Trouble looms at La Trobe while all is terrific at TEQSA

 Giant anomaly

Last week I reported Swinburne University statistician Stephen Clarke’s brave predictions for the AFL season, which included the Greater Western Sydney Giants finishing in last place. Um, that will be the GWS Giants who demolished the Swans in round one on Saturday.

Temperate times at TEQSA

With Labor and the Greens sending the TEQSA reform legislation off to a Senate committee everything should be ticking over ok at the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, at least for three months or so. Indeed, “it’s business as usual at TEQSA” is how an education department spokesman responded when I checked on rumoured management departures. Apparently CEO Carol Nicoll and Commissioner Ian Hawke are on leave and Dorte Kristofferson is acting chief commissioner. For the boss and the bloke who established the agency to be away with Senate hearings on the way and legislation to re-shape the agency’s brief due soon in the Senate  surely signifies confidence, unless it is resignation.

Many balls in the air

Is there no opportunity not grasped by Stephen “renaissance prince” Parker to promote his University of Canberra? Not content with sponsoring the local rugby squad, founding a poetry prize, and commissioning a font to celebrate the city’s centenary he has an arrangement with NRL team the Canberra Raiders for players to study at UC. (There was an event to explain it on Friday).

Trouble looms at La Trobe

La Trobe staff are set to strike for two days on March 26-27 in protest at the “breakdown of negotiations” for a new enterprise agreement and the looming loss of 350 jobs under Vice Chancellor John Dewar’s restructure. But does the National Tertiary Education Union really want everything it demands? “University management must outline how they will protect staff against further cuts, spiraling workloads and career security,” the union announced. Somehow I suspect the comrades are not after protection against career security. In fact, La Trobe staff have long worried about workloads and career paths – long before the present enterprise bargain argy bargy began staff were worried about changes to workloads. Back in 2012 Professor Dewar’s thoughts on teaching only positions were upsetting NTEU officials on campus

Even more alarming for management is that this dispute is not only about money. Management will not say how much La Trobe will offer in this enterprise round, or whether it is even talking about pay. But I’m guessing that this will be the lesser issue for the union, that in the end the university will offer a pay rise in line with the sector (around 3 per cent). As at neighbouring Swinburne jobs and workload will matter more in this dispute.

The university is less than impressed with Friday’s announcement of industrial action. A spokesman said that given there was a meeting that very day management “ was surprised by union claims that negotiations had broken down”. “The university community has been kept fully informed about the need for change and productivity improvements and the union has received a full financial briefing,” he added.

In case you missed it

“Australia will take time-out today to congratulate dietitians for the remarkable contribution they make to the community by celebrating the nation’s first Dietitian’s Day.” (Flinders University release, Friday)

Good news and less so

As head of the National Centre for Vocational Education Research Tom Karmel commissioned research which regularly raised hard questions on the economics and outcomes of training. Since retiring from the NCVER he has kept at it with work of his own, in the case of a new paper, on the relationship between education and productivity. The opening pars of the paper draw heavily on Dr Karmel’s “Skills and the productivity challenge,”  report for the feds’ Australian Innovation System Report 2012. However the new article is also classic Karmel, going where the stats take him to show that the links between education and increasing individual and community income are not quite as straightforward as often assumed. Nor as positive. According to Dr Karmel, between 1995 and 2004 changes in education levels and average work experience accounted for 0.36 per cent per annum of the improvement in multifactor productivity. The increase from 2004 to 2011 was 0.2 per cent, insufficient to address a decline caused by other factors. The good news from this is that education levels contribute to productivity, the less positive mail is that it does not stay strong indefinitely. “As education levels increase, almost by definition, it is more difficult to achieve the same percentage increases.”

Hard to sell

Anybody interested in explaining science with impact should have a look at the entries in the Cooperative Research Centre Association’s early career communications competition here. This is series stuff indeed, although none of the entrants should give up research to try to break into breakfast television. My pick for clear communication is Charity Mundava, who explains her work on measuring and reporting pasture growth on rangeland

Art in the NDIS

The University of Melbourne awarded Bruce Bonyhady an honorary doctorate on Saturday for designing the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Apparently the NDIS is “widely hailed as a milestone in Australia’s cultural history on a par with the introduction of universal health insurance in the 1970s.” No, I have no idea where the culture comes in.  

Formulas for political influence

The 14th annual Science meets Parliament is on this week, featuring the sort of speakers you would expect. Chief Scientist Ian Chubb will speak at the Press Club, ARC chief Aidan Byrne will address a forum and there all sorts of sundry science and industry lobbyists. I wonder what physicist and MP Dennis Jensen will make of it?

The ERA Whisperer (who is that masked person?) poses a problem which I know Professor Byrne will just love to address, are there predatory journals on the ERA 15 list? The Whisperer answers his/her own question. For citation disciplines, suggesting the risk should be negligible but “might be more of a problem,” for citation disciplines.

What have I done!

The other day I warned that Jane “wizard of the lobby” O’Dwyer could name all of her 527 reasons why she loves working at the Australian National University. I was wrong – she has more than that, publishing number 528 on Friday; “where else can you read about bees to the gentle hum of bees?” This could take some time.

Perhaps there is a pea for this pod

The University of Western Australia is in the market for an image-maker. It’s a big portfolio, covering marketing and communications, alumni relations and engagement. A record in “public advocacy” suggests the job also includes representing the university in the media. But there is no reference to fund raising – surely setting up the first turf fight for whoever is appointed. Most interesting, you do not need to be an academic to score a deputy VC title, although “you must have a highly-developed appreciation of the role of a contemporary research-intensive university.” Sound like UWA management already has somebody specific in mind?

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