Rolling out reform north and south

Good for you CQU

CQU was overdue for some good news, at least three years overdue. Yesterday’s announcement of a merger with TAFE to create Queensland’s first dual-sector post secondary institution follows a long series of squabbles between state and federal ministers over who would pay for what.  But now CQU has state approval to start spending the $73m the feds stumped up in May.

In the last few months VC Scott Bowman has tackled the university’s unsustainable structure-designed for the long gone days of booming international enrolments. But cutting spending and sacking staff a growth strategy does not make and while Professor Bowman has talked up the growth in local enrolments CQU’s local catchment isn’t enormous. The merger gives CQU a more sustainable base and  will create pathways between training and higher education. It’s a generation since the last structural reforms in post school education and perhaps this is the start of a new wave. In a world where MOOCs will change every university’s competitive set thinking globally but acting locally is an all but essential strategy for institutions light-on for economies of scale.

 Smoke, no fire

Talk yesterday of management heads rolling at Australian Catholic University was misplaced. People close to the merger say the faculties of law and business are set to merge, which may mean one surplus dean, but that is it.

Reform rolls on

The Federation University Australia legislation now has vice regal assent making FUA (Ballarat plus what was Monash Gippsland) the first merger I can remember since the glory days of John Dawkins. As Vice Chancellor David Battersby tweeted yesterday “FedUni roll out now gaining momentum as staff, students and the community give support to the new university.”  Apart that is from the matter of an enterprise agreement. The university announced pay rises for staff at the end of August independent of stalled talks with the local National Tertiary Education Union. Talks which stay stalled. Professor Battersby also announced his new FUA senior management team, which looks very much like his old one.  His six direct reports are all from UB.

Education exporters be afraid

Headline in the India Today newspaper yesterday, “A degree from a top US university sitting at your home? This could soon be true.” In fact, be very afraid.

Impeccable timing

Having an inquiring mind, Chief Scientist Ian Chubb was probably already interested to know whether Australia has the right mix of STEM skills. But with members of the incoming government keener on applied research than all that humanities and social science stuff his timing is bang on. Professor Chubb’s office is calling for information on; “what skills are required by Australian businesses and whether or not these skills are readily available in the marketplace.” Given the endless reports on industry and innovation over the last few years you would think that somebody in some agency or another would know but apparently not and a number would be nice – if only to give university recruiters for STEM faculties something to sell.

Better red, not dead

Now with “special” molecules!  Scientists have discovered that 23 “special” health-giving molecules, which can delay ageing and reduce cardiovascular disease, exist in red wine. Is anybody surprised that the research was done in Adelaide? In the town where they like a drink while eating crow red wine is universally considered a sovereign remedy, for everything other than the state of the economy that is.

Stand off at CSU

On Monday Charles Sturt University VC Andy Vann, deciding he had a deal with the local unions, announced he was sending an enterprise agreement to staff for a vote. But while the Community and Public Sector Union seems onside the National Tertiary Education Union isn’t. According to the university, the head office comrades over-ruled the locals on agreed terms. According to the union there are still a few points to iron out, indigenous employment, scholarly teaching fellows and there’s one other – oh yes, pay. This is now a serious test of strength between management and union. Especially for the NTEU, which is calling on staff to vote no. “This is a disturbing development as no other vice chancellor in CSU’s history has refused to meet with your staff representatives to gain a better understanding of staff concerns and discuss how those concerns could be resolved,” the NTEU argues urging CSU workers to knock back the deal.

We will find out just how many staff are concerned about the union’s concerns after the ballot next week.

R&D dollars

Nobody much appears to have noticed new Australian Bureau of Statistics figures on business research and development, what with their being released at the height of the late political unpleasantness. But they are certainly worth noticing, the Bureau reports business spent $18 bn on R&D in 2011-12. Granted, as a share of GDP its down from around 1.37 per cent of GDP in 2008-09 to under 1.25 per cent but even so, it’s a big bucket of dosh. The big three spenders, manufacturing, mining and financial services accounted for 62 per cent between them. For academics worried what will happen to Labor’s raft of innovation programs and industry precincts, (I think I have that the right way round) these are numbers worth contemplating. There has got to be a quid in there for lean and hungry researchers.

 There sure is if you know where to look

They certainly do at Southern Cross U, which has just picked up an undisclosed sum to research “the motivations of macadamia farmers.” The project is funded by the feds and industry, plus the macadamia industry levy.  And no I will not make a cheap joke about nuts.

Duelling docs

Today’s contribution to the endless argument over whether southeast regional Australia needs a new medical faculty comes from John Preddy, head of the University of New South Wales Rural Clinical School. Associate Professor Preddy, in common with his colleagues, is annoyed at the case for a Murray Darling Medical School being made by proposer Charles Sturt. “CSU does not train medical students, I want to know what grounds they think they will be more successful than the current universities,” Dr Preddy told Caleb Taylor of the Wagga Wagga Daily Advertiser. Stand by for CSU to return fire.

Given how important this is to both sides, not to mention communities light-on for medical care, I wonder if duelling quotes is the best way to sort this out. Perhaps the two sides could present their case at a specially convened public forum with a record of the event sent to Canberra.  At least it would ensure the incoming health minister had an independent record of what it is all about. Perhaps Andy Vann could propose it, after he sorts out the NTEU that is.

Just hand over the cash

University of New South Wales Dean of Science Merlin Crossley @ The Conversation, yesterday. “So what is good science and what is good art? I don’t think we will always be able to tell up-front. But when the next grant outcomes are announced I expect that, as usual, many of our best researchers will end up getting funded and their research will ultimately contribute hugely to society.” Is that based on faith or observation?

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