Here comes the productivity push

Plus episode 920 of the Swinburne Saga

Anger at Adelaide

Union members at the University of Adelaide are upset by management plans to review professional staff functions and assess academic performance for a move to teaching only positions, voting no confidence in VC Warren Bebbington.

Last month Professor Bebbington announced the staff reviews, saying they were “not about cuts” but focusing resources on the university plan. Increased teaching by permanent academic staff would reduce the university’s need for casuals and thus free up $14m a year for research by 2019. (CMM April 28)

However the National Tertiary Education Union campus branch argues the plan is abut nothing but cuts with management looking to reduce professional staff and increase the workload of “education specialist” academics “up to” 42 hours a week “during a long semester programme.” “This is about belt tightening. The centre wants to claw back more and more funding,” NTEU president Felix Patrikeeff told members.

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Productivity push

NTEU national leadership is backing the Uni Adelaide protests with national secretary Grahame McCullough telling the comrades; “ the moves planned by senior managers must be seen in broader terms than this and it must be understood that each of these disagreements is part of a larger debate over the question of what our universities are for. Are they places that serve the public good through high quality teaching and research or are they businesses that should be run as cheaply as possible, and with no regard for the welfare of staff that make up the institution, or the students who attend it?”

Good-oh, but it is hard to imagine that the union leadership is not preparing for a brace of battles like this across the country, following the defeat of the government’s plan to allow universities to raise their own revenue from undergraduates. If, as the NTEU argues, universities are underfunded, they have two choices, raise more revenue or cut costs. With the former off the agenda it won’t only be Adelaide pursuing the latter – productivity is now the industrial relations main game.

Flinders also at it

Flinders University is also establishing expectations for academics, with consultation concluding on proposed research outputs for staff in each school. The university is also anxious to lift the rated quality of work, using the H index or relative citation impact are being considered. The final measure will be a determining factor in allocating research income.

As at Adelaide, the NTEU is not amused arguing that this an, “emerging plan to apply generalised sets of numerical measures as a blunt means of assessing individual research performance and, therefore, as a potential tool for unwarranted allegations of underperformance. “ The union also argues that reducing research performance to a set of metrics will, “have significant negative consequences for many academic staff and particularly for non-traditional researchers and those in discipline areas where research funding opportunities are limited.”

And what are guidelines today, will, the NTUE warns, be mandatory on the morrow;  “the proposed measures will initially be ‘sold’ to the University community as aspirational targets and will rapidly transition to a mandate.

As a union, we must collectively resist this egregious attempt to oversimplify a core component of university work.”

The campus NTEU has no choice but to defend its members, especially those on a traditional 40-40-20 mix of research, teaching and administration but just how much they can claw back from management’s plan will depend on how prepared for a fight are newish VC Colin Stirling and incoming DVC R (as of June) Robert Saint. Pretty prepared CMM suspects.

ANU new 4

Friends in higher places

The great and the good are in Wagga today for the annual general meeting of Universities Australia at Charles Sturt University’s campus, which is still not the home of the CSULa Trobe proposed Murray-Darling Medical School. Perhaps VCs Andy Vann (CSU) and John Dewar (La Trobe) will ask Curtin head Deborah Terry how to get the feds to fund a med school.

As Vann and Dewar put it yesterday in a joint statement;

“If a new local medical school in Perth is the right answer to addressing doctor shortages in Western Australia, then a local rural medical school is surely the right answer for rural and regional communities. … We will now engage with our local members who have been strong supporters of the MDMS with renewed enthusiasm to deliver a local solution to the needs of rural and regional communities.”

Then again, maybe they will just congratulate Professor Terry, because professors Vann and Dewar have nailed a key difference between the bids. While they will appeal to local MPs Curtin had WA premier Colin Barnett on-side. Mr Barnett has run hard on the state not getting a fair share of GST and perhaps the federal government was inclined to give him a win. The Coalition also might be keen on hanging on to the 12 out of 15 House of Reps seats it holds in WA.

But one local member who might be able to do something, is Sussan Ley, the member for Farrer whose vast electorate includes country just south of Wagga. Yes, that Susan Ley, the one who is health minister.

CRCs still smiling

The Cooperative Research Centre Association is copping the cut in last week’s budget on the chin, which is certainly the sensible response. Yes, the CRCs lost another $26m over four years, on top of having an entire round of new centres called off last year. But this year’s cut wasn’t just Treasury being Treasury; the money will fund ANSTO to dispose of Australian nuclear waste after processing in Europe. There are also indications that the government thinks well of CRCs and will welcome the expected positive report on their work in the Miles Review, due for imminent release. How positive? Well, Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane is attending the CRC Association conference at the end of month, along with science parliamentary secretary Karen Andrews*. Even more positive, Tony Abbott is scheduled to speak at the dinner and CMM suspects he is not attending to deliver bad news in person.

*In this morning’s email edition Ms Andrews is names as Ms McPherson, which is the name of her electorate. Apologies for the doltish error.

The Swinburne Saga Episode 920

The story so far. Sometime around the accession of Edward VII, Swinburne University and the National Tertiary Education Union began negotiating a new enterprise agreement. But after 50 years or so (it seems like that long) talks were less stalled than stopped and the university put its offer to staff, without, as is customary, union agreement. The vote was carried by a narrow but clear margin but the union was not having any of it and challenged the result in Fair Work Australia on the grounds that ineligible people were on the electoral roll. Some time around the coronation of Elizabeth II the Fair Work full bench rejected the claim and that looked like that. Until the NTEU disputed the judgement and called on the Federal Court to send the matter back to Fair Work Australia for another go. Which brings us to today, when the Federal Court will hear the matter. A ruling is expected to coincide with the Duke of Cambridge moving into Buckingham Palace.

Premier plan for Launceston

The University of Tasmania is pushing on with its plan to create what looks like a major teaching-only campus at Launceston in partnership with TAFE. Vice Chancellor Peter Rathjen signed an MOU yesterday with the state government and city council. The expanded university presence would focus on degree programmes, with nursing, education and business specified and associate degrees in vocation focused areas, including, aged care, aquaculture, agriculture. The university is not especially expansive (at least not to CMM) about this plan which has been around for a year or so at least, or what it will cost. However it is not hard to understand the purpose – it is driven by the need to generate employment and economic growth in the north of the state. Now, with the local agreement in place all they need to do is get Canberra to pay for it – perhaps Premier Will Hodgman could do a Barnett.

Award still in place

The Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse is in Ballarat today, looking, in part, at how the Catholic diocese under Bishop Ronald Mulkearns dealt with paedophile priests in the ‘70s and ‘80s. According to John Ferguson and Tessa Akerman in The Australian yesterday, Father Mulkearns “has been thrown under a bus by the church hierarchy in Australia,” for the way he dealt with offending clergy. But he isn’t entirely abandoned by the Catholic community. Last year CMM reported that the Australian Catholic University had dropped Mulkearn’s name from a lecture theatre at its Ballarat campus, renaming it for the Sisters of Mercy. But what about the honorary doctorate he was awarded in 1998? (CMM, July 11). That, according to ACU DV Stephen Weller last year, would remain. “The university has detailed criteria and processes for the awarding of honorary doctorates that recognise significant achievements of individuals. The decision to award an honorary doctorate takes into account all information known to the university at the time of the award. The university has not revoked any honorary doctorates in its 25 year history and has no immediate plans to do so.”  (CMM July 21).   There is a big difference to what ACU did not know in 1998 and what it knows now.

Marvellous (as usual) Melbourne

Another ranking, another Australian top spot for the University of Melbourne. Today’s is the Financial Times league table of global executive educators. The UoM Business School is 32nd, up five places on an aggregate of two measures, open programmes and customised teaching.

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