Creative arts: a suitable case for charity

Jurassic Hive 

In breaking news, Flinders University research finds that bees nearly became extinct when the dinosaurs did.

All for ANU

Despite everybody having a fair idea of what he was going to say (thanks to the Canberra Times last weekend) Brian Schmidt’s speech on the future of ANU was a drop dead hit, at least among ANU-ites who cheered him to the echo on Twitter last night. He wants fewer, smarter students and for ANU to be a better funded elite institution-which just about everybody else thinks it is already.

 Senator one day professor the next

A reader suggests that if Clive Palmer can call himself professor (he is an adjunct at Bond) there is no reason why Bob Carr shouldn’t (CMM yesterday), what with bis appointments at the University of Sydney and UNSW. But at least Mr Palmer has never compared himself to the honourable gentleman from West Virginia, Robert Byrd who Mr/Professor Carr formerly said he would attempt to emulate.  Byrd was an ornament to the US Senate for over half a century – pipping Carr’s senate career by just 49 years.

Organising agricultural ed

You do not have to regret the passing of the days when everything agricultural was run by a statutory authority to admire the food and beverage workforce report from the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency. It sets out the enormous ag education and training effort in place and makes the reasonable point that skills shortages are not so much due to lack of money than because stakeholders don’t know what everybody else is up to.  So, and don’t tell me you did not see this coming, what we need is a national coordinating body on skills, consisting of state and federal government representatives plus people from industry and education. It should liaise and coordinate this and that, plus promoting research and get industry more involved in “the design, content, implementation and validation” of courses. Plus it should anticipate, “future trends and associated skilling requirements.”  It all sounds sensible, but in ambitious hands this body could all but make and control a nationaI skilled staff policy. I wonder what deans of agriculture, who like to run their own shows, will make of it.

New PR person please 

The National Tertiary Education Union is in the market for a new commissar of enlightenment to replace Carmel Shute, who recently left to “spend more time at the gym” and build her comms consultancy, Shute the Messenger. She replaced Andrew Nette who left in mid 2012 to finish a now published crime novel.

Try before you buy

Good for the University of Western Sydney in offering a taster course for people who have no contact with previous study through Open Universities Australia’s Open2Study brand. Granted the pitch for the introduction to sociology unit on offer is light on for laughs but it is hard to imagine a better way of explaining what universities do to a new market – it is certainly an improvement on the usual e-brochures institutions pump out.  But while distribution costs are nil, like any product intended to encourage purchase the production costs will be high. The days when talking heads and stock shots are all it takes to enthuse prospective students are long gone.  When I checked yesterday some 220 people were signed up –I will check back to see what attrition is like.

Open all-hours access

The indefatigable Danny Kinglsey will join a bunch of Brits discussing open access tonight (10pm to midnight AEST). Dr Kingsley is a stalwart of the Australian Open Access Support Group and ePublisher at the Australian National University. The (very) keen can join in here.

 Ambivalent online

Is on-line education the cost effective way of the future? The answer, according to new US research, is a resounding yes and an emphatic no. Wayne Atchley, Gary Wingenbach and Cindy Akers compared on-campus and online courses in 2009 at an unnamed US university in a unnamed state that sounds like it might be Texas. They found 34 per cent of online students received As, compared to 31 per cent of those who went to class but passed at the other end of the scale. While marginally more online completers failed a larger number of classroom students passed with Bs and Cs than those online. Perhaps unsurprisingly the online dropout rate was higher, but then again, not by much – some 93 per cent completed compared to 94 per cent for the classroom students. What is especially important is the correlation between discipline and completing online, where there are dramatic differences. For example psychology retained 82 per cent of starters while the retention for a unit in “reading” (yes, they describe the institution as a “university”) was 98 per cent. What accounts for the patterns? Further research is needed, the authors say.

A big deal indeed

Nobody much was worked up yesterday by the University of South Australia announcement of artist Sydney Ball’s gift of paintings – which U SA values at $1m.  Compared to the enormous buckets of money recently given by Andrew and Nicola Forrest ($65m for research and scholarships at West Australian universities) and Graham and Louise Tuckwell ($50m for scholarships at ANU) this might not sound all that impressive. It is – the arts are easily ignored in the fund raising dash for cash but Mr Ball’s contribution in kind demonstrates that universities are not all about utility. This donation joins Peter Davidson’s $5m to the University of Sydney, some for medicine but just as important music scholarships in July as two of the great gifts of the year.

 Hard example 

Union leaders say the University of Auckland is keen to cut costs by sacking administrative staff; word is the university benchmarked performance against Australian universities. Nervous administrators should check to see whether CQU was one of the comparators – it’s about the only institution which has bit the bullet on costs lately – retrenching 160 staff, including some 35 involuntary departures over the winter.