Smart heads on rat shoulders

“Why rats would win Australian Survivor,” headlines a report on research from Australian universities, the Museum of Victoria and University of Sheffield. Authors report the standard-issue Australian rodent skull has not changed over time. This is because it works well and there has been no need for it to evolve.

And there you were expecting a jibe about rats always winning on reality TV.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Maree Meredith (Flinders U) argues it’s time to re-write the rules about the roles and operations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research centres. New in the CMM series from Indigenous academics and policy people.

 Tim Winkler went to 17 virtual open days. He found much not to love and three ways recruiters can make them better, way better.

Sally Varnham (UTS) makes the case for a dedicated body to deal with student-university disputes. It’s a new idea in Commissioning Editor Sally Kift’s series, “Need now in teaching and learning.”

James Guthrie (Macquarie U), Jane Andrew and Max Baker (both Uni Sydney) explain the pea and thimble accounting trick in the government’s higher education plan

 Merlin Crossley (UNSW) on universities as towers of babel and why we need to keep building them.

Change on the way at Swinburne U

But there will be no more voluntary redundancies, “at this stage”

Back in June, Swinburne U opened voluntary redundancies, with then VC Linda Kristjanson warning; “there is a possibility that involuntary redundancies may be required in coming months to meet the changing environment we are now facing,” CMM June 3, June 23).

VRs are now closed and staff wonder if involuntary departures are to come. So CMM asked Swinburne U and was told that no more VR offers are anticipated “at this stage”.  However, “we continue to review our services and operations across the university to ensure that we are operating with the optimal model and footprint for a post-COVID-19 world.”

Specifically, the university advises consultations are underway in the Operations Division, “regarding proposed changes to the structure and job design aimed at adapting to the changing needs of the university.”

The university says it will consider staff and union feedback, “prior to finalising any proposed changes.”

HE stars to shine bright on the Tehan bill

The Senate’s Education and Employment Legislation Committee hears today from an intriguing selection of university leaders    

The committee secretariat does not muck around. On September 3, the Senate asked the committee to look at the government’s bill to change the rates of funding for undergraduate courses.

Last night the secretariat had published 76 submissions and announced a full schedule of hearings today.

Not that it had a lot of choice – the committee report on the legislation is due on the 25th.

The witness list includes the usual experts and advocates. Universities Australia, the National Union of Students and the National Tertiary Education Union will all appear. As will the Group of Eight and Helen Bartlett from Uni Sunshine Coast, presumably also in her capacity of the Regional Universities Network.

For people who like their policy spread-on thick there are no less than four witnesses from the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education.

VCs appearing include Michael Spence from Uni Sydney. So will Simon Maddocks (Charles Darwin U) and Barney Glover (Western Sydney U), both members of the Innovative Research Universities, which has made a carefully critical case for passing a heavily amended version of the bill.

And there are some intriguing independents – Margaret Sheil from QUT, Alex Zelinsky from Uni Newcastle and Paul Wellings from Uni Wollongong all from institutions with reps in applied technology.

Rufus Black from the University of Tasmania will be worth watching given a senator from his state, Jacqui Lambie, may have the casting vote on the bill.

Macquarie U reviews curriculum (again)

The VC announces more work “on the renewed curriculum architecture”

“Our coursework suite and unit offerings are not viable in the current number,” Vice Chancellor S Bruce Dowton tells staff.

It’s not that the university community hasn’t had a go. Work on a new curriculum structure started two years ago, (CMM July 20, 25 2018) and it launched this year (CMM January 22).

But the structure it seems, is not all the problem. Macquarie U has a tradition of offering, lots, lots, of electives, not always with lots of students.

Great for choice, bad for budgeting – and so Professor Dowton says “data is extracted” on UG courses, majors and specialisations with fewer than 50 students (PG ones with under 20).

Also, “the coursework suite is also not always aligned with what students are asking for and is complex to navigate,” Professor Dowton adds.

And so, something has to give – and quick.

Time is not on our side in the consideration of viability of courses, majors and specialisations. … I anticipate that a number of courses, majors and specialisations will be rested and not offered for Session One 2021,” the VC says.


Southern Cross U staff go

Some 71 are leaving in a voluntary redundancy round to make COVID-19 savings

Some 24 are academic and 47 professional staff.

The university announced the round after staff voted down a proposal to end and vary Enterprise Agreement pay rises. (CMM, July 14). Vice Chancellor Adam Shoemaker said then, “other steps will clearly be required.”

The textbook case for open access

There’s more than money to the case for open access textbooks

Times are even tougher for students than the financially awful normal, which is why Sarah Lambert (Deakin U) encourages using “cheaper and more inclusive on-line resources.”

“Whether you’re teaching educational foundations, the sciences, maths and stats, how to learn at uni, anatomy or Australian politics and policy   — some smart searching may be able to locate a high-quality, peer-reviewed free textbook for you and your students.”

As well as access there is also inclusion, “editing open textbooks to make what counts as academic knowledge and expertise more socio-culturally and gender representative.”

Ms Lambert is chief investigator on the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education open digital textbook project. The study’s survey for teaching staff, on cost, accessibility and suitability of digital textbooks for the Australian multi-cultural context is here.

VRs start at Macquarie U

The university announces the long-expected voluntary redundancy round (CMM August 19)

Staff who have had enough can apply through to October 25. As to who gets to go, applications will be considered by a panel of two VCs, two VPs and the HR director.

There is still no word on a target number.


John Anderson (Uni Newcastle) is appointed academic member of the NSW Sentencing Council

ANU’s chancellor Julie Bishop is one of four new Fisher Family Fellows at Harvard University. Fellows, “train the next generation of diplomatic leaders,” with (virtual) seminars, research and by mentoring. Ms Bishop joins Palestine Liberation Organisation official Saeb Erakat, Federica Mogherini from the EU and German diplomat Peter Wittig. Ms Bishop was foreign affairs minister 2013-18.