Plus Swinburne golden oldies and innovation succeeds Asia 

In demand

The University of Western Australia is actually hiring – with one professional staff job advertised compared to hundreds to go; its a  deputy director of human resources position. Applications close on January 12, which should mean the successful applicant is in place in time to work on the coming round of redundancies (CMM December 11).

CMM hears Vice Chancellor Paul Johnson’s Christmas Party for staff on Friday was not an especially outraged affair, what with the community long anticipating the staff cuts announced last week. The high point was the VC not delivering a homily about everybody trying harder next year.


UA NOV 15Counting on teaching quality

A paper for the Chief Scientist urges stronger STEM education in primary school with “increased rigour of pre-service courses”. And on Friday education minister agreed we need “increasing teacher capacity and STEM teaching quality.” Good o, but this is easier announced than achieved, especially for maths.

As Lawrence Ingvarson and colleagues reported for the Australian Council for Educational Research last year;

“What international research does tell us is that graduates from teacher education programs in countries that rank higher on tests of school student achievement in mathematics, for example, also score significantly higher on tests of mathematical content and pedagogical knowledge. It also showed that a graduate teacher’s level of mathematical knowledge and knowledge of maths pedagogy at graduation related as much, if not more so, to their achievement in mathematics prior to entry into teacher education as it did to their learning during a program.”

So how much do people who study maths so they can teach the subject benefit from quality lecturers at university? In the absence of a ranking of teaching outcomes by university maths departments and with the Quality Indicators for Learning Teaching not drilling down that deep, it is hard to tell. However, on the assumption that (as we are told) good researchers make good teachers perhaps the ARC’s  Excellence for Research in Australia  offers an indication.

Some 41 universities have active maths researchers, 33 have academics researching education, which may include maths, ERA is not that specific. Some 19 have both, which presumably share students who want to be maths teachers. There are universities that excel in both maths and education research. Like the University of Melbourne, which ERA rates at five stars in all the four education fields it works in. The university’s performance in maths isn’t bad either with three fives (well above world standard) a four (above world standard) and a three (at world standard). Monash and UoQ do well in both disciplines as well. But across the board, not so much – only four universities in total have even one education discipline rated as five.

While maths pedagogy and theory are obviously different, two of the biggest education providers in the country, Charles Sturt U and Australian Catholic do not research maths at all. However ACU has a range of  maths education programmes as does CSU.

CEF Dec 115

More gold for oldies

UoQ is not alone in running retirement programmes for older academics (CMM Friday). Swinburne has announced an exit strategy for the old and the ordinary. “The intent behind the scheme is to allow staff whose personal career aspirations are no longer aligned with the university’s aspirations and performance expectations and who meet the eligibility criteria to leave the university voluntarily and with appropriate financial support. Through this process the university can refresh the workforce, grow research performance in line with the university’s strategic direction as set out in the 2020 plan and improve student engagement,” Provost Jennelle Kyd tells staff.

The “appropriate” support will come as much from the taxpayer as Swinburne, with the proposal waiting on an ATO ruling that it qualifies for concessionary tax treatment.

Permanent staff ranked A through E who are 50 plus, who have not met research output requirements or received a university teaching award in the last two years all qualify. But if they don’t want to go, its time to teach, (below).

Silence of the (dead) ducks

Labor higher education spokesman Kim Carr is thundering about the evils of a GST on higher education course costs – a possibility that may, or may not occur in the future but isn’t on the feds’ agenda now. It’s a bitter fruit of victory in the deregulation debate. Labor, the Greens and the National Tertiary Education Union had a huge win this year, making an electorally convincing case against undergraduate fee deregulation. Recognising a dead duck when he sees one, Prime Minister Turnbull has now switched government focus to research and innovation. You don’t need an innovation app to know this is going down a treat with citizenry and scientists, making it hard for Labor to lament –hence Senator Carr’s GST attempt to switch the attention back to an issue the government is happier ignoring.

Top of the class

The idea of teaching-only positions is a hard sell for many older academics used to the old 40-40-20 teaching/research/service ratio, even if they don’t actually publish. This may be why universities encouraging staff into teaching-only roles are talking up the importance of the functions. The University of Adelaide’s new Teaching Academy is invitation only and packaged as an elite body. Swinburne U hasn’t gone that far but is offering a suite of services for staff new to, or returning to teaching – including a graduate certificate.


New boom

The way we are all innovators now reminds CMM of when another prime minister set a new direction for universities. Twenty years Paul Keating pointed out that Australia is not moored off the California coast and lo, everything Asian was suddenly the go! Monash led, setting up a joint venture campus in Malaysia and branding itself “Australia’s international university”. A rush of other institutions getting into selling education to Asia and MOUing like billyo followed. It was the start of the vast export industry that exists today.

And now universities are starting to do the same, following Malcolm Turnbull’s enthusiasm for innovation. UNSW leads the way packaging all sorts of programmes for an innovation statement.

ANU Dec 15 3

Another open access precedent

When the Dutch dig in they stay dug. The Netherlands has long led the fight for open access against journal publishers that charge up for people to read papers based on publicly funded research. Last month the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research declared that journal papers based on research it funds must be immediately available, instead of in 2024, as education minister Sander Dekker had previously specified. This was less dramatic than it sounds. Mr Dekker advocates gold open access, where research funders pay publishers to make articles open access. (CMM November 30). Still, it was a slap across the chops for the partly Dutch owned RELX conglomerate’s Elsevier journal division. And now the publisher and the national university organisation, VSNU, which negotiates for all with the commercial journals, have done a deal to make 30 per cent of Dutch-authored research in Elsevier journals gold open-access by 2018. Why 30 per cent? CMM has no idea, but what may be inadequate policy for the Netherlands looks like an international precedent.