Hopes DASHed

“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you… Oh, you can’t have that either,” Deans of Arts, Social Science and Humanities, on changes to the undergraduate funding bill, via Twitter yesterday.

UNSW welcomes VR response

The times are bad when this news is good

At UNSW staff have till Friday to accept a voluntary redundancy offer. “We received an excellent response to the call for expressions of interest, meaning that the need for compulsory redundancies will be reduced significantly,” Vice Chancellor Ian Jacobs tells staff. Last month he said 493 FTE positions had to go (CMM July 3 and 16). It’s good news, of sorts, for people fearful their positions are on management lists.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Michael Sankey (Griffith U) on what the stats show about uni interest in micro-credentialing.

Garry Carnegie (RMIT) and James Guthrie (Macquarie U) on where the casuals are and the universities that rely on international student income

Lynette Vernon (Curtin and Edith Cowan universities) on why STEM will go nowhere without more maths in senior schools. Another case-made in Contributing Editor Sally Kift’s series on what we need now in teaching and learning.

Merlin Crossley (UNSW) recommends celebrating the small achievements in lab-life.

Judyth Sachs on the  lessons learned when Studiosity and partner universities took their annual “students first” symposium on-line.

Telling Treasurer and Tehan

The Innovative Research Universities new budget submission focuses on the undergraduate funding legislation

The IRU repeats proposals in its submission to Education Minister’s bill (CMM August 18). It calls for adjusting student charges in the bill to cap the maximum at the present highest rate, funded by lifting the lowest in the draft legislation. It recommends a floor on Commonwealth payments per students so universities do not receive less than they now do now.

It advocates “additional growth places” to meet demographically driven demand for UG places, expected at the end of the decade. And it wants an end to “micro-controls” on universities deciding what students to enrol which are in Mr Tehan’s bill.

The lobby also wants the budget to include COVID-19 support for research, to cover until Minister Tehan’s funding model, now being developed, is in-place.

“University research capacity will be permanently damaged if long-term funding reforms are not coupled with short-term support to bridge the looming funding gaps between recent levels of research and that the future can sustain.  We need to flatten the curve of university revenue reduction across 2020 and 2021 to keep research going.”

Amendments improve chances for Tehan funding bill

The education minister’s legislation to vary the cost of student contributions to degrees is on its way the House of Reps, backed by the coalition joint party room yesterday

Surprising as many as none, Nats MP, and junior minister for regional education Andrew Gee got his long-demanded way, with the bill being amended to reduce the cost to students of some social work and psychology degrees. There will be new disciplines of professional pathway psychology and professional pathway social work to reduce the student contribution for studying units as part of a pathway to professional qualifications. This change will set units at CGS cluster 2 (now $13,250) and student band 2 (now $7,950). To fund this student fees in the two lowest bands will rise by $250 per study-year.

The proposed $5000 incentive to study payment for RRR students  will now be for scholarships allocated by universities according to their “historic enrolments” of regional students. Smart politics, which should stop regional universities demanding more (insofar as that is possible). Yesterday the Regional Universities Network said, “it fully supports the timely passage of the bill.”

But the change that matters most is that the bill will, “establish a floor for the maximum basic grant amount for higher education courses to guarantee university funding legislation.”

This is a smart move, something universities have asked for, but they may not be the audience it is intended to. Mr Tehan is good at sticking to his script and in the coming weeks when anybody asks him about the legislation’s impact he will be able to reply universities basic teaching grant is guaranteed by law.  It’s a message meant for senators.

Three senior staff are out at CSU

Paul Dowler (chief financial officer, Tim Mannes (ED IT) and Brian Roberson (director IT infrastructure) have resigned. Their departures were announced to staff by Chief Operating Officer Rick Willmott.

Mr Willmott was appointed COO last month, adding finance, IT and facilities to his previous portfolios, planning and “people and culture”.

Tehan bill in the Senate: it could depend on the power of one

 Jacqui Lambie might have the deciding vote

With the Labor-Green coalition against the bill and Queensland senators Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts expected to vote with the government there are three senators whose position is not known, Stirling Griff (Centre Alliance) and Rex Patrick (recently resigned from CA) and Jacqui Lambie from Tasmania, (CMM June 22).

Watchers of the red benches suggest Senator Patrick is expected to be a nay but Senator Griff does not now always vote with his former colleague. If he is also opposed it will be down to Senator Lambie (CMM August 19).

And the Tasmanian Division of the National Tertiary Education Union knows it. It took out an advert in Senator Lambie’s local paper, the Burnie-based Advocate, calling on readers “to block the bill”.

This is your VC speaking – brace, brace, brace

Tough times have got tougher at Monash U

Vice Chancellor Margaret Gardner warns things are worse than when staff agreed to vary the enterprise agreement to minimise job losses. The calculations underpinning the arrangement then were based “on relatively open borders for international students” next year, plus “we did not and could not anticipate the federal funding changes.”

And so, “we need to adjust further elements of our operation beyond the adjustments we are making to deal with the pandemic. We cannot give certainty about what this might mean yet.”

It’s not as quite as bad it sounds, the vice chancellor adds; “I am not signalling a change in the commitment given about a 277 FTE job loss by the end of this year. I am simply trying to make clear that the pressure to achieve this number has heightened.”

But the VC signals VRs will not be available to all. Management is looking for VRs where work ending will make it possible to lose positions without leaving managers, “finding ways to cover workload that did not disappear with the positions being removed.” This is in-line with what Professor Gardner told staff in June (CMM June 11) when she said the 277 loss would protect a further 190 jobs and that VRs would come before involuntary ones.

The university, “will consult with the National Tertiary Education Union over what is intended and why,” Professor Gardner adds. The comrades will likely want to know how many willing staff will leave and how many will be told to go.

Spend on STEM

Science and Technology Australia proposes a science and technology led recovery

The peak lobby’s new budget submission calls for “strategic investments to drive jobs growth,” including;

* research-translation fund to transform research into products and services

* more money for industry-connected research programmes, such as the CRC P programme

* a 20 per cent premium for the Research and Development Tax Incentive to encourage business to work with public research

* a six-month extension for postgrad researchers (presumably to assist those whose work is stalled by COVID-19)

* more resources for the Chief Scientist, to assist government decision-making with “rapid real-time evidence”



Claire Field on the way-more competitive short-course market

Up-skilling enrolments in formal education are down


In the period 2014-2018 Australian universities saw a decline in domestic postgraduate enrolments of 22 percent in management and commerce courses and 29 percent in education programmes.

An even more significant change is apparent in the VET sector. Between 2015 and 2019 domestic fee-for-service subject-only enrolments (typically used by learners for up-skilling and re-skilling) in IT declined by 75 percent. Management and commerce was down 38 per cent and education 26 per cent.

While enrolments in these ‘up-skilling’ courses in the formal tertiary education sector are falling, Microsoft has launched its own short courses also targeting people looking to up-skill. The courses are part of a package which identifies in-demand jobs, the skills needed to fill them, offers free access to learning and content, and combines this with low-cost certification plus free job-seeking tools to help people find new jobs. They are aiming for 25 million learners by the end of the year.

Not content with offering courses just to those looking to up-skill or re-skill, in July Google announced a suite of six month “career certificates” courses, which they intend will replace four-year undergraduate degrees for people seeking work as data analysts, project managers and UX designers.

And in June the US president issued an Executive Order introducing reforms to the recruitment of federal civil servants, whereby selection will now be on the basis of skills- and competency-based assessments rather than “degree-based hiring”.

In response to these shifts Australia is introducing micro-credentials into the Australian Qualifications Framework, funding higher education short courses (through the COVID-19 Higher Education Relief Package), introducing Skills Organisation pilots to facilitate a closer link between VET providers and industry, and providing funding for short courses in the new $1bn JobTrainer scheme.

The question is – will this be enough to arrest the decline in enrolments in up-skilling programs in our tertiary sector?

Claire is the host of the ‘What now? What next?’ podcast. In the latest episode, she unpacks what to expect in both the JobTrainer program and the next National Skills Agreement.

Never-ending R&D tax change story

Proposals to change the Research and Development Tax Incentive have been around for a while – the Review of the Three Fs (Bill Ferris, Alan Finkel, John Fraser) which started it was written in Old Norse

Nothing much happened until it was translated but in 2018 savings to the scheme were in the budget. However, they never made it through the Senate, with the legislation being sent to a committee which in February 2019 concluded more consideration was needed. Perhaps they did not like the translation. (CMM December 9 2019).

The bill lapsed at last year’s election, but Treasurer Josh Frydenberg brought forth a new version on the last sitting day of 2019.  This one is intended to reduce the application of the incentive and save the taxpayer $1.8bn over the forward estimates. And it might do just that, if it ever passes the Senate.

But it won’t this side of the budget. A learned reader points out the Senate Economics Legislation Committee now has an October 12 deadline for this Beowulf of a bill.