From the “what a surprise!” desk

The Queensland Government announces it will fund up upgrading Cairns hospital to university status

It’s been a while coming. Before the last federal election, the coalition and Labor both committed money to pay for a site adjacent to the hospital to accommodate James Cook U’s clinical school and research. This would qualify Cairns for coveted university hospital status. But nothing could happen without the state government stumping for construction, (CMM August 25).

And now it has – Premier Palaszczuk yesterday announced $52m “for stage one of the new Cairns University Hospital.”

“What!” you say; “this might have something to do with a state election on October 31.” Honestly, some of you are such cynics!

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Garry Carnegie and James Guthrie argue we need more up to date financial information than universities have supplied on the pandemic’s impact.

Student data is essential for learning analytics but it must be kept say Ruth Marshall (Practera) and colleagues. It’s this week’s piece in contributing editor Sally Kift’s series on what is needed now in teaching and learning.

Tracy Woodroffe (Charles Darwin U) argues a cultural shift is required to improve educational outcomes for Indigenous students. It’s a new contribution to a series by Indigenous academics and policy people from commissioning editor Claire Field

Uni Sydney proposes voluntary (that’s voluntary) redundancies

Vice Chancellor Michael Spence says there is no target number

In a message to staff late yesterday Dr Spence reported that while semester two enrolments are “far stronger than we had expected” the impact of COVID-19 on international student numbers will continue next year, with commencements  down 35 per cent. This will have a continuing impact revenue impact for up to four years.

The vice chancellor makes the case for VRs because non-staff savings, “are not sustainable in the longer-term if we are to continue to flourish as a world-class institution.” He adds the university executive will take a 20 per cent salary cut.

With the VR scheme proposed to run until November this announcement appears to mean no forced redundancies for the balance of Dr Spence’s term – he moves to the UK at year end. However, the VC points to the possibility of further staff savings, saving the VR proposal is to “ensure we are as financially prepared as we can be for the uncertain future we face, without taking action that would have a greater adverse impact on our staff.”

Yesterday’s proposal follows campus uproar over an arts faculty discussion paper that included a 30 per cent FTE staff cut as a “scenario-planning” exercise (CMM August 21).

VU’s Marcia Devlin to “step away” from senior DVC role

VC Peter Dawkins told staff late yesterday she will move to an adjunct professorship in the university’s business college.

Professor Devlin joined Victoria University  as a DVC in June 2018, she became senior DVC in April 2019.

Prior to VU she was Associate DVCE at RMIT and DVC (Learning) at Federation U.

Sceptical Senate scrutiny of the funding plan

The chances of a Senate committee inquiry into Minister Tehan’s education bill have moved from possible to probable

A Greens motion to send the bill to committee when it arrives in the chamber failed yesterday afternoon – with the Senate dividing evenly. Crossbench senators Lambie (Tas) Patrick (SA) and Griff (SA) joined the Greens.

If the vote was repeated on the bill itself it would also fail. This does not mean that this is what will happen but it does demonstrate that Senator Lambie and her two South Australian colleagues want the Senate to look at the legislation.

On the existing numbers the government needs one of the three to pass the bill which may well mean an inquiry is on.

The long view on the government’s plan

The government’s student funding legislation is designed to achieve what the Senate has stopped in the past, Mark Warburton warns

In anew paper for the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education, Mr Warburton argues the government wants universities to teach students with 94 per cent of the average revenue per student place they received prior to the 2018 funding caps.

In a complex paper that explores deep in the policy weeds Mr Warburton sceptically considers the different funding rates by discipline groups, the government’s assumption that some degrees are better for students and society than others and suggests that an overall purpose of the bill is to save Canberra $1.3bn a year.

He also warns that the process underpinning the policy are not thought through.

There is no public evidence that the government has considered the many potential implications of its proposed changes or their potential flow-on consequences,” he writes.

Mr Warburton concludes that the government’s promises of a system to suit growing demand are easily made, because, “the increased student places and university revenue required to support them, are beyond the Budget forward estimates period. Governments have a poor record of delivering any promise that is more than four years into the future.”

Where Curtin U wants cuts to come from

Management asks staff to take a savings hit

The university’s COVID-19 response estimates a $45m savings requirement with $41m to come from staff savings. Management explains why this must be so, ruling out drawing down on reserves and requiring a 2 per cent operating surplus.

While the paper suggests job sharing and leave purchases, the substance of staff savings proposed are foregoing the next enterprise agreement pay-rise of 2 per cent, due in June. (Off-agreement staff will stay at 2020 pay until 2022).

No pay rise under the agreement would save up to 90 jobs but would leave $30m to be found.

Voluntary redundancies are proposed first, “before other initiatives impacting staff numbers are implemented.” As to where redundancies could come from, the paper notes the university, ““teaches and administers a relatively large number of units relative to its student load.”

Management tells CMM it will consult with campus unions on its proposals – which is required by the enterprise agreement, as well as wise. Proposals to defer pay rises that have had National Tertiary Education Union support were carried by staff at all universities where put. At UWA a savings plan proposed jointly by the union and management was passed by staff at a canter, approved by 77 per cent of the poll.

Only at ANU has a management won a vote a vote to freeze a pay-rise which the union opposed.

So, what does the NTEU think about Curtin U’s approach. “We have seen other university vice chancellors and senior management cut their exorbitant salaries by up to 20 per cent. Why isn’t Curtin looking at this and other measures before attacking staff conditions? What are cash reserves for if not for a rainy day? If a global pandemic is not a rainy day what exactly is Curtin management saving it for?” asks campus VP (academic) Scott Fitzgerald.

Peak lobby to MPs: rejecting the bill is not an option

But the Innovative Research Universities continues to call for amendments

In a brief to MPs and senators IRU argues, “the current university funding system cannot continue” because it will not cover the cost of teaching more students and the legislation, “would put a long-term floor under government support for universities.”

This is a stronger version of the IRU’s previous position, that it “supports the need for the package overall,” (CMM August 18).

But the IRU is adamant about amendments the legislation needs, repeating its previous proposals for; capping the cost of business and HASS courses for students at the existing HELP scheme ceiling and/or dropping the plan for lower government funding for STEM (and other) student places. Universities now use this revenue e to help pay for labs and equipment.

IRU also repeats its demand that the government drop, “the needless burden of new university accountability measures.” These are billed by the government as “student protection” measures but the lobby argues they do not apply to universities, being “designed to prevent negative marketing behaviours in some VET and private higher education providers.”

VET policy: agreements can mean many things


With all jurisdictions having signed on to the Heads of Agreement for the next Commonwealth-State VET funding agreement I have been reflecting on how the final four submissions to the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into VET funding crystallise a number of the challenges facing policymakers.

 How do they reconcile the following?

Firstly, the Western Australia government, like other jurisdictions, argued forcefully against national consistency in VET funding, instead making the case for funding flexibility so that jurisdictions can meet their “unique” needs. Despite this, they have all since signed on to more national consistency in the heads of agreement.

Navitas’ submission was interesting in two ways. First, it was only recently that they divested a large part of their VET operations – does this submission signal a move back into VET off the back of increased government funding? Second, they argue for fully contestable funding and competitive neutrality – despite most of their business being built on cooperative partnership arrangements instead of competition.

FYI Traininga small Victorian provider, focussed on their students in their submission. They educate learners from low SES backgrounds who face upfront fees of up to $600 because the cost of applying for and administering the VET Student Loan scheme for their one diploma qualification is prohibitive. Their submission includes a copy of their latest performance report (compiled by the Victorian government) showing their excellent student experience and student outcome results.

Finally, the dual-sector universities (CDU, CQU, FedU, VU, RMIT and Swinburne U) support national consistency in VET funding, while TAFE Institutes through TAFE Directors Australia do not.  The dual-sector universities also identified issues with state government funding, argued that the Commonwealth should fund all qualifications at AQF levels Five and Six, and that no post-secondary student should face upfront fees.

It is enough to make your head spin!

Appointments, achievements

Justin Gooding receives the Jaroslav Heyrovsky Prize for molecular electrochemistry from the International Society of ME

 ANU announces the vice chancellor’s education awards

Tutoring/Demonstrating: * Ruji Auethavornpipat, Tereza Whiting-Kobelkova, (International Relations) * Louise Blessington (Environment and Society) * Ruvi Lecamwasam (Physics) * Yuan Helen Ping (Accounting), * Feodor Snagovsky (Politics)

Supervision: Edward Aspinall (Asia Pacific Affairs)

Student learning: * Ben Corry (Biology) * Darren Lim (Politics) * Heather Roberts (Law) * Susanna Ho (Accounting) * Tao Zou (Finance)

Teaching excellence: * Dipti Talaulikar * Timo Henckel (Economics) * Krisztina Valter, Alexandra Webb, Elisa Crossing (Medical School, Art and Design)

AAUT citation for Teaching excellence: * Solène Inceoglu (Literature) * Katerina Kormusheva