Don’t bet your Bitcoin on it

In Spain, the Aragon regional government is stumping up €13m for Industry 4.0 applications, including AI and blockchain. To which RMIT blockchain researcher Jason Potts asks, ““so Melbourne how you gunna respond to that gauntlet.” Probably by ignoring it.

Australian Research Council Linkage grants funding for better cemetery experiences

The second round of Australian Research Council Linkage Grants was announced yesterday. Notable among the 14 are:

* coordinating innovation in globally-dispersed organisations (Swinburne U)

*  creative coding in digital media (UNSW)

* improving academic performance of children with autism (Griffith U)

* producing high value proteins from serum (UoQ)

* analytics to reduce drop-out rates in on-line learning (UWA)

Academics at the University of Melbourne, partnered with Greater Melbourne Cemeteries Trust received $282 000 for research on “the future cemetery,” to “identify and critically assess the potential of innovative technologies to enhance the experience of the cemetery for an increasingly diverse, secular, and well-informed public, and to strengthen cemeteries’ community connections.”

Some ten universities shared Linkage funding, with the University of Queensland and partners winning three projects. Swinburne U and the University of Melbourne picked up two each.

MOOC of the morning

Coursera names Yvonne Breyer’s Macquarie U MOOC, Excel Skills for Business Specialisation one of its 12 most popular biz courses.  It commenced a new run on Friday.

Subdegree and PG places: the cap rarely fits

The feds are not only tightening control over undergraduate places, they want to rationalise where and how sub-degree and coursework masters funding are allocated.

Understandably so, places are now handed out on the basis of local need, reasons that seemed good at the time and special pleading. The government set out some ideas on what it could do in November, including a 5 per cent cut on all effected places and now it is time for universities to respond, (CMM November 14).


The Innovative Research Universities lobby does just that in a considered policy paper which goes to the heart of the problem.


The IRU calls for demand driven funding for sub-degree places, which the feds probably will not like. DDF for some students and not others at universities would be hard to defence and if higher education can teach diplomas on-load surely VET institutions would claim the right.


The paper also addresses in detail how PG places should be allocated across universities and it nails the policy problem inherent in public funding.


“The growing array of specialisations within broad professional categories along with the trend for professional bodies to raise the requirements for practice means the array of courses leading to professional practice continues to develop.”


To contain qualification-creep the IRU suggests, “definition of the relevant qualifications should be at the broad professional level, and exclude qualifications required to practice in particular niche areas within the broad profession.


It would also mean approving all universities which offer a relevant qualification. Similarly, to address skills shortages all universities serving that relevant market should be approved for funded places in those fields.


This will mean that government will need to be willing to add places to the pool should the demand nationally over the coming decade exceed available allocations.”


While the IRU would never suggest such a thing; when it comes to regulating funded places, caps rarely fit.

Regional unis make their case on undergraduate growth funding formula

The government intends to allocate undergraduate growth places for 2020 according to a new performance formula and has asked universities to respond to its ideas on how to do it (CMM January 14). The prescriptions in the government’s discussion paper gave universities not much room to move, perhaps to prevent short submissions of what most universities really want –a return to demand driven funding. As the Regional Universities Network puts it;

“We are concerned about the robustness and appropriateness of many of the potential performance measures proposed in the discussion paper. A range of potential measures and datasets are noted, however little attempt is made to clearly identify the department’s performance expectations of institutions, link potential performance measures to those expectations, or to assess the robustness or appropriateness of different potential measures.”

But RUN works with what it is given, responding to the options the government sets out, including;
Basing performance based funding for a year on regional higher education participation rates, not just population movement
Including PBF in base grants rather than leaving it in a contestable, compounding pool
Using a regional weighting for attrition and completion rates
Redistributing funds which institutions do not qualify to collect according to performance of other universities
Creating a regional, rural and remote education commissioner (a major RUN objective) to advise on allocation of performance funding to relevant unis.

A panel chaired by University of Wollongong VC Paul Wellings will report on what institutions propose by end March and send final advice to government on June 30.

Free speech review ready

The French review on campus free speech is with the government.

Last November Education Minister Dan Tehan commissioned to review, “rules and regulations protecting freedom of speech on university campuses.”

Mr French, is UWA chancellor a former chief justice of the High Court. He provided an indication of his approach in a considered paper co-authored with UWA VC Dawn Freshwater (CMM August 20) after a campus dispute.  Close observers suggest his review has a similar tone to that and is closely argued and respectful of university autonomy.

The minister’s response when it is released will be instructive. In announcing Mr French’s review Minster Tehan suggested, it “could lead to the development of an Australian version of the ‘Chicago Statement’, which, “clearly sets out a university’s commitment to promoting freedom of speech.” And in November he did not rule out imposing a code on universities. When Radio National’s Fran Kelly asked Mr Tehan, “if the French Review does find there should be some kind of code, if the universities don’t enforce it, would their funding be under threat, what would be on the table here?,” he  replied, “well let’s just let the former chief justice do his work and see what he comes up with.”

Good-ish news for casuals looking for permanent uni employment

The government has a bill in parliament to allow casuals across all industries to ask employers to convert them t0 part-time or full-time work. The legislation is designed to ensure all employees, as in everybody, are covered by a new clause created by the Fair Work Commission in 85 awards, which came into effect in October. As such the legislation could over-ride lawyerly constructed enterprise agreements which make conversion harder than needs be.

A learned reader suggests that this is good news for the army of casuals, notably junior academics, who carry big teaching loads but do not necessarily know if they have a job one semester to the next. However, another LR, versed in enterprise bargaining suggests the bill will not overly alarm universities which have dealt with casuals’ requesting conversions since the ‘90s.

Shipbuilding training all at sea

In March 2017 then Defence Industry Minister Chris Pyne  announced a “maritime technical college” “ to ensure that Australia’s future shipbuilding projects have the skills available when they are required.” But by August last, the college’s role had become to identify what skills will be needed and work with the providers which teach them (CMM August 23 2018). And now a discussion paper on the naval shipbuilding workforce says the college focus is on developing short-courses to “train workers from adjacent industries to adapt to the specific needs of naval shipbuilding.”  Thus, in January, the college announced it “played a key role in creating a simple training kit which is now being rolled out by TAFE colleges around Australia to upskill students in welding technique.”

Good-o, but will this be enough to ensure there are sufficient workers when and where needed to build the 12 submarines, nine frigates, plus patrol boats planned?

It depends on which page of the discussion paper you are on. Yes, there are decade long shortages of some mechanics and sheet metal tradespeople. There aren’t enough experienced design engineers now and there were shortages of welders for the air warfare destroyer build.

But in the long-term all should be well, “provided the education and training system maintains an appropriate throughput of new students with appropriate skills, and firms continue to take on and develop entry-level employees.” Perhaps the shipbuilding college can get on to this when finished with welding techniques.