Under the Tuscan sun

“Where better to learn about Galileo than in Italy – the home of the astronomer who is a central figure in science, astronomy, physics, philosophy and mathematics, to name but a few disciplines,” Monash University promotes an astronomy course offered at its Palazzo Vaj study centre in Prato, Tuscany. Presumably to be followed by a course on cosmology in a black hole.

Melbourne reserves engineering lectureships for women: not many but they matter

The University of Melbourne has nominated five School of Engineering lectureships to be filled by women. It is part of a plan to lift the number of women on the school’s academic strength from 22 per cent to 30 per cent over the next four years. The posts are in engineering and computer science disciplines. Dean Graham Schaffer says engineering is male-dominated and needs to be more balanced.

Back in 2016 UniMelb also allocated three continuing teaching and research positions in maths for women, (CMM May 19 2016).

UniMelb’s engineering announcement follows the National Health and Medical Research Council creating 34 grants which must have women as chief investigators.

Not many but it matters: Programmes to encourage young women to study engineering don’t address one big problem with the profession – men. A survey for the Institute of Engineers last year found 47 per cent of women working in the profession reported gender-based discrimination and 60 per cent of them said “workplace culture” was an issue (CMM September 6 2017).  This has to change and the more blokes who see women teaching engineering the quicker men in the industry will get the idea that it isn’t a boys’ club.

Management increases pay offer but deal not yet done at University of Queensland

After 37 bargaining meetings, University of Queensland provost Aidan Byrne says the university has made a pay offer “that converges with the stated position of the unions” and that it is time to settle on “outstanding maters.”

“Our new offer compares very favourably to those that have been agreed by other universities which have recently negotiated new agreements.” Professor Byrne has told staff.

Professor Byrne says the university is offering all staff a rise that equals 8 per cent over the life of the agreement, which should meet demands for a pay rise above CPI, unless inflation unexpectedly accelerates. But the deal is different to management’s January offer, which included a mix of fixed amounts and per centage increases, to the advantage of lower paid staff. “Feedback received from staff was to improve the offer for more senior staff,” which Professor Byrne says is now done.  Staff earning under $50 000 will now receive 11.2 per cent over the agreement while those on $70 000 will receive a 9.2 per cent rise.

Assuming the union accepts this offer the only significant outstanding issue is job security, on which UoQ observers suggest management may not be as agreeable as they have been on money.

Bot of the morning

Lucy is the University of Canberra’s new student information service. Using a Microsoft framework, the chatbot can answer questions from “car parking to class schedules.”  “It would be cool if I could ask Lucy ‘what time is my next class?’ and she responded, ‘It’s at 4pm and in Room 23,’ ” says planning deputy director Tom Townsend, which sounds more aspirational than assured.

Are Victoria U teachers allowed to research? No says the union, yes says management

As Victoria U rolls out its new year first year college, the union warns that staff who want to research are suffering. The campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union alleges management “has significantly reduced research allocations,” and rejected all nine academics in the College of Law and Justice who applied for research fellowships. The union also claims academics who move from their previous discipline based appointments to the new teaching college can no longer have a research workload allocation in their area of expertise.  “This process can only be regarded as a deliberate deskilling exercise,” the union warns.

However VU management says the claim that FYC staff can only undertake research in education is flat wrong. Yesterday FYC college dean Andrew Smallridge emailed first year college staff saying “the majority of discipline-based applications last year were successful” and “the FYC will continue to support staff who wish to apply for a VU Research Fellowship based upon their research efforts and interests whether it be discipline or education related.”

A university spokesperson added yesterday that there was no decision on applications from Law and Justice staff as, “the college is still working through its internal processes.”

Budget choice between new med schools or more med training places

A learned reader suggests newish minister for rural health, Bridget McKenzie did well at Senate estimates hearing, succinctly saying nothing of note – especially about the Murray Darling Medical School. That was wise, give she, like ministers before her, is caught between the Scylla of National Party members, in alliance with Charles Sturt and La Trobe universities, who propose the plan and the Charybdis of medical lobbies and university med schools which oppose it.

But as the budget approaches there is policy perturbation around the idea that the way to lift doctor numbers in the bush is more medical schools, (which the feds fund) as distinct from hospital training places (which the states pay for). Same as there was before the last budget, and the one before that.

In Estimates, Glenys Beauchamp from the Department of Health said her department has been looking at the “allocation of medical places and the health workforce more generally,” since December 2016 and with the Department of Education and Training was, “talking to a range of stakeholders around the assessment of medical schools and places, and we’re in the process, and have been in the process, of consulting—receiving submissions, analysing those.”

This sounds rather like the review of the distribution of medical training places commissioned by former rural health minister David Gillespie in 2016 and Ms Beauchamp added officials would provide advice to government on medical training places on a budget in confidence basis. Probably for this budget and probably involving more universities than La Trobe and Charles Sturt U.

Play of the day

On Monday, the Demons did a deal with Chisholm Institute, they already have an agreement with the University of Melbourne. But just when it seems there are no more partnerships to be done between football clubs and universities, RMIT and Essendon step up to “create a new frontier in cross-industry collaboration”.  Players and club staff will access courses, there will be research opportunities for academics and club and campus will combine to “grow” Indigenous leaders.

Sheil commits to QUT being “the most gender equitable uni in the country”

A month into the job QUT VC Margaret Sheil used her International Women’s Day address to set expectations – for her.

Professor Sheil set out her experience in increasing opportunities for women as chair of the Australian Research Council and applauded the QUT community for “years of dedication to principles of equality … years of leadership by the many champions of positive change at this institution.”

She proved the praise by pointing to employment stats, with QUT doing “reasonably well” for women in senior staff – more so on the professional than academic strength. And she acknowledged strategies in place, why they are needed and what they can do, for women – and for early career men, “who will be inducted into a distorted idea of a scientific workplace that is radically out of step with the world outside the lab.”

But, and it was a very big but; “there’s a trap in those plaudits, and in performing above the line: doing well can feel a lot like doing well enough when we all know there is more to be done,” she added

Professor Sheil did not commit to per centage improvements for women and people from other groups that are under-represented in management. But she spelt out how QUT staff can create a culture of change, by mentoring, by insisting on their presence where decisions are made. “We need to take focused direct action, even while we engage in concerted systemic reform.”  And she explicitly stated she would lead the effort.

“I look forward to working with each of you … because the job is not merely to make this the most gender-equitable university in the country – which we will, mark my words – but much more than that, it is to ensure that it would not even occur to a bright young woman coming into this place that her talent and application and hard work would ever be held back by her gender or her circumstances.”

Great speech – now all she has to do is act on it.