Hunt hints at innovation research clusters

plus Melbourne’s Provost speaks out and the union is appalled

Training is being re-regulated and universities could follow

and another gong for Graeme Jameson (so why aren’t more people cheering)

Nice if you can afford it

Could more campus accommodation for students reduce attrition asks, um organisers of a conference on university provided student housing. CMM sees one problem with the idea, attrition is highest among students from the bottom income quintile (Edwards and Macmillan 2015) – people whose families are least likely to be able to afford their kids living on campus.

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Agenda setter

A learned reader commends Peter Noonan for joining the government’s expert panel advising on a new higher education policy. Professor Noonan (Victoria U) was a member of the BradleyReview. Unless, another and equally learned reader suggests, Professor Noonan senses an opportunity too good to miss. Noonan advocates a single tertiary education-funding agency to make decisions, “encompassing subsidies, student contributions and HELP settings, by reference to a transparent evidence based process.”

“Our major priority must be developing and adopting a coherent and integrated approach to financing, and taking long-term investment decisions to achieve near universal participation rates in tertiary education in Australia. This is a complex, demanding national building task. It is a national project similar, but no less complex, to that which Australia commenced over 30 year ago when we set ourselves the objective of achieving universal participation to the end of senior secondary schooling,” he wrote last month (CMM September 26).

It’s certainly an idea that would fit with the government’s emerging approach to training (below).

Jeans stays on

University of Newcastle chancellor Paul Jeans will serve a second four-year term, commencing next July.

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Desirable locations

Greg Hunt’s jobathon continues. His portfolio, Industry, Innovation and Science “is about job security and job creation. By this I mean industry is about the jobs of today, innovation is about the jobs of tomorrow and science is about the jobs of the future,” the minister said in a speech yesterday. He went on to present a comprehensive catalogue of the government’s plan to generate jobs, employment, work, and did he mention jobs?

It was Mr Hunt’s usual professional performance, which gave nothing away on major policy issues, notably the Ferris-Finkel-Fraser proposal to reduce the R&D tax concession.

But there was a hint of something new – government interest in clusters of public and private researchers. Mr Hunt pointed to some already in place, Macquarie Park at Macquarie U, the Tonsley Innovation Precinct at Flinders U and the coming Murdoch U health and knowledge precinct, adding, “I’m particularly interested in the potential that clusters provide for boosting private sector investment in science and research,” he said. With the second and third stages of the government’s innovation agenda yet to come anybody with an opportunity to pick up a broad acre bargain adjacent to a university should snap it up.

Engagement celebration

University of Tasmania cultural sociologist Nicholas Hookway has received the vice chancellor’s award for outstanding community engagement. Dr Hookway is honoured for his “media engagement and with local and national arts, education and leadership organisations and event.”

Sheil drops her guard

Last Saturday The Age ran a story by Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker about exam tampering at the University of Melbourne. The second most interesting thing in it was the description of scores recorded on a physical exam paper, not an e-record, being altered – somebody actually broke into an office and changed marks by hand. But the most interesting was part of the response from Provost Margaret Sheil, who rarely puts a foot wrong.

One par is classic Uni Melbourne; “she describes the exam tampering as a “freakishsingular event and says the elite university’s high-performing students and academics are far less exposed to the integrity pressures faced by other education providers,” Baker and McKenzie wrote.

But the next one, not so much; “Sheil also cautions that claims in the sector of pressure to pass under-performing foreign students are overblown and may ‘be used as a proxy’ to shield lecturers who don’t want to ‘work a bit harder’ to better educate their students.”

You will never guess what happened next. Yesterday the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union issued a protest petition for staff to sign stating;

“(Professor Sheil’s) statement amounts to slur on the academic workforce. It disrespects the effort and hard work academics place on working with students and grossly damages the reputation of the University of Melbourne. It demonstrates a lack of understanding of the many issues faced by the academic workforce. For example in the last 10 years, academics have achieved a 63 per cent increase in research output , while less than 1 per cent of new jobs were tenured positions and one in two staff are precariously employed. “

They recognise a free kick when they see one at the NTEU.

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Given gets

Lisa Given from Charles Sturt U is the next president of the (international) Association for Information Science and Technology.

Another gong for Graeme

Graeme Jameson has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Mineral Processing Congress. The University of Newcastle researcher is the creator of the Jameson Cell, a minerals separation technology, which is also used in agriculture. According to UniNewcastle, the Jameson Cell has earned $100bn for the national economy.

Professor Jameson was the NSW scientist of the year in 2013 (CMM November 4 2013) and won the prime minister’s prize for science innovation in 2015 (CMM October 22 2015). He was admitted to the International Mining Technology Hall of Fame in 2014. Why the man is not a national hero eludes CMM, unless of course it is because his technology was first used in coal processing – not an industry approved by the guild of science communicators.

Deakin’s triple

For the third year in a row Deakin University has won the (2016) Governor of Victoria export award for education.

Feds halve approved VET courses

The Commonwealth has cut the number of VET courses eligible for student fee support from 800 plus to 347. The cull is based on state and territory skill lists, “and an assessment “of other areas of high economic need, such as STEM skills and agricultural skills to make sure the list represents our national economic priorities.” There is also an appeal process for advocates of cancelled courses, although who a provider appeals to is unknown, at least to CMM – nobody responded to an inquiry yesterday.

TAFE leaders

Mary Faraone is the new chair of TAFE Directors Australia. The CEO of Holmesglen Institute replaces Tasmania’s TAFE chief Stephen Conway. Jodi Schmidt, CEO of TAFE Queensland is the new deputy chair. Warren Tapp, chair of TAFE Queensland is the inaugural head a TDA’s new chairs’ council.

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Picking winners

In cleaning-up the VET FEE HELP mess Simon Birmingham will effectively re-regulate the training system with government specifying what students can study. Under his new loan system students will only be funded for “courses that align with industry needs and are selected based on analysis of employer, state and territory and Commonwealth data to provide a high likelihood of leading to good employment opportunities.”

As a response to the VET FEE HELP mess this makes political sense but it also means government deciding what sorts of jobs the economy will need and what occupations young people will be allowed to train for. As Rod Camm from the Australian Council for Private Education and Training puts it; “preferred skills lists are tantamount to governments ‘picking winners’ and distorting markets, reducing student choice and hindering Australia’s ability to develop a flexible workforce of the future.”

Senator Birmingham agrees that this is not good, albeit only for universities and only up to a yet to be announced point. Back in August he told a conference there will be changes to the way Commonwealth funding for undergraduate teaching is allocated by discipline but ruled out regulation, “by a bunch of officials sitting around a table in Canberra randomly allocating a number of places for each university.” However he added, “we need to find a method that drives an outcome that frankly is more attuned with what the employment market demands.” At the risk of boring regular readers (hi mum) CMM reckons an independent post-school education planning and funding regulator is not a certainty but it’s definitely a possibility – which maybe why Peter Noonan is willing to serve on yet another education review (above).

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