plus Merlin makes nice: Crossley calls for conversations on UNSW teaching timetable

The big four facts on gender discrimination in STEM

and Sydney and Federation unis expand  into China

Lloyd at warp speed

A learned reader reported Friday that University of South Australia VC David Lloyd told a seminar that the question to ask oneself when facing a complex question was, “what would Captain Kirk do?” It’s true, “One of the valid courses of action is to blow up the enterprise from time to time,” Professor Lloyd tells CMM.


UNSW to discuss new teaching schedule 

For a week or so it seemed there would be no complaints at UNSW where management is proposing a new timetable, three ten week terms plus an optional five week summer semester, (CMM October 28). This, DVC Education Merlin Crossley explains, is good for students (more flexibility to manage load), staff (focus more on teaching or have additional research time) and on not bad for management, “allowing us to welcome more students onto our modern but increasingly bustling campus.”

But learned readers warn staff suspect they are being sold a pedagogical pup which will intensify work. Professor Crossley responded on Friday, acknowledging the changes involved “challenges” and announcing “small group forums” to discuss how students, teaching and professional staff will deal with them. The groups start meeting next week.

Pundits on polls

A learned reader points to Friday’s announcement of a coming special issue of the International Journal of Market Research on accurately measuring public opinion. “Who says academics are slow to react to world events?” the reader asks. The issue will appear in early 2018, plenty of time for the congressional mid-terms.

Cuts at Curtin

Curtin University will not renew fixed term contract staff in the humanities in what management says is an unavoidable measure to deal with anticipated declines in revenue. However university observers suggest this has less to do with budget problems than part of a push to rebuild reserves, which have declined against target due to previous over optimistic forecasting.

The case for cuts is being driven by PVC Humanities Alan Dench, who joined Curtin from UWA in June. Professor Dench proposes the work of fixed term teaching staff to go be picked up in part by research only academics.

“I will do some teaching myself next year (at least a few lectures) and other members of the PVC’s office are also looking at how they can make a contribution to teaching. I would especially encourage research academics to take the opportunity to look again at how they can get into the classroom (real or virtual). Having the chance to interact with research staff is very important to students, from first year to masters levels, and if we are serious about Curtin developing further as a research oriented university, in all that we do, then we need to put our best researchers in touch with our students,” he has told staff.

Just how much Humanities can hope to save by sacking contract staff and requiring research only academics to teach is unclear given there are only 150 fixed term teaching and research academics across the university.

While Professor Dench says, “there is no choice but to cut the salary bill,” he did not mention wage negotiations now underway (CMM November 3).

But Gabe Gooding from the National Tertiary Education Union is not convinced by the case for cuts, pointing to the university’s $65m surplus in the last year.

“The announcement that contracts will not be renewed will be devastating for the staff concerned as well as for students who will inevitably experience declining teaching quality. The proposal that teaching duties be taken over by research staff is particularly problematic as it has the potential to both compromise quality of teaching and research productivity,” she says.


Get the word out

Facts are troublesome things, said John Adams in 1770 and good on the Chief Scientist’s Office using them to nail the big myths about women in STEM. “False perceptions about women’s aptitude, interest and experience in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are holding back progress in science, and society,” Roslyn Prinsley, Amber S. Beavis, Nicholas Clifford-Hordacre write in a brief paper which should go to every employer in the country.

No, they explain, males are not innately better at maths than females; there is ample evidence that gender does not drive innate ability but social expectations shape performance. And women are interested in careers in physics, engineering and IT, demonstrated by participation rates in cultures where they are welcome in the disciplines. As to pay, men in STEM earn 25 per cent more – and it is not because women take years off to raise children. Those without kids also earn less than comparable men. The authors additionally show the idea research careers are open to all is nonsense. Women hold 50 per cent of postgrad degrees in natural and physical science but just 17 per cent of professorial posts.

So what’s to do? “Leaders and institutions must take an active approach to improving equality and diversity, and tackling both conscious and unconscious bias,” the authors argue. Which is why papers like this is so important – there is not much point publishing it unless the men who need it read it. CMM assumes the Chief Scientist’s team has a plan to get the word out.



The Australian way to China

Federation U to export courses:In its second major Asian initiative in a week Federation University has lodged a joint application with Hebei University of Science and Technology, in Shijiazhuang, requesting Chinese Government permission for a joint teaching venture there. It follows work which began four years ago to teach Fed U’s Bachelor of Environmental Science at HUST. If the new proposal is approved four new Federation U degrees will be added with total enrolments of 350 students. HUST has 33 000 students in undergraduate science, engineering and HASS programmes.

Sydney U establishes first-ever China centre: The University of Sydney has launched it’s first-ever offshore facility a centre located in an industrial park in the “historic and beautiful” city of Suzhou, west of Shanghai. As well as teaching, holding seminars and so forth and so on, the centre will “act as an incubator for joint Australia-China research programmes and be a base for university staff when in China.“Today we have around 12 000 Chinese students studying at our campuses in Sydney and more than 200 academic staff studying China directly or collaborating with Chinese researchers. However, despite the closeness of our relationship the University of Sydney has never had a physical address in China, until now,” the university announces.

But how long will China do it our way?: Stories of ever-closer connections between Australian universities is surely money, sorry music, to vice chancellors’ hearts. But you have to wonder how long it will last before the Chinese start suggesting that we should have a go at doing things their way. As Simon Margison asks (CMM March 2) “Whereas the western tradition encourages singularity and universality of thought, with the disciplines each pursuing their universal claims in separation from each other, Chinese thinking encourages creative fusion, often for practical ends. Could this become a signal feature of the evolving East Asian university?”

Chinese scholar Hui Meng from Jilin University addresses the same issue in the new issue of the Australian Journal of Education; “the world’s knowledge production centre may not permanently be located in the west.”

“Theories and concepts from eastern countries such as China can be regarded as ‘alternative resources’ to the dominant western academic culture. Informed by this concept, … and develops a Chinese educational triad: ‘teaching, learning and doing’, as pedagogical strategies to make such resources more comprehensible and engaging to the western audience, many of whom do not understand Chinese language, so that they can join the academic conversation and contribute to the internationalisation of Australian research education.”

Notre Dame deal

Enterprise bargaining at Western Australian public universities is now at the arguing over money stage with Edith Cowan and Murdoch managements making pay offers that do not impress the union (CMM November 3).

But at the WA branch of the University of Notre Dame Australia peace, perfect peace prevails. NDA runs on a different industrial timetable to the other universities with an enterprise agreement to be put to staff from the end of the week. The union is urging members to agree, pointing to a provision of ten days paid leave for workers dealing with domestic violence. The proposal also includes a 3 per cent pay rise next year, on top of 3 per cent paid this. This compares to the 3.75 per cent in total Edith Cowan is offering four years, and the 3.5 per cent proposed by Murdoch management.

Elite NZ awards

The Royal Society of New Zealand has announced the early to mid career Rutherford Fellowships for 2016. The ten fellows will receive NZ$ 800 000 over five years. They are: Baptiste Auguie, Victoria U of Wellington (nano optics and spectroscopy). Federico Baltar, University of Otago, (marine biology). Adam Hartland, University of Waikato, (environmental geochemistry). Huw Horgan, Victoria University of Wellington, (Antarctic research). Yoshihiro Kaneko, GNS Science (earthquakes). Jenny Malmstrom, University of Auckland, (nanotechnology and materials chemistry). Duncan McMillan, University of Canterbury (biomembrane nanotechnology). Jeremy Owen, Victoria University of Wellington (antibiotics). Nicole Roughan, University of Auckland (jurisprudence). Virginia Toy, University of Otago (geology).