Qualification creep makes the case for postgrad demand driven funding says CAPA


Uni SA chancellor to chair new defence cooperative research centre


 Union piles on the pressure at James Cook U


and: Heads Up a big week of awards at work

Two Thomsons

The Australian Academy of Science report that Adelaide’s Vicki Thomson is off to India on a fellowship to research diseases caused by rats

But do not relax critics of the Group of Eight. This is not the Adelaide resident Vicki Thomson who is Go8 chief executive.  It’s University of Adelaide evolutionary biologist Dr Vicki Thomson. The Eight’s VT is just back from leave so woe betide any human rats that merit her steely gaze.

Chumbawamba tub thumpers

The NTEU got knocked down over casual conversion but got up again

The National Tertiary Education Union had a big loss on Wednesday, when the Fair Work Commission rejected its call to have a access to permanent employment after a qualifying period for casuals inserted in the higher education industrial award.  The union argued that while such clauses exist in most enterprise agreements, university managements ignore them.

“The FWC unfortunately, but not surprisingly, accepted the university management argument that the system worked and did not require the force of a change to the award. This occurred despite the universities’ evidence showing that they simply do not know where or how their casual staff are employed,” the NTEU tells supporters.

However the union got right up again, with federal president Jeannie Rea reporting; “the FWC decision is a fillip in that it does argue that a casual conversion clause is a safeguard against unfair exploitation – a first for most Australian casual workers. The decision provides us with the opportunity to press this matter with university managements and support NTEU members in seeking conversion through enterprise agreements.”

The union is also pushing in the present bargaining round for casual staff to receive the same 17 per cent management contribution to super as permanent staff. Although industrial observers do not see managements agreeing to this, or any improvement in the rate of casuals picking up full-time jobs, the union’s effort is understandable.

Many NTEU members are not in the first bloom of career youth, while casuals often are the union needs to give young staffers a reason to join.

The human touch

Who needs artificial intelligence when Tanya Plibersek is around

Last year Kim Carr met Pepper the humanoid robot at CQU and looked at it with not insubstantial suspicion. This week Tanya Plibersek met a dancing robot at Victoria U and looked amused. Maybe the pair’s intra-faction differences extend to AI.

The deputy opposition leader also met University of Sydney VC Michael Spence yesterday, who welcomed her politely and then stood back as she gave the government a spray on the issues of the day. Including cutting university funding, which will “seriously compromise the ability of universities to do what they want to do, provide a world-class education to students.” As well as reducing the HECS HELP repayment threshold so graduates will be repaying money, “at the same time as they’re trying to start a family, buy a house, pay the rent.” AI will never do outrage like Ms Plibersek does.

Here they go again

Bargaining as usual at JCU

James Cook University union members will vote on taking protected industrial action as part of the enterprise bargaining process. On Wednesday the Fair Work Commission approved a ballot. The last bargaining round was long and hard – this one looks like it could be the same.

Less than golden west

Perth does not do well in attracting international students and now there is a new problem

Western Australian universities do not lead the country on international education. Where NSW universities earn 24 per cent of overall income from international students, more than from locals, the WA auditor general reports way lower earnings in the west from overseas students. Curtin and Edith Cowan universities manage 20 per cent but last year UWA earned just 13 per cent and Murdoch U 11 per cent (CMM June 20).

Locals say the issues extend beyond campuses with the Swan-side city not attracting internationals. Perhaps they confuse it with the city in Scotland. Whatever the problem, it is about to get worse, with the well-regarded Mike Ryan resigning as executive director at the sector-wide Study Perth marketing lobby. After 13 years Mr Ryan says he is leaving, “on medical advice and to strike a better work/life balance.”

New Defence research centre

The first Defence CRC will be chaired by UniSA chancellor Jim McDowell

Christopher Pyne has announced the first of the new Defence Cooperative Research Centres, on “trusted autonomous systems”. The defence industry minister says the $50m over seven years programme will work on “game-changing unmanned platforms that ensure reliable and effective cooperation between people and machines during dynamic military operations,’ (CMM thinks that means active service).

Mr McDowell spent much of his career in aerospace and weapons-system companies and is now a member of the expert advisory panel on the RAN’s new submarine project. An interim CEO is said to be selected with an announcement imminent.

This, and the two defence CRCs to follow, will use the long-established cooperative research centre programme model, except that participating organisations will join and depart as work on specific issues starts and finishes. This is to encourage small, specialist suppliers to participate and maybe attract university interest from groups like the SA Defence Industry Education and Skills Consortium, which includes Mr McDowell’s UniSA. However this will not create a problem for the CRC, as University of South Australia VC David Lloyd told CMM last night; “We have many CRCs where the chairs are directly or indirectly linked to the university – for example the cell therapy CRC is chaired by (university council member) Leanna Read. Jim’s chairing of the CRC won’t impact on the processes of project evaluation or award at all. Projects will be awarded on merit.”

The cost of creeping credentialism

That noise you hear is Treasury Officials double locking the vaults as CAPA proposes extending demand driven funding to postgraduate places

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations’ submission to a current Senate inquiry opposes the revenue measures in the government’s higher education bill. But there is one spending measure it likes a lot, both for what it would do now and the precedent it could set.

According to CAPA President Peter Derbyshire, the existing system of universities receiving federal funding for postgraduate coursework places creates a patchwork, where institutions offer support for some programmes, which are full-fee at other universities. While universities that now receive funding may not like it, the proposal to fund students direct to study where they choose. “will also ensure that all places available will be utilised rather than some universities having a monopoly on commonwealth supported places even if they are not all used,” Mr Derbyshire submits.

What he finds even more appealing is where such a voucher scheme could lead.

“It is becoming clearer however that the employability of students will be linked to obtaining qualifications above that of a Bachelor’s degree. As qualification creep continues there will be a future need to ensure students are supported to obtain the postgraduate qualifications needed for employment and this system will allow for that expansion in the future as it is needed.”

Yes it would cost a bomb, but that hasn’t stopped demand driven undergraduate funding, which is now politically unassailable.


Wins of the working week


Curtin University has created three new emeritus professors who are honoured for their research. The title is awarded to academics expected to retire within six months, for their research, contribution to the university’s international reputation and ongoing to commitment to the university. The three are:

Michael Alpers: infectious disease research

Jeffrey Petchey: national economic policy

Gordon Parkinson: research leadership and higher degree supervision in minerals processing and sustainable energy



Robert Webster is now executive director, corporate services at the University of Western Australia. He moves from ED for strategy, planning performance. He joined UWA in March 2106 from RMIT where he had worked since 2000.


Consummate wrangler of hacks James Murphy is leaving Simon Birmingham’s service for the Prime Minister’s OfficeNick Creevey steps up to the senior media spot with the education minister.


The University of Wollongong has announced its 2017 Vice Chancellor’s research awards:

Researchers of the Year: Gordon Waitt (household inequality) and  Xiaolin Wang (Australian Institute for Innovative Materials)

Emerging Researcher:  Xiaoqi Feng (public health, geography and economics)

Interdisciplinary Researchers: Robert Gorkin, Jason McArthur, Christopher Magee, Kate Senior, Laura Grozdanovski, Geoff Spinks, designing the “next-generation” condom

Research Partnership and Impact: Long Nghiem, Will Price, Pascal Perez for a partnership with Sydney Water on resources in waste water

Excellence in Research Supervision: Weihua Li (Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences)


Steven Bird has joined Charles Darwin University to work on technologies to preserve Indigenous languages. The former University of Melbourne aspro in information systems is now based at the Kabulwarnamyo Outstation, in West Arnhem Land.


Science Technology Australia has chosen 30 women whose work in science, technology, engineering and maths makes them excellent role models. Anybody who thinks they can’t use their super powers to smash stereotypes should look out.

 The Superstars of STEM are:

Muireann Irish: cognitive neuroscience, University of Sydney

Amy Heffernan: analytic chemist, Florey Institute

Caroline Ford: cancer research, UNSW

Celine Frere: ecology and evolution science, University of the Sunshine Coast

Clare Fedele: cancer biology, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre

Fiona Kerslake: wine production, University of Tasmania

Hannah Brown: women’s pregnancy health, University of Adelaide

Jess Melbourne-Thomas: math models of marine ecosystems, Australian Antarctic Division

Jillian Kenny: maths and engineering advocate, Machinam Pty Ltd

Jodie Ward: forensic science, NSW Health Pathology

Karen Lamb: statistician, Deakin University

Kate Grarock: sanctuary ecologist, Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary

Kate Umbers: zoologist, Western Sydney University

Lilach Avitan: computational neuroscientist, University of Queensland

Linda McIver: digital learning, John Monash Science School

Lisa Mielke: immune cell biology, University of Melbourne

Nicky Ringland: computer education, National Computer Science School

Pallave Dasari: microbiology and breast cancer, University of Adelaide

Rebecca Johnson: wildlife forensics and conservation genomics, Australian Museum

Roisin McMahon: molecular bioscience, Griffith University

Ronika Power: bioarchaeology, Macquarie University

Sanam Mustafa: neuroimmunology, University of Adelaide

Siobhan Schabrun: neuroscience, Western Sydney University

Sue Barrell: chief scientist, Bureau of Meteorology

Sue Keay: robotics, Australian Research Council for Robotic Vision

Tamara Keeley: zoologist, University of Queensland

Tien Huynh: environmental sustainability and agricultural upcycling, RMIT

Francesca Maclean: engineering consultant, Arup

Justine Smith: ophthalmologist, Flinders University

Rachel Burton: plant science and molecular biology, University of Adelaide


 The Institute of Engineers has announced its choice of Australia’s most innovative engineers

Academics made the cut in five categories:

Community: Ana Deletic, UNSW. Andrew Woods, Curtin U

Electronics and Comms: Madhu Bhaskaran, RMIT

Manufacturing and automation: Xiaoke Yi, University of Sydney

Research and Academia: Elizabeth Jens, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (undergraduate degree from the University of Melbourne). Richard Kelso, University of Adelaide. Melissa Knothe Tate, UNSW.

Utilities: Sandra Kentish, University of Melbourne