here’s an explanation of attrition that will interest Minister Birmingham  

plus union wants iron-clad free-speech protection at the University of Melbourne  

James Cook explores a footy sponsorship

and UWA is very keen to explain its medical education credentials


Throwback or throw-up

A learned reader of a certain age, returning to study at the University of Sydney reports; “I thought I was enrolling in a flash sort of university – sandstone and all that high-class palaver. It looks, however, like nothing much has changed since my own undergrad days. Set up the beer pong kids!!” For evidence she submits a photo taken in front of the university’s gothic pile with a sign identifying Barff Rd.

(dis)Oriented week

There’s a reason why kids on campus this morning are under-orientated, anything up to half of them could have no clue how to find what they need – and that’s not just coffee. New research by the three South Australian universities finds that 51 per cent of students of students straight from school find it difficult to decide what to study. Project researcher Andrea Parks from the University of South Australia says the study, based on a survey of Year 12 students in 67 SA high schools, found 90 per cent investigate study choices but over a third struggle to understand their university options in areas of interest and just over 30 per cent are not certain of the courses and content they would study in first year.

Part of the problem is that school career counsellors are stretched and university’s school liaison teams on visits do not always have the attention of over-stretched Y12 students. Ms Parks says there is “some suggestion” in the data that increased collaboration among universities could help with this.

She adds the team hopes to use the completed research for a national strategy to support prospective students on study choices and “foster engagement, retention and attainment.”

This strikes CMM as a very good idea indeed. For a start universities are wasting buckets of marketing money convincing kids to enrol and then losing them because what young people thought they would get isn’t what’s offered. Education Minister Simon Birmingham also spent last year warning “universities must take responsibility for those students they choose to enrol and ensure they have the capabilities and support to succeed,” CMM January 28 2016) and he is expected to establish rewards and punishments over attrition in his forthcoming higher education policy.

Hard work for not much

The Australian Business Deans Council is quick to point out its members graduate half the students in the booming international market, (CMM yesterday). A learned reader points out they could equally add that business faculties don’t see much of the money they make as central administrations take a big slice off the top.

UniMelbourne union worried about academic right to comment

University of Melbourne union members meet today to discuss strategy in the imminent round of enterprise bargaining (Alan Gilbert building, 8.15am and 1pm). While management has told staff that its proposals for separate academic and professional agreements will put chickens in every pot and introduce golden ages of serenity (and productivity) the National Tertiary Education Union is not having any of it.

According to the comrades, management wants to cut pay for casual academic staff, take professional staff out of the national classifications framework, “link salaries to an unstated ‘efficiency factor’, among other offences.

One that stands out is the union’s claim that management wants the power to sack academic staff for “engaging in unpopular public comment.” A discipline power around this was certainly on the university’s agenda last winter (CMM August 1) until staff complaints led to management promising to “preserve, defend and promote the traditional principles of academic freedom in the conduct of its affairs,” (CMM August 11).

However, the union said then that the right to comment needs to be codified in the new agreement. CMM tried yesterday, without success, to learn management’s response.

Honour from India

UNSW professor and “internationally renowned waste innovator” Veena Sahajwalla is honoured by India, being made a Jubilee Professor by the Academy of Sciences there. Professor Sahajwalla works on recycling the unrecyclable, such as tyres, plastics and industrial waste.

With Greg gone it’s up to Arthur

Ever-energetic Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced a $4m gut health research centre at the UNSW St George and Sutherland Hospitals Clinical School. It’s just one of the many announcements about the power of research the energetic minister has made since his move from innovation and science in the recent shuffle. A couple of weeks back Mr Hunt said medical research was one of his portfolio’s four pillars (CMM February 9).

He is certainly missed by innovation policy observers who suggest he had big plans to push the portfolio. There was talk of continuing work to update the Innovation Agenda and Mr Hunt was said to be keen on university-industry innovation precincts, perhaps some outside inner-city university hipster hubs. But the policy perturbation has passed since Mr Hunt’s move with his successor, Arthur Sinodinos sticking to routine announcements. This is not to underestimate the astute Arthur who understands that politics is the art of the fundable. But while the electorate needs convincing, the research community adores the Innovation Agenda and needs reassuring that Prime Minister Turnbull’s optimism for research driven growth is still live.

UWA prepares for competition in med ed

Curtin University must be getting ready to launch its new medical school, if promotions by the University of Western Australia are any indication. On Tuesday there was video of executive dean of health and medical sciences Wendy Erber celebrating the UWA’ med school’s 60th anniversary and mentioning the 4000 graduates and research it has produced. She was followed by Vice Chancellor Dawn Freshwater, announcing $7m for state of the art refurbed teaching and learning facilities that will transform medical and dental education, “beyond recognition.” “We are committed to the student experience at this university,” she said.

“We’re thrilled to welcome our largest intake of medical students from rural WA – will help WA’s rural doctor shortage,” the university announced yesterday, with supporting vox pops of med students keen to make a difference.

Local hero

University of Newcastle radiation oncologist Mike Fay is the first recipient of the Hunter Medical Research Institute’s three-year mid-career fellowship for studying brain cancer.

 Straight talk from Thomson

Yesterday Education Minister Simon Birmingham contemplated the pleasures of working with new UA chair Margaret Gardner; “Congratulations on the appointment – looking forward to working together,” he tweeted yesterday. Ditto Labor education shadow Tanya Plibersek; “looking forward to working with you over your term.” Labor research spokesman Kim Carr tweeted much the same: “I look forward to us working together to protect research infrastructure in the coming year.”

But the Group of Eight’s Vicki Thomson got straight to the point: “Australia’s university sector faces a difficult and complex time, beset with government policy inertia, Professor Gardner’s well-recognised abilities for finding successful negotiating pathways and delivering results is exactly what the sector needs at its helm.”

Curiously, the other three university lobbies were silent on Professor Gardner’s election (not appointment).

Name of the game

A university is nothing without a name-up-there on-game-day footy sponsorship. Victoria U has the Western Bulldogs, Western Sydney U the GWS Giants, Curtin U the Freemantle Dockers and so on. James Cook sponsors the Townsville Fire, in the Women’s National Basketball League, which is good – but isn’t footy. JCU gets this, yesterday becoming “official tertiary education partner” with the North Queensland Cowboys team in the National Rugby League competition. But what will JCU get out of the deal, apart from irritating local rival Scott Bowman, VC of CQU? The club will work with JCU’s schools programme, university students will undertake placements with the club and cowboys’ players will have “study options” at the university. Good-oh, but naming rights it’s not.