Accounting for tastes

Desirée Kozlowski (Southern Cross U) is conducting “the national pleasure audit”

“We will learn about where people find pleasure and how much of it they find. We will also be able to describe how pleasure relates to wellbeing and other aspects of life,” the brief states.

The survey asks for demographic data and respondents’ self- perceptions before asking them to rate specific emotions and experiences and what they were doing when they last felt them.

Assuming people can remember back to pre-pandemic times when they had fun.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

“It is a prime national interest – of all nations – that politicians, the masters of the here and now, avoid interfering with research,” Ofer Gal (Uni Sydney) on the dangers of the government’s National Interest Test.

Plus Margaret Lloyd (QUT) on how she became one of “those” mature-age students. This week’s selection by Commissioning Editor Sally Kift’s celebrated series, Needed now in teaching and learning

Brief WA welcome for international students

The ever-surprising WA Government has again changed the rules for international students who want to study in the state

To enter WA they now have to be in Australia by 12.01 Saturday morning.

But why then?  Feb 5 was the date when the state government originally planned to open its borders to all, which it later decided not to do (CMM January 24) before deciding to let internationals arrive after all (CMM January 28).

But now only international students who are, or can get to Australia by very early on Feb 5 can come, (there are no direct flights to Perth from international students’ home countries). Vax rules and quarantining apply for those that do.

Study Perth, which is doing its best to keep international students informed, promotes the state as “a place like no other”.

They got that bit right.

Coalition pitches research for the election

Morrison Government announces a $1.6bn research translation fund

Called “Australia’s Economic Accelerator”  it will fund research with commercial potential and then application for the government’s six national manufacturing priorities, resources and critical minerals, food and beverage, medical products, recycling and clean energy, defence, plus space

The three-stage process consists of,

* 100 grants of up to $500 000 a year for research, culled to

* 36 $5m projects, requiring 50 per cent commercial partner investment, reduced to,

* “main sequence venture”  consisting of $150m in two co-investment funds

There is also $296m over ten years for, 800 industry PhDs and 800 industry fellows plus $150 million for CSIRO to back start-ups and commercialise research.

The funding appears additional to the $240m unis-CSIRO “trailblazer fund” and the emphasis on applied research funded by the ARC, announced by acting education minister Stuart Robert before Christmas.


Lobbies back government’s research sell

Stuart Robert made the case on ABC TV, yesterday

“This is all about commercialisation and how we take our universities and their world class, blue-sky research and commercialise it. It will take the great work our researchers do, and then build our economy through it. So it is a substantial step forward in taking our universities into that commercial space,” the acting education minister said.

When asked if this is ironic given the research sector “has felt completely neglected” the acting education minister replied, “there is over $2.8 billion that goes into research every year. A lot of it blue-sky research. This is now about saying let’s anchor that now in our six modern manufacturing priorities. And let’s get that research commercialised and turned into jobs. And of course, economic activity.”

The interview moved on – as will many that follow. Whatever the issues around his vetoing Australian Research Council approved research and the government’s focus on research translation, from now until the election Mr Robert will keep talking about the spend and the sell, which may be enough to make research an election plus for the coalition.

It would be expensive for Labor to now outbid the government on funding and arguing the government is ignoring HASS, and blue-sky research in general, would  take up time perhaps better spent on issues more easily explained to voters.

 University and research groups were quick to back the government’s plan

The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering called the Economic Accelerator announcement, “a welcome boost to the research sector” (which) “will play an important role in transforming early-stage research into commercial success and spurring a technology powered, human driven future for Australians.” While referring politely to the importance of “curiosity-driven research which creates the ideas for new commercial opportunities,” the academy applauded, “the government’s recognition that we need a new breed of research entrepreneur.”

The Australian Technology Network called the government’s whole applied research package, “one of the more significant long-term and scalable investments in Australia’s research, innovation and ideas in recent years.

Cooperative Research Australia was, “delighted to see a substantial investment in Australia’s research capability and investment in industry-research collaboration.”

Group of Eight “has long advocated for funding for early-stage research commercialisation, a translational research fund and closer cooperation between universities and industry. Commercialisation endeavours are only as good as the research we undertake and the more that is informed by industry, the more it will be commercially relevant and boost Australia’s global competitiveness.”

Regional Universities Network was, as ever focused. “Regional universities have a strong history of partnering with industry to find real solutions to real problems and increase not only the regional prosperity of Australia but also the quality of regional life.”

Science and Technology Australia saw, “vast potential” for the research commercialisation fund to “’level-up’ Australia’s research commercialisation success and generate stronger returns.”

Universities Australia did what it could to protect all the disciplines researched at member institutions. Chair John Dewar (La Trobe U) described “additional investment to assist the commercialisation of great ideas” as “very welcome” but added, “new ideas come in every discipline … securing predictable, adequate support for Australia’s basic research capability, as well as commercialisation, will be vital into the future.”

Guess which bit of that the government will quote.

’22 the year for student engagement


Despite teachers and education administrators giving it their all in the move to on-line delivery for many students the lack of engagement with their teachers and peers had a noticeable, negative impact on their learning experience.

As students return to face-to-face learning in most institutions this semester, time spent on student engagement and re-engagement will be critically important.

While data on the impact of COVID-19 and the mass shift to on-line learning on student attrition is not readily available yet (in higher education the 2020 student data is yet to be published and completion rates in VET are notoriously tricky to measure); nonetheless there is evidence available which shows the pandemic has had a detrimental impact on student engagement in both VET and higher education.

The 2021 VET Student Outcomes Survey shows that almost one-third (32.5 per cent) of students who discontinued their training in 2021 cited COVID-19 as the reason for leaving. The two most significant challenges these “non-completers” cited when learning shifted on-line were the lack of face-to-face interaction with trainers/teachers/instructors (cited by 60.3 per cent) and a lack of face-to-face interaction with peers (47 per cent).

In higher education, the 2020 Student Experience Survey results show a precipitous drop in learner engagement (with just 44 per cent of students giving a positive rating down from 60 per cent the previous year). This in turn impacted the quality of the student experience – just 68 per cent of students gave a positive rating in 2020 compared with 78 per cent of students in 2019.

Despite teachers and education administrators giving it their all in the move to on-line delivery during the pandemic, for many students the lack of engagement with their teachers and peers had a noticeable, negative impact on their learning experience.

The start of the 2022 academic year is the obvious time to address student engagement. It may well be that after two years of predominantly on-line study new methods and engagement approaches are needed – as students now increasingly look for hybrid online and off-line options in their learning which reflect their experiences in all other facets of their lives.

The worry is that if this window of opportunity is missed to re-engage students in their studies, then it is likely we will see higher rates of attrition in both VET and higher education.

In the latest episode of the free ‘What now? What next?’ podcast Claire Field discusses the role of EdTech in student engagement with Shaunak Roy from Yellowdig.

Grads have got what employers want, again

The Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching 2021 survey of employers reports direct supervisors of graduates are “highly satisfied with the overall quality of graduates”

Same as in the other five years of the survey where satisfaction was constant, from 83.6 per cent in 2017 to 85.3 per cent last year.

Quality under control:  “This is a strong result considering the disruption over the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic to both higher education programs and the graduate labour market,” the QILT team comments.

And no, supervisors do not think grads are bereft of the basics. Their take on “foundation skills”  (general literacy, numeracy and communication and investigate and integrate knowledge) was 93 per cent positive in ‘21– at the upper end of the 1.7 per cent spread of scores since 2016.

The grads managers really rate:  are in fields where study relates to work. Overall satisfaction is highest with engineering (90.4 per cent) and health grads (89.2 per cent). Ag and environment (80.8 per cent), IT (81.4 per cent ) and creative arts (81.5 per cent) are the lowest categories.

How unis did on-line during the pandemic: This year’s results don’t completely answer that, the survey uses three years of data, starting with 2019, before the pandemic sent students to study at home. But employer satisfaction is largely in-line with last year’s results. The system average was 84.6 per cent then and 84.7 per cent now.

The take-away: “Overall, there appears to be a strong relationship between skills and knowledge acquired by higher education graduates and the requirements of their jobs after graduation. This result strongly affirms the value of higher education qualifications in terms of preparation for work,” QILT concludes.

Appointments, achievements

Tania Brown, COO of Uni Wollongong’s SMART infrastructure research facility is elected deputy mayor of Wollongong (the city that is). She is a Labor member of its council.

Chris Lonsdale steps up to act as Deputy Provost at Australian Catholic U. He covers for Meg Stuart, now Interim Provost following the unexpected resignation of Belinda Tynan.