Uni Sydney builds AI-infused Corona Chatbot to support students with COVID-19 queries
On-line courses to end home-town advantage
Frank Larkins warns: research students seriously impacted by campus closures
Australian universities facing long-lasting financial and academic stresses
Teaching on-line – what students want
CMM is off for Easter – back Tuesday
And if you happen across secret university files over the break and decide to send them to CMM remember the new email firstname.lastname@example.org
There’s more in the Mail
In Features this morning
Tim Winkler explains how COVID-19 has already changed education and training delivery forever. It’s very bad news for local heroes.
Plus, Dominique Parrish and pals – the eight on-line elements students want.
A Corona Bot with no lime, but lots of AI
Uni Sydney wanted a bot double-quick, to answer student questions on COVID-19. So, they asked Microsoft
The company created Corona Bot in a week. It answers two or three questions from 300-400 students a day. How it happened and why it works are explained by Microsoft, here.
Uni Sydney faces a $470m COVID-19 cost
The University of Sydney takes a huge hit on enrolments with overall numbers down 9.9 per cent
As of Census Day international student numbers were down 16.8 per cent on first semester target. This, Vice Chancellor Michael Spence tells staff, “has significant revenue implications.”
In relatively good news the domestic attrition at census was 4.8 per cent under target.
With another enrolment fall expected for second semester and $55m COVID-19 costs (cleaning, student support, on-line courses) Dr Spence says the university’s virus hit will be $470m this year.
This is significantly higher than estimated a month ago, when Uni Sydney expected a $200m COVID-19 cost, (CMM March 4).
“it is now clear that the health crisis will have longer term effects on our community, our economy and our sector, and the university is facing the prospect of a prolonged recovery,” the vice chancellor adds.
Dr Spence says savings measures in place will continue for discretionary, procurement and project spends. Infrastructure investment and recruitment are paused. He makes no mention of staff stand-downs but adds, there will be “further measures” as “we continue to talk with federal and state government and explore all possible avenues to support our financial position.”
ANU to admit students on Year 11 results
As another ATAR brawl brews ANU avoids it altogether
The Australian National University will admit 2020 UGs on the basis of their Year 11 results, VC Brian Schmidt announces. Applications are open from Easter until May, with successful students advised in August.
“Now all Year 12 students who want to study at ANU can focus on completing their studies and preparing for university, knowing that if their marks from Year 11 meet our entry requirements they can join one of the world’s leading universities,” Professor Schmidt says.
Unhappily for any aspiring law student who thought they saw a loophole, Y11 based offers only apply if students complete Y12.
The Vice Chancellor adds ANU’s new entry scheme allowed it to predict students’ 2019 HSC results on the basis of Year 11 performance. The university moved to a new admissions model in 2018 (CMM May 30 2018).
Meanwhile it’s the same old, same old about the ATAR
The disruption to Y12 has ATAR supporters and critics arguing-up. The ranking-system life-guards at the (NSW) Universities Admissions Centre were yesterday making the best of state and federal ministers not uniting on 2021 unit entry but at least accepting there will be an ATAR. “‘These are no doubt challenging times, but it’s clear that governments and universities across the country are united in their commitment to helping students through Year 12 and onto university.”
But the existing ATAR may not be fit for virus-times. The possibility of COVID-19 kicking on alarms Janet Dutton (Macquarie U), “It creates further uncertainty in an ATAR already beset by uneven student access to resources, time and technology. A move to school-based assessment ATAR would deliver certainty to Year 12 students, teachers and parents and today’s failure to do so is a missed opportunity to address the genuine stressors impacting Year 12 2020.”
Kim Wilson (also Macquarie U) suggests a solution; “take-home assessment tasks are usual practice in any HSC internal assessment program. … Across the state, secondary school HSC teachers have the existing skills, expertise and commitment to ensure that student’s work is assessed against the standards with rigour and validity.” “This is the time to acknowledge and validate teacher professional judgement.”
The Innovative Research Universities group presented an informed balance yesterday. On the one hand; “each state and territory has its distinct way to assess Year 11 and Year 12 schoolwork. There is no one right way. This gives a lot of scope to put in place assessments suited to the COVID-19 circumstances. We will learn that the precision of highly wrought systems is not necessary to achieving the key task, which is to educate each person to their best potential and provide a statement that this has been done.
And on the other; “some courses cannot admit all who are capable of doing them. The ATAR is an effective means to select among those who are suitable when only some can be successful.”
Unis to get what they (used to) want, really, really want
Another signal of more UG places for 2021
“We think there’ll probably be increased demand next year for universities. So, “we are working with (universities) to make sure that we can provide the foundations that they will need to continue to be able to educate our children,” Education Minister Dan Tehan, ABC TV yesterday.
Labs can’t afford to lose International HDR students
If international research students listen to the government and go home they will leave a gap not easily filled
“Many international PhD students are embedded and relied upon in current research project teams,” the Australian Council of Graduate Research says.
ACGR calls on the feds to support domestic and international grad research students in need. Not assisting will, “seriously jeopardise current research programs, the pipeline of future leaders, and Australia’s relationships with overseas partners and its reputation as an international higher education provider.”
Uni Melbourne holds the line on assessments: COVID-19 wrap
Students call for academic assessment amended for the times. The existing method stays management replies
The Uni Melbourne Student Union and supporters want the university to make virus allowance in assessments this semester. One suggestion is for management to follow the Uni Adelaide, where one relaxation of the rules is that semester one fails will be classed as withdrawals and not included in GPAs, (CMM April 2). “Universities around the country are supporting their students by changing the way they are calculating weighted average marks. Uni Melb refuses to,” UMSU says. CMM asked the university if this is so, and management responded;
“The university will include percentage marks for subjects undertaken in Semester One in the calculation of WAMs using the existing method. We will closely monitor grade and percentage mark distributions after the completion of Semester 1 assessment and prior to the award of final grades. We will communicate to our student community if any universal changes to the calculation of WAMs are warranted. The university’s policy and procedures for Special Consideration will continue to apply.”
Macquarie U announces its Student Success Support Package
Vice Chancellor S Bruce Dowton announces funding, “which complements” academic assistance already in-place. There is, “access” to emergency financial support, financial grants and loans. MQ U also announces “options” for students to defer paying tuition fees, with the student services and amenities fee deferred until September. There is no word on how much is in the kitty.
“Extra academic and financial support” to cope with COViD-19 at USQ
The University of Southern Queensland announces a $5m student support fund, include IT and learning tech payments and a $500 per fortnight payment, for up to three months. There is also academic support, including assessment “consideration” and failing marks not impacting Grade Point Average.
CQU provides $500 payments to 415 students in Queensland and 50 plus more across the country
The money is for general support and technology to keep studying.
Monash U targets student support
A learned reader points out Monash U’s $15m student support package is not as liberal as appears. Certainly “current students enrolled” are eligible for COVID-19 support (CMM, yesterday). Except, that is, for any receiving Centrelink payments, “such as Austudy and Youth Allowance.”
Appointments, achievements of the week
The Australian Council of Graduate Research announces its 2020 excellence awards. GR supervision: Australian Research Council Training Centre for Innovative Wine Production, Uni Adelaide. GR leadership: Natalie Edwards, Uni Adelaide, Industry engagement in GR: Liam Smith and Felix Mavondo, Monash U.
Helen Brown (ex ABC) joins the Australia-Indonesia Centre as head of comms and outreach.
Sharyn Davies becomes director of the Herb Feith Indonesian Engagement Centre. She moves from Auckland Uni Technology.
Marina Harvey (UNSW) is elected president of the Council of Australasian University Leaders in Learning and Teaching. She was elected Friday at CAULLTS first ever digital AGM. Jillian Hamilton (QUT) is VP and Trish McCluskey (VU) is a new committee member.
Peter Lloyd joins Universities Australia as comms director. Mr Lloyd is a long-time ABC journalist and recently a consultant to the government of Timor Leste.
Christine McLoughlin will be the fourth chancellor of the University of Wollongong. Ms McLoughlin is a company director. She will take over from outgoing chancellor Jillian Broadbent, “later this year”. The university states selecting a new VC as an early task for Ms McLoughlin. Incumbent Paul Wellings retires in June next year.
Barbara Pini (Griffith U) and Nicole Moore (UNSW) are appointed visiting professors for 2020-21 and ’21-’22 respectively at Uni Tokyo’s Centre for Pacific and American Studies.
Eric Reynolds (Uni Melbourne dental school) is awarded the European Organisation for Caries Research annual award. (caries is the profession’s term for cavities).
Stephen Riek joins the University of the Sunshine Coast as dean of graduate research. He moves from Uni Queensland’s graduate school.