NTEU leadership stepping down

The leadership of the National Tertiary Education Union is standing down, with neither federal president Jeannie Rea nor general secretary Grahame McCulloch running for new terms. Mr McCulloch’s farewell is for August.

They leave with the present round of enterprise bargaining still underway but with precedent-setting outcomes, notably on extending 17 per cent superannuation to fixed term staff, in-place at universities across the country.

There’s more in the Mail

Today in Features – David Myton’s regular wrap on what’s happening across the world in highered.

Audit Office says NSW unis in good shape but at-risk if  demand drops from big international markets

Universities in NSW increased their dependence on international student fees in 2017, with the state’s Audit Office warning; “universities should assess their student market concentration risk where they rely heavily on students from a single country of origin. This increases their sensitivity to economic or political changes in that country.”

The universities of Sydney and NSW both collected significantly more fee-income from internationals last year, around $1.5bn, than from local students.

The two with, roughly equal shares of international fee income accounted for 52 per cent of the total for all the state’s universities. Both UNSW and UniSyd depend on the China market, which accounts for over 60 per cent of international fee income.

UTS also relies on Chinese students for approximately 60 per cent of internationals while around half of Charles Sturt U’s internationals are from India.

The AO also points to a continuing growth in outlays, with all-university spending on staff up 8.2 per cent last year from 2016. Total operating expenditures grew 27 per cent in 2013-17 while EFTS increased by 8.4 per cent. The recent trend of increasing margin per EFT has also slowed, leaving institutions “more at risk from unexpected fluctuations, such as political or economic change that impact overseas student enrolments.”

While all universities are financially sound, the Audit Office also warns that the federal government’s funding freeze will, “put pressure on all NSW universities. Those that are least well-off may find the strain significant, particularly if total expenditures continue to increase and operating margins decrease.”

No deal at UniNewcastle

The University of Newcastle enterprise agreement expired on June 30 last year but after 25 meetings, management and the National Tertiary Education Union have not settled on the substance of a new deal. Management wants to remove/reduce detail on how staff discipline and performance matters are dealt with, a management move in negotiations across the country. However, the union likes the existing arrangement of codified conditions.

And two sides not even arguing about money yet. According to the union it is told, “at every turn that wage austerity is required, despite the university’s rude financial health (e.g. accumulated surpluses of $336 million between 2012-2017; over $400 million in cash and investments; record salary growth for senior management).” To which management could reply that its current liabilities exceed current assets and the NSW Audit Office states that if necessary the university could pay current debt by liquidating non-current investments.

UNSW staff get their files back

IT staff at UNSW spent the weekend restoring staff data which disappeared during last week’s meltdown, when staff and students could not source their home drives on the university system. (CMM Friday).

Student access was restored Tuesday, which was good given exams approach. However, DVC A Merlin Crossley still suggests staff, “show compassion in what could be a very stressful situation for some students and, wherever appropriate, make reasonable adjustments to assessments and exams.”

As for stressed staff (there were fears last week that files were gone for good) as of late Friday word was “almost all data will be able to be recovered.” Staff are being emailed as their files are retrieved. People who backed their files up to their own university Windows Seven PC, or laptop, were ok.

As to what happens next, management assures everybody; “the new system that home drives have been restored to is a highly resilient and secure system that retains multiple copies of data across multiple data centres.” Good-o but this does not explain what was so wrong with the old one.

Unis ignore attrition –  a ranking that really matters

A learned reader remarks that universities are enthusiastically announcing improvements in various rankings, “universities with vowels their name which were opened in August,” that sort of thing. But not one issued a statement mentioning their scores in the Commonwealth’s rating of undergraduate attrition, including the universities which should be committing to improve disgraceful performances. As the Higher Education Standards Panel puts it, while not the entire explanation; “the institution is a more important factor than the basis of admission, the student’s ATAR score, type of attendance, mode of attendance or age in explaining attrition.”

“Riddle me this batpersons,” the LR adds, “there is an inverse relationship between undergraduate attrition and student satisfaction.”

Last week’s Higher Education Standards Panel reported the five universities with the lowest adjusted attrition rates are: UniMelb, 3.7, UNSW 4.8, UniSydney, 5.9, Monash U 6.5 and ANU 7.3. Yet, three of these were under the national average for student satisfaction in the new Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching survey of 79.2, UniMelb 78.5,UNSW 74, UniSyd 76. Monash U and ANU, both 79.4, were not much above.

It seems students at the best five for completions have very high expectations but not so that they will drop out.

Appointments, achievements

Daniel Pellicci from the University of Melbourne is awarded the Commonwealth health minister’s Award for Excellence in Health and Medical Research. Dr Pellicci researches immune T cells.

Theoretical physicist Susan Coppersmith will join UNSW next year, moving from the University of Wisconsin.

The WA state government has joined with Edith Cowan U and Murdoch U to fund visiting phenomics fellows. Elaine Holmes (Imperial College London) and Ruey Leng Loo (Medway School of Pharmacy) will work in WA for four years.

Microbiologist Bill Ashraf is Macquarie University’s first principal fellow of the organisation formerly known as the Higher Education Academy. (It’s now AdvanceHE).

Curtin U’s new head of the school of public health will be Rosa Alati. She will move from the University of Queensland later in the year.

Another Ramsay round as Sydney’s Spence steps up

Michael Spence is certainly game to have a go. On Wednesday, the University of Sydney vice chancellor told Academic Board the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation wants to talk and he is willing to consider what they have to say. The Ramsay centre is short a home for its proposed courses and accompanying many millions in funding since ANU ended negotiations. But while the university considers what Ramsay could be allowed to do there is an opportunity for opponents of any programme to set the terms of the debate.

Which 150 staff did on Friday, signing a manifesto against the Ramsay Centre on campus, which condemns, “western essentialism.”

They suggest Ramsay is keen on cadres; “there is every reason to fear that educational opportunity will be made a function of students’ perceived political sympathies, as ultimately determined by a board, chaired by John Howard, whose political leanings leave little room for doubt … We are a university, not a training institute for a future political ‘cadre’. “

Nor should outsiders stick their bibs into universities: “Enquiry in the humanities must be free and conducted independent of the influence of third parties. It is in the nature of a true liberal arts education that it is undertaken for its own sake, independently of any intended instrumentalisation, whether political or social. Decisions about how the cultural traditions of Europe are to be studied at university are for academics to make, not billionaires or former prime ministers.”

And western exceptionalism is not acceptable. ”The Ramsay programme represents, quite simply, European supremacism writ large: it signals that the study of the European cultural tradition warrants better educational circumstances than that of others. The profoundly dangerous implications of this bias do not, we believe, need further comment.”

Particularly when the (Chinese Government funded) Confucius Centre at UniSyd, “places no constraints of this kind on undergraduate education, which it has no capacity to influence by either imposing or excluding particular lines of study.”

Dr Spence has chosen to put himself in a tight spot, the outcome will depend on the strength of the case the university makes for whatever is decided. It will need to be strong enough to stare down internal opponents if the university decides to partner with Ramsay and powerful enough to answer allegations that the university is not game to take campus activists on if it says no to the civ centre.

Higher and further education people honoured in the Queen’s Birthday list

(with apologies to anybody missed)


Companion in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AC)

Rose Amal, chemical engineering, UNSW. Geoffrey Burnstock, pharmacology, University of Melbourne. Geoffrey Harcourt, economics, UNSW. Virginia Spate, art history, University of Sydney. San Hoa Thang, chemistry Monash University.

Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AO)

Rinaldo Bellomo, medicine, University of Melbourne and Monash University.  Susan Butler, lexicographer, Macquarie Dictionary.  Suzanne Chambers, medical research, Griffith University. Robin Creyke, law, ANU.  Harvey Dillon, hearing loss, consultant. Christopher Fairley, community health, Monash U. John Freebairn, economist, University of Melbourne. John Grace, biotechnology, University of South Australia. Anne Graham, childhood studies, Southern Cross University. Mark Harris, public health, UNSW. Natalie Jeremijenko, art and design, New York University. Emma Johnston, marine ecology, UNSW. Timothy Lindsey, Aus-Indonesia relations, University of Melbourne. James McCluskey immunology, University of Melbourne. Kenneth Maher, architecture, UNSW. Michael Quinlan, medical education, University of Notre Dame, Australia. Halina Rubinsztein-Dunlop, laser physics, University of Queensland. Christobel Saunders, surgical oncology, UWA. Roberta Shepherd, paediatric physiotherapy, University of Sydney. Sever Sternhell, organic chemistry, University of Sydney. Donald Stewart, public health. Griffith U. Katherine Tucker, familial genetics, UNSW and University of Sydney. Frank Vajda, clinical pharmacology, University of Melbourne. Susan Walker, obstetrics and gynaecology, University of Melbourne. Gungwu Wang, study of Chinese diaspora, National University of Singapore. Paul Wood, biopharmaceutical research, Monash University. Ortrun Zuber-Skerritt, action research, Griffith University.

Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AM)   

Donald (Ian) Allen, consultant, higher education. Michael Atherton, music education, Western Sydney University. Rodney Baber, obstetrics and gynaecology, University of Sydney. Sue Baker, visual and creative arts, University of Melbourne. Anthony Brown, emergency medicine, University of Queensland. Mark Brown, nephrology, UNSW. Jonathan Carapetis, paediatrics, UWA. Ross Chambers, regional tertiary education, Charles Sturt University. Geoffrey Champion, paediatric rheumatology, UNSW. Arlene Chan, oncology, Curtin University. Iain Clarke, endocrinology, Monash University. McKenzie Clements, maths education, Illinois State University. Andrew Crockett, legal aid and law education, Monash University. Bernard Curran, regional higher education, University of Newcastle. Ram Dalal, agriculture, University of Queensland. Susan Dann, business education, Australian Catholic University. Paul Desmond, gastroenterology, University of Melbourne. Margot Doust, tertiary education access, Dunmore Lang College, Macquarie University. Bruce Elliott, biomechanics, UWA. David Fletcher, gastrointestinal surgery, UWA. Anthony Gill, surgical pathology, University of Sydney. David Goldney, environmental science, Charles Sturt U. Charles Goucke, pain management, UWA. Robyn Guymer, ophthalmology, University of Melbourne. John Hibberd, playwright, University of Melbourne. David Hibbert, chemistry, UNSW. David Hillman, sleep disorders, UWA. Lawrence Hirst, ophthalmology University of Queensland. Andrew Kemp, paediatric allergy, University of Sydney. Christine McDonald, respiratory and sleep medicine. University of Melbourne. Andrew McLachlan, pharmacy, University of Sydney. Andrew Marshall, construction, University of South Australia. Jeannette Milgrom, psychology, University of Melbourne. Brian Morris, molecular genetics, University of Sydney. Margaret Nowack, business studies, Curtin University. Terence O’Connor, colorectal surgeon, University of Notre Dame, Australia. Brian Owler, medical organisations, University of Sydney. Robert Riddel, architecture, University of Queensland. Margaret Sahhar, genetic counselling, University of Melbourne. Peter Sallmann, advisor to judicial organisations, Monash University. Andrew Singer, emergency medicine, ANU. Jai Singh, physics, Charles Darwin University. Bernard Smithers, gastrointestinal surgery, University of Queensland.  David Sonnabend, orthopaedics, University of Sydney. Domenico Spagnolo, pathology, University of Western Australia. Bernard Stewart, environmental carcinogenesis, UNSW. Brandon Wainwright, molecular bioscience, University of Queensland. David Walker, Australian studies, Deakin University. David Watters, endocrine and colorectal surgery, Deakin University. John Wilson, respiratory disease, Monash University.

Medal of the Order of Australia in the General Division (OAM)

Michael Barkl, digital media and music education, Illawarra TAFE.  Michael Boyce, vocational training. Training and Skills Commission, SA. Iyla Davies, education, University of Queensland. Dianne Eden, arts education, QUT. Victor Feros, town planning, University of Queensland.  Kenneth Fitzsimmons, IT, University of Melbourne. David Hind, engineering and education, University of Sydney. Stephen Margolis, rural medicine, Griffith University. Jacqueline Mein, medicine, James Cook University. Peter Munn, education in South Australia, University of South Australia. Geoffrey Phillips, mineral exploration and education, University of Melbourne. Roderic Phillips, dermatology, Monash University. John Pollaers, manufacturing and education, University of Melbourne. Graeme Pollock, corneal transplantation, University of Melbourne. Rita Seethaler, steel band music, Monash University. Arvind Srivastava, services to the Indian community of Melbourne, Monash University.  David Sweeting, electrical engineering, University of Wollongong. David Sykes, prosthodontics, University of Sydney. Vivienne Tippett, medical education, QUT.