Plus Pyne talks up innovation while Shorten says deregulation isn’t dead

Keeping everything nice

A University Melbourne correspondent reports members of the executive  have stopped talking about the FAP (for “Flexible Academic Programming”) plan and now refers to “FlexApp.” “One of their grandchildren must have told them what ‘to fap’ involves.”

Campus Morning Mail

Melbourne make-over, part three

University of Melbourne management is proposing a radical restructure to change where, when and how academics teach, set out in comprehensive plans (albeit presented as proposals), by Ian Anderson (PVC Engagement), Richard James (Centre for the Study of Higher Education) and Gregor Kennedy (PVC Innovation).

This is a very big deal indeed, completing the transformation of the university which began with the Melbourne model of combined bachelor and professional degrees and continued with the changes, and accompanying job cuts, of the Business Improvement Programme.

The flexible academic programming plan, has no less than eight separate components, expected, in part, to; reduce lectures, extend teaching hours and increase blended learning on offer plus move to a “more flexible” model than the present two semester system.

Management is also proposing a response to massification of undergraduate teaching by using digital technologies and “alternative timetabling,” “to create small cohort experiences within larger cohorts … to “combat the known difficulties of teaching at scale.”

The part that will especially unsettle academics is the review of career paths and performance, the role of sessional staff, individual assessment, as well as recruitment, leadership and succession planning.

Professor Kennedy, reporting to Provost Margaret Sheil will coordinate the overall project, which will likely be presented to staff as part of negotiations for the next enterprise agreement.


Union unconvinced

The first response of the University of Melbourne branch of the National Tertiary Education Union will set the tone for the many that will follow – signalling that it sees this plan as an attack on its members’ working conditions. According to branch president Graham Willett, “at worst (which is always a good starting point for evaluating university workplace policies)” the plan will mean, “job cuts, increased casualisation, work intensification, increased work monitoring, higher and more strictly regulated performance standards.”

And while he is sceptical of the policy Professor Willett is scathing about the process. “The university has a history of lurching from one wizard scheme to another … developed in secrecy, imposed on staff and then found to be not a good idea, (for the university, much less the staff).”

Completing the plan will be one thing, convincing the union entirely another. No wonder Vice Chancellor Glyn Davis decided last November to stay on as VC to 2018, it will take to then, at least to complete the third foundation of his new model Melbourne.


Encrypted message

While there is an armoury of academic research that can help leaders in just about every industry managers often ignore it. “Despite respondents’ demonstrable interest in management research, we found management research was the least important source of influence upon management practice,” Michael Fischer from the University of Melbourne and UK colleagues  write.

But their paper proposes a solution, using six case studies of healthcare organisations to demonstrate that senior managers can be knowledge champions whose “will to know” can drive the use of research that is relevant to their organisation’s practical problems. “Our focal cases can be seen as examples of personally meaningful ‘self-projects’ in which individuals sought to mobilise knowledge through deep engagement with management research texts, shaping an effective organising apparatus, and pursuing influential subject positions in which they appeared to personify – and indeed effectively became – the knowledge object within their settings.”

Good-o, but this article is written for management researchers not organisational leaders – and as such will not be read much by the people who can apply it.

Wish lists

Labor leader Bill Shorten is telling supporters that the government’s $100k degree plan is not a dead parrot, that “Mr Turnbull is pushing ahead with uni fee deregulation.” Just very quietly, because what the government wants to talk about is research funding and how much the government is spending. Innovation Minister Chris Pyne took a dorothy in Question Time yesterday to bang on about the jobs and growth investments in NCRIS, SKA and the Synchrotron will generate. Not to mention “the vast treasure and jobs” that will flow if UNSW creates a quantum computer. It’s the scripts both sides will run in the campaign. Jobs and treasure from the government, “a degree shouldn’t be a debt sentence” from Labor. But Lord help Mr Shorten if he wins and one of the first things he reads in his PM brief the day after the poll is the need to lower the FEE HELP thresh hold and raise the repayment rate.

Experts unasked

The feds are proposing an entrepreneur visa for individuals with capital backing to develop their ideas here. The government is asking for advice, notably on how, or if, the visa could lead to permanent residence and whether STEM and ICT should be emphasised while residential real estate isn’t. Criteria will be set following consultation with “key” government agencies and “industry stakeholders.” CMM would like to think this includes universities and research agencies, but suspects it doesn’t. For all the emphasis on engaging academics with industry in the National Innovation and Science Agenda it seems to CMM that the places where the foundations of technical innovation are laid are peripheral to policy makers.

But perhaps not to parliamentarians. The Joint Parliamentary Committee on Trade and Investment Growth, which is holding hearings today on “Australia’s future in research and innovation,” has had more substantial submissions from research organisations and universities than business. The witness list will be interesting.

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Hard work picking a plan

While CMM is probably the last to know, a reader advises that Standards Australia issued a new guide to workplace planning (AS5620:15) in October. Despite the over-sight assistance of experts from organisations including the universities of Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney, it only took eight years to replace the last guide. So universities should probably consider themselves fortunate that the last workforce-planning guide was published as recently as 2011, by the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association. But how does this relate to the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency’s workplace planning “guidance note”?, or the SA brief? CMM has no clue but the fact that TEQSA mentions “desirable features” that it will look for makes it pretty plain which organisation’s boxes the wise university administrator will tick.