Just in at the “what a surprise!” desk

The estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research reports, “young people were significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic last year,” scroll down for how.

Research leaders to ARC: fix the pre-print problem

The Australian Research Council excluded research funding applications for breaking a new rule against citing pre-prints  

In CMM Features this morning two research community leaders, Sven Rogge (UNSW) and Nicholas Fisk (UNSW) suggest the ARC needs to deal with the damage done.

“It doesn’t help to dwell on how or why the rule was implemented, or its misalignment with modern publication culture. The important issue now is for the ARC to deal with this problem quickly,” they write.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

James Guthrie looks at Uni Melbourne’s 2020 financials – the surplus it reported is way less than its net operating result.

plus, Enabling programmes must be the new normal in higher education – without them wider access is unfair. Pranit Anand (QUT) makes the case in this week’s selection by Commissioning Editor Sally Kift for her celebrated series, Needed now in teaching and learning.

andthe new NTU research-paper ranking is a good guide to what the next big bibliometric performance measures will reveal – the signs are still ok for Australia. Angel Calderon (RMIT) explains the NTU, how it works, why it matters and where the locals sit (it’s a good result for QUT, Macquarie U and RMIT).

with, Merlin Crossley (UNSW) on problems – they can expand to occupy all available brain-space but good scientists chose ones they can solve.

as well as, James Guthrie (Macquarie U)  on the University of Adelaide’s strong 2020 financials (and yet there are more cuts).

MOOCs of the morning

Macquarie U offers three new courses in learning design

Iain Hay, Jada Bennett and Billy Bruce teach Foundations of on-line teaching, Creating video, audio and infographics and Using Zoom (via Coursera). They are running now.

Claire Field counts VET growth


Following the release of the data on all 2020 VET activity (fee-for-service and government-funded), last week saw the release of the first three months of government-funded data for 2021. With five years of comparable data available it is possible to see trends over that period, as well as in the last twelve months, as governments invested in VET as a response to COVID-19.

Firstly, what is noticeable is that, despite all of the efforts of the VET sector to create national Training Packages tightly aligned to specific industry needs (and with state/territory government approval needed on the content of all Training Packages) – non-training package enrolments consistently comprise approximately 20 per cent of all government-funded activity.

While 80 percent are in TAFEs and other government providers, in 2021 these non-training package enrolments at independent providers increased 185 percent on 2020 figures.

Between January and March 2021, the Training Packages with the highest enrolments were:

* Community Services (161,695)

* Non-Training Package (146,750)

* Construction, Plumbing and Services (71,450)

* Business Services (57,340)

* Health (47,080)

* Electrotechnology (41,075)

* Tourism, Travel and Hospitality (33,180)

* Automotive Industry Retail, Service and Repair (30,410)

* Metal and Engineering (24,495)

* Agriculture, Horticulture, Conservation and Land Management (22,875)

Unsurprisingly, given COVID-19, the largest increases in government-funded enrolments in the first three months of 2021 compared with 2020 were in Health (23 per cent increase) and Community Services (22 per cent), compared with an overall increase of 11 percent.

The number of government-funded students in VET in the first three months of 2021 was 18 per cent higher than in 2017, and differences were apparent by provider type:

* TAFEs and other government providers (16 per cent increase)

* Independent providers (26 per cent)

* Community providers (-3 per cent)

* Other providers (33 per cent)

The annual increase in government-funded students was lower (up 11 percent between January – March 2020 and 2021) and some jurisdictions prioritised independent and other providers in 2021 while others prioritised TAFE.

Overall independent providers experienced a 24 percent increase between 2020 and 2021, TAFE student numbers rose just six percent, and government-funded students in community providers declined (-7%).

Further analysis is available on my website.

 Claire Field is an advisor to the tertiary education sector


ANU audit report imminent

Back in February the Australian National Audit Office announced it was looking at ANU’s “high-level governance arrangements” and “systems of control and accountability (CMM February 24)

Which it duly did – the Office says the report will be tabled this month – which includes only two sitting days, today and tomorrow.

Deakin U proposes a new structure and job losses

Last year the university cut 300 positions – management is back for more

The university announced a proposal for a new structure yesterday and got straight down to grim realities. Management sets out comprehensive organisational change across the university and estimates 180-220 positions will go.

The university is careful to state that no decisions are made and a two-week consultation started yesterday. It will be followed by a further fortnight of “review and change informed by feedback.”

The proposal is the outcome of the “Deakin reimagined” project, in the works for six months to ensure services, “are effective, cohesive, and aligned to core purposes’ and “to secure Deakin’s financial future”.

It is a comprehensive plan, especially for admin functions, with some now decentralised services consolidated. Deakin U observers suggest professional staff will account for most job losses, which are expected to include senior positions.

But there will be academic job losses as welll including around 20 positions in Business and Law, a net loss of 30 or so academic positions in Arts and Education. The Health faculty appears unscathed but Science, Engineering and Built Environment faces a net loss suggested to be around 50 positions.

The new plan follows 2020 when around 300 positions went after a long and bitterly contested industrial process.

National Tertiary Education Union branch president Piper Rodd said yesterday the union is “devastated” by the news, “the quality of education for our students is harmed (and) “Deakin has demonstrated a consistent lack of compassion for staff.”

How young people coped with COVID

National VET research resource NCVER has dug into data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Youth on the experience of 20 year-olds in the pandemic last year. It’s not all bad and people were coping with the bits that were

 Of the 62 per cent studying, nearly everybody kept at – only 5 per cent deferred last year. But their experience changed – in 2019 97 per cent some time on campus, 37 per cent did last year.

While a third were working less hours and 28 per cent had to move back home, on the whole most were managing, 73 per cent were “satisfied with life overall” down from 79 per cent in 2019 and 57 per cent were managing financially, actually up on 2019.

Which might demonstrate the resilience and optimism of young people, but not all f them – 23 per cent were “likely to have a serious mental illness.”

Let us see what that figure is after another year of lock-downs in NSW and Victoria.

Union big win on academic freedom

The Federal Court has found the University of Sydney’s code of conduct is subordinate to clauses in its enterprise agreement protecting the exercise of intellectual and academic freedom

The ruling is in the court decision to allow an appeal against the university sacking political science lecturer Tim Anderson. Dr Anderson superimposed a swastika over an Israeli flag in a Power Point presentation. On the basis of this and subsequent comments the university dismissed him for breaching its code of conduct.

Dr Anderson and the National Tertiary Education Union sued the university but lost in the Federal Court which found him in breach of the code of conduct. However, they appealed and yesterday the court found Dr Anderson was protected by the legally enforceable enterprise agreement.

“ The relevant issue cannot be the level of offence which the conduct generates or the insensitivity which it involves. The issue is only whether the conduct involves the exercise of the right of intellectual freedom in accordance with cll 315 and 317” (of the enterprise agreement) judges Jagot and Rangiah state.

The case will now return to the original judge.

This is a big win for the NTEU, with the university’s code of conduct subordinate to the enterprise agreement the union negotiated with Uni Sydney on behalf of staff. The judgement “reinforces the primacy and importance of our collective agreements in protecting intellectual and academic freedom,” NTEU General Secretary Matthew McGowan said yesterday,

However, while the union is pleased with the outcome it does not mention the details of the case in its statement.

There is another case in the courts that involves the protection an enterprise agreement provides an academic. The High Court is considering scientist Peter Ridd’s appeal against James Cook U dismissing him for breaching its code of conduct over his public commentary on science at the university. Dr Ridd says he was protected by freedoms specified in the then applicable JCU enterprise agreement.

Appointments, achievements

Peter Gunning (UNSW) is awarded the president’s medal of the Australian and New Zealand Society for Cell and Developmental Biology.

 Susan Howitt is appointed director of the Australian Council of Deans of Science Teaching and Learning Centre. She moves from the Research School of Biology at ANU.

ANU’s Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions announces two appointments. Frank Jotzo (ANU’s Crawford School of Public Policy) becomes head of energy. Roslyn Prinsley (now head of strategic research initiatives at the university) takes charge of disaster solutions.