Research pain worth the gain

Reading is not always fun. Nor is training for a marathon or training to swim the English Channel. It’s important and it can be the only way to become mentally fit but sometimes it is a bit of a slog,UNSW DVC E Merlin Crossley on the realities of reading research journals, plus tips on how to keep up at his excellent blog.

There’s more in the Mail

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

MOOC of the morning:Wicking Centre dementia course rolls out again

The MOOC of this and many mornings, has to to be the new run of Understanding Dementia from the Wicking Centre at the University of Tasmania, which starts tomorrow. In five years 140 000 people from 180 000 countries have enrolled.

Wicking Centre chair (and former Tas premier) David Bartlett points CMM to MOOC resource, Class Central, which scores Understanding Dementia as fifth in its global top 50 all-time on-line courses and number two in the health and medicine category, on the basis of reviews.

Last year the Wicking Centre launched the MOOC in China (CMM March 17 2107). CMM cannot understand why the World Health Organisation does not fund Wicking to translate the MOOC into other languages.

Survey finds it’s tough for teachers  

“An overwhelming majority of NSW public school teachers (89 percent) agree their capacity to continue delivering quality education is hindered by a high workload among staff,” a survey conducted by University of Sydney researchers has found. The survey was commissioned by the NSW Teachers Federation.

To infinity and beyond in university advertising

The University of Queensland has a new student recruitment campaign, set to run in cinemas, on television and outdoor. It will also “be the central message underpinningsocial media. The university is looking for staff, students and alumni, “who have an inspiring or unconventional story about their path to success” in an uncertain word, presumably to use in the strategy as it rolls out.

According to Chief Marketing and Communication Officer Kelly Robinson the campaign “delivers a clear point of difference for our university.”
“One of our roles as a university is to give our students the confidence and capability to navigate this uncertainty and pivot between current and emerging careers. Creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving – the skills that UQ has championed for more than 100 years – will be more important than ever,” Ms Robinson tells university staff.

Good-o, but the “new message” is “own the unknown” which does not exactly spell-out the brand’s attributes and how they benefit students.

The first video of a graduate, Amber Bourke, talking about her life and work is bang-on, and more like it will work really well in presenting UoQ to prospective students. It’s as grounded as “own the unknown” isn’t.

Perhaps when it’s time for a refresh UoQ could swap slogans with UWA which has used “pursue impossible.” Or they could ask Austrade if they could borrow its last student-focused campaign, “education unlimited.”  None communicates anything substantial and they are equally interchangeable. Alternatively, they could just commission new creative from the Buzz Lightyear Partnership.

Equity research centre continues

There is three more years of public funding for the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education. Based at Curtin U, the Commonwealth funds the centre from the Higher Education Partnerships and Participation Programme.

Timetable for North Terrace talks

The unis Adelaide and SA merger discussions are rolling along as promised (CMM yesterday). A joint discussion paper is expected at month’s end with submissions invited over August-September.

Birmingham signals government could intervene to ensure more STEM undergraduate places

STEM students and lots of them: Simon Birmingham wants more specialist STEM teachers in schools to enthuse students to stick with science and maths. “We really want to lift students’ interest in sticking with these subjects so that we can get more science, technology, engineering, maths graduates in the future and then into the workforce,” he said yesterday. To accomplish it he wants the states and territories to cooperate on working out which specialist teachers are needed and where.  And “if need be, federal funding powers over university places could be used to help the states to influence teachers we need for the future.”

“It’s just madness that universities are accepting students where they have to then run remedial maths programs because they didn’t do advanced or intermediate Year 12 maths, the minister said in one, of many, interviews.

That sounds like a threat, which could well become a promise if the government decides to use its proposed university teaching performance metrics to micro-manage universities enrolments.

A less central-planning solution to encourage more students into STEM study: –Make it a pre-requisite for science and maths based degreesChief Scientist Alan Finkel has exhorted academic engineers to require high-level HSC maths for UG enrolment. Yesterday Senator Birmingham noted ANU and the University of Sydney were making maths a requirement for relevant subjects.  Down the track, high school student demand would be a sure way to make the states recruit STEM graduates into teaching diplomas that set them up for new classroom careers.

But the minister’s meaning was plain, the federal and state governments could intervene in teacher education. This is part of a trend which should alarm deans of initial teacher education faculties. It follows the states and commonwealth agreeing last month to empower the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership to oversee ITE standards.

Reaction: Yesterday response was positive to Senator Birmingham’s message, with broadcast media giving the minister a good run, a remarkably good run with some interviewers actually sticking to his subject for more than a couple of questions.

The Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering was quick to back the minister proposal; “secondary school STEM teachers needed deep discipline expertise that gave them self-confidence in the classroom if they were going to inspire students,” president Hugh Bradlow said.

Science and Technology Australiawelcomed” the announcement, although CEO Kylie Walker added ““we hope Minister Birmingham’s commitment to developing teacher skills extends to encouraging and incentivising universities to attract more students to undergraduate science and maths degrees.”

And the always on-message Catriona Jackson from Universities Australia said while the minster’s intent is welcome, “the real way to supercharge science teaching was to reverse the $2.1 billion funding cut to universities and end the government’s funding freeze on university placesthanks to the government’s university funding freeze, there will be fewer students studying science technology engineering and maths, along with all the other disciplines, next year.”

But for turning an announcement into an opportunity there was no beating the Academy of Science, which warned that increasing the supply of trained STEM teachers was no short-term solution, because “only about five per cent of the teaching workforce turns over each year.”

In the mean-time “professional development for existing teachers without formal training in the subject they teach “is critical and urgent.” How fortunate the Academy has programmes that provide such PD. “The Academy stands willing and able to work with State and Federal Government to do more.”


David Suter joins Edith Cowan U as a professorial research fellow. The computer vision and machine learning researcher moves from the University of Adelaide.

James Cook U off-course on cuts says Union

The National Tertiary Education has responded to the cuts to courses and positions announced by James Cook University management. ““It is good that we were able to force management to undertake further consultation, but the decision to proceed with so many redundancies in the face of overwhelming feedback from staff and students is the wrong move,” NTEU Queensland Secretary, Michael McNally says. “This is not the way to fix their financial problems – staff account for less than 53% of expenditure, which is very low.”

ASQA charges according to oversight it provides

The Australian Skills Quality Authority’s new fees are in-place, with increases focused on “providers that require a greater level of regulatory attention and oversight.”

Shame this did not happen before the VET FEE HELP catastrophe.

The new arrangement seems in-line with Valerie Braithwaite’s (ANU) recent review of ASQA’s legislation ( CMM June 26), who found;

“the cost to the registered training organisation of being audited should be less than the benefits gained by the improvement the audit brings to its products. In short, there should be benefits through being given a “health check” by the regulator. … Costs should only increase under conditions where the breaches are more serious and the RTO is unwilling to fix them.”