Taken on trust

Uni Queensland’s library is surveying use of academic cheating services. There is no word if students have to complete their own entry to go in the prize-for-completing draw.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Shelley Kinash (Uni Southern Queensland) on helping new graduates get jobs. COVID-19 is making the hunt harder. Universities need to do more. New in Contributing Editor Sally Kift’s series, “Needed now in teaching and learning”.

And still fresh

Merlin Crossley (UNSW) on airlines and universities: they take us where we need to be

Marnie Hughes-Warrington (Uni SA) on why we need just one ERA, but effectively have two.

Curtin U staff vote to keep their pay rise

Staff reject a proposal to forgo a wage increase which management said would protect 90 jobs

The vote was 55 per cent against, with 56 per cent eligible employees turning-out. The campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union campaigned hard against the proposal calling it “opportunistic over-reach.”

The enterprise agreement variation management called for was part of plan to save $41m in staff costs, by far the largest component of cuts Curtin U management says it needs to make up $45m in COVID-19 caused losses. The university said foregoing the pay rise would quarantine 90 jobs. However, it would have left $30m still to be found and management told staff, there would be voluntary redundancies, “before other initiatives impacting staff numbers are implemented,” (CMM September 2).

The NTEU responded management could use reserves, cancel capital expenditure and reduce margin before calling on staff to take a hit.

“The majority rejection of the university’s proposal to freeze salaries sends an important message that staff are not convinced of the necessity to give up a pay increase in order to preserve jobs, and value the quality education you deliver, over protecting investment reserves and a profit at any cost, the union stated Saturday.

Vice Chancellor John Cordery responded to the vote with a warning, that, “the task of trying to deal with the financial challenges thrown up by the COVID-19 pandemic has become more difficult.”

Why it matters worms turn

Trigger alert for Nats MPs suspicious of university research

Swinburne U’s Ivan S Maksymov and Andrey Pototsky are corresponding authors on an igNoble Prize winning paper, “Excitation of Farady-like body waves in vibrated living earthworms.” The authors point to possible applications of finding in experiments in neuroscience and, note Nats, agriculture.

“Using vibrations one could monitor, understand and control the behaviour of some animals, such as earthworms and exploit them to sense and modify soil structure as well as to increase crop yields,”.

James Cook U staff back management savings proposal

It’s a big win by a tiny margin

The university’s proposal to vary the enterprise agreement was passed 51 per cent to 49 per cent, with 59 per cent of eligible staff turning out.

The vote means delaying a scheduled pay rise, longer Christmas close-downs in 2020 and ’21 and a voluntary leave purchase scheme, among other savings. In return Vice Chancellor Sandra Harding says there will be “a minimum” 70 jobs saved, no forced redundancies or stand-downs for the life of the agreement and “provisions” to assist fixed-term and casual staff, (CMM September 9 and 10)

The university took the calculated risk of putting its proposal to staff, without union agreement after talks failed on a joint approach (CMM September 14). Universities that put agreement variations to staff which campus unions oppose generally lose. A vote at ANU is the only recent exception to the rule, where management won and by the same minute margin as JCU, (50.46 per cent).

The next tests staff willingness to accept reduced employment conditions to protect jobs will be at Murdoch U and Victoria U, where managements propose enterprise agreement variations campus unions oppose.

Free advice (worth way more than what it costs)

Uni Sydney is in the market for a new VC and the professoriate wants to help

The campus association of professors has its own search committee and is making suggestions to the university Senate. Expert advice which won’t come with a search consultant’s fee.

As to incumbent Michael Spence, he seems happy to be going ,“I’ll say something now that I can say because I’m leaving the country! ,” he told a Senate committee hearing last week.

The universities researching beyond their means

There are 13 universities who fund research success with international student fees

Frank Larkins and Ian Marshman use discretionary income from international student fees to calculate the loss in revenue available to fund research as enrolments from overseas fall.

In a  new paper for the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education they warn that system-wide international students have been contributing 51 per cent of external research funding, but the pandemic means that this will fall to under 30 per cent from this year. There are 13 institutions which will likely be hit especially hard.

“The research investments made by these thirteen universities have resulted in each improving their international rankings in recent years. Consequently, university international research reputations are significantly at risk because of the research revenue shortfalls,” Larkins and Marshman warn.

Where the hit will be worse: On 2018 figures, they identify the universities more dependent on international student fees to fund research than external sources.

Those at most risk are; UTS and Deakin U (both 134 per cent) and Macquarie U (120 per cent)

A second group are above the system-average; Uni Sydney (86 per cent), Uni Melbourne (68 per cent), UNSW (63 per cent), QUT (56 per cent) and Griffith U (52 per cent).

However not all the Group of Eight have bet the lab on using international fees to fund research. Institutions below the all-uni average are, Uni Queensland (50 per cent), Monash U (42 per cent), Adelaide U (40 per cent) ANU (27 per cent) and UWA (26 per cent).

Why this is horrible for researchers: On the basis of anticipated falls in fee-income and declines in other revenue Larkins and Marshman also estimate a loss of 6 100 FTE research jobs – 11 per cent of the workforce.

“A highly-trained expert research workforce is critical to research success. Inevitable job losses will expose universities to curtailment of strategically important research programmes,” they warn.

And terrible for the country: “Without the same level of discretionary funding available for the next few years there is likely to be a significant loss of research momentum. This outcome will have enduring national and international economic and social consequences. It is unlikely that strengthening industry-university research cooperation will substantially offset the funding shortfall because of the low R&D performance of Australian businesses as a percentage of GDP,” they warn.

What can be done: Larkins and Marshman counsel against wholesale sackings of early career researchers. Rather, they urge “rigorous reappraisals” of universities research programmes and individuals’ performance.   And for optimists, they propose, “restoring as quickly as possible existing international student markets or building new markets in other countries.”

They also advocate a national research council, representing universities, public sector research institutions and industry, “to increase the profile and influence of Australian research.

And they propose government focus support; “a greater concentration of the allocation of public research funding into priority areas with the investment being restricted to those institutions or research teams with a demonstrated track record in the conduct and/or translation of world class research is desirable.”

From Uni Queensland Drew Pavlou provides headline of the month

“Two Drews use ruse they hope can’t lose as UQ voters choose,” is the headline on a Lucy Stone story on the Nine News Brisbane Times website. Respect

The yarn is about a student changing his name to Drew Pavlou to run in a university election, who would step aside for the real Mr Pavlou if he won. As people in other galaxies know the dinkum Drew, is suspended by the university. He was elected to its Senate after campaigning against Uni Queensland’s links with Chinese Government agencies.

Perth unis go to town

Unis in WA don’t appear worried that COVID-19 will empty out CBDs

The feds and WA state government join with three of the state’s public universities to create campuses in Perth city.

The package is a city-deal, an urban renewal programme created by Malcolm Turnbull.

Edith Cowan U: gets $245 from the Commonwealth and land from the state government to establish a “vertical campus” adjacent to the main Perth railway station. The university will provide $300m. The university will move the WA Academy of Performing Arts to the site, with the business and law school and creative industries programmes. It will open in 2025. The university was silent yesterday about the future of its Mount Lawley campus, where WAAPA is now located but locals were speculating earlier in the year that ECU wants out, in whole or part.

Murdoch U: The state government is funding the university’s “multi-story vertical campus” which will include a “digital futures academy” and “eSports stadium.” Specific finance is not announced, but in combination with support for Curtin U the package is $360m.

Curtin U: Details are sparser on what Curtin U will do, with yesterday’s overall project announcement stating the university will establish “a knowledge and innovation precinct” at their existing CBD campus.

Fears for the future at RMIT

After a week of speculation that huge job losses are imminent VC Martin Bean may not have been looking forward to fronting staff Friday morning

There is a view at RMIT that Mr Bean is not in league with Satan, because the Prince of Darkness has standards.

However, observers say the VC did ok Friday, appearing genuinely concerned for people whose jobs are gone, going or may still be to go.

But this will not mollify people caught in a harsh process. An on-line staff protest, also Friday demonstrated opposition runs deep, to management’s job cuts to date and fears there are more to come.

Management has a job to do to convince staff that the ceiling of 250 more jobs to go, reluctantly announced (CMM Friday) is the last.


Iain Hay (Flinders U) becomes First (as in senior, not original) Vice President of the International Geographical Union, (dedicated to the development of geographical research and teaching).

Peter Radoll (PVC Indigenous, Uni Canberra) is appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society of NSW

Michelle Simmons (UNSW) joins the CSIRO board.