Plus Deakin’s slick site while Newcastle sticks to print 

Anxiety at Adelaide

Staff at the University of Adelaide will check their email early this morning, looking for a message from management on whether their job is involved in the planned restructure. CMM suspects a lot are.

ANU Sept 15

Here we go again

The National Tertiary Education Union leadership gathered in Melbourne last week to plan the next bargaining round, even though the last one is not complete at some institutions. General Secretary Grahame McCulloch told the cadres that the first universities to be targeted, like last time, would be in Western Australia, where university managements agreed to pay rises that set a generous precedent. Edith Cowan U agreed to 4 per cent a year for each of three years. In the end most universities across the country offered around 3.5 per cent, providing university staff with hefty pay rises.

The union was not talking when CMM asked what is on the negotiating agenda for the next round, President Jeannie Rea saying strategy is not yet set. However back in July Mr McCulloch signalled another round of the same, with a push on workload protection and job security plus pay rises, (CMM July 14). Securing management agreement “took high visibility public campaigns buttressed by limited but effective low level industrial action,” Mr McCulloch said but CMM suspects next time will be tougher, particularly if the Coalition is re-elected. Universities rely on indexation of federal funding for pay rises and the government included a move to replace the Higher Education Grants Index with the less generous CPI in the 2014 budget. Given the success of the NTEU in destroying deregulation ministers maybe even less inclined to to fund union negotiated pay rises over the three years from 2016.

Runner’s high

It is long assumed that hard exercise induces euphoria. The body supposedly sends endorphins to the brain to kill the pain but this turns out to be triple distilled banana oil. For a start really, really tough training makes you want to throw up. And as for endorphins, researchers at the University of Heidelberg have found that they are too big to attach themselves to the bit of the brain that keeps people running when they should be having a beer. In fact tests on (presumably) running rodents indicate the body produces endocannabinoids, which are found in cannabis instead. Now you know why rats race.


Optimistic Eight relieved and refreshed

The Group of Eight ‘s Vicki Thomson has endorsed Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s “circuit-breaker” in the deregulation debate. “We are now doing exactly what the Go8 pleaded for so publicly back in March … that we have hit the reset button and will now work our way through this issue calmly and pragmatically and with everyone focused on the outcome required.”

Ms Thomson is also very pleased with the prime minister’s emphasis on research and Christopher Pyne’s appointment as innovation minister. “It was refreshing to hear and it will be a refreshing climate in which to advocate.”

There’s no faulting the Eight for optimism, or realism.

La Trobe loses in Federal Court

While nowhere near as severe as the Swinburne U sledging (CMM Friday) La Trobe also copped a hiding in the Federal Court late last week with a full bench judgement in a long running matter involving retrenchment of staff. The National Tertiary Education Union argued that the university had not met the Enterprise Agreement requirement to explore all alternatives to retrenching staff. The Fair Work Commission did not agree with the unions, neither did a Federal Court judge, when the NTEU appealed. So the union took that judgement to the full bench – which in a two-one decision has now sent the case back to the original judge for another look.

This is not a big deal according to LT U Vice Chancellor John Dewar, who told staff that it turned on the meaning of a specific clause in the university’s Enterprise Agreement and that the court made no findings on 2014 staff changes. But according to the NTEU’s Josh Cullinan it is a very big deal indeed, “not just for the thousands of staff at La Trobe, but also because a number of other universities have very similar clauses.”

And although staff who left the university under the terms of a process now still under legal review are long gone, the NTEU does not think the case is closed. Colin Long, the union’s Victorian state secretary told CMM the matter is still live and while it is unlikely people who lost their jobs could get them back, “there is a possibility of penalties if La Trobe is now found to have breached the (Enterprise Agreement) clause.” We intend to follow this through unless a resolution occurs.”

Innovative anachronism

The University of Newcastle is rightly proud of geotechnical engineer Scott Sloan, named NSW Scientist of the Year last week. This was on top of his recent elections to the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering. The university sets out, his and other researcher’s achievements at a website, newcastle/innovate. So where do they announce all the innovation? In a half page advertisement in Saturday’s print Sydney Morning Herald ! Yes in print – anachronisms die hard.

ANU Sep 15 5

A website like no other

Macquarie University’s new website is live today. Consultants Stamford Interactive were called in October 2013 to advise on a complete makeover, with work starting 18 months ago. In contrast to Uni Sydney, which is rebuilding its website in stages (CMM July 29) Macquarie has gone for a big hit with a new design and structure for all operating areas. CMM hears everything was ok to launch last week, which is especially impressive given how unhappy IT staff are, CMM August 28). Macquarie brands itself as “a university like no other,” interesting to see if the new site measures up.

Talk more, fight less

There is alarm among Charles Sturt U staff as the restructure process continues, with the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union warning consultation is inadequate and demanding no forced redundancies. But the concern is not of the kind that kept other campuses in the courts for years. This has a lot to do with VC Andy Vann’s approach, acknowledging it will be tough for some and respecting their concerns. As he put it on Friday; “change is never easy” and some people object to the process while others question the need for first a services restructure and a reduction in faculties. However Professor Vann said management had taken comments and criticism on board and would have a “set of good options” for a three-faculty structure, (down from the existing four) to take to Academic Senate later this month. When it comes to industrial negotiations Winston Churchill had it right; “to jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”

“this” is the goods

Deakin U’s research site this. has an unusual approach – interesting stories intended to appeal to general readers rather than keep happy academics who did not want to be interviewed in the first place. Have a look at “how to outsmart live streaming algorithms” to see what CMM means. This anonymous yarn is well-written and reader, not researcher, focused, plus this. is nicely designed, along the lines of the excellent Atlantic’s Quartz product. Most university research products are like annual reports – pro forma statements of what’s being done. this. is designed to be read.

(Game) goods and services tax

The non-government school sector is starting to warn of horrors ahead if the GST is applied to fees, which makes CMM wonders if a game government would apply the tax to post school courses. It would need to be a very game government.

Sunshine or storm at USC

As the NTEU leadership contemplates the next industrial offensive there is still no deal on the existing round of negotiations at Sunshine Coast University, where management and union are sitting down this morning for an all-day session.

According to the union there is a way to go before a deal can be reached. There is an outstanding dispute over workloads before the Fair Work Commission and the union opposes many terms in management’s proposed workload guidelines, which the comrades claim the university is trying to implement outside the bargaining process. “Today is make or break” a union observer says.

However Deputy Vice Chancellor Birgit Lohmann is much more optimistic about what can be achieved today, saying while there are new clauses from both sides up for discussion management is open to talking everything through with the union and staff in general. There is already a discussion paper with staff, which includes the possibility of teaching-only positions covered in the existing Agreement but she acknowledges the contents need to be spelt-out.

Innovation on the agenda

Assistant Innovation Minister Wyatt Roy is holding an online hackathon, with people whose ideas are the most popular pitched, invited to participate in a policy workshop in Sydney on Saturday. Tony Peacock from the Cooperative Research Centre Association put his hand up yesterday. To fire-up the start-up/spin-off sector, he suggests adopting the US Small Business Industrial Research Programme model. Over half spin-offs in the US access the SBIR and government commits to buying participants’ products.

SBIR achieves many of the things we need in Australia: a bigger VC pool; a more entrepreneurial culture at the university level to move ideas out; start-ups with a customer locked in and ventures that are addressing the national needs (because it forces government departments to articulate their innovation needs)” Dr Peacock says.

OLT research reported

CMM suggested last week that the Office of Learning and Teaching never did much of a job in promoting research it funded, which led Jacqui Elson-Green to point out the Higher Education Compliance and Quality Forum will feature six OLT funded projects at a seminar next month

No Californian dreaming

Labor’s proposal for a “higher education productivity and performance commission (CMM September 22) is getting a balanced to positive response, which surprises CMM – as Universities Australia’s Barney Glover said last week, universities are rightly self-regulating . Which maybe why the idea of an agency to oversee what is studied and by how many students has just been vetoed in California by Governor Gerry Brown. Legislation for an Office of Higher Education Performance and Accountability authorised it to review “proposals by the public segments for new programs, the priorities that guide the public segments, and the degree of coordination between those segments and nearby public, independent, and private postsecondary educational institutions, and shall make recommendations regarding those proposals to the legislature and the governor.”

And wouldn’t that have gone down well at Stanford.