Beyond the present crisis

A learned of chief scientists gathers in Canberra Wednesday week for the Academy of Technology and Engineering

Ian Chubb (2011-16), Alan Finkel (2016-ongoing) and Penny Sackett (2008-2011) will speak on the issue they see as crucial for Australia over the next decade.

There’s more in Mail

In Features this morning

Michael Sankey (Griffith U) on quickly scaling-up to teach on-line, don’t try for all the bells and whistles.

Sean Brawley (Macquarie U) on how universities dealt with the Spanish Flu.

Plus Dirk Mulder on the big-brief on teaching on line into China.

And Merlin Crossley (UNSW) on why we need stupidity in science research.

UTS considers appeal in research-performance case  

The Fair Work Commission found against the university last week in an unfair dismissal matter brought by bized academic Lucy Zhao

The university said Dr Zhao did not meet performance requirements for publishing in high ranking journals and had to go. But Fair Work Deputy President Sams said nothing-doing for a range of reasons. The one which will create conniptions in universities with specific publishing-performance targets is that while Dr Zhao researched for 40 per cent of her time, her good record on the other 60 per cent of her work means her performance overall isn’t unsatisfactory.

A UTS spokesperson tells CMM, “the university is disappointed by the decision given it followed the process in its enterprise agreement, and will now consider its options including the possibility of an appeal.”

An appeal that universities with similarly complex performance-metrics baked in academic enterprise agreement will hope UTS would win.

Deakin U to lecture on-line

Last week a Deakin U dean told staff to “keep calm and carry on”. A lot of work will now be on-line

 On Saturday afternoon Vice Chancellor Iain Martin emailed staff and students advising;

“Over the next week, we will progressively transition from in-person student attendance at large classes in lecture format, to on-line forms of delivery in our Cloud Campus. You will receive further information about this initiative in the next week.”

Professor Martin assured the D U community, “I must reiterate that our campuses are open, and the university continues to operate as usual.”  But, taking large lectures entirely on-line is an escalation from the position on Friday afternoon, when he advised, “large events and functions” were cancelled in-line with the government ban on assemblies of 500 people but otherwise the “core-operations” of the university were not impacted.

And it was sky-high above the message from Deakin U dean of science and engineering Karen Hapgood who urged the faculty, “to keep calm and carry on” during the week. We all need to continue to come to work and support our students and colleagues and maintain as much business as usual as possible,” she said.

The move of lectures to the cloud makes sense to observers of Deakin U; “The university promotes itself as the premiere ‘digital cloud university’ has invested many millions in the platform and loves to sing our praises about how capable we are,” one tells CMM.

A while coming: new CRCs announced

Three Cooperative Research Centres for Round 21 are finally announced, just quietly

Karen Andrews announced two new CRCs Friday, Transformations in Mining Economies and Future Energy Exports.

FenEx will, “improve the efficiency of existing LNG processes and the development of new exports like hydrogen.”

TiME will, “help keep jobs in regional communities, building on the strength of the resources and energy sectors.”

They follow Industry, Science and Technology Minister Andrews’ Sunday media-event last weekend for the new Reliable, Affordable, Clean Energy for 2030 CRC.

UWA is the FenEx research lead, joined by Curtin University, Queensland University of Technology, University of South Australia and Swinburne University.

Uni Queensland and UWA are research partners in TiME.

None of the announcements attracted much media interest which seemed a wasted opportunity for the government. Word is that the new CRCs knew they would be in business at the end of last year but according to Labor senator Kim Carr in Senate Estimates (March 4), announcements were delayed, “because the government is waiting on a convenient political timetable to make a public announcement about decisions that have been made for quite some time.”

COVID-19 update: how universities are responding

The ARC wants to help people who are struggling to meet application deadlines, as long as procedure is followed

The Australian Research Council advises it “is aware that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is affecting researchers and research organisations,” but it still business as usual for grant applications which are being administered, “in accordance with our standard processes.”

These include allowing late grant applications, “in exceptional circumstances” and extensions to post-award reporting deadlines where researchers and/or administrators “have been directly effected.”

Contrast with Marnie Hughes Warrington, new DVC Research and Enterprise at Uni SA; “the weekend gives me time to acknowledge how tough things are for researchers right now. I also want to thank all the professional and academic staff who are working to keep research going. Their quiet and selfless efforts are the best welcome to a university a DVCRE could have.”

Optimism at ANU

ANU went further than the government required Friday, cancelling all, all, “public events and social gatherings” to the end of semester on June 20. This will include the installation of Julie Bishop as chancellor which was already cancelled early last month (CMM February 6).

However, ANU is upbeat (relatively); “this additional precaution also ensures ANU can keep delivering its essential operations of teaching and research with minimal risk in the face of the rapidly evolving situation. Right now, the risk is very low. We are planning and acting now to help manage the future, not because of imminent threat.”

Deakin U commits to paying casual staff who are caught by the virus

“I am very aware of the potentially precarious financial position of casual staff during these times, and we undertake to pay casual staff who were scheduled to work and are unable to because of self-isolation requirements for the duration of the self-isolation period,” Vice Chancellor Iain Martin told staff Friday.

As will Monash U

The university makes it plain that casual/sessional staff are not entitled to isolation leave under the Enterprise Agreement but commits to providing it from March 11 to April 30.

Management also advises that the university’s Prato centre in Tuscany is subject to the Italian Government’s ban on teaching and public gatherings and that there are arrangements for staff to work remotely.

And Uni Queensland creates new sick-leave

As of today, “eligible staff” qualify for ten days COVID-19 leave. Staff who are not ill but need to self-isolate can also use the provision if they are not able to work from home.

Casual staff whose “projected rostered work has been cancelled as a result of COVID-19” and who can work from home “will be paid for the work you have done.”

But unis don’t have to answer the big-question yet

Which is whether they follow Macquarie U and pay casuals for two weeks if campuses are closed (CMM March 10). The exemption for universities from Friday’s ban on public assemblies of more than 500 people gets universities off that cash-flow crippling hook, for now.

However, Uni Sydney steps-up

Late Friday Vice Chancellor Michael Spence told staff that casual staff will be paid for COVID-19 illness as well as self-isolation for rostered hours in any two-week period. Plus, and it is a very big plus, “should campus close for a period, such leave will also be available to all casual staff who have not already access it.”

This makes Uni Sydney the first to follow Macquarie U which made this commitment last week (CMM March 10).

Dr Spence also announced an indefinite ban on “all university events or events hosted on our campuses” but “regular teaching and research activity” goes on, for now.

The university also announced its first COVID-19 case Sunday, stating six campus locations were “extensively cleaned” Sunday after a student tested-positive. The university and NSW health identified 80 people who were on contact with the student who are asked to self-isolate for 14 days. The joint statement states, “the current advice is the rest of the campus can continue to operate as normal.”

As to Uni Wollongong, don’t ask

Uni Wollongong is planning, “remote working arrangements for key personnel”. And for people who have to turn up to campus, “additional personal protective equipment supplies have been procured and are being prepared for distribution as required.”

Late Friday UoW was quick to act on the new ban on events with 500 plus people. It cancelled the annual student garden party scheduled for March 21.

As for consulting staff and their unions, it “will continue on an on-going basis.” But whatever support the university will offer, UoW does not want you read it here. “The university does not conduct its workplace relations via the media and so will not comment publicly on the details of its consultations with staff.

Or complain at Griffith U

The university says there are no confirmed cases at any campus, university facilities “are operating as usual”.  This is not good enough for the Nathan campus Student Representative Council. “COVID-19 does not care where mass gatherings take place and students have the right to choose to study off-campus during this time.” The SRC launched a petition about this Friday but says it was removed from the Nathan-Mount Gravatt SRC Facebook page. It wasn’t there when CMM looked Saturday afternoon

First case at UNSW

The university announced 8.50 last night that a bized student was positive for COVID-19 and was in self-isolation. It added that NSW Health advised he was not contagious while on campus.

But there’s some, sort-of, good news

International students who work as supermarket-shelve packers are now allowed to increase the hours they work – above the present 20 hours per fortnight in term.

Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge says supermarkets have asked for this to help them keep up with COVID-19 driven demand. There is no mention of a specific cap but the relaxation applies to international students with their existing employer in their present role.

“This is really something. One of the hard-fastest rules in HE, for the moment gone,” says Conor King from the Innovative Research Universities.

Curtin University is recruiting for women-only STEM appointments

The positions range from lecturer to professor and are in chemical, civil, mechanical and electrical engineering, computing and maths, minex, earth, life and planetary sciences. It is part of the university’s action plan to; “support and empower women in STEM disciplines.”

Curtin U is not on last month’s employers of choice list issued by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency – which seems strange. It was there last year – and the 15 before that (CMM February 26 2019).