La Trobe dreams of third place while peace is proclaimed at Monash

The good times roll

The Australian Research Council has extended the journal and conference list consultation for ERA 15 until March 21. Presumably, because everybody is having so much fun.

No peace in our time

On Friday Swinburne University announced the National Tertiary Education Union had suspended industrial action but it turned out that this was not because the comrades were accepting their narrow defeat in the ballot on management’s proposed enterprise agreement. Rather, the NTEU was clearing the decks to challenge the vote in Fair Work Australia. “In our investigations we have already identified hundreds of ex-staff who were given a ballot. There are many other discrepancies and issues which must be considered by the Fair Work Commission. In order for us to focus on this with the clarity required, and ensure no management shenanigans get in the way of a proper and careful consideration by the Fair Work Commission, NTEU has decided to lift all the current industrial action,” the union told members.

This is a fight to the knife and understandably so. Losing the vote was a big defeat for the union, which many observers did not think would occur. The NTEU is strong at Swinburne and with no other union represented on campus management could not split the vote, as occurred at Charles Sturt University last spring. If FWA upholds the outcome managements at universities where the union is still hanging tough may hope Swinburne shows that the union has lost command on campuses. In particular management at the University of Western Sydney and at the University of Queensland, where academic staff will strike tomorrow, will watch what occurs, closely. For the NTEU to lose at Swinburne would be a defeat for it to lead to other university managements challenging its claim to speak for staff would be a disaster. This might explain the ferocity of the fight now but not the bitterness over the long dispute’s life. Deals are being done at other universities where the arguments were also intense. It seems at Swinburne this conflict has taken on a life of its own.

Peace at Monash

Meanwhile at neighbouring Monash peace prevails, with the Victorian branch of the NTEU announcing a done deal on Friday. According to campus union official Lisbeth Latham the bargaining team has reached an in-principle agreement with university management. All up the pay rise, including a 2 per cent paid last year, will be 15 per cent by mid 2017, pretty much on par with what is being negotiated across the country.

Above gender average ANU

Vice Chancellor Ian Young announced gender equity targets for ANU on Friday. By 2020 the percentage of women in senior academic and professional positions is to exceed Group of Eight averages. To help it happen there will be a program to encourage appropriate women to apply for senior jobs. Good-oh, but this might be harder than it looks. Over the years deans and DVCs across the country have told me of times when no qualified women had applied for jobs – yes they knew of women who could do them but they had taken time off for children and had not racked up the publications and experience needed or they did not want to work the hours, because they had kids. Announcing quotas is not the same as meeting them, at least not without adjusting position criteria to acknowledge the circumstances of half the workforce.

Big in the bush

Country Education Foundation chair, Nick Burton Taylor will replace John Dowd as chancellor of Southern Cross University in September. It’s a good fit, the CEF is a low profile charity that actually assists individuals rather than lobbies for causes, funding country kids whose circumstances make it hard for them to participate in post school education and training. As a member of the Regional Universities Network, SCU is big on access and equity, on which issues Mr Taylor has runs on the board, or paddock.

Aspiring to third place

While La Trobe VC John Dewar is carefully not saying how many and which jobs will go as part of his restructure he is obviously confident about ones that will arrive. The university is advertising for two PVCs to respectively run its two new colleges, arts, social sciences and commerce and one consisting of science, health and engineering.  The announcement is standard stuff, with all the usual guff about vibrant this and excellence in that – although making being “one of the top three universities in our state” by 2017 a goal is a frank admission of the way La Trobe has struggled to keep up with Deakin and even RMIT.

Can’t afford to live with them, can’t live without them   

For an overview of where the world is in the open access debate it is hard to beat an essay by David Sweeney and Ben Johnson from the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Quick and easy access is the issue, they argue and while publishers should be partners in the process some are sticking to the status quo. “We need a more cost effective way of unlocking material if publishers, universities and funders are to work together towards sustainable open access.” Good-oh, the ethics of journal publishers profiting from work they do not pay for aside, this is a case where the rich are always with us – the research system depends on the 20,000 odd journals that generally commercial publishers produce. But perhaps they should consider sharing the wealth. Reed Elsevier turned over 7,121m Euros lasted year and booked a 28 per cent return.

Less needs more

The National Health and Medical Research Council reports 3810 applications for project grants, down 2.7 per cent on 2013 and the first decline since 2006.  Whatever the reason somebody for sure will argue it means more research funding is needed.

Firepower

When Alcoa announced it was closing the Port Henry smelter last month Deakin VC Jane den Hollander was quick to assure the Geelong community that the university had lots of job generating plans. Including, presumably, its role in the Victorian Centre for Advanced Material Manufacturing, plus the Deakin carbon fibre manufacturing research centre, which could help build the 700 fighting vehicles the army wants under its Land 400 program. Professor den Hollander participated in a project briefing on Friday. Granted there is some debate whether the ADF needs the $10bn project to defend the air-sea approaches to Australia, but I suspect strategy comes second to Geelong needing the jobs.

Earth to newsroom

All day Friday ABC radio reported what the Space Environment Management Cooperative Research Centre will do. The Weekend Australian followed with a prominent puff on the ANU’s involvement. This was all a fortnight after the CRC was announced.

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