Plus gravy boat: Adelaide education gets set for subs

La construction d’une sous-marin

Want to learn how to build a submarine? The University of Adelaide’s masters of marine engineering includes a submarine specialisation. Flinders’ bachelor of engineering in naval architecture, jointly offered with the University of Tasmania, prepares students for shipbuilding, including subs.

CMM gives it to next week before one the SA universities announces a new double degree in submarine construction and French.

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Get it while it lasts

Nationals senator for Victoria Bridget McKenzie is urging regional universities to apply for funding, “to assist regional and rural students into universities.” The money comes from the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Programme. What the HEPPP that is strongly rumoured to be cut in the budget, you ask. That’s the one, CMM replies.

Education opportunities

Faster than a submersing submarine Education Minister Simon Birmingham is on to election, sorry employment opportunities in his portfolio in this week’s announcement that the replacement of the Collins Class will be built in Adelaide. He told Leon Byrne on Radio 5EA that he has already met with the VCs of the three South Australian public universities, and two of their chancellors (!), to “really focus on how they can work cooperatively with us, the Turnbull Government, to get the best outcome for SA.”

In addition to ship building skills the project will “require higher education qualifications and very advanced skills and knowledge to work on the ongoing design and project management-type component,” the senator said.

Not that VET will miss out, “I’ll certainly be looking to do the same thing across the VET sector, engaging with training providers, both TAFE and non-government in SA, as well as the state government to make sure we get the best outcome.”

As long, that is, as the state government stops excluding private providers from the training market, which Senator Birmingham has complained about for a couple of years.

“We’ll put aside politics to work with the state government and do all we possibly can to ensure that it is South Australians who are trained and skilled to take on the ship-building and submarine jobs. … Whether it’s at the vocational training level, the trade training level, or higher education or in research, we’re going to leave no stone unturned to maximise the outcome and opportunities for South Australia.” Standby for more of this, quite a bit more, in this year’s election, and the one after and so on.

No news is bad news

In unhappy news for Warrnambool Steve Herbert has announced $2.9m for courses at the local TAFE. Not that the money from the Victorian training minister isn’t welcome, it’s just there was no announcement on progress towards a deal to keep open the city’s soon to close campus of Deakin University. A partnership between TAFE and the dual sector Federation U is seen by some as Warrnambool’s best chance to keep higher education in town.

Not all bad

The National Tertiary Education Union warns of a lower HECS HELP threshold in the budget plus programme cuts. But what is interesting is that the acutely informed union does not warn of fee deregulation, urging instead that Education Minister Birmingham “must use the budget to make it crystal clear that his government will not deregulate fees which would allow our public universities to charge government-supported students anything they like for a degree.” Budget speculation on fees is now focused on allowing universities to set their own fees for degrees up to cap with savings to come from a reduction in the HECS threshold and an increase in the cost of courses born by students.

The union is also positive-ish about expected measures to reduce attrition. “A policy framework which makes each university more publicly accountable for ensuring every student they enrol has a genuine opportunity to complete their studies is supported by the NTEU.” Given the union’s support (CMM March 30 2015) for the idea of  “public accountability agreements, including on enrolments, that are agreed between each university and a statutory planning agency, the comrades have no choice.


No monopoly on misery

The inaugural Australian Dementia Forum convenes in Brisbane on Monday, bringing together local and overseas experts for “a unique blend of research, education, stimulation and networking.” According to Peter Schofield from the National Institute for Dementia Research, “it is the most feared and biggest health issue facing the developed world.” Apart, surely, from all the other appalling diseases with equally passionate research advocates.


High price of obscurity

What is surely the Office of Learning and Teaching’s  last conference is underway in Melbourne with a stellar cast of speakers including Monash VC Margaret Gardner, Chief Scientist Alan Finkel and ANU’s Marnie Hughes Warrington. But in keeping with the OLT’s less low than subterranean profile many of the especially interesting sessions are invitation only. Want to know what is going on in each of the states? Unless you are in the club forget it. Interested in developments in maths and science teacher training? Forget it. This is in-line with OLT award evenings, which are always kept as private as possible. Delegates to the conference are understandably alarmed that no successor organisation to the OLT is in place and fear the feds will not announce one in the budget. Given the OLT’s anonymity outside its supporters the government is under no pressure to do so.

Yet more innovation

The ever-innovating government has established the Industry 4.0 Taskforce to represent Australia in discussions on standards for the worldwide internet of things. Chaired by Siemens Australia chair Jeff Connolly it includes representatives from Engineers Australia and CSIRO. Deputy chair is Swinburne U’s DVC for research and development Aleksander Subic.

Not so UniSuper

UniSuper is widely regarded as one of the very best managed industry superannuation funds but this does not mean that everybody involved is happy with the way member universities assist the 144 person consultative committee. This consists of four members from every participating university, two representing the employer plus one elected by academics and another by professional staff, (CMM April 26). Given the committee nominates two directors it is an important body, but not one all universities appear to take seriously. According to a briefing circulated to university managements and among consultation committee members there is no consistent approach to committee elections across campuses. The paper also alleges consultative committee members are not always briefed on their responsibilities to members of the fund or even provided with lists of whom they represent.

The briefing paper proposes all universities advise their positions on a range of issues including allowing consultative committee members to attend to UniSuper matters as part of their regular employment and without having to take leave to attend meetings, setting standardised election dates and providing committee members with IT to communicate with the fund members they represent. To date, CMM hears, member universities have not collectively adopted, or in some individual cases responded to these proposals.

Does this matter? Too right it does. As the paper points out; “each institution presently has different procedures and policies … which can result in inconsistency and confusion as to the exact composition of the committee at any given time.” That’s the committee which appoints directors to a fund with 385 000 members and $51.9bn in net funds under management.

Late last night UniSuper management responded to the allegations, stating, “it is untrue to say that consultation committee (CC) members are not all briefed on their responsibilities to fund members. At the beginning of every CC annual meeting each November, education on the responsibilities of CC members is provided. And the dedicated website for CC members contains such details as well as webinars and other materials to help CC members perform their role well.”

However the fund acknowledged that, “UniSuper does not provide member contact details to CC members. We understand that some universities may and some may not provide their CC members with email addresses of the members whom they represent.” It also confirmed that universities “determine how they each conduct their elections of CC members,” but that UniSuper ensures that vacant positions at universities are “filled promptly” and elections are also conducted “promptly” at the end of committee members’ terms.

The fund adds its roadshows provide “great opportunities for the learning of consultative committee members.”

Disclosure: Stephen Matchett has superannuation in UniSuper.

Big day for international education

The announcement of the government’s international education strategy is said to be set for Saturday. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and International Education Minister Richard Colbeck are ready to release the National Strategy for International Education 2025; the Australia Global Alumni Engagement Strategy and the Australian International Education 2025 market development roadmap. Supporting consultants reports are also expected. Senator Colbeck’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the release.

Great on governance

The Australian Research Management Society’s executive wants a new operating structure and has set out its thinking in admirable detail, very detailed detail here. Members are invited to comment.