Teaching and research: you don’t need both

Bad news for academics who say they must do both lest students suffer

Plugged in

Murdoch University predicts an “an electrifying Keith Roby Memorial Trust Lecture on 22 October”. They’re certain because the title is “Preventing the death spiral of the electricity industry: the option of distributed energy markets.” What’s more, the speaker is Dr Muriel Watt.

 Wired up

And ready to MOOC.  Granted that most of us use the Internet for work and cat videos but even so the pre-conditions for online education are in place. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics yesterday there are 12.35m Internet subscribers, not including people with mobile access. And lest anyone thinks we are are jogging along with an antique connection there are just 112,000 dial-up subscribers.

Unity ticket

Former NSW minister for education Verity Firth is running for the University of Sydney Senate on the Reclaim the Senate ticket (CMM yesterday). “Education changes lives. At the Public Education Foundation, where I work as CEO, we focus on removing the barriers to achievement created by social and economic disadvantage and on rewarding excellence in public education,” she writes.
She is also a member of the  Unify team where her message is; “I loved being at Sydney University in the 1990s, and want to ensure that our historic student organisations such as the Union and the SRC stay student-run. I also support the independence and fair remuneration of university staff and the prioritising of equity initiatives so that Sydney University attracts a broad range of students from all backgrounds and talents.”
Different platform same pitch. But not to the NSW branch of the NTEU which has endorsed Ms Firth, but only with her colleagues on the Reclaim ticket.

Light the blue paper and withdraw

An Open2Study message, retweeted by Swinburne University, promoting an online chemistry course yesterday, “Who wants to blow things up?” I presume the question is rhetorical.

Either or

The argument that academics who do not research tend to be terrible teachers took a thumping yesterday with the release of a new Grattan Institute paper by Andrew Norton and colleagues Ittima Cherastidtham and Julie Sonnemann. Their analysis of a bunch of surveys finds no positive or negative relationship between research and teaching quality. This is very bad news for academics who do not publish much but say that thinking about research strengthens their teaching. And it will cheer university managements that want to create more teaching-only positions.  Or it will until they consider the report’s core message; “Experience since the mid-1990s suggest that it is possible to simultaneously improve research and teaching performance. This points to the conclusion that university policies and practices are the key drivers of teaching and research performance.” In the end university quality depends on leadership as much as job description.

RMIT strikes

Staff at RMIT will strike tomorrow over teaching workloads and a “provocatively low” 3 per cent pay offer, “which barely scrapes ahead of the cost of living.” It follows a two-hour stop work in July, which protested management’s then lower 2 per cent to 2.5 per cent pay offer. If industrial action is to bite anywhere it will be at RMIT, with neighbouring Victoria University, it has the highest concentration of union staff in the country, some 38 per cent.

Not the comrades who count

Talk of the government ending the convenient split on industry super fund boards where union and management reps share the seats at the table does not apply to UniSuper which has, what a surprise, a complex governance structure. There are eight directors appointed by member universities. Of them two are appointed by vice chancellors, two are appointed by consultative committee members who represent management, one is selected by consultative committee members who represent academics and one similarly by members of the same committee representing professional staff and two “by the national unions who represent a significant number of UniSuper members.” These eight then appoint a further three “on the basis of their knowledge and experience.”  So who gets to go on the consultative committee? Um “shareholder universities” appoint four people each, two representing the employer and one each academic and general staff. It all adds up to making this one organisation where the unions do not have the numbers.

 Yes they do have a crystal ball

Last week flacks at the University of Newcastle blew their own horns hugely about the appointment of futurist Jeff Julian as Director for Research and Innovation Clusters. Now I hear about Sohail Inayatullah, a futurist, with chairs at Tamkang University in Taiwan as well as Macquarie and the University of the Sunshine Coast, where he spends half the year – a pleasant place to predict the future, for sure. Who would have guessed the future can be a subject for scholarly study – probably these two.

Who has the smarts

The OECD published its 2013 survey of  adult skills last night and you have to be smarter than the average bear (well this one) to work it out. Apparently 0.7 per cent of adults posses level five literacy across the OECD but Australia and the Netherlands (just behind the Finns but leading the Japanese and Swedes) has 1.3 per cent of adults at level five. Well hooray for us – except that the definition of level five literacy does not seem so smart. The OECD defines it thus: “adults reaching this level can perform tasks that involve searching for and integrating information across multiple, dense texts; constructing syntheses of similar and contrasting ideas or points of view, or evaluating evidence and arguments. They can apply and evaluate logical and conceptual models, and evaluate the reliability of evidentiary sources and select key information. They are aware of subtle, rhetorical cues and are able to make high-level inferences or use specialised background knowledge.”
What confounds me is that if this is what we can expect from only one per cent of adults what are we doing with a mass university system.

Brilliant timing 

According to Deloitte, global demand for education will increase by 7 per cent annually until the end of the decade. This is good news for Australia as long as it able to address issues ranging from increasing the status of Asia-literate staff through improving in-demand course marketing to addressing the implications of “enabling technologies.” The report provides a collection of questions rather than strategy specifics but you can’t fault the consultants’ timing, being released on the first day of the Australian International Education Conference in Canberra and the morning Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced he would pick up the pace on of negotiations on a free trade treaty with China. Good luck with that PM, given talks started eight years ago and have gone mainly nowhere since. The healthy education market Australia already enjoys may also ensure that it does not top of the growth list. But I can’t help but wonder whether there is pelf to pursue in trade courses, delivered by Australian institutions in China, rather than by increasing numbers of Chinese business students here.

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