Picture book worth a thousand policy words

Alan Finkel did the picture-book reading honours at the National Library of Australia for yesterday’s simultaneous story-reading event, as part of Library Week. The Chief Scientist read Hickory Dickory Dash (commitment and perseverance is rewarded as diligent mother mouse finds missing sons). He followed ANU VC Brian Schmidt who last year read a story about a cow who fails many times before successfully jumping over the moon ( CMM May 25 2017). CMM suspects there is a pattern here.

There’s more in the Mail

Universities and industry have always cooperated on research. The challenge now is to create partnerships that cross cultures. Some already are. David Myton and Stephen Matchett look at the growth of the industry-based PhD  in the first issue of a new CMM series.

Barricades in enterprise bargaining at University of Queensland

The enterprise bargaining negotiations at the University of Queensland that began in 1848 are still not sorted. Most matters are settled, with one of the big still outstanding ones being an increase in the span of hours in which admin staff can work a standard shift,  (CMM May 11). The campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union claims that management is disengaging from negotiations. “Recent meetings scheduled by management have been for drafting or for short periods, making genuine progress difficult.” And now, the comrades complain, “management have failed to schedule a further bargaining meeting.”

A couple of weeks back it looked to CMM as if Provost Aidan Byrne was getting his industrial ducks in a row, preparatory to putting an offer to staff without NTEU support. He certainly emailed the university community with word of the union-agreed pay rises they will receive if they approve an agreement.

It still looks like ducks are being lined up. Yesterday the university said; “despite the university offering a major compromise to its position in relation to ‘span’, union representatives have not given this compromise due consideration: other issues which we thought had been agreed are also being questioned. Given that we have been negotiating for more than a year, the university is keenly aware of the obligation it has to all UQ staff to finalise this process so they can realise the benefits of the new agreement.”

Union members will go out for two hours, from 7.30 this morning. Hardly time to build a decent barricade.

Working with what they’ve got

Want better answers? Ask bigger questions,”Australian Catholic University promotes its second semester intake for philosophy. Nice line. Followed by a sell that would last about five minutes in class; “we make sure you graduate as a top-level thinker, suited to employment in almost any industry.”

Birmingham addresses private HE providers: no good news but ample understanding

Simon Birmingham, was in frank mode yesterday when he addressed the Council of Private Higher Education. Yes, the Education and Training minister said, their students paid loan fees while those at public universities do not. Yes, private providers, in line with the public sector, will get hit with fees to recover some of regulator TEQSA’s costs. And yes some are worrying they will be singled out under integrity measures (they won’t).

But other than all that Senator Birmingham was all support.

“You understand the need to respond to what students want to learn, the way in which they want to learn, and when they want to learn. You see students as clients who expect value for money, and you’ve been operating with that type of mind frame for many years, hence your growth and success,” he said.

At which point the comparison the minister did not make hung heavy over the audience as he spoke of the public sector’s response to funding increases for Commonwealth Supported Places being contingent on performance measures from 2020, “hardy novel, hardly draconian, hardly shocking.”

“Performance outcomes are the types of things that you are assessed for all of the time by the students who choose to attend your institutions. Many people across the country can’t believe that such performance arrangements weren’t already in place. You’re competing, as I say, in a market where you’re being judged for your performance everyday by discerning students making choices.”

It did not change a thing but it might have cheered people up.


Philip Goad will hold the Fraser-Whitlam chair in Australian studies at Harvard U for 2019-2020. Professor Goad is chair of architecture at the University of Melbourne.

Monash U’s Rebekah Brown joins the board of the Environmental Protection Authority Victoria. Professor Brown is director of the university’s Sustainable Development Institute.

Train wreck continues

Another day, another announcement of research funding that has nothing for the humanities and social sciences (CMM yesterday and much of last week). Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham has launched the new ARC centre at the University of Wollongong for research on rail track infrastructure. But just in case the minister felt he was among friends there was a protest at the launch against defence-related research.

Macquarie U’s new “brand narrative”: same old story

Joy isn’t unconfined on the Macquarie U campus, with news there is a new “brand narrative,” the “essence” of which is ‘connected intelligence’ reflecting Macquarie’s unique position in the higher education sector.

“While some universites celebrate innovation through technology, we are the university of human-powered innovation – innovation that is brought to life through collaboration and connectivity, that seeks solutions for real-world challenges,” a marketer says. This explains the campaign slogan “YOU to the power of us.”

To which a learned reader responds; “Our core business as a public university ought to be teaching, research and community engagement. This is yet another example of corporatisation of Australia’s universities. I seriously doubt that any member of MQ staff even thinks about ‘brand essence’ or ‘brand narrative,’ let alone ‘you to the power of us’.”

Quite. This is the sort of generic campaign that could be used at universities across the country. The problem is with a few exceptions, Australian universities all do the same things as a matter of policy, pretty much in the same way. It shows in interchangeable advertising.

Back in 2015 Macquarie U was branding itself as “a university like no other,” (CMM October 12 2015). Based on its advertising, it was not then, it is not now.

Education Investment Fund stlll finished

Just in case anybody had forgotten, Labor research spokesman Kim Carr raised the Education Investment Fund in Senate Estimates yesterday. Did the government still intend to close it and move the $3.8bn still there, he asked. It does Finance official Stein Helgeby replied. The money is going to the NDIS.

First defence CRC set to start

The first defence Cooperative Research Centre, for trusted autonomous systems, is up. Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne asked the AI to start itself yesterday, at the big robotics conference in Brisbane. It will be based there, due in part to the Queensland Government, “contributing” a headquarters.

Auditor General warns Victoria U and Federation

The Victorian Auditor General’s Office has questioned the future of Victoria U and Federation U in its audit report of the state’s universities for 2017.

While the overall sustainability of the sector continues to be strong, the indicators for Victoria University and Federation University Australia are starting to show that they may face financial sustainability issues in the longer term.  While the state’s other public universities grew over the last few years the pair, had declining student numbers over the last five years. Both had net result deficits in 2017.

“It would be prudent for these two universities to assess the relevance and financial sustainability of their current course offerings, as well as their staff profile, the auditor general observes.

The report states that both institutions are addressing risks to long-term financial stability