Plus ACOLA predicts: everything (that’s everything!) is about to change


On song

Not everybody yearns for the great Australian musical, but anything that occupies a stage that would otherwise go to Frozen on Ice is surely a good thing. So a standing ovation is in order for the National Music Theatre Symposium, which will convene at the Victorian College of the Arts on Monday. The symposium “aims to address the lack of development programs provided for new music theatre in Australia.” But any aspiring Sondheims should not just merrily roll along hoping to join the company – it’s invitation only.

ANU Sept 15

Deregulation deceased

That badly designed markets created a shambles in for-profit training and that the community is deeply suspicious of undergraduate fee deregulation are beyond doubt. Thanks to media scrutiny of the former and the brilliant “$100 000 degrees” campaign led by the National Tertiary Education Union in the latter the idea of markets in education is politically unsellable. Post school education now has the community standing of Medicare – a universal right primarily paid for by the state.

But the debates have also become a proxy for the regulatory role of government and opponents of the market are making the running. On Monday Labor promised a “ higher education productivity and performance commission to deliver the right labour market outcomes,” and nobody questioned whether this could become over time less a regulator of universities than a restrictor of their independence. “I welcome Labor’s intention to set up a higher education commission, which would introduce a non-political rational actor to higher education reform, and to use green and white papers to allow reasoned debate,” University of Canberra Vice Chancellor Stephen Parker said yesterday. Delete the de, it is regulation that is on the higher education agenda.

Aldi for academics

Not everybody in higher education is uncomfortable with market culture. Here’s how La Trobe announces new degrees in law, business and engineering; “We’ve listened to your feedback and we know what the market is calling for. … We’ve used our academic strengths and industry expertise to best prepare you for a competitive job market. Check out these three new courses!” CMM can’t wait for the two-for-one offer on grad dips.

Impact on the agenda

The Australian Research Council welcomed Simon Birmingham as education and training portfolio minister yesterday, sensible given the ARC stays with education under the new ministerial responsibilities. The continuing problem for the Council is that science and industry continue to report to a different minister, now Christopher Pyne. Under Mr Pyne’s predecessor Ian Macfarlane there was a big push for new metrics measuring research impact, as alternatives to the ARC’s Research Excellence for Australia model which focuses on research publications and their quality. With the Australian Technology Network and the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering both presenting impact measures Mr Pyne and Senator Birmingham will have to talk.

ANU Sep 15 3

Hiring not firing

The University of Sydney has “multiple vacancies” for academic liaison librarians. Makes a change from this time last year when the university announced 156 library positions (but not necessarily staff) were going, Campus Morning Mail, September 10 2014.

Everything is about to change for everybody

Australia lacks critical mass in information and communication technology skills, including programming, software development, computer engineering and data mining and management, according to a new report for the Chief Scientist by the Australian Council of Learned Academies.

The report, which Chief Scientist Chubb will launch this morning, warns that unless these shortfalls are addressed they will “reduce competitiveness and increase negative social impacts ranging from reduced employment to constrained tax revenue.”

ACOLA identifies a range of employment areas where workers who cannot adapt will be in trouble as technology automates skills at all levels, including, “personalised medicine” an extension of automation from manual to “brain’ work” and autonomous cars with sensing capacities which will create, “accident-free, personalised public and private transport.”

However ACOLA optimistically adds that there are major benefits if we upskill in core areas. “Technologies for data, especially data analytics, will play a substantial role in solving most social problems, and will augment and transform most existing technologies,” the report states.

The report’s authors also urge government to increase research funding in “general purpose technologies,” notably ICT, biotech, advanced materials, transportation and energy technologies and sensors, rather than spend up on “particular technology winners.”

“General purpose technologies not only facilitate efficiency and growth in existing industries, they allow combination of ideas and technologies to create entire new categories of products and services,” they argue.

And they call for an all of education approach to create workers with “protean” skills, “able to change, adapt to unfamiliar work, deploy versatile skills and learn new trades continuously through their working lives.” This, they warn is especially important in VET;

“Vocational training in particular will need to shift in focus from competencies that are highly specific to tightly defined job qualifications to ‘vocations’ or ‘vocational streams’ which represent groupings of similar occupations. The aim should be to foster innovative workplaces as well as innovation in the workplace.”

But we should all hope that the known unknowns are benign, as ACOLA warns; “by some estimates, up to 80 per cent of all jobs by 2030 could be in companies or industries that don’t exist today, while around half of today’s jobs could be automated within the next two decades.”

Upwardly mobile Melbourne

A reader refers CMM to the University of Melbourne’s Social Inclusion Barometer for 2011-12, which promised a “graduate equity programme.” Back then just 5 per cent of graduate coursework students at the University of Melbourne were from low SES backgrounds. Given the Melbourne model, where professional qualifications require graduate degrees, this was a number the university obviously wanted to increase and it set a proportional growth target of 15 per cent by this year. So how is the university doing? Hard to tell, there is no mention of graduate equity in the 2014 edition of the Social Inclusion Barometer.

criterion update


Sweating on research findings

CMM is keen (in a creaky sort of way) on CrossFit exercise, but plenty of people aren’t, suggesting it’s fast and furious approach generates injuries. This upsets CrossFitters and in the US a gym owner sued over a research article, which incorrectly claimed 11 participants dropped out of a study of CrossFit because they got hurt training (Retraction Watch has the yarn). This is despite the research finding that CrossFit training “significantly improves VO2max (maximum aerobic capacity) and body composition in subjects of both genders across all levels of fitness.” The gym owner is demanding punitive damages from the authors of 100 burpees in one go, (alright, CMM made that up, but it isn’t a bad idea for fabricators and plagiarisers).