Smarter than your average LLM

Former chief scientist and pandemic hero, Alan Finkel (CMM March 5 2020), has a new book

Powering Up: Unleashing the Clean Energy Supply Chain is about to be out, (pre-orders HERE).

Publication details include a disclaimer,  “certification of human origin: other than its behind-the-scenes involvement in web searching, Alan Finkel declares that artificial intelligence software had no role in the authorship of this book.”

AI has a way to go before it will outauthour Dr Finkel

There’s (a bunch) more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Sean Brawley and Uni Wollongong colleagues on why the university elevated academic quality assurance, “it has evolved from an emphasis on checking to supporting academics with information, processes and systems,” they explain HERE

Kevin Ashford-Rowe (QUT) on meeting the micro-credentials teaching challenge. New in Commissioning Editor Sally Kift’s celebrated series, Needed now in learning and teaching

Peter Woelert (Uni Melbourne) laments the assembly-line approach to research publishing – more is not better

plus Merlin Crossley (UNSW) visits the Francis Crick Institute – it’s a UK research .model that Australian can learn from

with Joseph Crawford  (U Tas) making the case for open access in the scholarship of teaching and learning. It’s another Sally selection.


Dentistry back to normal

On Monday CMM reported Buzz T Dog was worried that last week’s central Sydney building fire would leave Uni Sydney dental students gritting teeth over their school being closed.

Dean Heiko Spallek advises all is now well.

Jobs figures a case for quals

90 per cent plus of employment growth is in occupations that “typically” require post-school  qualifications

Which led to a media statement from Skills and Training Minister Brendan O’Connor headlined, “VET key to tackling regional skills shortages.”

While Universities Australia announced, “Unis producing skilled workers the economy needs”.

UA’s case is made by a job adverts index for the year to March showing a 6.6 per cent increase in demand for jobs requiring bachelor degrees or higher but at all lower skill levels adverts fell.

Employment in professional, scientific and technical services was up 0.7 per cent in the year to the February quarter and education and training grew 1.5 per cent. While total employment increased 3 per cent, the education-training growth was a record, largely due to a 23 per cent increase in preschool education in the February quarter.

Student recruitment for where students are

Most university campaigns are interchangeable – not Swinburne Online’s “ready for more”

CMM has long-banged on about how most university marketing promotes ideals of learning, teaching and research and how great their institution is – without explaining what’s in it for students – as in specific benefits which distinguish the University of X from Y U.

But Swinburne Online (a partnership with Online Education Services) has a different campaign running on social media.

“How to launch your career when you don’t know exactly what you want to do,” is one pitch.

“Where can your admin job and skills take you,” is another.

Plus, there is, “four ways to get a promotion”

And because Swin U does not mind admitting it wants the business; “thinking that this could be your time to finally make the shift into the role and industry you really want? If you’re ready to make the change, here are some realistic ways you can make the transition smoother.”

No, it’s not designed for school leavers looking for a degree to help them change the world. But they aren’t the market that matters more than all the others anymore.

In any case a campaign for life can be done for the young. Perhaps not those looking for a degree that will make them next secretary general of the UN – but for everybody else. Australian Catholic U’s “a life less ordinary,” campaign blazed a trail. It was pitched to people who wanted to  hear about study that can improve their lives in the worlds they know and want to live in, (CMM August 12 2014.)

“This may not appeal to people with perfect entry scores and the family finances to do double doctorates at Oxford and Harvard, people brought up to think “ordinary” is a term of abuse – but they aren’t the campaign’s audience,” CMM wrote about the campaign – (that’s a translation from the original Latin – it was a while back).


Driving hard bargaining at Uni Newcastle

Last week VC Alex Zelinsky asked the Fair Work Commission to arbitrate less stalled than fallen into a black hole enterprise bargaining – cue outrage from the National Tertiary Education Union (CMM May 25, 26 and 29)

On Friday the union demanded the VC withdraw his application for the commission to arbitrate and keep talking, given “the parties were close to agreement.”

But FWC sorted a deal at Uni Newcastle after bitter bargaining in 2018 (CMM October 31 ’18) and it appears that with the other campus union, the CPSU having agreed to a management offer (CMM May 22), management decided it had nothing to lose.

So off to the FWC parties went yesterday, where Deputy President Saunders decided to “facilitate an intense week of bargaining” next week at the university’s Newcastle CBD campus.

Outstanding issues appear to include casual staff terms (which may relate to the university pulling its proposal of increased super for them when it offered an increased all-staff payrise.)

The NTEU also appears to have concerns with dispute resolution and organisation change in the proposed agreement.

What is not mentioned is pay – which may mean the university’s most recent 13 per cent over the agreement offer  (CMM May 1) is no longer in dispute. Or not.

Work placements: paying people is the fair thing to do


As work integrated learning increases, we cannot afford for only middle-class domestic students to be comfortably able to access opportunities

The Universities Accord Discussion Paper asks about universities collaboration with industry and notes that “by international standards, the current links in Australia between higher education and industry in learning and teaching are under-developed”.

The paper goes on to note the challenges work-integrated learning poses for students from regional, rural and remote areas.

It asks:

* how could an Accord support cooperation between providers, accreditation bodies, government and industry to ensure graduates have relevant skills for the workforce?

* how should placement arrangements and work-integrated learning (WIL) in higher education change in the decades ahead?

What is left unspoken in the paper is the issue of payment to students for their work.

QUT’s Christine Morley notes that this is particularly an issue for degrees which require mandatory work placements. She argues, “amid a cost-of-living crisis, with rising university fees, we can no longer expect students to do this work for free” and points out that “students also often have to forgo paid work” in order to meet their work placement requirements.

These were issues I was pleased to discuss with Norah McRae and colleagues at the University of Waterloo in Ontario recently as part of a study tour, designed in part, to learn about best practice in work integrated learning in higher education.

It was good to learn more about the expectations in Canada and elsewhere, that higher education work placements should be paid, and to hear specifically about the University of Waterloo’s  co-op programme, which sees students undertake four-six paid work placements of four months each during their degree. Students typically earn between Can$8400 and $19 800 per work term. Unsurprisingly 75 per cent of undergraduate students cite the university’s co-op programme as the key reason for choosing to study there.

As the Government looks to migration reforms to encourage more high achieving international students to Australia (with the intention of retaining them as skilled migrants on graduation), and as it also looks to encourage more domestic students from under-represented groups to enter higher education – the issue of paid work placements will be critical.

With the Accord likely to recommend reforms to increase WIL, we cannot afford for only middle-class domestic students to be comfortably able to access these opportunities.

If employers in Canada and elsewhere in the world pay students on work placements, Australia should expect the same. These opportunities need to be equally open to all students.

Claire Field visited the University of Waterloo with representatives of MEGT and wishes to thank Dr McRae and her colleagues for their time and valuable insights

Appointments, achievements

Glenn Campbell moves from Deakin U to become CEO of Western Sydney U’s pathway provider, The College.

At Uni Melbourne, Barry Judd moves to inaugural DVC Indigenous. Professor Judd steps up from PVC Indigenous at the university.