales. She replaces Eileen Baldry, acting since July. Professor Baldry returns to “academic activities” but will also chair the university’s new Diversity and Equality Board. It’s close to a homecoming for Professor Dodds, before moving to Tasmania she spent 19 years at the University of Wollongong.

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History is history

The Australian Academy of the Humanities is certainly consistent. Its response to ERA 2012 was that it “reaffirms the quality of humanities research in Australia,” and this week the academy asserted “ERA 2015 reaffirms the quality of humanities research in Australia.”

“Once again, humanities disciplines feature in the list of Australia’s National Research Strengths, with cultural studies, literary studies, historical studies and philosophy performing exceptionally well in the ERA audit,” John Fitzgerald, president of the AAH said.

Professor Fitzgerald singled out history and archaeology as performing exceptionally well. According to ERA, historians pumped out 5500 research outputs, 47 per cent of which were journal articles and 10 per cent books. At the four digit code level “historical studies” five universities rated “well above world standard”, four were “above” and three “at world standard.” However the discipline’s performance on volume and quality of research overall is pretty average and with no commercial income it is hard to see how it will rate on impact measures as they are introduced to run in parallel with ERA 18.

There is no reason why the new research assessment culture will hurt history, or other humanities disciplines for that matter – CMM cannot imagine Canberra cutting funds for teaching it as the Brits proposed a few years back. But being ignored in the brave new world of innovation and entrepreneurs will not be much better. The humanities need to start arguing now for an impact measure that is based on much more than income earned, patents granted and deals done.

Know something the world needs to know? Anonymity guaranteed but lots of questions asked, stephen4@hotkey.net.au