From the Centre for Observing the Obvious

According to Edith Cowan University researchers the two top ways to stop your car being nicked are lock its doors and close the windows

 Tropical triple whammy

The James Cook University community copped the first of a triple whammy on Friday with Vice Chancellor Sandra Harding telling staff that the university’s 14 schools and four faculties are to be reorganised into seven colleges and two divisions. The administration would also drop from four to three divisions. Professor Harding was at pains to point out that the new structure was but a proposal, which would go to council in February after staff consultation, but if this isn’t a done deal the VC is not the astute operator she is universally assumed to be. Which points to whammy two, the voluntary redundancies to be implemented in the new year. Again Professor Harding says nothing is finalised – but even on the headline announcement it seems clear jobs will disappear. And while she said earlier last week that the new structure was not about “cost reduction” Professor Harding told staff on Friday that VRs are “in response to the increasing financial pressures and funding cuts experienced by the university.” Which sounds like cuts to accommodate lower revenue to me. As to whammy three – it is not announced, indeed it might not exist. But what is the point or reorganising academic operating units without changing the degree and subject mix? As the VC  said, the new structure “will create a new context and organisation of disciplines which will foster innovation among cognate disciplines and potentially identify areas to be powered up; and provides enhanced opportunities for collaboration across disciplines in learning and teaching, research and engagement.” Who’s to say “powering up” will not be matched by “powering down?” Staff teaching low-demand subjects might consider boning up on some popular ones.

Penniless @ Pozible

Crowdfunder Pozible is expanding and  wants to two part-timers, one for the University of Melbourne and the other at RMIT, “to help us bring Pozible to where creative projects are born all the time – universities.” There is just one problem – the positions are unpaid. This is more than a bit rich; entrepreneurs of all people should invest in their ideas. Still, I suppose it prepares interns for a life as casual academics. Perhaps Pozible will let the two hires run an appeal for people to pay them a wage.

Not quite life long learning 

A generation back, when everybody was amazed by the new fangled interweb, policy gurus used to bang on about the way the world wide net would make lifelong learning a necessity – if only so old farts could get the terminology right. Well the gurus got their way because it seems Australians are keen to keep learning new things well into middle age. According to new numbers from the Australians Bureau of Statistics some 3.7 million people aged between 15 and 74 participate in “formal learning”. Another 4.6m engage in work-related training. Makes you wonder why productivity isn’t improving, but its still good news. What isn’t good is that while the percentage of people learning job skills is effectively stable at around a third from ages 25 to 50 or so it, dives from there. So the people we need to work longer can’t be fagged learning anything new.

Bold Barry’s guarantee

The Press Trust of India quotes NSW premier Barry O’Farrell as assuring the “absolute safety” of international students in Sydney. “Any student who comes to Sydney or any student who comes to any city in Australia is absolutely safe,” the premier is quoted as saying on a trade visit to India. “People can go about to study, tourism or to their work without fear of violence. We are particularly strong on that. Universities have ensured that extra steps are taken, including building extra relationships with local communities.” Perhaps the report over-simplified the premier’s remarks because it is hard to imagine the astute O’Farrell offering such an unqualified assurance. Yes, Indian students are at no bigger risk of assault than anybody else in Sydney but it only takes one attack to upset the Indian media.

Yet another UWA award

Last month the University of Western Australia had a clean sweep in the state’s science awards and now it announces yet another prize, with history teacher and recent UWA BA Dip Ed graduate Rebecca Halse being named beginning teacher of the year. The state’s four other universities must be sick of UWA getting all the gongs.

 Slow recovery

New government figures for October show international education sales improving but still down on the long-term growth rate for the month. Overall commencements were up 1.9 per cent on 2012 (the ten year average start for October is 5.2 per cent). Higher education did best, while overall enrolments were marginally down there were 8.2 per cent more starting students. Among the top five country markets China was static and the number of Indian students dropped by 9 per cent – Vietnam provided the big increase, growing by 14 per cent to 24,500. All up, in October there were 504,000 full-fee paying international students in Australia.

Return to reform

Paul Keating launched the COAG reform process 21 years ago last Saturday but the idea for national competition reform came from a committee chaired by Fred Hilmer. So the now VC of the University of New South Wales knows a bit about reforming public sector structures to improve economic performance and two decades on he reckons its time for a look at competition in health, and significantly education. Andrew Burrell and Glenda Korporaal had the story in The Australian on Friday, but the paper did not pursue it further. I can think of people, as the prime minister’s competition review gears up, who will, Christopher Pyne and Mathias Coorman for example. While no one would ever dream of comparing vice chancellors with dairy farmers it was National Competition Policy’s end to old restrictions on dairying that created the low cost high export industry it is today. I’m guessing government would like to see the same from education.

Fed’s fab ad

The recent corporate identity advertisement for Federation University is a shocker– light on for convincing reasons why anybody would want to study there. Which is strange, given the University of Ballarat’s (FU’s old name before it took over Monash Gippsland) student recruitment TV spots are terrific made for students instead of university administrators. So good for UB, sorry FU, back on student-centric message with its new information day spot, which sells the university on the essential attribute – it exists to help young people make the most of their opportunities. Great brand building.

Growth the go

Perhaps Education Minister Christopher Pyne will feel more confident in selling to elitist cabinet colleagues his November promise to keep demand driven funding now that the proper chaps of the Cameron Government have decided to end to caps on undergraduate places in England in 2015. This is a big deal indeed, which seemed to catch the commentariat in the Old Dart by surprise when announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Brits are broke and yet Westminster is endorsing education as an engine of growth and prosperity. Inevitably the elite Russell Group universities oppose the idea, suggesting funding should focus on quality not quantity – remind you of any lobby group here? Funding for the new places will come from selling more of the government’s student loan book – a precedent people here will hope the Commission of Audit does not notice.

No access all areas

Open access activists are upset at Elsevier, alleging the publisher is demanding free sites take down papers, which it is about to publish. If so the company is within its contractual rights, but it does demonstrate how the for-profits will not give an inch to the argument that scholars who produce papers, which publishers do not pay for, can share them. Given publishers generally do not try to stop authors posting articles on their own websites or institutional repositories it seems the principle is already conceded and the journal producers are now just seeing what they can get away with to defend their crumbling control of journal publishing.