Who would have thought: some staff like university life

Campus Morning Mail for Thursday

Stingy with sessionals

Which university in Sydney is introducing new learning management software? Why the one offering sessional staff a “gift voucher” for turning up for two hours of training. No word on how much it is worth (or where redeemable) but I’m guessing the note buys less than the sessional hourly rate. Mean, mean mean.

Professors producing plutocrats 

You can’t fault the new ranking from Spear’s Magazine (a journal devoted to those who sincerely want to be rich). Rather than the usual rankings of universities preferred by employers this one just lists institutions in order of millionaire alumni. And, what a surprise, it looks like all the other lists, with the US accounting for eight of the top ten and 14 of the first 20. Oxford and Cambridge, INSEAD and Sciences Po, plus Tel Aviv University are the others. Six Australian universities make the top 100, UNSW (33), Uni Sydney (44), Melbourne (46), Monash (73), U of Q (87) and UWA (95). So what? So what indeed given anybody who inherited property from their parents in the flasher suburbs of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth qualifies as a millionaire without really trying. I wonder if any marketing director will dare to use the data.

Adelaide absent

The finalists in the feds’ export awards are announced, with no entry from South Australia (what gives there?). The Northern Territory nominee is Charles Darwin University, which can’t be a surprise, being just about the only organisation in the game there.

What rhymes with Canberra? 

Stephen “Renaissance Prince” Parker has announced a University of Canberra poetry prize, presumably to promote the university’s new International Poetry Institute. But whatever the motive there is $15,000 for the winner whose entry does not have to (a) praise UC or (b) pan ANU. The competition follows the university’s recent $10,000 competition for a new typeface to celebrate the city of Canberra’s centenary, won last week by Melbourne designer, James Raftopolous. So what’s next to brand the university as the capital’s cultural innovator? I’m guessing a competition for an opera about the city, or maybe about the Brumbies rugby franchise the university also supports.

 Science spokesperson

Andrew Holmes will replace Suzanne Cory as president of the Australian Academy of Science when her term ends in May. Professor Holmes leads a University of Melbourne research group looking to use biological sources to create smart materials.

Publishers perish

Why don’t advocates of open access in research publishing do something to really, really upset the publishers, like create an alternative model – say push for scholarly societies to produce their own journals? Not just do all the work and hand journals ready to go to the publishers, but issue them in their own names. And if they think this is too hard why don’t they ask university e-presses for help? British academic Christopher Land even suggests a funding-stream – money saved by cancelling commercial journals. Good luck with that one. Even so, there is surely a market for a package that scholarly societies, ambitious DVCs-R, or innovative librarians could use to create, fulfil and market their own journals.

Will do it every time

The National Tertiary Education Union professional staff conference in Adelaide today names the top five sources of workplace stress, “insufficient funding, work overload, poor management, job insecurity, insufficient recognition & reward.” And this makes universities different from other workplaces how?

But it could be worse

The new work and careers survey of university staff by Professor Glenda Strachan and her colleagues is a mine of information, not all of it awful. Certainly she points to all sorts of issues that need to be better handled in the legitimate interests of generally junior staff. But overall it seems professional/general staff are broadly happy satisfied with their jobs and work-life balance. Some 80 per cent of the survey sample thought there was less than a 50 per cent chance they would voluntarily leave their job and only 15 per cent wanted to work outside universities.

Time a’waisting 

More important information from the utterly admirable National Centre for Vocational Education Research, on voc ed completion rates at public and private providers (excluding for-profits). At a national level all-student completions improved from 28 per cent in 2008 to 35 per cent in 2011. Tasmania, the Northern Territory and to a lesser extent Victoria were the under-performers. For people aged under 25 attempting their first post-school course the rate is better, with a 44 per cent completion rate. Better but not great. People discontinue study for all sorts of reasons, even so, but 50 per cent plus attrition seems a vast waste of people’s time and public resources.

A really great deal

I got into strife last year for suggesting that the decision to build the bulk of the Square Kilometre Array in southern Africa was a loss for Australian science (what with our mounting a snubbed bid and all). So all I will do is mention that there are four Australian organisations working on the project compared to 20 plus in Europe and 10 in the US and Canada. And for all the talk of the investment paying off for Australian organisations a swag of the cash comes from Canberra.

Sound familiar?

New US research finds that “non tenure track” academic staff account for two thirds of teaching staff there and 75 per cent of hires are not eligible for tenure. According to the American Education Research Association, “last-minute hiring, misaligned evaluations, and active exclusion from key processes such as departmental meetings and input on curriculum make it difficult for these faculty to succeed.” I wonder if any NTTAs are paid in gift vouchers.

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