Plus lost trust at James Cook U and what everybody agrees about the ATAR

Golden oldies

Times Higher has a new (well, very old actually), ranking, world’s best 25 universities over 400 years old. Oxford leads from Cambridge, Edinburgh and Munich followed by a bunch of European institutions. CMM is waiting for a ranking of universities by alchemy research and plague survival.

Campus Morning Mail

James Cook U off course on trust

Yesterday James Cook University reported its “researchers have discovered that trust – and similar attitudes about the world – are fundamental to good, lasting relationships.” Shame about the timing because the university also issued a statement that, “the National Tertiary Education Union has questioned whether senior managers are seeking to sack staff to receive a performance bonus. This suggestion is utterly false and highly offensive,” the JCU announced.

Trouble is the allegation is now on the agenda, where it matters most to JCU – in media serving its Townsville and Cairns heartlands. The university is now enduring a poultice of pain over a plan to sack what is widely expected to be around 35 staff. Without minimising what this means for people involved this is not a large number and their departure could perhaps have been managed quietly and respectfully for the staffers involved. Problem is restructures and a protracted dispute in the last enterprise agreement negotiations stretched staff-management relations, demonstrated by reports on morale in 2011 and 2015 (CMM July 10 2015).

Seats of science

CMM wondered how many electorates anywhere are named for scientists, in addition to the newly created Fenner in the ACT. A reader points to the South Australian state seat of Florey, named for the developer of penicillin.


Unity on ATAR

If Belinda Robinson had been around in 1618 the Thirty Years War would not have lasted into the second week. While the Universities Australia chief represents institutions with different interests and opinions she consistently finds what unites them.

As with the present argument over the ATAR. While some universities boast about their entry scores most VCs prefer to point out an ATAR isn’t everything in deciding who should be admitted. The latter had a win on Tuesday when Education Minister Simon Birmingham asked the renewed Higher Education Standards Panel to have a look at entry schemes; “While universities determine their own admission requirements, exploring greater transparency measures will ensure that Australian students are provided real information on what they need to do to be admitted to a course at a particular institution and universities are held to account for their public entry requirements,” the senator said.

Of course, this has less to do with the principle of the ATAR, as the way institutions add their own supplementary schemes, (“game” is an ugly word that only cynics would use). Even so, “greater transparency measures” will inevitably involve HESP examining what academic entry scores should and actually do.

Which Ms Robinson welcomes.

“University entry has become increasingly complex, with a diverse range of pathways to entry now providing greater opportunity for all Australians to benefit from a higher education. … ATARs need to be supplemented by other entry processes and procedures that recognise the differing circumstances of our young people and that focus on the potential for successfully completing a university education. An ATAR tells you something about a student’s ability to achieve at school but it doesn’t tell you everything.”

Hard for anybody to argue with that.

Innovation from another age

The feds are off to a fast start on spending the $48m allocated to “inspire Australians to engage with STEM in society,” (CMM, yesterday). There were full-page newspaper advertisements on Wednesday headlined, “Welcome to the Ideas Boom”. In black type reversed out of lurid yellow the copy assured us, “The Australian Government is committed to making this country a centre of innovation – where we turn ideas into successful products and services. This will generate a new era of jobs and prosperity for all.” An advertisement printed in the papers – now that’s innovative.

CMM ads2

Finkel’s first Estimates

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel debuted at Senate Estimates yesterday, where he stuck to his script that as scientist, entrepreneur and optimist; “I have approached every role in the firm belief that we can always make more of our resources than we think we can today.”

But this was not likely to get him off the hook when it came to what he thought about CSIRO cutting back on climate modelling, so Dr Finkel addressed it before senators had the chance to ask. “Our most immediate national concern must be to ensure that long-term data collections will be funded and staffed; and that the climate modelling capabilities developed by the CSIRO will continue to be made available for scientists to use and refine. I am pleased that the CSIRO has this week committed to working with stakeholders to develop a transition plan to maintain this capacity.

Neatly done. This did not save him from direct questioning but as first experiences of estimates go Dr Finkel left with hide and presumably optimism intact.

Innovators ignored

Papers from the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research are rich with facts and stats but rarely register on the opinionometer. Except for yesterday,, when MD Craig Fowler published an oped on the centre’s site. Dr Fowler is exercised by what the National Innovation and Science Agenda does not say “about skills and jobs,” especially the skills of VET graduates and the jobs they generate. While he acknowledges Australia’s international achievement in bioscience, “for the most part Australia must continue to excel at being a fast adopter and adapter of imported innovations and technologies.” Which is where VET comes in.

“A key enabler is the absorptive ability of businesses to harness new ideas through the smarts of its employees. These are typically higher and vocational education graduates, either fresh from school, or older and longer employed,” he writes.

But, Dr Fowler warns, in emphasising academic-industry collaboration NISA ignores connections with VET and suggests involving VET in the innovation process. “It could target industry-specific professional development for teachers, promoting co-immersion in industry and education sectors to rejuvenate its workforce. It might fund ‘higher apprenticeships’ in industry growth sectors or target enabling services and encourage co-invested tertiary/industry training, and as spin off promote this to international students.”

Sensible stuff but just now public attention is focused on the continuing crisis of collapsing companies and exploited students in the private VET sector. This has nothing to do with what the training community can accomplish but it will be a while for anybody in office starts talking about expanded roles for training.


Federalism makes the head hurt

The Productivity Commission reports some 16 universities are training paramedics. All up 6732 people were enrolled in 2014. But while degrees are nationally accredited by the Council of Ambulance Authorities there is no national registration of individual paramedics. A Senate committee is inquiring into this. Since when did wounds need different treatment on either side of the Murray