Major MOOC of the morning

QUT partners with the Army on 70 on-line courses

It’s the first tranche of a planned 420 self-paced education units.  It’s part of the Army’s professional development programme, COVE+.

“The units have been specifically designed to enable Army’s people to tackle a broader range of more complex problem sets through improving critical thinking skills.”

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Merlin Crossley (UNSW) on university freedom and why independent funding is essential to protect it @

Garry Carnegie (RMIT) and James Guthrie (Macquarie U) on the top-ten universities for financial risks on international students.

Frank Larkins and Ian Marshman  estimate international student fee decline means $7.2bn less for research and 4 600 FTE jobs gone by 2024 explain how it could happen and what it will mean, especially for the research Big Five.

Tim Winkler goes to Swinburne U’s on-line open day.

Dan Tehan goes the full Frasier

The minister is listening on the new student fee legislation

On News Radio yesterday Sandy Aliosi asked the education minister about National MP (and minister for regional education) Andrew Gee’s call for changes to the bill. “Well, obviously, Andrew has put forward some suggestions that he thinks will improve the legislation,” Mr Tehan replied. No light between bat and pad there.

But Mr Tehan added he is open to ideas; “ I’ve spoken with every vice chancellor across the nation (in) the last two months. They have also put forward suggestions to me as to what they think would improve the legislation. We have, obviously, sent the draft legislation out for consultation. I look forward to receiving more feedback. … These are major reforms. We want to get them right. We will continue to consult as we take this legislation through the parliament.”

Good-o but there’s not a lot of time left for listening. The draft bill was released for consultation on Tuesday, with responses due next Monday.

The time TEQSA takes

The regulator is not rushing two reviews of Murdoch U

The university’s five-year registration expired on July 18 and the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency is on to it, telling CMM, “‘TEQSA has received the provider’s application to renew its registration and assessment is underway.” Given the many months re-registration of the best-run university can take, the application might have long ago. As TEQSA advises, an “application must be submitted at least 180 days before registration is due to expire, unless a shorter time frame has been agreed to.” Not that it matters, as the agency explains; “As per Section 36 (3) of the TEQSA Act, the provider’s registration is taken to continue until TEQSA decides whether to renew the provider’s registration.”

The agency is also engaging at length with Murdoch U on another matter.

Following May 2019 allegations about international student standards at Murdoch U, on ABC TV’s Four Corners, TEQSA undertook a “compliance assessment.” The university responded to the agency in October. But nothing has been announced since then. In June TEQSA told CMM, “due to TEQSA’s wide-ranging response to support the higher education sector during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the compliance assessment is expected to be finished in the third quarter.

Which may, or may not be before news of TEQA’s registration application.


A matter of state

A petition to the NSW Parliament calls on the Berejiklian Government to “ensure that no job is lost from a public university in NSW”

Michael Thomson, state secretary of the National Tertiary Education Union says, “while the federal government has primary responsibility for funding universities, the state government also has an important role to play.”

To which the government will likely point to the $100m in payroll tax deferrals available to universities and its promise to guarantee $750m in new borrowings by NSW institutions (CMM June 9).

Apart from its objective, the petition is memorable because it is expected to be the first e-petition put to state parliament. If it reaches 20 000 signatories the Legislative Assembly will debate it.

Another chance to leave La Trobe U

The university wants to help staff who don’t like the look of what’s coming 

The university announced yesterday a second voluntary redundancy round. Vice Chancellor John Dewar says the draft strategic plan is now circulating and “will provide a clearer picture for staff to make decisions based on what’s best for their own personal circumstances.”

The new round is separate to VRs on offer in two portfolios where there are  restructures; student support and education (no not the school, people do not like them being confused).

The new round looks like good news for management. In June, the university announced 239 people were taking a VR, translating to 160 FTE, just ahead of expectations. But this still left a staff cut target band of 215-415. The more people who go willingly (albeit not all happily), the fewer involuntary redundancies there will be (CMM June 26).

Eligibility criteria for the new VRs are not yet fixed but expressions of interest are expected to open on September 9.

 COVID-19 number crunchers

Two Australia super-computer teams are invited into the US led COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium

The Pawsey Super Computing Centre in Perth and the National Computational Infrastructure (on ANU’s campus) will join the HPC. The consortium analyses data on bioinformatics, epidemiology and molecular modelling of COVID-19. The Australians join, government, corporate and university teams, mainly from the US including MITAmazon, IBM and Google.

A professional pay stuff-up at Uni Sydney

Working out who is owed how much will take six months

The errors appear to mainly arise from deficient processes for timesheet submission and approval, and some failings in our payroll system,” Vice Chancellor Michael Spence emailed staff yesterday.

An external review to identify who and how much was underpaid will take six months, requiring, a “comprehensive analysis of all payroll data and payments for the past six years.”

Dr Spence says to “address the underlying causes … so the situation will not occur again,” there will be “increased scrutiny of our payroll procedures and systems and a review of relevant work practices and organisational behaviours.” Uni Sydney has long worked to improve its cumbersome administrative system. (CMM March 1 2019).

As to what the error amounts to, Dr Spence says it is, “less than 0.5 per cent of our annual payroll cycle.” Which is a bucket of dosh, the university’s 2019 wage bill (ex on-costs) was $1 072.7bn

This appears a new example of university payroll problems which more commonly involve management mucking up superannuation liabilities. Over the last couple of years James Cook U, Swinburne U, La Trobe U and unis Wollongong and Newcastle have all discovered they had underpaid staff super (CMM January 31).

What it isn’t is a case of staff being paid a lower rate for tasks than enterprise agreements require. There have been cases of casual academic staff in computing at the University of Melbourne being paid the wrong rate dating back to 2015 (CMM October 30 2019). A similar case in maths and stats there was dealt with earlier this year, with academics being paid less  than the rate specified for tutorials they taught (CMM March 27, May 13).