The peak body commits to a 24/seven help line


Birmingham on the front foot: claiming his funding changes are fair and asking why universities oppose them when they backed the radical Pyne plan


TEQSA to call in the expert to advise on academic cheating


Test of nerve: Murdoch U and the NTEU are sweating on a decision with national implications


and: UK minister plays the populist card on VC pay but it couldn’t happen here (could it?)   


In breaking news

Now here is something CMM bets you did not know; “surgeons who rely on a patient’s own report of their nasal function may not be getting an accurate picture – unless they first assess their patient’s mental health,” UNSW advises.

Birmingham defends his changes as fair and moderate

The government signals how it will sell its higher education funding changes to the Senate

As senators convene today to consider the government’s higher education funding legislation Education Minister Simon Birmingham has released research showing the proposed increase in the proportion of course costs met by students is in-line with the private benefit of a degree.

The report, prepared by Deloitte Access Economics, modelled public and private benefits flowing from individuals completing degrees. It concludes that although there are discipline specific variations, at undergraduate level the overall benefit split is 55 per cent public and 45 per private. With the government claiming its legislation will move student contributions from 42 to 46 per cent the government will pitch the change to community and Senate crossbench as reasonable. “This report shows that our reforms towards a fairer share of contributions between taxpayers and students are more closely aligned with the benefits those groups will see flow through to them. Notably, they also do not consider the additional taxpayer subsidy provided to students via Australia’s generous subsidised student loans program,” Education Minister Simon Birmingham said last night.

The minister also renewed his argument that university funding has grown substantially and will stay strong. “Taxpayer funding for universities has been a river of gold, growing at twice the rate of the economy since 2009. Our reforms still see university teaching revenue grow by a further 23 per cent over the forward estimates, just growing at a more sustainable trajectory to ensure the ongoing viability of generous higher education funding and access.”

And he slammed university leaders  for backing the Pyne plan to deregulate the system but now opposing “his very modest changes to the student-taxpayer ratio, allegedly in the interests of students.”

This is a bold pitch to cross bench senators and their constituents, designed to present the government as supporting the existing system rather than replacing it with a new funding model. University groups will have to explain fine points of funding, notably, the permanent impact of the two years of funding reduction and try to interest senators in problems with performance based funding – both of which will be a lot tougher than denouncing “$100k degrees.”

Peak body prepares for sexual assault report

Unis Australia will fund a support service

With the Human Rights Commission report on sexual assault and harassment at universities due in a week university managements are preparing for the possibility of individual HRC reports pointing to specific problems on their campuses.

Astute operators are already acting.  A couple of weeks back Margaret Gardner (VC Monash and Universities Australia president) and Brian Schmidt (ANU) committed to act at their institutions and on Saturday Universities Australia itself announced a major initiative. To coincide with the HRC report, UA is funding the trauma counselling service, Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, to provide a 24/seven support phone service.

“We expect this report to be challenging – particularly for the survivors of sexual assault. We are also acutely aware that heightened media discussion may also trigger past trauma. We wanted to ensure that all students know that specialist support is only a phone call away,” UA CEO Belinda Robinson said.

It is an important step, demonstrating UA is taking very seriously both the HRC report and what many expect it to reveal. It deserved much more coverage than it received. The Fairfax Saturday papers, who had the announcement before the UA release, gave it a couple of pars in a general story on how universities will respond to the HRC report.     

Wodonga too far away

The Senate committee inquiry on the government’s higher education bill is in Wodonga on Tuesday but not everybody speaking can make it in person  

A minority of witnesses at tomorrow’s Senate committee hearings are making the trip to Wodonga. Richard Speed from La Trobe and Belinda Robinson and Mike Teece from Universities Australia will be there in person, so will a group of government officers.

However a range of regional higher education leaders are listed to give evidence by teleconference, notably James Cook U VC Sandra Harding, Regional Universities Network chair Greg Hill and his secretariat head Caroline Perkins as well as Charles Sturt U DVC Toni Downes.


From attrition to integrity

Following TEQSA’s successful seminar on attrition there is one in the works on contract cheating and academic integrity. It’s scheduled for late October and word is it will coincide with a good practice note written for the agency by Tracey Bretag. 

With universities wondering what the federal government has in mind for its proposed performance metrics the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency is wise to have called on Associate Professor Bretag (University of South Australia), editor of the standard operating manual on protecting qualification quality from contract cheating (CMM June 2 2016). In the last year she has spoken in the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, New Zealand Chile, Mexico and China, addressing what is recognised as a global problem.

Issues that could be on the TEQSA agenda include:

Problem scope: it seems around six per cent to ten per cent of students indulging in various forms of cheating behaviour is standard around the world. But observers point to a survey by Aspro Bretag and colleagues earlier this year that found 27 per cent of students have provided assignments to others, for all sorts of generally not commercial, reasons.

Quality control alone can’t cut it: optimism that cheating can be ‘designed out’ by more precise assessment is misplaced. People find ways around all sorts of quality controls.

It takes all-of-system solutions: including making cheating sites illegal across the world. This will not close them down but it sends a signal to students.

Teachers are essential: the more they know about the problem and the better they know their students the more cheating they pick up

Johnson’s new job

When Paul Johnson left UWA he said he would stay in Perth. He has

When he resigned as vice chancellor last September, Professor Johnson said he would “reactivate my academic interests with the intention of making a positive contribution to the analysis of economic and public policy in Australia.” Which he has – becoming, in an understated appointment, warden of Forrest Hall, “a state-of-the-art accommodation facility designed with the purpose of attracting and inspiring top scholars in their academic pursuits while creating a space that enhances their on-campus learning experience.” The hall is a project of Andrew and Nicola Forrest’s $65m research foundation and set to open for first semester next year.

Waiting game

At Murdoch U management and union need the other side to lose its nerve

The waiting starts: On Friday the Fair Work Commission finished hearings on Murdoch University’s application to terminate the effect of its now expired enterprise agreement, which still sets wages and conditions in the absence of a replacement.

What it’s about:  Late that day Murdoch Provost Andrew Taggart told staff the hearings allowed the university to point out; “numerous examples … of inefficiencies and the inflexibility of the current enterprise agreement. We strongly believe that these matters need to be addressed, given our current operating environment.”

And he was adamant that the application was not an attempt to impose the higher education industrial award, that specifies lower pay and conditions and will cut in if there is no enterprise agreement. “At no time during negotiations have we suggested pay cuts to employees. Take home pay is an important issue for all our people and we have been addressing the size of salary increases – not cuts – through the bargaining process,” Professor Taggart said.

Why it matters: The provost is undoubtedly correct, however there is a but of Himalayan height.

If the FWC finds for Murdoch it will be able to negotiate a new deal off a lower base, demanding concessions on conditions.

And if the FWC finds for Murdoch in an industry precedent-setting way then other university managements could follow, not agreeing to new enterprise agreements that include conditions in old ones.

What happens next: Professor Taggart says  the university wants to keep bargaining and is talking with the National Tertiary Education Union to schedule a meeting.

With a FWC ruling months away Murdoch management now has to decide whether getting its claims about expensive inefficiencies under the existing agreement on the record will be enough to secure concessions from the union or whether it should hang tough in hope of an FWC win. The NTEU has the same choice, if it wins in the commission staff at  Murdoch can’t go backwards and the union can take as long as it takes to win them a better deal. If it loses union branches across the country should brace for management pushes to reduce detailed conditions.

McAdam honoured   

Refugee law researcher Jane McAdam (UNSW) is a winner of the 2017 Calouste Gulbenkian Prize, sharing the Eu 100 000 prize with the Hungarian Helsinki Committee.

Times Higher reports the news

There’s a big differences between social media puffery and journalism and The Times Higher Education team knows it

The Times Higher Education reports claims the UK Higher Education Academy’s accreditation process is at risk, due to outsourcing approvals to applicants’ universities. HEA is in a growth phase, including in Australia. Last week new fellows were accredited at the University of Queensland and Charles Sturt U. The HEA also has a new product, the Global Teaching Excellence Awards, produced “in association” with THE.

That Times Higher Education published a story critical of it’s partner’s core product is exactly as it should be. Want to know the difference between social media puffery and journalism? The Times Higher team does.

UNSW appointments

Eileen Baldry is UNSW’s inaugural DVC Inclusion and Diversity

Back in December 2015 Professor Baldry stepped down as acting dean of arts at UNSW to become “academic lead for equity and diversity.” By March this year she was chair of the diversity, equity and inclusion board and now she is a DVC.

From what VC Ian Jacobs says she is going to be busy; “We have set ambitious objectives in relation to gender equity at all staff grades, ensuring an inclusive environment for staff and students with disability, achieving equity in student enrolments, providing a flexible inclusive workplace, ensuring that our campuses are safe for all staff and students, and maintaining a culturally rich and diverse inclusive university.“

While there are new Comms appointments

Last week UNSW appointed former SMH editor-in-chief Darren Goodsir, to an unspecified senior position in social and digital media. Sadly, when VC Ian Jacobs welcomed him to the university on Friday it was to a less hiply titled spot. Mr Goodsir is the new chief communications officer. He is joined by Amir Mireskandari (ex ops director M&C Saatchi) as director of operations in the Division of External Relations, and Elizabeth Eastland who becomes director entrepreneurship in the division of enterprise.  She is now runs strategy, market vision and innovation at CSIRO.

If all else fails there is always the pay ploy

There was outrage in universities when Simon Birmingham suggested they were awash with cash. He could have said worse

The other day UK higher education minister Jo Johnson got stuck into universities over earnings, suggesting some vice chancellors are paid three times the PM. Senior managers whose incomes are tied to vice chancellors were also doing rather too well for his liking. So, Mr Johnson called on “sector leadership”, like the Russell Group (think Group of Eight) to “lead the way … to put an end to the accelerating upward ratchet.” Not that the minister will intervene, as he said, universities are autonomous, but he dies have ideas on benchmarking pay rises against performance. Including asking the new Office for Students, “to examine senior pay from a value for money perspective and to offer advice on the considerations to be taken into account by remuneration committees.”

Less a Whitehall hint, than a warning of a hatchet.

And one that no minister here would surely ever try. But a populist senator – especially one whose vote the government needs to pass the funding cuts and performance metrics soon to be before the upper house – could suggest it. CMM hasn’t heard anyone raising the idea, but as Stewie Griffin puts it, “just saying.”

Dolt of the day

Is CMM who reported on Friday that SA shortlisted scientist of the year James Paton is at the University of South Australia. He is at the University of Adelaide.