Mass transit training

Charles Sturt U has wrapped a four-car Sydney train with an announcement that it provides “flexible online learning”. At least CSU avoided a line about education on-track.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features today, David Myton is in conversation with Lelia Green, professor of communications at Edith Cowan University.

No, the ATAR can’t be gamed, but it can be tuned

Reports have it that the NSW state government is so worried people are gaming the ATAR to get out of studying advanced maths it asked agencies to investigate, including the Universities Admissions Centre. This struck CMM as strange given UAC is adamant the ATAR can’t be gamed, (CMM May 3).

But it turns out the NSW Education Standards Authority is changing maths courses for 2019-200. This UAC’s Kim Paino says “may give us slightly different data about the performance of maths students so we will be looking at that to see whether it is useful in terms of (the) ATAR and whether to make changes to the calculation.”

“It’s not being done because we think there is a problem with the current calculation but at the same time we’re aware that there are students that have been – unwisely – choosing the lower level maths so we are keen to look at anything we can do to help improve that, whether it’s in education/communication or now perhaps also in an adjustment to the calculation,” Ms Paino adds.


UNE management makes a down-payment on change

The University of New England announces a 1.5 per cent administrative pay rise for all staff. The increase is to compensate them for a delay in a new negotiated enterprise agreement, while management runs staff consultations on a 2025 strategic plan.

The university is also expected to want changes from the existing arrangement, which whimsical IR observers compare to the Polish parliament in the 18th century, which required unanimous decisions. Back in April the Fair Work Commission ruled the university could not introduce a new faculty workload model without staff voting to approve it, (CMM April 3).

Provost Todd Walker says staff deserve a pay rise irrespective of enterprise bargaining but, “our ability to shape the UNE 2025 vision and grow the university, is linked to having modern and fair EBA.”

That management is signalling its per annum pay maximum should not cause campus concern – it is in-line with deals already done. But the campus branch of the NTEU may not be pleased with references to a “modern and fair EBA” which could well be code for management hoping to simplify conditions and protections the existing agreement sets out in detail.


Yvonne Breyer and Macquarie U colleagues have won Coursera’s outstanding educator award for transformation, for their four-unit MOOC, Excel skills for business (CMM February 5). It’s had 40 000 enrolments and the current sessions started last week.

Curtin University public health researcher Mike Daube is the West Australian of the Year. Professor Daube is a former state director of health and a long-time advocate of tobacco advertising bans and cigarette plain packaging.

The limits of crowdfunding

The University of Melbourne is looking for research projects to pilot in a crowdfunding campaign. Proposals will go to a cross-campus committee, to ensure all of university ownership, which is wise but not all of the answer. Deakin U used to run research fundraising via Pozible which regularly met targets. The problem was the campaigns were organised by academics working in their own time, which in the end they ran out of. Which raises a question, will people crowdfund research if a share of their money goes to pay administrators?

What 1.5bn Tweets reveal

Martin Obschonka (QUT) and international colleagues wondered if big data can reveal economic outcomes and processes. To find out they analysed 1.5bn tweets by 5.25m tweeters in the US, to see if they could identify clusters of people with entrepreneurial characteristics.

They could, albeit with qualifications. Their analysis identified entrepreneurial energy in counties in Silicon Valley, southern California, mid-Atlantic cities, Denver and Florida, although tweet-analysis under and overestimated start-up cultures in a range of second-tier centres. Overall however, “the regional distribution of the entrepreneurial profile is very similar to regional distributions across U.S. regions when measured with self-report questionnaires.”
Interesting enough, but what makes this a big deal indeed is their approach’s potential; “prior research had to rely on hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of people that filled out personality tests for research purposes, our study indicates that one can achieve similar results when ‘simply’ analysing publicly available social media data by using artificial intelligence methods and a big data approach.

Academic right to comment on the agenda

The long-running dispute between James Cook University and scientist Peter Ridd is in the Federal Court and while the National Tertiary Education Union is not assisting the professor, Queensland state secretary Michael McNally has warned members that there are implications in the case for staff at JCU.

Mr McNally wrote to union members at JCU about the Ridd case in March, but implications of it are reaching way beyond the university. Mr McNally does not comment on Professor Ridd’s views on the quality of scientific research into the Great Barrier Reef, “the subject of science is best left to scientists” he says. But, he adds, “it is not for university management to determine that such scholarly debate either denigrates or offends others.

And he flat-out rejects the claim that any academic who the university charges with misconduct must stay silent about process. “Any staff member has a right to publicly express opinions, critical or otherwise, about that institution in which they work, or parts thereof, provided that those opinions are expressed in a considered and reasonable way.”

JCU specifics aside, academics commenting on their research-areas in ways management may not like is a live issue. The NTEU claims the University of Melbourne wants to weaken freedom to comment protections in the next enterprise agreement.

ANU VC says Civ Centre prop not compatible with uni autonomy

Late Friday ANU Brian Schmidt said negotiations were off with the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, which proposed funding and teaching degrees at ANU. “It is clear that the autonomy with which this university needs to approve and endorse a new program of study is not compatible with a sponsored program of the type sought,” the vice chancellor said.

This was not the sense of management’s thinking that all attending got when arts dean Rae Frances briefed an open meeting on the proposal in March (CMM March 7).

And on April 30  the College of Arts and Social Sciences was indicating the university would be in control in any deal with Ramsay.

“The university’s legal framework requires ANU to retain control of the delivery of its programs. Our strong university academic structures govern academic curriculum, delivery and standards and any new degree would need to be approved by the usual ANU processes and subject to the usual quality reviews.
The proposed Ramsay scholarships would be ANU scholarships, and, as such, also fall under university policies and procedures.
Students in the proposed program would be subject to ANU legislation, policies and procedures regarding academic progress, misconduct and discipline.
Similarly, staff appointed under any funding arrangements would be appointed by an ANU selection committee and would be ANU employees, subject to the university’s HR processes and procedures.”

This did not sound like management thought it was selling out academic integrity for $30m in pieces of silver, (the sum the Ramsay Centre is said to have to spend). But the deal was never popular on campus.

There was distaste for what was considered a “Plato to NATO” great achievements of the western world approach. There was disquiet about the company it would involve the university keeping, with conservatives John Howard and Tony Abbott Ramsay board members, as once was now WA governor Kim Beazley. And many deplored the proposed structure, warning it inevitably involved an erosion of university autonomy.

The unpopularity of the proposal became pronounced, demonstrated by the carefully calibrated intervention of the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union. “It would appear the Ramsay Centre seeks to pursue a narrow, radically conservative program to demonstrate and promulgate the alleged superiority of western culture and civilisation. Any association, real or perceived, with this divisive cultural and political agenda could potentially damage the intellectual reputation of the humanities at ANU and the ANU more broadly,” the union’s Matthew King warned Professor Schmidt (CMM May 23).
And that appears to have been that, with management reading the signs in the Acton skies. A couple of days later Professor Schmidt signalled his strategy, telling staff. “ANU approaches any partnership or funding opportunity with the same core set of principles. These include retaining, without compromise, our academic integrity, autonomy and freedom, and ensuring that any program has academic merit consistent with our status as one of the world’s great universities,” ( CMM May 28)
And on Friday he implemented it.
Ramsay Civ Centre supporters harrumphed over the weekend about scholarship being excluded but on Saturday, the NTEU spoke for the campus orthodoxy. “This has always been about academic integrity, academic processes and university autonomy in a democratic society … public universities are not and ought not to be for sale.”