Birmingham orders review of undergraduate entry standards

Plus McKinnon of Wollongong backs what he built and why casuals can’t relax

McGowan to go in glory

Matthew McGowan, deputy secretary of the National Tertiary Education Union will leave his job in October. CMM understands that after 20 years as an elected union official he has decided it is time for a change. For union supporters he will go in glory, the NTEU leadership team led the charge against university deregulation last year with the immensely successful $100k degree campaign.

Mr McGowan joined the union in 1992 and became RMIT branch president in 1994. He won a contested election to become Victorian division secretary in 2002 and was elected national assistant secretary in 2010.

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Work – work balance

Research only academics wrack up more hours than their colleagues who just teach and those who do both, according to new research by Nick Osbaldiston (James Cook U) and Fabian Cannizzo (Monash U). Overall, full time academic staff put in a mean 9.25 hours a day, above the average for professional people in Australian Bureau of Statistics surveys, they say. Teaching only staff report 7.5 hours while teaching and research academics work 8.75 hours.

As to work/life balance, people in all categories report weekend work, although it depends what you mean by work – the researchers report an early career researcher saying, “I love my work, but hate my job.”

HESP plus one

Education Minister Simon Birmingham has reappointed all existing members to the Higher Education Standards Panel and added an extra, Krystal Evans, CEO of the BioMelbourne Network, the Victorian bio and medico tech industry forum. Dr Evans is also a research advocate, science broadcaster and tweeter of firmly expressed views, @dr_krystal.

She joins chair, WSU chancellor Peter Shergold plus Alan Robson, Greg Craven, Phil Honeywood and Karen Thomas.

The HESP will “help ensure a smooth transition” to the new higher education standards framework, which will launch in January, the minister says. But Senator Birmingham also wants it to examine the “transparency” of university admissions.

“While universities determine their own admission requirements, exploring greater transparency measures will ensure that Australian students are provided real information on what they need to do to be admitted to a course at a particular institution and universities are held to account for their public entry requirements. This will help to better match students’ aptitudes and interests to particular courses and institutions and ensure appropriate incentives to maintain high quality standards,” the minister says.

The need to ensure students enrol, and complete courses that suit them is becoming a regular theme in the senator’s statements. He has already signalled concerns at high attrition rates. Professor Craven, VC of the Australian Catholic University is a long-standing critic of the ATAR’s use for university selection.

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Understated ATN

The Australian Technology Network lobby makes less noise than a Tesla rigged for silent running. Presumably this is how member VCs like it but it does mean not all ATN achievements receive the attention they deserve. Such as the annual conference, which convened in Adelaide yesterday, where research impact was a big topic. So big that Australian Research Council chair Aidan Byrne was there to talk about impact and engagement and given the ARC is charged with integrating them into the next national research assessment exercise he is the bloke to talk to.

The ATN was working very hard on the case for an impact measure long before it was on the government’s agenda so the group must be pleased with the way things have turned out. Not that they are showing it.

Same name different city

As anticipated (CMM February 1, Curtin University has gone to Scotland for a new head of International. The university announced yesterday that Seth Kunin, now vice-principal, Internationalisation at the University of Aberdeen will become Curtin’s new DVC I in April. CMM is sure somebody has explained that Curtin is not in the Perth just down the road from his present office.

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Backing what he built

Former University of Wollongong VC Ken McKinnon and wife Suzanne Walker have established a $1.3m trust to fund innovation there. The fund will foster ‘green sprouts” of new ideas and “foster a culture of innovation by distributing income to academic and professional staff as well as students, with “innovative programmes, activities and ideas.” Decisions on funding will be made by the vice chancellor. McKinnon was Wollongong’s second VC serving from 1981 to 1995.

Nothing relaxed for casuals

The National Tertiary Education Union is appearing before the Victorian Government’s insecure work inquiry today, on behalf of “higher education staff who have spent a combined total of more than 500 years in casual or insecure work.” According to union state secretary Colin Long, 50 per cent of undergraduate teaching in Victorian universities is done by casuals whose insecure employment, “makes it almost impossible for people to plan their lives, secure home loans and look after their families.” The union proposes the state government audit “public entities,” including universities and TAFEs to identify the “extent of precarious” work.

The comrades have a point, universities rely on casual staff to keep teaching costs down and there will likely be more part-timers, not by choice in the future. As last week’s report on the future university workforce for the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association made clear workers who move between industry and campus and who are employed on flexible conditions will be more common in the future, (CMM February 4).

Famous names

The Australian Academy of Science is pleased indeed that the federal seat of Fraser in the ACT is being renamed Fenner, for the ANU based virologist who helped defeat smallpox and whose research on the Myxoma virus led to the decimation of Australia’s rabbit population in the ’50s. The electorate was formerly named for an ACT MP. CMM wonders where, or whether there are any other electorates in district based parliamentary systems named for scientists. Does Leichhardt count?

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Plenty of pudding

As the government searches for a magic pudding tax recipe the Business Higher Education Round Table  reports the ingredients for a giveaway cake; of the cut and come again kind that government cooks up. The ingredients for this cash confection are in the National Innovation and Science Agenda. “What does it offer you?” BHERT asks and then answers with a list of programmes and quite a few ways for investors to save on tax. And for people who want to promote innovation as opposed to actually inventing anything there is $48m over five years from the feds to “inspire Australians to engage with STEM in society.”

But what BHERT does not mention is the Research and Development Tax Incentive, now being reviewed by Treasury Secretary John Fraser, Innovation Australia head Bill Ferris and Chief Scientist Alan Finkel who are due to report in April. The existing arrangement provide for up to a 45 per cent refundable tax offset, “to conduct R&D that may not have otherwise been conducted.” There are two views on the incentive, businesses that claim it think its terrific while many researchers believe it is a waste of money they could use on serious science

Dedicated data

Journal publisher Elsevier will include direct links to 73 000 data sets held by the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research in articles appearing in 400 of its journals.This is a great way for authors to validate their arguments and for other researchers to build on published work. Of course, it also locks more work into Elsevier’s for-profit journal model.

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