The movers remaking Uni Melbourne

Plus Alan “frank” Finkel packs them in and classroom casuals carry the load

What’s “mystery shopper” in Korean?

University of Sydney VC Michael Spence is enrolled in a Korean language course there, (a man’s got to have a hobby). CMM hears the experience of enrolling gave him a new perspective on student services.

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Melbourne movers and serious shakers 

Details are emerging of the extraordinarily ambitious plan to remake teaching and learning at the University of Melbourne through what some in management are still calling Flexible Academic Programming (CMM February 24).

This is a very big deal indeed, which if it works will establish a model universities around the country will follow – if VCs cannot raise more revenue through deregulated fees then they will inevitably attempt to generate research funds through productivity gains.

There is a working group on large undergraduate classes, charged with looking at how big undergraduate courses are going now and how they can go better, with a view to their being more of them. And when Uni Melbourne people think big they think really big. There are now nine first year subjects with 1000 plus enrolments, biology is closer to 2000.

The project will analyse existing data on student experience and outcomes and include interviews with students and staff in mega courses. Recommendations are expected at the end of second semester.

Biosciences professor Raoul Mulder chairs the working group. His colleagues include psychologist Dr Simon Cropper, mathematics ASPRO Deborah King, business finance academic Dr Sean Pinder, Faculty of Science academic engagement manager Ms Belinda Day and Student Union secretary Mr James Bashford.

The other working groups are:

Academic workforce, chaired by PVC Academic Richard James, Curriculum sharing, Provost Margaret Sheil, Semester structure, PVC Research Collaboration Liz Sonenberg, Physical infrastructure, PVC Campus and Global Development Tom Kvan, Virtual Infrastructure, PVC Education Innovation Gregor Kennedy, Curriculum Structure, Deputy PVC Sue Elliott and Timetabling, Head of University Services Paul Dullig.

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Traveller in an antique land

CQU VC Scott Bowman is in Egypt, from where he tweeted a pic of him posing with a pyramid captioned, “thinking about this one for the new CQU Cairo campus”. What’s that line from Shelley’s Ozymandias?

The east is read

East Asian nations produced as many research papers as the US in 2012 and China alone will overtake the Americans in two years, says Simon Marginson from University College London.

In his keynote address to the Asia Pacific Association for International Education conference in Melbourne yesterday Professor Marginson set out how the west’s higher education model is no longer what all the world aspires to. The “Chinese civilisation zone” being China, Japan and Korea, “provides the main dynamism in Asia-Pacific higher education and science” and cannot be “adequately understood as a sub-set of western paths,” he argued. Their success, especially China’s is leading other Asian nations to look east for achievements to admire and values to adopt or adapt. The result are emerging higher education cultures quite different from the west’s.

“Whereas the western tradition encourages singularity and universality of thought, with the disciplines each pursuing their universal claims in separation from each other, Chinese thinking encourages creative fusion, often for practical ends. Could this become a signal feature of the evolving East Asian university?”

Professor Marginson did not explicitly answer his own question but CMM is guessing the answer is yes.

Silent majority

So with a cross-section of senior academics and administrators plus the occasional student who’s missing from the teams working out how to remake Uni Melbourne?

Um, what about representatives of the people who do the work now and will do it when the new plans are in place? “The failure to include and inform staff and their representatives on this massive project is a failure of the university leadership. The preparedness of the university leadership to keep these momentous changes behind closed doors is disdainful towards staff,” says campus National Tertiary Education Union academic VP Dr Graham Willett.

“These plans are less about collision of ideas and more about collusion to keep out what may be troublesome staff and troublesome opinion,” he adds.

But sooner or later the union will be involved, what with the way the new models will become issues in the next enterprise bargaining round. Perhaps the university has a working group planning for this too.

Campus Morning Mail

Murdoch U signs on with CRCs

When it comes to applying research nobody does it with more application than the Cooperative Research Centres community. Their association’s annual conference, in Brisbane next week, is ushering in a golden age for the programme with the government’s innovation agenda suiting CRCs. Murdoch University certainly thinks so, joining QUT and the University of South Australia as a CRC Association affiliate.

Finkel packs them in

Chief Scientist Alan “frank” Finkel addresses the National Press Club today, which CMM hears is sold-out, (something that is not common). Dr Finkel will speak on “cresting the wave: the voyage of science and innovation.”

Nothing relaxed or comfortable for casuals

Everybody agrees that universities would collapse without casual teaching staff, but nobody really knows how many of them there actually are (CMM February 15). The NTEU has had a go at finding out, using data from both the Department of Education and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

And the stats are significant. According to the union’s analysis some 78 per cent of the teaching-only workforce are casuals, but casual staff account for just 17 per cent of the overall university workforce. As for research only staff some 80 per cent are on limited term contracts.

“While university management will continue to advocate for less job security (through terms such as ‘greater flexibility’ in the way they employ staff), the NTEU recognises that this has serious detrimental impacts on the lives and aspirations of staff,” the union writes.

Lucky them

UniSuper reports demand from members for a review of their financial plan is up 59 per cent, which probably has to do with the market being down 17 per cent since last March. The fund has also established new referral partnership with Melbourne tax planers PKF, presumably for people in the happy position of still having enough income from super to interest the ATO.

Low cost of lateness

The endlessly consultative ANU librarian Roxanne Missingham has already agreed to hold off hiking postgraduate library fines (CMM February 19) and now undergraduates are being asked what they think is a fair fine – a $2 increase, to $6 seems likely. The trade-off is that the student association gets the message about the problems created by overdue resources. Better deal than late fees at the video shop. Video shops? Well before Netflix people used to … oh, never mind readers under 40 ask an old person.

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R&D dividend for NISA

Just how much money allocated to the National Innovation and Science Agenda actually ends up with innovative scientists will depend on how government decides to allocate incentives and just how generously research and development is defined for tax purposes.

The excellent Innovative Research Universities stated a case on the former last week (CMM February 25) and now turns to tax.

The 2011 Research and Development Tax Incentive is popular with business and less so with researchers, probably because, as the IRU notes, just 9.5 per cent of registered projects our outside the claiming company, involving a university, for example. “We need to strengthen the incentive to bring the two together, consistent with NISA’s stated aim of increasing collaboration between researchers and industry,” the IRU argues.

To better target resources the IRU suggests providing “more beneficial” tax benefits to R&D carried out through research bodies and/or pay a new subsidy to businesses using universities and other expert agencies.

Dolt of the day

Is CMM. Andrew Southcott will not be representing Flinders U when it turns 60 in a decade, as CMM suggested yesterday. A bunch, quite a bunch of readers actually, pointed out he is not contesting this year’s election for the seat of Boothby. But Flinders will not be without powerful friends, the university says Liberal candidate Nicolle Flint is a Flinders “face”, as is newly installed Greens senator Robert Simms.

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