NTEU has a seat at the summit

National Tertiary Education Union National President Alison Barnes will represent university staff at the Jobs and Skills Summit

The union joins Universities Australia as a higher education organisation in the room where big things will happen.

Dr Barnes will be joined by NTEU committee member Sharlene Leroy-Dyer (Uni Queensland) in her role as deputy chair of the ACTU Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy Committee.

Dr Barnes nominates casual employment conditions and underpayment of university staff as key issues.

“Universities play a vital role in developing critical thinking skills that are essential for a vibrant democracy. Funding research and education needs to be a priority for government and universities,” she says.

She is running for re-election in fiercely contested campaign.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

“The pandemic provided the opportunity to develop new, innovative and inclusive on-line work integrated learning experiences”– the Australian Collaborative Education Network sets the scene for a series in Commissioning Editor Sally Kift’s “Needed now in learning and teaching”

plus Ginny Barbour (Open Access Australasia) on the White House’s big move on research open access move. It’s a global game-changer, she explains.

with James Guthrie (Macquarie U) who urges the University Chancellors Council to make mandatory its now voluntary code on VC remuneration


The QILT results are out Sarah Crossing and Jack Goodman from Studiosity discuss what they reveal for learner engagement (it goes down, cheating goes up), friction between teaching and research rankings and the alarming evidence that international students are way less happy than locals. A stand-out discussion on the most important student opinion measure of the year, (Expert Opinion ep 12) HERE.

and Sven Rogge (Australian Institute of Physics) on the ARC and pre-prints, research translation and why medicine gets so much money, (Expert Opinion ep, 11)  HERE

Minister Clare ends era for the Australian Research Council

Education Minister Jason Clare wants a remake

He appoints a review to advise whether the council’s “role and purpose” remain relevant, it’s operating model is “fit for purpose” and consider how “it can meet current and future needs and maintain the trust of the research sector”

The review is led by Margaret Sheil (QUT vice chancellor and former ARC CEO), with Susan Dodds (La Trobe U) and Mark Hutchinson (Uni Adelaide and president of Science and Technology Australia)

and he cancels next year’s Excellence for Research in Australia

Two weeks after the Australian Research Council proposed to pilot a new ranking( CMM August 18)) the national review of research performance is off. “In light of the sector’s concerns about workload, I ask that you discontinue preparations for the 2023 ERA round and commence work to develop a transition plan, in consultation with the sector and my Department,” Mr Clare tells the Council.

While upping the pressure on research performance

The minister also wants “impact data to enhance the reporting on the impact value of grants funded so that more robust evaluations of ARC funded programmes and initiatives can be undertaken”

And that means identifying elite basic research

He calls for “mechanisms” to identify, “the highest quality university research in Australia, particularly basic research, beyond the current functions of grants reporting”

Plus  focusing on the government’s applied research priorities

Mr Clare wants to “drive more focused and scaled investment in key national challenges. It is important that the Linkage Programme delivers impact with industry and aims to take research further along the translation pathway.”

Linkage Grants (40 per cent of ARC funding) will be focused on priorities in the Government’s National Reconstruction Fund rather than the previous government’s national manufacturing priorities.

Oh, and could the ARC stop messing people about

“It is my view that the National Interest Test (in research applications) should continue, but should be clearer, simpler and easily understood,” Mr Clare states.

“I also ask that the ARC advise me of any regulatory or legislative changes required to ensure grant rounds are delivered on time and to a transparent, predetermined timeframe.”

Unis Aus on practical workforce planning

On Sunday Vic Premier Daniel Andrews announced the state will fund study for 10 000 nursing and midwifery students

Which was nice, but where are the training places they will need for professional registration, experts asked.

Good question. Thus Universities Australia called yesterday for, “for an expansion of clinical placements available to students studying health-related degrees to maintain and grow Australia’s health workforce.”

As UA’s Catriona Jackson puts it, ““Universities cannot produce more health graduates unless health services open up more clinical placements so people can complete their training.”

It’s part of UA’s “here to help” strategy ahead of the Jobs and Skills Summit – it has also proposed longer classroom placements for teacher education students “to make them more productive sooner,” (CMM August 8)

Uni Newcastle and Charles Sturt owe workers millions

Both breached their enterprise agreements

The Fair Work Ombudsman states that both universities identified underpayments and reported them

Uni Newcastle underpaid 7 595 employees $6 269,241 across 2014-20

Mainly casual professional academic and teaching staff were dudded, with the university not paying correct overtime and penalty rates, underpaying meal allowances and not providing minimum engagement hours.

“Deficiencies” in the payroll system and “incorrect application” of enterprise agreements are the attributed reasons.

Charles Sturt U did not pay $3 237 390 it should have to 2526 staff between 2015-22

The FWO states underpayments occurred due to not paying casual professional staff minimum hours and underpayment of casual academics – including not paying PhD qualified staff the specified teaching rate and not paying required preparation time for classes.

The Ombudsman states the largest underpayments were at CSU Bathurst and Wagga Wagga, with the maths and computing school owing most.

What’s next

Both universities have signed “enforceable undertakings” with the FWO and must pay owed wages plus interest and super by end October (Uni Newcastle) and by February (CSU) and demonstrate how they will ensure it does not happen again

The Ombudsman is not done yet

“We expect to be taking further enforcement action against other institutions.”

Including Uni Melbourne, where an investigation into alleged underpayment of casual academics is “ongoing.”

This is separate to the FWO’s Federal Court case alleging the university  “coerced and took adverse action against two casual academics to stop them from claiming payment for work performed.”

Claire Field on upskilling and reskilling: the differences matter


 Many of us, myself included, use the terms simultaneously and almost interchangeably as we describe the demand for new skills in the changing world of work.

This week’s Jobs and Skills Summit will look to tackle the immediate shortage of skilled workers but employers and the tertiary sector are also looking for reforms to help avoid future skill shortages. Hence, much of the pre-Summit positioning has focussed on funding people’s first post-school qualifications, particularly in VET.

What we should not miss sight of though is that the profound technological, demographic, and environmental changes we are living through will require a commitment to lifelong learning for decades to come.

As the new Federal MP for Parramatta, Andrew Charlton forecast pre-pandemic in his work at AlphaBeta, “an average worker’s share of training after the age of 21 (will) increase from 19 per cent today to 41 per cent in 2040.”

Universities and VET providers are adapting to meet these changing demands – helping existing workers learn new skills as their jobs change or as they change jobs. But returning to my opening question – are we talking about the same kind of learning when we talk about upskilling versus reskilling?

Josephine Lang at Uni Melbourne’s School of Professional and Continuing Education (MSPACE) suggests shorter forms of learning are needed for upskilling than for reskilling (albeit reskilling may still not need to involve a full qualification). This sharper contrast between upskilling and reskilling seems to me to be a useful one as policy makers and educators look at how to fund and how to design further education and training for the changing world of work.

The new National Microcredentials Framework has sufficient flexibility to capture both upskilling and reskilling activities.

It is also worth noting that the AlphaBeta report on Future Skills was not prepared for government, a university, or even a think tank. Instead it was prepared for Google which, like other tech companies, has significantly expanded the number of free and/or cheap courses it offers through a variety of partners including Australia’s SkillFinder, to help meet the need for tech talent.

This in turn poses both opportunities and challenges for the tertiary sector and is the focus of my PhD research (more on that in a future column).

 Claire Field is the host of the ‘What now? What next? Podcast, where she spoke to Josephine Lang and James Horne (Balance Internet, SkillFinder) HERE

John Byron on Clare’s good call

The federal government is open for business on substantial, practical and evidence-led reform in higher education


Yesterday federal Minister for Education, Hon Jason Clare, gave the keynote address to the Australian Financial Review Higher Education Summit in Sydney, and made a couple of fairly consequential announcements. The headline item was that he has commission a small panel chaired by Professor Margaret Sheil, QUT Vice-Chancellor (and my boss), to conduct the government’s foreshadowed review of the Australian Research Council (ARC). Margaret will be joined by Professor Susan Dodds, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Industry Engagement) at La Trobe University, and Professor Mark Hutchinson, Director of the Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics and Professor of Medicine at the University of Adelaide.

Less prominent but equally consequential for many academics’ working weeks over the coming year was his accompanying announcement that he has instructed the ARC to discontinue preparations for the 2023 round of the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) exercise, on the grounds that ERA extracts a significant effort from government and universities alike, and is in need of reform. The Minister has asked the ARC to deliberate, consult and come back to him with ideas for a leaner, data-driven approach, informed by peer review.

CMM readers may recall that I called for a pause to ERA in these pages back in April, on the basis that ERA has now realised the lion’s share of its potential. In its day, ERA drove a profoundly important shift in the orientation of Australian university research from a preoccupation with quantity to a serious focus on quality. The achievement of this objective over the last dozen years is demonstrated by our sector’s global performance improvement over that period, on any measure you care to name. But the effect has now virtually plateaued, and it is no longer that additional benefit is on offer from another iteration of this considerable investment of effort and resources.

I mention this not to take any credit – as I wrote back then, a lot of people had been talking along these lines for a while. It is an idea whose time has come. The credit goes to the minister, whose considered decision is the product of his inclination to take soundings, listen to experience and advice, respond to reasoned argument, and deliberate with seriousness of purpose.

This bodes well not only for the future of ERA – whatever that turns out to be – but also for the ARC Review and the wider Australian Universities Accord process. Yesterday’s announcements signal that the federal government is open for business on substantial, practical and evidence-led reform in higher education, in consultation with the sector and other engaged stakeholders. It is now up to us to respond in kind by informing those processes with constructive, creative and achievable ideas for improvement.

Dr John Byron is Principal Policy Adviser at QUT

English learning sector: now there’s a teacher shortage

It will have an impact in HE and VET


There’s no doubting the English learning sector was hit hard during the pandemic, losing 77 per cent of students 2019-21 and 79 per cent of the student week volume – a key measure of teaching. But now, when students are showing interest again, the sector is struggling to find teachers

According to Brett Blacker, CEO of English Australia “research shows that along with the student downturn, 75 percent (3,553) of the ELICOS sector’s workforce has been impacted by the pandemic. Even though a wage support scheme was in place for most of 2020, 35 percent (1663) of employees lost their jobs during this period.”

Feedback from the peak’s member colleges is that rehiring these teachers is proving to be difficult with many having found alternative employment. Understandable say CMM. The entire economy has shifted and finding secure, reliable work is at the top of most folks’ priority list.

Blacker point’s out failure to address the problem will see less students taught and “with 70% of ELICOS students moving into further academic study post their English course, the flow on effects will be felt in the Higher Education and vocational education sectors.

English Australia has talked with the feds ahead of the Jobs and Skills Summit, outlining three key measures to bolster the stocks of English teachers:

* changes to the working holiday visa (visas 417 and 462) durations to promote attractiveness;

* synchronising Commonwealth and state/territory skills on demand lists for teachers of English language programmes; and

* Subsidising costs of English Teaching qualifications (CELTA and TESOL), to promote them to local students.

“These proposed measures would be easy to implement and would have a significant impact in supporting the English language teaching sectors recovery and boosting Australia’s economy,” Mr Blacker says.

Dirk Mulder writes regularly for CMM on international education. He consults to English Australia

Appointment, achievements

Sach Jayasinghe becomes CEO of the Queensland Cyber Infrastructure Foundation. He is a former director of research infrastructure at QUT.

The 2022 WA science awards include: * early career: Qi Fang (UWA and Harry Perkins IMR) * mid-career: Ajmal Mian (UWA) * scientist of year: Kliti Grice (Curtin U).