At Uni of Canberra the outgoing chancellor has an idea

Grand theft plague cart

Coursera is running a massive online game to teach how pandemics occur. It’s part of a University of Pennsylvania program “Epidemics: the dynamics of infectious diseases,” being offered on-line. Looks fascinating, if not fun.

 Subsidy spiked

Yesterday’s report that print publishers will not get $12m promised by Senator Kim Carr before the election is hardly a surprise. The subsidy was intended to create an online university press, which rather ignored what all the existing digital academic publishers are doing. As I reported at the beginning of the month the old guard and online industries have traded shots over who does what, with the digerati suggesting they publish plenty of academic authors. As an especially astute observer put it yesterday, “the e- presses strive to make available their intellectual output more globally and more widely than selling the average 200 – 300 copies of a hardback.”

Is this a first?

If anybody still thought that selling the loan book of what most people continue to call HECS would be politically easy the National Tertiary Education Union made a solid fist yesterday of explaining why the electorate will take some convincing. According to NTEU policy and research coordinator Paul Kniest the idea “appears to be little more than national accounting ‘smoke and mirrors’.” Mr Kniest shared the concerns of other critics, would the zero interest rate on student debt stay, would the private sector issue new debt? Overall it struck him as “little more than an elaborate money printing exercise.”  “I can hear Milton Friedman turning in his grave as I type,” he added. Yes that Milton, old “Monetarism” Friedman!

 High tech

Unlike other learned societies, the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering extends its honours well outside universities. The spread of 2013 fellows, announced yesterday makes the point – less than half are academics. There are some nine business people, including appointees from Woodside and Rio Tinto, four CSIRO staffers and two from the Bureau of Meteorology. Of the universities, only Queensland (three) and UNSW (two) have multiple appointments.
That most of these experts are unknown outside industry says a great deal about the way journalists, me included, too often ignore hard-to-report research. Like the achievenments of Maria Skyllas-Kazacos from the University of New South Wales, honoured for her “pioneering work” on large-scale batteries. “It is being used to remove inherent instability problems of wind and solar energy (via load balancing), allowing large-scale penetration of renewables into the ‘smart grid’ of the future.” If domestic users are able to but batteries big enough to back up their roof top solar even smart grids will be smaller. This is potentially world-changing stuff.

 Carr keeps at it 

“Will Hockey’s Commission of Audit slug students more for university? Will he privatise HECS collections?” Senator Kim Carr asked via Twitter yesterday. Good questions the senator will be sure to pursue, especially if is announced as Labor’s education spokesman today.

CQU Stars

“CQU is very pleased with its QS Stars 3 star rating. “Ratings like these not only give us all a much needed pat on the back but help us enormously to build our global reputation and attract students to our University. Participating in these ratings also provides us with a benchmark for future growth and improvement,” Vice Chancellor Scott Bowman blogged yesterday.
Good-oh, as QS explains, Stars uses a wide range of indicators to measure the performance of an institution. It is an opportunity for universities to highlight their strengths through awarded recognition. When associated with an institution’s brand, it acts as a powerful marketing mechanism for communicating distinct areas of strength to students, parents, academics, employers and the wider community.”
But this comes at a price.  The QS organisation charges for the assessment that leads to a star rating, as follows.
• Audit valid for three years
• Includes report detailing basis for achieved award and guidance on maintaining/improving award level
• Optional annual audit can be conducted at an extra fee, within the three year cycle
• Includes upgrade to intermediate profile level on
• Presentation of specific results on a customised link
• Licence to use supplied graphics and logos in online and printed materials to present rating to stakeholders”

Depends how you define “reasonable”

A reader pointed me to the case for a fee increase for University of Canberra council members made by the outgoing chancellor Andrew Mackay. Dr Mackay wrote to the ACT Remuneration Tribunal last month as it conducted its review of remuneration of part-time holders of Territory officers, (although UC pays council members). According to Dr Mackay, council members receive an average $3800, compared to average directors fees in the not for profit education sector of $29000. “I contend that the present remuneration set for Council members does not adequately reflect the extent of the statutory and administrative duties and responsibilities, particularly having regard to the number, variety and complexity of matters presented to Council for decision, “ he wrote.  Good luck with that one, especially with the campus branch of the NTEU arguing that staff pay rises should not depend on management decisions made on the basis of government indexation for teaching. “Unsurprisingly, all recent enterprise agreements have offered reasonable and realistic fixed salary increases,” the union argued yesterday. Sounds like officials will recommend the same 3 per cent or so per annum pay rise agreed to elsewhere. Unless, of course, Dr Mackay has put members’ backs up and they want a much larger per centage rise.

Entrepreneurs out there

Crowd sourcing fundraiser Kickstarter has set up shop here, joining lots of locals, generally specialising in the arts, sports and social services. I wonder when somebody will try to create the equivalent for research?  Certainly university based projects demonstrate it can be done, Deakin has used community focused Pozible. But surely there is room for a more academically focused platform that still sells.

Another gong for Tom

The Colin Roderick Award, hosted by James Cook University was awarded last night. The prize, for a book published in Australia on any aspect to local life,went to Thomas Keneally for his novel about military nurses in WWI, The Daughters of Mars. It’s a popular subject. Last month Janet Butler won the NSW Premier’s History Prize for her book based on the war diaries of a WWI Western Front nurse, Kitty’s War.

Now that’s industrial action

An exam ban here, pickets there, the National Tertiary Education Union’s enterprise agreement campaign at campuses across the country was/is fought out at a local level. In the UK however the three university unions are planning to go out for a day all over the country in response to a one per cent pay offer from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, which negotiates for managements in all four  jurisdictions. The unions’ ambit claim (3.2 per cent) is what it looks like Australian university staff will actually get. No wonder so many Brit academics like ending up here.