Organising UQ

The University of Queensland announced a comprehensive academic restructure yesterday. As of year’s end three faculties, arts, health sciences and social and behavioural sciences will close and three replacements will open. Health and behavioural sciences will include dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, psychology and social work. Medicine and biomedical sciences will focus on pre-clinical and medical sciences. The third new faculty is humanities and social sciences. Apparently there are no changes to study programs, degree titles or courses and Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor Deborah Terry says there are no surprises – that the structure is the result of reviews throughout the year. It certainly seems painless with only three “not very senior” jobs lost. Professor Terry says while engineering, science and agriculture were restructured a few years back the reorganisation of arts and health is a first. All up it appears a model reorganisation, which involved the university community through the change management committee structure. However the university branch of the National Tertiary Education Union says management now wants to abolish standing committees on change management (which examine proposals potentially involving redundancies) under the enterprise agreement being negotiated. Professor Terry says she has no knowledge of such a plan. The peace that now prevails at UofQ surely makes a case for the status quo.

No sex please we’re scientists

Think science stories people read are all about, climate change, obesity and sex? Judging from what turns up on TV news editors do. But no, as the top ten yarns published this year by the Australian Science Media Centre reveals. Number one was about the spacecraft Voyager leaving the solar system, and yes, number two was about climate change but from then the stories that people covered all sorts of things, from cloning to volcanos. And nary a word about sex in any of them!

What’s a uni dispute without a parking protest?

Now here’s something for the University of Western Australia community to look forward to. A National Tertiary Education Union members’ meeting has authorised officials to begin the process for protected industrial action next year. Enterprise bargaining is stalled and unionists want commitments from management on workloads, a cap on campus parking costs, and a pay rise no less than other universities in the state, which means meeting the 4 per cent per annum for three years adopted at Edith Cowan before the Emerson cuts. And if you think this sounds implausible in these tougher times union members at UWA do not. The motion to prepare for industrial action was unanimously supported by the 120 people at the meeting, plus another 30 by email. “Considering the time of year and the fact that many staff are not available, this demonstrates the strength of our support and the general disquiet of the staff around these protracted negotiations,” the union argues. Well some of them. The last time I looked the NTEU had 600 or so members at UWA, something less than 20 per cent of staff.

Murdoch in the money

No, not Rupert. Hooray – finally a story from Perth that is not about the University of Western Australia winning an award. Murdoch University has received a $1m bequest to fund research from the estate of farmer Bob Hammond. Yes, it’s a bit, quite a bit, short of the multimillion gifts that turn up from mining magnates and financial engineers but we will not have a real culture of philanthropy until people of more modest (but still substantial) means routinely give to teaching and research.

Heroes short of super

Good on the NTEU for suggesting sessional university staff receive the same superannuation contributions from management as continuing employees. Casuals are the proletariat of university life, brutally exploited by institutions as a low cost labour force, many with less little than no hope of the security of a full time job with time to undertake the research creating career takes. The union has included teaching-only positions for some, well a few, casuals in its log of claims at institutions around the country and this super bid is part of the same strategy. It isn’t much but at least the union acknowledges the strife young and not-so scholars are in.

Back where they started, just in cyberspace

Jim Barber’s decision to axe the student amenities fee at the University of New England for online students was generally well received yesterday. The argument that slugging on-campus students for services they don’t use is especially inappropriate for those who never physically visit the joint. As the vice chancellor put it on Sunday, “UNE now has the highest percentage of students studying in an entirely online mode in Australia. Why should those students pay extra fees for premium services that are primarily intended for students studying on campus?” But Professor Barber’s point is much more important than ending cyber students paying for campus rugby teams and theatre troupes and welfare associations. As he told The Australian’s Bernard Lane, who broke the yarn, “the absolute minimum service that a student requires is assessment, end of story …  When you think about it, what we sell is credentials — everything else is ancillary.” It’s a point University of Canberra VC Stephen Parker also makes and the implication for university communities is alarming. If students can study for credentials at comparable institutions all over the world then price becomes a driver, certainly in markets where fees are deregulated. To avoid competing on costs universities are going to have to come up with other ideas to appeal to online students, say recreation and services in cyberspace. Just think online theatrical rugby with counselling via email when you lose.

Is anybody happy?

The Pew Research Centre has surveyed university leaders and found only one in five think the higher education system is the best in the world. Just 7 per cent of them expect to be number one in a decade.  And that is in the United States! I wonder if academics in any country think they work in the least worse university system.