Deakin admits defeat: why it will close a campus

Plus Swinburne walks the walk on student employment and NHMRC applications down (but not by much)

Nothing per hour

Thanks to the reader who pointed to some of the alternatives to the restructure the University of Western Australia says staff proposed. One gem was requiring higher degree students who receive funding from the university to make “a service contribution” which means teaching for free. Surely this wasn’t so. For a start UWA cut back its small postgrad support program (CMM December 18). In any case who would be so mean? Then again, when you consider the way senior staff on 40-40-20 deals in universities around the country rely on casuals to put in the hours teaching big first year classes it becomes plausible. Funnily enough, the university did not take the idea up.

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Too hard basket

Deakin VC Jane den Hollander was at Friday night’s packed community meeting in Warrnambool on how to save the university’s campus there. But she did not have much to offer, demonstrated by her email to Deakin Warrnambool staff earlier that day.

Basically, Professor den Hollander told them that the university had done its best there, but to no avail. Despite pumping $42m into courses, student accommodation and university infrastructure, campus enrolments are down 42 per cent since 2011. “No stone has been left unturned but our efforts, and those of the community, have simply not translated into the enrolments needed. In fact the reverse has occurred,” Professor den Hollander said.

She cited three “insurmountable problems” for the campus. Locals who do not meet the university’s minimum ATAR are enrolling elsewhere rather than undertaking a Deakin pathway programme to qualify for the campus. Some of those who do make the cut choose to leave town and study elsewhere. And the courses Deakin offers do not suit community demand. “So we are looking for a new provider which is better able to meet the higher education needs of students and businesses in the region.”

Professor den Hollander says there is no deal “on the table” as to which institution that might be, but it has to be either Federation U or La Trobe U, the only two Victorian networked universities with country campuses. Unless CQU can be lured south. But any of them would need incentives to take on what is now appears losing proposition. Quite substantial incentives to step up where Deakin failed.

More of the same please

After years of success rates below 20 per cent a few medical researchers have decided not to bother applying for National Medical Health and Research Council grants. There are 3651 applications this year, down from 3860 this year. But established researchers who go for long-term funding are not discouraged, with applications for four and five-year grants effectively stable, 39. 7 per cent last year and 39.2 per cent this year.

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UNE Council to self-select more of its own

Following UniSydney’s lead, the University of New England council, is reducing its membership from 18 to 13, with staff and student representation being cut most. The number of elected staff representatives will drop from three to two and elected student spots from two to one. Ministerial appointments are also down, from six to two. However Council appointments are up three, to five. To ensure acceptable alumni opinion gets a hearing under the new arrangement the Standing Committee of Convocation will be invited to nominate candidates for Council to consider for its five spots. The Student Association will also be invited to report to Council.

In a note to graduates on the changes Chancellor James Harris said the cut was carried by a two third majority on Council. He did not mention the continuing stoush between Council and staff elected member and union official Professor Margaret Sims whose council papers have had sections on staff issues redacted. (CMM July 27).

‘Twas ever thus

Flinders opened it’s flash new student-centric building at Bedford Park on Friday with VC Colin Stirling explaining how undergrads always had liked campus life and still did.

“Learning remains a social experience and a vibrant university campus creates an environment that encourages success. Indeed, recent studies have shown that today’s students will often be found on campus even on days when they have no classes – and that’s certainly the case here at Flinders – because the environment is conducive to study and social interactions. It is for these reasons that I believe that the campus-based university will continue to thrive in the digital age.”

Indeed, he suggested student DNA today is “essentially unchanged from those who attended the first university in Bologna 900 years ago.” Good-o, except Flinders students don’t worry about plague epidemics on campus.

Swinburne’s employment focus

Universities looking for a marketing advantage are starting to work on ways to help graduates get jobs. As Deakin VC Jane den Hollander puts it; “for a wide range of reasons – including the increasing number of university graduates with oversupply in some areas and diminishing employment opportunities in others – universities will need to take the employability of their graduates much more seriously” It’s why Deakin has appointed a PVC specifically for graduate employment. (CMM, March 3)

Swinburne U is not only onto the trend, it is out in front, consolidating its various placement programmes into a work integrated learning programme, which it badges as the Swinburne Advantage, “your chance to work on real industry projects, solve day-to-day challenges in your field and gain the professional skills that put knowledge into practice.”

CMM hears creating a single programme from the various schemes run by individuals and departments took some doing but it will be worth the effort. Every university bangs on about the employability of its graduates – Swinburne is walking as well as talking.

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Another case for cash

The Academy of Science is pumping out more plans than General von Schlieffen. First this year was a ten-year plan for chemistry (CMM February 19), then was a scheme for maths (CMM March 17). This morning there is a map showing how Australia can “revolutionise medicine and become a world leader in stem cell research.”

Medical science is now moving towards the point where it will be possible to take cells from one part of a person’s body and turn them into any other type of cell to use in replacement of lost cells or repair of damaged tissue.”

This is a very big deal indeed and the Academy paper addresses core research, regulatory and ethical issues – focusing, as usual, on funds. The Medical Research Future Fund and the Biomedical Translation Fund are mentioned as sources.

“Prioritising investment in stem cell science now will result in healthcare savings in the future. Stem cell science should be a national research and development priority and systems should be put in place to create a sustainable workforce for the future.”

The paper makes a solid case, problem is delete stem cells and insert medical science of choice and it would sound as strong. The people who will decide where the very limited MRFF funds go are going to have a tough time deciding who gets what from a fund which will take a very long time to reach the capital target of $20bn.

No action on deregulation

The National Union of Students is holding a “welfare day of action” on Wednesday. The three issues are changing startup scholarships to loans, “cuts to healthcare” and ending restrictions on textbook imports. But not a word about “$100k degrees” (and if that’s not a welfare issue what is?). While Labor and the National Tertiary Education Union keep talking about deregulation it seems nobody is actually expecting it.

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People to keep

The Innovative Research Universities group broadly supports the government’s innovation agenda, including the idea of an entrepreneur visa. “Currently there is no clear pathway for non-Australian entrepreneurs to establish businesses in Australia.  In aiming to fill this gap, this proposal goes in the right direction.” But it could go further, the IRU argues. In particular the lobby proposes allowing STEM and IT research students from overseas to stay here and “make the transition to entrepreneurship.” The Victorian Government proposed something similar for international graduates who complete PhDs in the state and want to stay, (CMM March 18).

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