Plus ca change

“When we have machines as smart as humans, they will take 18 years to train and afterwards they still won’t do what you want them to,” CSU VC Andy Vann considers AI predictions at the Universities Australia conference yesterday, via Twitter.

There’s more in The Mail

In Features today, David Myton looks at how the Australian Catholic University locked sustainability into its world-first infrastructure funding deal.

Birmingham holds the funding line while announcing improvements for students

A new website will provide prospective students with all relevant admissions information for universities across the country. Education Minister Simon Birmingham announced the initiative yesterday in his address to the Universities Australia conference.

“This is long overdue and will put students in the driver seat when it comes to making study choices,” Senator Birmingham said.

The new site will include course entry requirements, ATAR spreads, details of special consideration for entry presented consistently by all universities and other higher education providers. It expands on the common terminology and transparent entry score scheme now in place.

With professional course accreditation reform (CMM yesterday) and a renewed commitment to engage universities in developing performance measures, the admissions announcement was at the heart of Senator Birmingham’s carefully calibrated address.

The minister acknowledged the MYEFO funding cuts as the “elephant in the room” but said “many in the university sector had underestimated the resolve of government” to address the budget deficit. Given the failure of successive attempts to contain spending, starting with the Gillard Government in 2013, “the uncertainty could go on no longer.”

They will survive

“Do you remember MOOCs? They were going to turn the traditional university model on its head. People were going to go up to their bedrooms, log-on and do their degrees. Well that is so 2012.” UA chief executive Belinda Robinson, yesterday.

Fiona Nash to advise CSU on what she knows well

Fiona Nash is joining Charles Sturt U, yes that Fiona Nash, the former National Party deputy leader who the High Court decided was not as exclusively Australian, as she had always thought. Ms Nash will become strategic advisor for regional development, which she knows a bit about having held that portfolio in cabinet. This general knowledge of regional issues could come in handy as CSU continues to push for the Murray Darling Medical School it wants to jointly establish with La Trobe U to serve south east regional NSW and north east Victoria.

CSU has also hired Laura Dan, chief programme officer at the Australian Research Council, to become director of knowledge exchange and engagement. They will both report to DVC R Mary Kelly.

Applause for UniMelbourne on-line

The University of Melbourne has won the strategic innovation online award for its Graduate-Online courses ,from the US University Professional and Continuing Education Association.

The programme launched in 2015 but CMM suspects it is going to get bigger, faster.

In November UniMelb announced its School of Professional and Continuing Education, which will offer “lifelong learning opportunities for professionals across all academic areas for people at all stages of their career.” According to VC Glyn Davis, “the rise of the internet and associated digital media and tools, have opened up new possibilities in the provision of, participation in, and access to, education.” (CMM November 17).

Big year of change for student support staff at UNSW

Merlin Crossley has conjured winds of change at UNSW. The DVC Academic has briefed staff on a programme to centralise student support services this year. It’s part of the university 2025 strategy and is intended to be in place by the end of the year, ready for the reconfigured teaching calendar in 2019 (three ten week terms plus an optional five-week summer session).

The changes include implementing a new customer relations management system and updating curriculum management. There will also be staffing changes. Learned, but nervous readers, suggest to CMM that timing makes this very ambitious indeed.

Professor Crossley confirms that there is a plan to ‘unify’ student services and have many new systems in place for next year.  “At UNSW we have a lot of dual (combined) degree students so ‘unification’ and generally trying to improve services and consistency of services for our students makes sense. The Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching, and other feedback from students, also tells us we should address this as soon as possible.”

He adds that “we have actually been working on this for a while,” but agrees “we do have a lot of work to do.”

Frank and fearless critique

CQU VC Scott Bowman comments on Education Minister Birmingham’s speech to the UA conference, yesterday; “a good, honest and fair speech. Good to hear a straight talker who at the end of the day is trying to do what is best for the sector under difficult circumstances. He just needs to help CQUni out with our community commitments,” via Twitter yesterday. CMM is sure the compliment was not contingent.

Presentations at the peak

The Australian Academy of Science has selected PhD students and postdocs to present their research to 43 Nobel prize winners at the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting in June. They are:

Ryan Farr: CSIRO Geelong – biomarkers of viral encephalitis

Jessica Kretzmann: UWA –gene therapies for breast cancer

Elena Schneider: UniMelbourne – treatment options for cystic fibrosis and multi-drug resistance

Amy Shepherd: Florey Institute – Alzheimer’s Disease

Gregory Quaife-Ryan:  UoQ – long non-coding RNA genes in cardiac regeneration.

Hayley McNamara: ANU – malaria vaccines.

Yuan Zhou: UTasmania –genetic variants and environmental factors in multiple sclerosis

Lee Ashton: UniNewcastle –lifestyle interventions to improve the health of young men.

Labor commits to the demand driven system but says “freedom to innovate” comes with responsibiity

Labor is “absolutely committed to the demand-driven system,” Tanya Plibersek will tell Universities Australia in a speech today. “We won’t walk away from a system that says if you have the ability and work hard, you should have the opportunity of a university education.”

And she will promise a return to three-year funding agreements, to give universities freedom to “innovate and deliver.”

However, Labor’s education shadow minister will also warn, “with that freedom comes responsibility.”

“Under our arrangements, we see universities as partners in securing our future prosperity, social cohesion, and driving excellence. But I want to ensure that we work together to deliver in the national interest.”

Ms Plibersek will signal closer connections between universities and VET, saying the review of post-secondary education she will commission, “will look at ways to ensure collaboration, transparency and fairness for students across the whole system, enabling students to build a portfolio of skills and knowledge.”

“Our national inquiry will help ensure we have a system in place where universities and TAFE might offer new types of courses that best cater for the future job market and lifelong learning.

“As these new types of qualifications emerge we need to consider who is best placed to deliver these and how to drive innovation in terms of delivery and industry relevance.”

And she will signal oversight of what universities teach.

“We can’t allow a system that sees students taking on qualifications that have no relevance to the workplace or saddle them with bad debt. We need to be bold and look at whether current qualification structures, mix of institutions, and financing models are still fit for purpose.”

In specific commitments Ms Plibersek says in government Labor will reserve “at least” two-thirds of voced funding for TAFE and create a $100m building fund for it.


“Visit the Trove booth and tell us how you use Trove in your research, and you could snag a fabulous ‘I ❤ Trove pin’.” The National Library of Australia promoting Trove, its on-line archive, at the UA Conference yesterday.  Free pins! – whatever will the Auditor General say about such profligacy?

QS ranking reports Aus universities with world-best departments

Subject rankings are like The Bachelor(ette) – people say they pay no attention but everybody wants to know who got a rose. In the new edition of the QS Subject Rankings the University of Queensland received less a rose than a bed of them – appearing on 44 of the 48 lists of the top 50 discipline based university departments in the world. UoQ also has a  department in the world top five, for sports-related subjects.

Australian universities rating number two in the world are:  Monash U (pharmacy), Curtin U (mining engineering) and UniSydney (sports-related).

Overall nine universities make top ten lists, with all of the Group of Eight (except the University of Adelaide) included. Curtin U continues its climb up this, and many other, rankings and UTS scores a top ten. The full list is: ANU and UniMelb (four each), UniSydney, UNSW, UoQ (two each), Curtin U, Monash U, UWA and UTS one each.

Overall 34 Australian universities appear on 47 out of 48 discipline lists, (we aren’t much for classics) with a net improvement of 44 (ratings dropped 141 times but increased in 185 instances.)

Particular discipline strengths are in: nursing (nine of the world top 50), mining engineering (eight), anatomy and physiology, art and design, earth and marine sciences, education and law (all with seven departments).