What interests the government (it isn’t universities)

“A workforce for now and for the future”  was a big message in the budget – the government meant training not higher education

And there was $1.3bn more research – as in the Medical Research Future Fund.  Plus research got a mention in the $2bn Regional Accelerator Programme,  which includes, skills and training, R&D and education. But the only mention in the Treasurer’s speech, sounded like a reference to the  previously announced research commercialisation scheme.

Overall there was money for many interest groups – but not universities, which with an  election imminent manifestly do not interest the government.

Scroll down for reaction.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Sean Brawley (Uni Wollongong) on metrics for HASS research assessment.

“Data from the 2018 (ERA) exercise clearly demonstrates the advantage of being in a metric driven rather than a peer review driven discipline,” he suggests.

plus the successful switch to on-line teaching and learning during COVID was not luck – it depended on the skills of third-space practitioners,  the learning designers, academic developers and educational technologists who had built the foundations for the transformation. Sally Kift and Colin Simpson set the scene for a discussion of a new book in how it happened.

with Merlin Crossley (UNSW) on knowing there will always be unknowns and why it’s better than believing anybody has all the answers.

and  Tim Winkler (Tim Winkler) worries uni websites look like they did in 2019 – which is a big opportunity lost.

Back to normal at ARC

A funding announcement is not greeted with outrage – makes a change

The Australian Research Council announces $32m for sixty eight Linkage Projects, the sort of applied, partnered research the Government approves of.

UNSW won 11,  followed by Monash U (eight), Uni Melbourne (seven), ANU and Uni Queensland (six each) and QUT (five). All up Group of Eight members accounted for their standard two-thirds of grants with 42. Engineering is the dominant field of research, with 11 grants, followed by biological, earth and environmental sciences, with four each.

Among all the usual IT and engineering, Seth Lazar and ANU colleagues have $496 000 to use philosophy, law and sociology “to discover the social costs and benefits of using Artificial Intelligence in insurance, and to design practical interventions.”

“This should benefit insurers and consumers, realising efficiency gains made possible by AI, without unacceptable costs to privacy, fairness, and the unaccountable exercise of power.”

See, despite the veto of six Discovery Grants on Christmas Eve the government isn’t hostile to all HASS research. Unless of course, there were ARC recommended grants that Acting Education Minister Robert vetoed. But there weren’t, the ARC advises the minister approved all ARC recommendations.

Now they need them: La Trobe U’s COVID call for casuals

Management has produced a contingency plan for staff-shortages. Casuals are included

The plan addresses COVID-caused absences. In cases where a staff member will only be away for a week replacing a live lecture with a recorded one is the first alternative. Students in cancelled tutes would be asked to attend other or access a recorded one.

But if teaching staff will be away for longer and sessional staff are needed to cover there must be prior approval if this involves them “working more hours than are included in their existing workload location.”

Assuming there are any to be found. Frank Larkins estimates La Trobe U cut casual staff by 59 per cent 2019-21. “These are very high attrition numbers that must seriously impact on university operations,” he suggested (CMM March 21). Looks like it.

Micro-credentials framework delivers


While some have described it as “the framework you have when you’re not having a framework,” it is a solid piece of work

Last week the Department of Education, Skills and Employment released a new National Microcredentials Framework and while some have described it as “the framework you have when you’re not having a framework,” I think it is a solid piece of work.

The Framework draws on existing regulatory standards, e.g. the Australian Qualifications Framework, the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency Act, the Higher Education Standards Framework, and TEQSA’s Guidance Note for credit and recognition of prior learning, the National VET Regulator Act and the Standards for RTOs.

That means that the new Framework does not attempt to duplicate or override existing standards and frameworks providers are familiar with.

It also does not impose any obligations on providers to apply standards to non-award courses. If you currently offer non-accredited courses and wish to continue to offer them “as is,” you are welcome to do so.

The Framework involves micro-credential developers meeting the following requirements:

* Include clear learning outcomes

* a preference for providers to draw on the Australian Core Skills Framework if offering foundation or general capabilities

* must include assessment(s) of the learning outcomes

* must stipulate volume of learning and comprise at least one hour of learning

* if the micro-credential is not credit bearing, developers should consider signifying the mastery achieved by completing the credential

* clearly specify industry recognition (where applicable)

* clearly specify credit-recognition (where applicable)

* Where issuing authorities are not involved with the micro-credential, providers must include a statement of quality assurance.

With the Framework now in place, the next steps for providers are the formal process of credentialling student learning outcomes and advertising these credentials to potential students.

The creation of the new Microcredentials Marketplace which UAC is developing with funding from DESE, and the new National Credentials Platform (being developed by UAC and HES with funding from DESE) will assist with greater uptake of micro-credentials.

And when it comes to credentialling, the fact that the new National Credentials Platform draws on the work that Australian and New Zealand universities have led through their My eQuals platform means we are not starting from scratch in these endeavours but instead using My eQuals’ proven technology which has so far issued credentials to 1.8 million users.

The universities have made a significant investment in the platform and are to be commended for being so farsighted, as well as for now inviting other providers to also use it.

 Claire was joined on the latest episode of the What now? What next? podcast by Jay Segeth and Daniel Hibbert to discuss the My eQuals platform and how it is positioned for the future. Listen online or in your favourite podcast app


What worries international students and what they want

Back in 2020 researchers reported on international first year students’ experiences on the basis of qual and quant research

Chi Baik, Sophie Arkoudis, Stuart Palmer and Dina Uzhegova, (all Uni Melbourne), with Ian Teo (Australian Council for Educational Research) looked at what would help people who came to university via pathways. Their report is out, from the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education.

They found that direct entry and pathways did not make much of a difference in progression from first to second year. But three issues need addressing. Peer-connection and institutional-allegiance can be a problem for direct entry students. While the generality of students are happy with their written English, some are concerned by their speaking skills. Some are frustrated by insufficient access to institutional support.

Ex study, accommodation and work are the two issues that impact most for first years.

The report presents providers with six recommendations;

* national data for individuals by pathway

* a unique identifier for internationals across all sectors

* a short academic transition programme for direct entry students

* peer led/facilitated support

* university-based work experience and casual employment for international students

* “a visible, dedicated international student office” advising on accommodation, health, jobs as well as academic support.


Budget black hole

Universities Australia summed up the budget for its members last night, welcoming, “the extra $11.3 million for the 80 new Commonwealth Supported Places, commencing from 2023-24, to deliver full medical school programs at new or existing rural training locations.” And that was it – yes UA pointed to the $988.2 million over five years for research commercialisation, but that is long announced.

The Australian Academy of Technology & Engineering made similar points, welcoming tech infrastructure funding but warning that overall, the government “has missed an opportunity to make a long-term investment in supporting Australia’s technological ambitions, leaving the nation exposed to workforce shortages and an unpredictable future.”

The Australian Technology Network was way less understated.

“Australia’s economic recovery requires significant investment in human capital with nine out of ten new jobs requiring a post-secondary education. While we welcome the significant investment in vocational education and training, the Government has yet again missed an opportunity to put universities at the centre of its plans for skilling Australia,” ED Luke Sheehy said.

“With an overall decline in higher education funding in real terms, this Budget places our capacity for a high-tech, innovative and entrepreneurial Australia at risk.”

It was left to the indefatigably optimistic Group of Eight to look beyond the election. CEO Vicki Thomson warned, “almost all the initiatives announced in the Budget will require robust and well-funded universities to educate the graduates required.”

And she called on “an incoming Government” to adopt “a sovereign capability charter.”

This would, “ensure essential current and future skills, supply chains and research capacity are all accounted for before public announcement, within the financial asnd timeline parameters for major infrastructure projects from future governments.”

 Appointments, achievement

Judith McNamara is the new law school dean at Uni Adelaide. She leaves QUT.

Jason Roberts (appointments include Uni Queensland) receives the Fred J Boyd Award, from the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia, for the “unparalleled impact” of his support.

Mike Wilson starts next week as Interim DVC R at Uni New England. He was previously at Charles Darwin U,  joining in 2020 as provost.

Stephen Wong becomes the inaugural head of the Cancer Genomics Translational Research Centre at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. His is an internal appointment,

Bob Wood, joins Macquarie U Business School next month to lead a JV with the Commonwealth Bank – a four year longitudinal study of young adults’ financial decision making.  He moves from UTS.