In case you were wondering

“A research degree lets you find interesting answers to big questions,” University of Tasmania, Facebook advertisement, yesterday.

Feds low-cost plan for regional study

The Department of Education has ever-so quietly announced the regional study hubs programme. According to the feds, “the hubs will support regional students to study courses locally delivered by distance from any Australian university, by providing greater access to study support and infrastructure. “

Those whose hobby is the study of ideas to shut backbenchers up will remember the hubs emerged as a response to a Senate committee report in late 2016 that said the government should come up with ways to increase rural and regional participation in higher education. By May last year it had moved from proposal to policy, being included in the government’s twenty-year plan for the bush.

It’s not entirely clear from yesterday’s statement how they will work. One threshold requirement is that a hub must have a “formal relationship with one or more higher education institutions” but it does not have to be part of one. However, funding is only available for universities. While the government will pay set-up costs and contribute to maintenance the hubs will have to help themselves. And they will not be allowed to slug students for anything on top of course costs.

Distance education support centres are not new, CQU has them all over the country, including four in regional WA.  But $15m over four years may not be enough for the hubs to attract much interest. It certainly will not stop the Regional Universities Network demanding more money to develop campuses.

Praised with faint damns

“If you agree with Sharp, the book will be the best thing to come out of Australia since Kylie Minogue,” Daniel Scott on marketing site The Drum  reviews the new edition of Byron Sharp’s (UniSA) marketing textbook. CMM thinks it is a compliment.

Swinburne U delivers with gender equity initiatives, again

Swinburne University is an “employer of choice” for gender equity, being cited for the ninth straight year in the Workplace Gender Equity Agency citations, which will be released this morning. Swinburne attributes continuing its brilliant run to a range of new initiatives, including a pilot programme to support academics whose careers are interrupted by family care responsibilities and a school-holiday programme for primary school children.

A worrying welcome for Macquarie U staff

Macquarie U VC S Bruce Dowton’s welcome-back message tells returning staff “you will witness the acceleration of the campus redevelopment based upon several years of careful and deliberate planning.” It is not clear if he means this as an observation or instruction.  But what is obvious is that money is being spent. According to the university’s 2016 annual report A$1bn “has recently been invested so our students and staff can thrive in an environment that is inspiring … ”

Serious money indeed, which may account for the NSW Audit Office reporting that in 2016 MU had the highest debt to equity per centage – 17.3 per cent –  of all the state’s universities. (UNSW had the lowest at around 1 per cent.) MU also had the lowest interest coverage ratio, 7.2 times, “reflecting its higher level of debt.”

This may be why Professor Dowton’s welcome also mentions the federal government’s MYEFO changes (freezing grant funding for two years and ending the demand driven system).

“I am already working with the executive group on modulating our response to those policy changes as the regulatory environment has shifted. We will be examining structural issues in the budget assumptions to which we have become accustomed and will focus on how to chart a pathway through these changes while staying true to our purpose as a university of service and engagement,” he writes

For those who worry “chart a pathway” signals a search for savings the VC’s was not so welcoming a welcome.

Carma in Adelaide

The University of South Australia Business School will host short courses in April taught by the Consortium for the Advancement of Research Methods and Analysis, a not for profit unit of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.  CARMA teaches around the world and was last in Adelaide in November.

Top jobs at Murdoch University

Murdoch University is in the market for more than a new provost (CMM February 12). A learned reader advises Vice Chancellor Eeva Leinonen is looking for a chief of staff. And Chief Operating Officer Darren McKee is recruiting a deputy. Unlike the provost position, both these jobs are open to external applicants.

Murdoch U observers say a strong candidate for the provost post is DVC Education Romy Lawson. Professor Lawson was Director of Learning, Teaching and Curriculum at the University of Wollongong from July 2013 to May ’16, she moved to Edith Cowan U as PVC Learning and Teaching in May ’16 and took up her present post at Murdoch U in August that year.

Digital natives expect it all

Online study support provider (and CMM advertiser) Studiosity surveyed students about where people would study in 20 years and found one in five thought it would not be on campus. Perhaps reflecting their own time-tight circumstances, part-time students and those 26 plus were strongest on the idea that in-person study would fade. Unsurprisingly, international students thought campuses would continue.

Overall however students did not see online study replacing in-person education. Just 10 per cent of 18-25 year olds wanted more digital technology in lectures and tutorials. But responders also though universities should make it easier to study on-line, so students who struggle to get to campus do not feel they are “missing out.”

John Rosenberg, Studiosity academic advisory board member and former La Trobe DVC suggests digital natives expect to have the same access to support and services, wherever they are. “Face-to-face learning will remain important as part of a student’s degree, but they also expect access to services online at the time of their choice and in turn need more online support services that are accessible out-of-hour.”

This is very good news for advocates of on-line lectures and small-group classes on campus, as long as universities also provide the same intensive human-contact out of hours through support services. That’s the thing about digital natives, they want what they want when they want it.

Uni Canberra to offer redundancies and “reinvest” in its workforce

At the University of Canberra the union says management has “invited virtually all staff” to express interest in voluntary separations. However the university is adamant this is not about job cuts, that it  “will then reinvest in its workforce, with a particular focus on academic staff.”

We will know more today when management talks to staff, but the plan appears based in Vice Chancellor Deep Saini’s objectives for the university to be in the top 25 per cent for teaching quality in all disciplines and in research “to rank above the national average for measures of engagement and impact,” (CMM October 27 2017).

However the National Tertiary Education Union says 60 professional staff jobs are at risk.

Dolt of the day

Is CMM who reported ANU’s Matthew King is the National Tertiary Education Union’s new ACT president. Wrong Mr King takes over at ANU. Bernie Fisher is the division president.