Order!, order!, the cave will come to order

“Eight surprising facts about Neanderthals,” the University of New England promised yesterday, which was strange given parliament isn’t sitting.

Journal prices libraries can barely bear

A learned reader points to an estimate from information services provider EBSCO that in 2018 Australian libraries will pay 1-2 per cent more for journals billed in US$ and 9-10 per cent for those billed in stg and euros. Ex exchange rates publisher prices will rise 5-6 per cent.  Between 2013 and this year EBSCO estimates scholarly journal prices increased around 25 per cent

“The fundamentals of publisher business models have not changed, and libraries continue to face increases in serials pricing,” EBSCO reports. With university libraries telling EBSCO, “budgets for materials are not keeping pace with publishers’ annual price increases.” A case of charging what the market can’t bear.

Countdown to departure: Caroline McMillen to leave UniNewcastle in a year

Caroline McMillen will stand down as VC of the University of Newcastle in 12 months, after seven years in the job. “Through 2017, it has become clear to me that UniNewcastle has delivered a major slate of remarkable projects in the past few years, and that there is now a natural break at the end of 2018 which would offer the right timing for a transition to a new VC. I am therefore delighted that the chancellor has been gracious in agreeing to my change in plan to retire at the end of 2018,” she told staff yesterday.

Professor McMillen detailed “achievements in place” (which) “give me confidence that we have all of the capital in place – physical, intellectual, human, that positions UniNewcastle well for the future.” Her examples include; the $26m Jack Ma Foundation scholarship fund, the June opening of the CBD NeW Space which now houses the business and law faculty and the School of Creative Industries, and federal funding for the Central Coast medical school.

Plus this year, the university “moved into the top 1 per cent of the world’s universities.” In fact, a learned reader remarks, it was already there  – if the competitive set is the 26 000 institutions called universities recorded by the QS ranking. In June UniNewcastle  reported QS moving it up 21 places, to 224 in the world.

Morning Dr Thor, hello Dean Hela”

Universities would collapse without casuals, people who do much, in some unis perhaps most, of the teaching for less money and worse (well often no) benefits than permanent employees enjoy. If there was ever a proletariat in need of pals it is casuals and good on the NTEU for campaigning for them. The ACT branch is launching its “supercasuals” campaign on behalf of people, whose workloads mean they must be “ performing superhuman efforts everyday.” Like; “the magic marker: can you mark 6000 words in an hour? plus, “the invisibilist: can you disappear conveniently at the end of the semester?,” and “the time lord: do you have the power to stretch time?”  

Wait to Marvel hears about this.

Bright Shine on science

John Shine is the new president of the Australian Academy of Science. The biochemist and molecular biologist takes over from Andrew Holmes. Other academy fellows newly elected to the academy’s council are: Elaine Sadler (foreign secretary), Hans Bachor (education and public awareness), Wendy Hoy (biological sciences), Marilyn Anderson (biological sciences), Frances Separovic (physical sciences), Halina Rubinsztein-Dunlop (physical sciences). They take over in May.

The future of course accreditation lies with regulation

The people in professional associations who accredit university courses for practise generally do a good job, but when they are idiosyncratic, self-serving or slow it can be hell for teaching institutions. A newly released report for the Commonwealth Government’s Higher Education Standards Panel sets out how the 100 or so bodies that accredit courses are going and what they can do better.

The report, by consultants PhillipsKPA found 100 or so bodies that accredit courses for practise. Other than 14 health professions, they are generally self-regulating committees of professional associations, which can be laws unto themselves, notably those that use accreditation to regulate the workforce; “There is a perception in some professions that accreditation is about controlling numbers who enter the profession rather than societal or economic need,” the report states.

Accrediting committees can also make like hard for providers;

“the aggregate effect of coping with idiosyncratic and excessive or unreasonable demands for information and compliance from some accrediting agencies is significant, expensive and problematic. This is particularly true for smaller institutions and for non-self-accrediting providers with smaller budgets and staff profiles who have the added layer of course accreditation by TEQSA.”

There are also inherent problems with different positions on English language standards, innovation in teaching and learning and state-specific requirements.

The report includes specific reforms that all seem eminently achievable with good-will and working with what institutions can already get from government regulation of institutions; “most providers have noted with approval an increasing trend for accreditation criteria to be aligned with the regulatory requirements of the HESF, TEQSA and the AQF, with a greater focus on outcomes and less prescription of inputs,” PhillipsKPA suggest.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham says he is now waiting on advice from HESP.

Career height for Hill

Keith Hill from Curtin University will receive life membership from the Australian Association of Gerontology this week. Professor Hill is head of the school of physiotherapy and exercise science at Curtin.

We watch China’s university education and research with awe and envy says the Group of Eight’s Thomson

Group of Eight CEO Vicki Thomson must have delighted many in her Shanghai audience yesterday when she spoke at the 7th International Conference at World Class Universities. Ministers in Canberra who will closely read her speech, not so much.

“It is fair to say that from Australia we watch with awe, and more than a little envy, at the determined prioritisation of university education and research in China,” Ms Thomson said.

She went on to set a stark contrast with Australia, with six prime ministers in ten years and nine education ministers in a decade. And while Australia has arguably its most highly educated federal cabinet, “they have yet to translate this support into policy settings that would see Australia’s universities and their research capacity nurtured.”

Nor, she said, is there community support for what universities achieve.

“A higher percentage of our community than ever before can now access higher education, but, in parallel, universities are encountering a tide of community and political hostility.”

The Group of Eight, she added, was up to the challenge, building, in the words of a Chinese proverb windmills, not walls, as the populist winds blow strong. “The future is in our hands and we are there to deliver it,” she said.

It was a speech of many strengths but the bit her Chinese listeners will remember will be the six PMs in a decade – it couldn‘t, CMM suspects they will say, happen here.

Teacher education: regulation set to stay

Regulatory rigour of teacher education has a price, set out in the PhillipsKPA report on profession accreditation. One university states accrediting a big course can cost $100k and regional universities complain about the long-existing problem of classroom placements. And institutions with on-line teacher education courses complain that accreditors are “operating with a cultural construct of on-campus, face-to-face delivery of lectures, tutorials and workshops to students who live within a close proximity to the campus.”

And then there are the states; “anecdotal evidence suggests that a significant difficulty facing providers is the tendency for individual state and territory regulatory authorities to add further requirements to the national standards and procedures adding more layers to information requirements or to take more restrictive interpretations than might have been intended. Multiple layers of regulation and multiple jurisdictions for many providers add to the cost and administrative burden,” PhillipsKPA reports.

But the minister does not sound especially sympathetic. “When we came to government in 2013 one of the key priorities we identified was the need to improve teacher quality and better prepare new teachers for the classroom. … A key element of this is the development of a national set of standards and procedures for the accreditation of initial teacher education programs, which was endorsed by all state and territory education ministers,” Simon Birmingham says.