Plus at long last a deal at Swinburne and HR home visits at Western Sydney U

Short and to the point

Winner of the student haiku competition at the University of Adelaide is animal and vet science student Melissa Anderson;

“At the piggery

The smells and the scenery

Inside; what a boar.”

Peace at Swinburne

At Swinburne U Stephen Beall for the university and Colin Long for the National Tertiary Education Union have come to terms for an enterprise agreement, which is years over due. If staff endorse the deal in a month or so it will allow the university to get on with long overdue reforms in course provision and academic workloads while ensuring union involvement in the process. The breakthrough is largely due to new negotiators on both sides, Mr Beall for the university and Dr Long for the union. (CMM August 7) Management signalled it was serious about a deal when VC Linda Kristjanson offered less an olive branch than a grove in early August and the union said it hoped for an agreement by the end of last month. Signalling that she wants a lasting peace, last night the vice chancellor also went out of her way to include long time Swinburne NTEU official Josh Cullinan in her praise for the peacemakers. Mr Cullinan has been a fierce warrior for the union cause at the university.

It looks like the deal has wins for both sides – management gets to create a new workload model and the union has won the right for sessional staff (there are a great many at Swinburne) to convert to permanent jobs.


No one talking

Director of student services at the University of Western Australia, Jon Stubbs confirmed his rumoured departure after 14 years in the job yesterday. Mr Stubbs declined to comment further. A university spokesman also declined to comment last night.

Online expands

Change agents of the day are at the University of Western Australia and the University of New South Wales, which are spending up on digital teaching technologies. At UWA the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union worries that PVC (Education Innovation) Gilly Salmon wants to replace academic teachers with educational technologists. Professor Salmon sets out her substantial thinking on digital and blended learning here. Significant changes in the teaching and leaning line-up have already occurred with DVC Education Denise Chalmers retiring in July. She is at the University of Windsor in Canada through October and then will return to UWA to take up an Office of Learning and Teaching fellowship on assessing teacher quality.

The union argues the emphasis on digital is misplaced for campus-centric UWA, “it is ironic that the vice-chancellor pointed out in a recent presentation that musicians no longer make money from content delivery by vinyl, CD or digital download but the public will pay to see them perform live. Is there a lesson here for the university?” CMM will report what university management is up to, if UWA ever responds to a request for comment.

At UNSW VC Ian Jacobs’ white paper includes an objective to “establish UNSW as a recognised global leader in technology-enabled learning, positioning us as a preferred partner for others at the leading edge of innovation in higher education and digital service delivery.” The university is recruiting four developers to join the new Educational Design Services Team but an e-learning insider suggests UNSW has plans to build a 40-strong digital team. All the university would say yesterday was, UNSW “is recruiting for more staff to support the delivery of the University’s educational strategy, especially instructional designers.”

Two way trade

Six US universities are in Sydney this month, talking to Australian HSC students about going to the land of the brave and the home of the free to do a degree. And not just any six unis – the visitors are from Columbia, Duke, Georgetown, Northwestern, Uni Pennsylvania, and Princeton. And there Aus universities were thinking they had the license to print money in the education industry.

ANU June 3

Knocks in the night

Western Sydney University (UWS that was) has Working from Home guidelines, which are creating comments, quite a few comments, as word gets around about a policy (which is what it looks like to CMM) that only an human resources director could love. Academics who want to work from home must sign up to an individual agreement (renewed annually) which covers everything from what they will do to what room they will do it in and whether they are doing it as productively as they would at work. But the biggest issue addressed is (and anybody who has ever dealt with a risk-focused HR manager will have seen this coming) is health and safety. And so there is a risk assessment process focused on slips, trips, falls, electrical risk and communication needs and so forth and so on.

It all makes CMM wonder whether HR understands that researchers who are not in labs and whose work is thinking and writing can do it just about anywhere there is an internet connection and electricity. And as for safety, people at home are surely safer than at work, where they are at risk of being bailed up by zealous administrators.

Or maybe not. The guidelines specify the Work Health and Safety Unit is to; “arrange for ad-hoc inspections of all formalised working from home workplaces each calendar year.” Gosh, will they need search warrants?

Pro con concert

CMM is a big  fan of the jazz programme at Griffith U’s Queensland Conservatorium of Music. Hence this  plug for the Standing Waves concert on Saturday.

Metric that matters

For-profit trainers are taking a terrible hiding over completion rates. In many cases the evidence against them is irrefutable but hard data to compare all institutions would help, which is why Brendan Torazzi from registered training organisation, AlertForce (in the OHS space) is proposing a national completions site. “The availability of independent information on matriculation rates would make it easier for students and employers to choose courses,” he says. Mr Torazzi suggests including completion figures on the My Skills website. This strikes CMM as a good idea indeed. My Skills is pretty much useless in its present form and comparative data on completion would be a real benefit.

criterion update

They have to get out more

“(WA) premier’s visit delights Murdoch staff and students,” the university reported yesterday.

Birmingham gets in early

A few months back the South Australian government granted TAFE a monopoly on up to 90 per cent of training places, which the feds warn breaches funding agreements. It was necessary state minister Gail Gago said because TAFE needed time to improve performance. Good for TAFE bad for private providers who cannot compete for customers. Adelaide media (even the ABC!) has criticised the state government and national training minister Simon Birmingham has piled on the pressure but Ms Gago is not for moving. Senator Birmingham had another go yesterday, saying “the state government can see that TAFE is bloated and inefficient because they’re shedding jobs out of TAFE over the next two years. In the meantime, while they’re undertaking that reform, they’re propping the TAFE system up by guaranteeing 90 plus percent of new places to TAFE. Now, as I say, TAFE does a great job in many areas but, what this is coming at the expense of are quality, efficient, private and industry training providers who, clearly, employers and students were voting with their feet and choosing because they got better value for money and better outcomes from them.”

The problem for Canberra is that the South Australian government does not have to account for federal training funds being used now until June, by when, with an election imminent the federal government may not want a fight over money in ultra-marginal Adelaide electorates. So Senator Birmingham says he will work to circumvent the state to fund private training and he is making plain now that the state government is the problem. “The fact the state government can’t answer basic questions demonstrates they don’t know what they’re doing in this space. It’s been policy on the run to address budget shortfall, which at a time of record unemployment in this state compared to the rest of the nation is a disastrous approach to take when good high-quality training can lead to increased productivity in business, can deliver more job outcomes in the future.” That it is indeed about state budget repair may be why Ms Gago has stayed pretty quiet since her announcement back in May. Although last night her boss Premier Jay Weatherill got into the argument, accusing Senator Birmingham on the ABC of “grandstanding,” and saying the state’s investment in training “is completely consistent with the national partnership agreement we reached with the Commonwealth.”  But the investment is not the issue, it’s where the state is spending the money.

Chemistry is right

Yesterday CMM reported new research for the Chief Scientist showing barely three per cent of science students get a work placement while doing a degree. So good on Flinders U chemistry academic Justin Chalker for doing something about it; “multiple paid undergraduate summer research positions in my lab. Open to all Australian universities,” he tweeted yesterday.