Campus Morning Mail: Inaugural Edition

Here we go

Damn near a million students, $9bn in export income earned by universities and a jury-rigged funding system mean higher education should be a key election issue. But it will not be, without a herculean effort by Universities Australia and all the other lobbies. There is a tacit agreement between both the major parties to keep universities off the agenda (the conservatives, for example, will not restore the government’s April cuts). The political challenge is to force education onto the agenda. Here’s hoping.

Carr releases Lee Dow report

In The Australian this morning universities minister Kim Carr announces he is releasing the Lee Dow and Brathwaite report on regulatory red tape. It looks like a move to placate the sector but good luck with that, the memory of the April cuts is still raw. CMM suspects the report will not receive the attention it deserves, what with the election campaign starting.  TEQSA will be pleased.

Union picks a winner

The National Tertiary Education Union looks like it has backed a winner by endorsing Greens MP Adam Bandt. Mr Bandt forced a vote on the university funding cuts in the House of Representatives in June and consistently calls for more money for higher education and research. Yesterday the member for the once solid Labor seat of Melbourne all but claimed victory in the yet to be announced election.  Mr Bandt said a Galaxy Poll gave him 56 per cent of the two party preferred vote, and that is if the Liberals preference Labor’s Cath Bowtell (a one time NTEU official)!  So much for the usual line from candidates that the ballot box is the only poll that counts.

Pyne signals strife for deans of education

Christopher Pyne has put the deans of education on notice that the days when the academic ability of teacher education undergraduates was the focus of the school standards debate are over.  Coverage of a speech he gave late last week focused on the usual slipping-standards stuff but what Mr Pyne proposes to do about it strikes Campus Morning Mail as much more interesting.

The shadow education minister made the too often ignored point that ATARS are not all that important when “almost half” teaching students enter university by other routes. The problem, he suggested, was less with the students than what they are taught at university. To address this he promised to appoint five education experts to   “closely review every single teacher training course”. Even more alarming for education academics he signalled a new campaign in the content and curriculum wars.

Mr Pyne said an Abbott government would stick its bib into what education students are taught, emphasising maths, science and languages. And the phonics v whole word debate is back on the agenda. “I would never advocate that simply one approach to teaching will meet the needs of all students. But we must as a matter of urgency examine how student teachers are being taught in pre-service education to teach children to read,” he said.

This strikes CMM as very bad news indeed for deans of education who will not welcome critical attention nor what looks like interference in their autonomy.  But the deans don’t seem worried. According to Brenda Cherednichenko, president of the Australian Council of Deans of Education; “quality teaching develops across many years and stages in a teacher’s career, from their school education, to university, their entry into the workforce and their progression and professional development once employed.  Multiple stakeholders, including higher education institutions, are involved in this process with inevitable points of difference and emphasis.  The approach outlined by Mr Pyne builds on important work of recent years and recognises both the complexities and challenges of the of the current education environment.” Everybody clear on that?

Hidden hot air

The Greenhouse Gas Technologies CRC is one of the few winners in Friday’s economic statement (not called a mini-budget, perhaps because there is nothing diminutive about a $30bn projected deficit). The CO2CRC picked up an extra $5 million for research on carbon capture and storage. CMM suspects this will not be enough to bury Greens criticism of, well just about everything.

It’s all in the mind

The estimable Australian Council for Educational Research has released the papers being presented at its Melbourne conference on neuroscience in the classroom that started yesterday and a fascinating collection it is indeed. Look out for Cordelia Fine on “the pseudo-science” that holds boys and girls have different brains.

 Who us?

Bruno Della Chiessa from Harvard, let’s hacks have it at the above conference: “When trying to get across a scientific message to politicians, practitioners or the general public, we are obliged to use the media, which due to its logic of discourse that is incompatible with the constraints of scientific discourse, oversimplifies to the point of distorting messages, often even completely misinterpreting what is being said.”  Man needs a sub-editor.

 Over rated rankings

The University of New South Wales is very pleased indeed with its QS five star plus ranking on Friday. “This is yet more evidence of UNSW’s world-leading performance,”  said Fiona Docherty, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International).  “We are very proud to have yet again achieved such an outstanding result.”  Um, maybe Mrs Docherty did not get the memo from the university’s head of doctrine. Here’s what VC Fred Hilmer said about rankings at the National Press Club in July last year; “in general university rankings are backward looking, reflecting work done 10, 20 or even 50 years ago rather than current performance”.

Rhonda rolls on

When Barney Glover takes up his appointment as University of Western Sydney vice chancellor in January he should read very carefully any brief prepared by university veteran Rhonda Hawkins. The administrator worked closely with outgoing VC Jan Reid for 15 years, driving the changes that reshaped UWS from a confederacy (some said of dunces) to a university prestigious enough to house a medical school.  Ms Hawkins substantive position is DVC corporate services but she acts as university chief when Professor Reid is away. (Is this unique? CMM does not know of another professional staff member running a university.) And don’t think she has had enough of herding academic cats after 30 years at UWS. She tells CMM that she intends to work on. (Disclosure: CMM worked for Jan Reid and with Rhonda Hawkins in the latter years of the 17th century.)

Who knows, who cares?

CSIRO asks, “have Australia’s native plants dodged a rusty bullet?”

Disappearing opinions

Good on the Monash NTEU for allowing students to criticise the ban on exam results on the branch webpage, at least for a while. As of first thing Friday there were student critical comments there, including; “we work hard to pay (now or later) money to uni, which it pays to teachers. It’s surprising how teachers who are banning the results don’t feel guilty taking our hard earned money home and not giving us our results. University management can sleep very well without knowing our marks, teachers can sleep very well without telling our marks, so who is the villain here? … If you want to shake the university admin and not us, show the guts to take unpaid leave indefinitely.”  Funnily enough the post was gone by Friday night.

Boilerplate blather 

Federation University Australia to be (think Ballarat and what was Monash Gippsland merged) has released its  draft charter and sensible stuff it is too. Um, except for FUA’s mission statement, which includes copy apparently written by a random hype generator; “flexible, vibrant, relevant and work-ready” courses for example. And it assures us that, “at its heart lies the notion of coming together to produce experiences, opportunities and outcomes derived from the partnerships, collaboration and co-operation that define Federation University Australia.” Not to mention, “it is where success happens and where individuals and groups continually learn to succeed” and so forth and so on.  CMM suspects the charter will not reach a wide audience, which is probably for the best.

 Not as easy as it MOOCS

A US survey has found people drop out of MOOCs because they get busy or lose interest. What a surprise! As any distance education veteran will tell you the format only works with mature age, motivated people. And as every direct marketer knows converting prospects into continuing customers is the real challenge (that and getting them to pay).

Announced again

Minister for the Arts (plus a bunch of other stuff) Tony Burke last week announced that Macquarie University media studies maven Catharine Lumby is now a member of the National Museum of Australia Council. Good-oh, except her appointment commenced at the end of May. Perhaps somebody decided this important announcement did not receive the attention it deserved back then. Or maybe the minister had not noticed, what with immigration being another of his areas.

Delighted dementers

The University of Tasmania reports 6500 people signed up in two days for its first MOOC, an eleven-week course on understanding dementia. CMM is guessing that this course will have a high completion rate – it’s not a subject  anybody will start because it sounds like fun.

Hubris in the hype

UWA prepares for biggest Open Day of the century,” Just 13 years in this does not strike CMM as such a big deal.

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