Obscure opportunity

A learned reader asks what a new $212 000 job at UNSW actually involves. The university is recruiting a director of service improvement to lead the business unit, “responsible for building and deploying expertise in continuous improvement, innovating with new digital and other technologies and driving customer service excellence.” That it all needs to be done proactively is presumably a given.


Adélaide ententes cordiale

There is nothing like a big navy build requiring skilled staff, and quick, to encourage fraternity between universities of partner nations. Yesterday the University of Adelaide and Ensta Bretagne agreed to offer double  masters in marine engineering, as visiting French president Macron and the prime minister looked on. Flinders U was also there, signing one research collaboration on propellers with engineering school EC Nantes and another with contractor Thales and EC Nantes  on “electro-optical links,” (sorry, no idea.) Presumably, a learned reader remarks, Flinders U, has forgiven the French for imprisoning Matthew Flinders RN, for whom the university is named, during the Napoleonic Wars.

Scientists serious about communicating and the (nearly all Labor) MPs keen to hear from them

Some research and higher education groups assume bleating is lobbying, but not Science and Technology Australia which has come up with a scheme so cunning you could stick a tail on it and call it a weaseltron.

The peak-industry group is inviting “STEM professionals” to apply to become ambassadors who connect with their local federal MPs.  The brief is not to lobby for particular projects but “to deepen understanding of science and technology and build in-principle support among Australia’s political leadership for a thriving Australian STEM sector.” Past and present members of political parties are banned.

“Program participants must be prepared to put time and energy into forming a professional relationship with their local MP, regardless of their own personal political views,” STA states.

To ensure ambassadors are effective STA will lay on four training sessions and briefings on STEM issues.

STA will target ten House of Reps MPs who have participated in the annual science meets parliament event and expressed an interest in learning more.

This is seriously smart stuff.  MPs are inoculated against demands for more money but they don’t often hear expert advice on the rare subjects, such as science and technology, where they can develop expertise independent of the party-line. The more friends STEM has in the House the better.

So, who wants to be a friend of science? Not cabinet ministers and their shadows, although you can hardly blame them given the queues outside their offices. And assistant minister for VET Karen Andrews has put her hand up. But overall it’s a Labor-list, with 16 ALP members putting their hands up. There are two Libs, one Nat and Rebekha Sharkie from NXT.

Short-listed MPs and their seats are: Braddon (Justine Keay-Labor, Tas), Brand (Madeline King – Labor, WA), Bruce (Julian Hill-Labor, Vic)  Calwell (Maria Vamvakinou, Labor-Vic), Canberra (Gai Brodtmann-Labor, ACT) Cowper (Luke Hartsuyker-Nat, NSW), Gellibrand (Tim Watts, Labor-Vic), Goldstein (Tim Wilson-Lib, Vic), Herbert (Cathy O’Toole-Labor, Qld), Hunter (Joel Fitzgibbon-Labor, NSW), Macarthur (Mike Freelander-Labor, NSW), Macquarie (Susan Templeman, Labor, NSW), Mayo (Rebekha Sharkie-NXT, SA), McPherson (Karen Andrews-Lib, Qld), Newcastle (Sharon Claydon-Labor,NSW), Parramatta (Julie Owens-Labor, NSW), Shortland (Pat Conroy-Labor, NSW) Wakefield (Nick Champion-Labor, SA), Werriwa (Anne Stanley-Labor, NSW), Wills (Peter Khalil-Labor, Vic)

Rooms of their own for LaTrobe U students

LaTrobe U is building accommodation for 600 students at the Bundoora campus, there are now beds for 1500. The university has 8000 international students, most of whom are subject to the vagaries of the Melbourne housing market. Flats nearish to campus  go for $350-$400.

The export education data mess

Data on education exports is, “fragmented and somewhat inaccessible to the majority of interested parties,” new research for private provider Navitas warns.

The report, prepared by consultants Nous, details datasets collected by multiple agencies for multiple purposes across different reporting periods with mixed availability.  In the case of some Austrade reports information is only available to paying customers of the commission. None of this works to all of the industry’s advantage. Thus, the report warns,

“there exists a large group of users who may never be in a position to undertake detailed research and analysis, as a result of shortages in resourcing, capability or other constraints. For this group, the key to understanding notable trends in international education and training data lies in short and easily digestible data snapshots.”

The report sets out a range of ways to improve IET data resources:

Data on international enquiries as a lead indicator

Wider distribution of and detail on visa applications and approval, including information on source regions, (“China” or “India” are a bit broad for target-marketing)

More frequent and detailed international student experience survey than the existing biennial product

Data on post-study outcomes

A single tertiary education dataset

And that’s just for starters.

That furious typing you can hear is people in multiple agencies writing briefs on why giving up power and sharing information with the public is a bad idea.

VUV, for short

Across the ditch Victoria University of Wellington is contemplating a name change to distinguish itself from all the other Victoria Universities in what was once the British Empire. VC Grant Guilford says there are 16 of them. Perhaps Melbourne’s VU could become Victoria University of Victoria.

Comparing CQU researchers

CQU wants to codify research workloads for academic staff, allocating them to five categories from teaching-intensive (75 per cent teaching/15 per cent scholarship/10 per cent engagement) to research-intensive (20 per cent teaching/ 70 per cent research and  10 per cent service and engagement).

The university sets out research productivity based on ARC data from Excellence for Research in Australia, ranging from not much for junior HASS academics to 24 publications and $750 000 over three years for a research intensive STEM professor. There are two detailed charts specifying required outputs in great detail by discipline and academic rank. With this system in place it would be easy indeed for the university to suggest to staff that their performance dictates moves either to more or less research intensive categories.

The campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union is surveying staff on this, including questions which could consign CQU to second-class status.  Thus the union asks members if the measure for research publications and income should be the national ERA average for their discipline, or the average for academics at institutions in the Regional Universities Network. This would be an excellent way of reducing performance pressure and an even better way to concede that CQU staff do not want to be compared against their peers at research intensive institutions – an outcome the Group of Eight would remember come the next argument over research funding distribution.

But the CQU comrades could be underestimating the RUN group’s research performance. Last year XinGu and Karen Blackmore from the University of Newcastle crunched journal data for three unnamed universities, a sandstone a middle tier institution and a “non-comprehensive” one (CMM September 8 2017). Among many other findings, they discovered that in recent years output per researcher at all three has converged.


Maria Raciti (University of the Sunshine Coast) is 2018 research fellow at Curtin U’s National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education. Aspro Raciti will work on disadvantaged students’ perception of the risks of studying at university.

When red-hot cheating is cool

A learned reader points to a bunch of YouTube stars promoting essay writing service EduBirdie, reviewed for the Australian market here (The BBC has just pinged the product).  “It’s hardly surprising that students have such difficulty grasping academic integrity when their YouTube idols are promoting contract cheating as ‘cool’. Lecturers simply cannot compete with entertainers in this regard and have a challenging time trying to inculcate very different cultural standards in their students,” the learned reader ruefully remarks.  Making contract cheating an offence under law, as outlined by UNSW’s Alex Steel (CMM April 4) might help.