Plus another reason the VET FEE debacle isn’t ASQA’s fault and MASSIVE Monash

Treasured Trove depleted

As friends of the National Library complained about cuts last week the Trove digital archive of Australian history was off line “for a major upgrade”. It was supposed to be back Thursday, but as of yesterday the service was not back to normal. The shape of things to come, library supporters suggest.

Campus Morning Mail

None of management’s business

Murdoch academic Kate Fitch tweeted a pic of students holding a banner stating “let them stay” in support of asylum seekers – only to be asked to delete it. Dr Fitch, says a university manager conveyed a message from a higher-up that “the Murdoch brand is not to be used in association with political activities.”

According to Dr Fitch, she responded that it was a student run event during Orientation Week, that she was not in the shot, that it was an excellent example of social media being used in public debates and as such relevant to her teaching areas, including “social media, social responsibility, culture, gender, pedagogy and education.”

There the matter ended, but not for long with the officer calling back to say that her points were taken on board and not to worry.

But that’s not that. What are professional staff members doing instructing academics what to do on a matter of educational interest? And since when does university management claim a right to tell staff to stay out of debate on public issues? Dr Fitch was not speaking for the university – that is a job for the VC and her delegates, in fact Dr Fitch did not actually speak at all. But if she had as an individual academic, as long as she did not breach university policies or say anything beyond the bounds of the law or common decency, university management would have had no right to stick its bib in.

Murdoch communications manage Anthony Fisk has not yet responded to a Friday request for comment but whoever decided Dr Fitch should be told to shut up should pull their head in.

CMM ads10

App of the day

As well as the new campus security app (CMM February 16) the University of Queensland also has one with searchable maps of campuses with GPS tracking to direct users where they want to go by faculty type or building name. But why use John Travolta as Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction, to promote it, when the marginally more famous Barack Obama knows his way around St Lucia (CMM November 12 2014)?

Equity support more than set and forget

Nadine Zacharias from Deakin U plus colleagues from there, QUT and the University of Sydney will release a major new study of the impact of equity scholarships at a UTS forum this morning.

The report finds equity scholarships work in retaining recipients across institution, demographic circumstances and scholarship product but that there are differences in outcomes for those allocated on need and those awarded on need plus academic merit.

One of two findings that especially impressed CMM is that scholarships should not be set and forget. A successful programme does more than allow access to university, it helps students complete their course.

The other is universities need to award money according to a range of factors; “across institutions recipient type seemed to have more effect on student outcomes than scholarship type, with socioeconomic status, gender and basis of admission being categories that seemed to have a correlation with retention and success. … Scholarships also have a value ‘beyond money’ in that latent potential can be realised if students have enough time to focus on their studies and receive a psychological lift from being recognised as worthy of the university’s support.”

The  report comes from the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education at Curtin University.



Monash University is scaling-up its research resources with an announcement this morning of a MASSIVE (as in multi-modal Australian sciences imaging and visualisation environment) investment. With partners CSIRO and the Australian Synchrotron, Monash uses MASSIVE to process vast amounts of complex data in engineering, geosciences, biomedicine and material science. The university is now committing $4.1m with partners adding $1.6m, on top of the $6.8 in total MASSIVE funding since 2010. According to Monash, MASSIVE users other than the partners include ANSTO, the Brain and Mind Research Institute at the University of Sydney and the Queensland Brain Institute.

Deregulation dismissed

The National Tertiary Education Union 2016 budget submission is out and as usual the comrades take a broad approach as to what they want government to do. Instead of just demands for more money for higher education the union calls on the government to, “concede that a contestable market based policy framework is not fit for purpose when it comes to education.”

In its place the NTEU calls for a regulated system which, in all but very specific cases, restricts funding for teaching to public universities and TAFEs. In return, institutions would sign “public accountability agreements” on performance standards. They would also, “provide an important way of planning how public resources could be channelled into meeting social and/or economic objectives.” Labor’s Kim Carr proposes a similar approach, called compacts. Given the VET FEE HELP disaster and the union’s hugely successful “$100k degree campaign” against undergraduate fee deregulation CMM suspects public opinion is with the union. This does not mean the next government be it Coalition or Labor will re-regulate post compulsory education but the NTEU has ensured that another attempt at fee deregulation is off the electoral agenda in this year’s budget and probably the two, or three to follow.

Noted, not agreed

Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency head Anthony McLaran has tweeted a link to a paper on international quality principles from the Washington based, Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Buried in the paper is the statement that in 2013 his agency “lost most of its responsibilities and suffered significant cuts in its funding, (which) was likely to have a negative impact on its operation as a national (quality assurance agency).” Mr McLaran’s Twitter account does not carry the usual “retweets are not endorsements” disclaimer but CMM is sure in this case that is what he means.

Always innocent ASQA

Radio National broadcast a documentary yesterday on the VET FEE HELP debacle, which was undoubtedly news to people who spent the last year on Mars. Part of the programme explained how for-profit providers got away with rorting the system in part because the Department of Education was late with information needed by the Australian Skills Quality Authority. “The ABC has confirmed that the department did not share its VET FEE-HELP loan data with ASQA, which accredits courses and regulates training organisations, until early 2015,” the programme reported,

ASQA is always keen to point how it is fulfilling its function, which, as its February briefing shows, it is, in a bureaucratic box-ticking way. But the fact remains that the for-profit providers who rorted the system did so on ASQA’s watch. Portfolio minister Simon Birmingham says the agency has weathered “a perfect storm” in the training system and has now “caught up” (CMM January 14). It is going to take a bunch of trust on his, and new junior minister Scott Ryan’s part, to assume the agency will be able to keep up with the new national student funding system now being designed.



Queuing for CRCSs

The feds have opened applications for Round 18 of the Cooperative Research Centre programme and the first set of CRC Projects, (intended to develop a product or solve a business problem in the short term). According to the CRC Association 13 consortia are considering seeking a centre with five planning to purse a programme. One of the early applicants out promoting its prospects is the multi-university bid for a drug development CRC, which wants to speed up the approval process for new pharmaceuticals (CMM February 23). CMM also hears some existing centres in transport and manufacturing that are coming up to the mandatory expiry date are looking for a new lease of life by proposing new research areas.

RELX river of gold

The river of gold flows on for journal publisher RELX (Reed Elsevier as was) with the company reporting a 3 per cent revenue rise to £5.971bn ($A11.62bn) and a 5 per cent, £1.822bn ($A3.54), increase in operating profit for 2015.

The company’s scientific, technical and medical division had sales of £2.07bn, ($A4.02bn) up 1 per cent on 2014 and a 36.7 per cent profit margin. While stable sales reflect what the company calls “continued print revenue declines” RELX continued to expand its “information based analytics” and launched 73 new journals.

The results demonstrate the open access movement’s marginal impact on RELX, which publishes 2500 journals, just 170 of which are gold (author-pays) open access.