Plus Uni Wollongong explains why those aren’t the droids you want

Optional embargo

In yesterday’s print edition The Australian broke the Australian Research Council’s strict media embargo on the release date of Excellence for Research in Australia. “Full coverage Friday from 9am” the paper announced. CMM never knew embargoes are optional.

Really big region

The Australian Research Council and its PNG counterpart will hold an Asia-Pacific regional meeting of the Global Research Council today and tomorrow in Canberra. In an expansive definition of the Asia-Pacific the UK and Germany are also represented. Gender equality and integrity are on the agenda. Maybe the Brits will watch a bit of cricket on the weekend but what is it about Australian research that so fascinates the Germans? It seems like there are always delegations here. Perhaps they are also interested in next week’s Innovation Statement to see what they can learn from us about academic-industry links, although the way Australian reports always point to German models makes CMM doubt it.


Those aren’t the droids you want

“This is where answers get questions,” the University of Wollongong announced yesterday, talking up humanities degrees. Apparently “graduates of UOW Humanities are adaptable and analytical, with skills that can be applied to any career!”

Chief Economist Mark Scully’s new Industry Report rather makes Wollongong’s point. In an assessment of what jobs can be automated he suggests the assumption that graduates are at a lesser risk of robots is wrong. For a start, VET skills that look relatively safe include drivers and electricians, nursing aids and carpenters. But graduates, for example pharmacists, are at risk. But not to worry, “the comparative advantages of being human—the ability to solve problems intuitively, improvise spontaneously and act creatively—allow us to adapt to changing labour markets and occupations.” Like Wollongong says, adaptable and analytic skills win.

Stormy weather

The University of New South Wales was promoting its masters in cyber security yesterday, suggesting it is “Australia’s first ever course devoted to cyber war and peace.” The next item to arrive at the CMM newsdesk was word of a cyber attack on the Bureau of Meteorology, which will costs millions to fix. Does UNSW offer discounts for bulk enrolments?

Collateral damage in the training crisis

It seems there might be a VET student ombudsman after all. Labor has demanded the post be created for weeks. Rod Camm, CEO of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training, has urged the government to establish the position for months. And finally it looks like the government has listened. In the Senate yesterday Education Minister Simon Birmingham said depending on the states transferring powers there could be a training student ombudsman or perhaps one that just deals with VET FEE HELP matters.

At last! The first step to saving the legitimate for-profit providers who train a third of VET students is proof that the industry is fairly regulated and that young people in training are not just cash machines for spivs claiming to be trainers. Of course the government, like Labor, wants to clean up the industry – but Minister Birmingham needs to demonstrate to the community that private providers play by the rules. An ombudsman is a start.

But it will not start just yet. Last night Training Minister Luke Hartsuyker’s office advised the appointment of an ombudsman was not being added to the VET FEE HELP legislation, which the Senate sent back to the Reps last night.

This legislation is a stopgap not a a solution, intended to cap enrolments by private providers until real reforms are designed. As such it indiscriminately clobbers the whole industry. In full page advertisements in the papers this morning, John De Margheriti, CEO of the Academy of Interactive Entertainment accepts the need to crack-down on”dodgy providers” but warns that unless they are exposed they will continue to exploit students. However, he adds, “the most impact will be felt by students, unfairly restricting their access to to education options, innovative training and resulting careers.” And he makes a point being forgotten in the entirely reasonable rush to judgement of the rorters, that VET FEE HELP is about giving people who want to acquire skills a similar opportunity to those university students enjoy.

VET FEE-HELP is a fantastic support loan mechanism for students. It works the same as university FEE-HELP (formally known as HECS) by enabling students to follow their chosen career pathway. The difference is that vocational courses are strongly tied to employment outcomes and vocational students are much more likely to be able to begin paying off their VET FEE-HELP debt.

… By limiting the number of vocational places for VET FEE-HELP, many students will have no choice other than to choose alternative education options (and it’s likely inferior options will have available places) or risk missing out on a vocational education!

Fair points, but not ones that will be heard this week as the government struggles to be seen to be doing something to stop the rorts – which would not have occurred in such profusion if a properly empowered and competent regulator had existed in the first place.

ANU Sep 15 2

It’s a sign

While the prospect of a federal ombudsman is closer, in Queensland they are just getting on with it. Yesterday the Palaszczuk Government introduced legislation into parliament to restore the state training ombudsman position abolished by its predecessor in 2012.

Many metrics in the performance mansion

There’s an ERA entrée today from metrics maven Anne-Wil Harzing (ex Uni Melbourne, now at the University of Middlesex) and colleague Satu Alakangas (UoM) which compares coverage of Google Scholar, Web of Science and Scopus using papers and citations for 146 UoM ASPROs and professors. They conclude that all three “provide sufficient stability of coverage to be used for more detailed cross-disciplinary comparisons.” There are considerable qualifications and a great deal of detail but it’s intriguing that universally accessible and easily (well relatively) understood Google Scholar can do the job professional providers do. But nothing like as good as the ERA, or whatever impact measure emerges from the Innovation Statement next week, CMM hastens to patriotically add.

“Did we just pass a Tardis?”

The National Tertiary Education Union  time travellers in Western Australia are driving the DeLorean hard. The comrades are looking to the future in setting terms for next year’s enterprise bargaining round with WA universities, (CMM November 30). Simultaneously they are negotiating an agreement with the University of Notre Dame for the round that is just about over everywhere else.