Plus ANU teachers like learning from the Brits and no end of an ERA

Memories are made of this

Murdoch University celebrates the 40th anniversary of accepting its first students Thursday week. The next day is the first anniversary of Murdoch announcing then vice chancellor Richard Higgott had been stood down, with a university inquiry involving him referred to the Western Australia Corruption and Crime Commission.

Change agent of the day

Edith Cowan U VC Steve Chapman has announced restructure proposals, which are pretty much in line with ideas he has already floated, (CMM August 19). The present four faculties are gone and the existing 14 schools are to be amalgamated into six. CMM suspects that the heads of the new schools will report to the VC, what with the way deans are done for. Professor Chapman invited school heads into his planning and management meetings within a week or so of taking over, (CMM May 11).

Student services, now based in the faculties, will be consolidated and university-wide student services centre and administration restructured to suit the new school structure. A plan for systems and reports is due this month but management says Ebusiness in finance, Alesco in HR, Callista in student management and the Enterprise Information Management system are the primary business areas involved.

Consultations will continue until mid October but it seems unlikely Professor Chapman will change his mind. Council has already endorsed the school model, “subject to staff consultation and industrial process.” But the National Tertiary Education Union is not as convinced, “the document refers to a new focus on collegiality and collaboration. We look forward to the details of the proposed collegiate processes for selection of the new academic leadership roles,” WA State Secretary Gabe Gooding says.


Early opener

The University of Queensland claimed the first jacaranda in bloom of the season yesterday. Anyone seen an earlier one?

Cosmopolitan qualification 

Universities make most of their money from teaching but as student numbers have grown Australian institutions have failed to similarly scale up the number of academics formally qualified as higher education teachers, Marnie Hughes Warrington warns in a new essay this morning on her blog, missunittwocents.

“At the university in which I work, the graduate certificate of higher education graduated two staff per year. At that pace, it would have taken over 750 years to upskill just our continuing academic staff,” she writes.

“Pity all the PhD students, sessional staff and clinical and industrial associates who want to learn about university education, who would blow our upskilling horizon out to 12,000 years. Fair it ain’t; glacial it is,” the ANU DVC (Academic) suggests. But the cost of scaling up to cover people in front of marginal courses is not the only reason why universities do not ask academics to study teaching; a big problem is that staff don’t want. “The beneficiaries of rationed graduate certificate places tend not to want them. In my experience, making these programs compulsory tends to only improve the creativeness of the cases for exemption,” Professor Hughes Warrington suggests.

The solution for ANU was to close its own programme and allow staff to undertake the UK Higher Education Academy Fellowship Scheme, which hundreds of ANU people have happily, done, “HEA postnominals are popping up with pride all over the campus.”

“For anyone who wonders why we needed to look to UK-based standards for validation, ask where the local standards are and why they are taking so long to develop. Time to act and to scale up.”

Few and far between

“Research students find rare parasite,” Charles Sturt Uni reported yesterday. And no it was not a joke about under-performing professors.

ANU June 2

(insecure) Jobs for the Girls

It’s not just sessional academics who lack workplace right in universities. As the National Tertiary Education Union’s Terry McDonald demonstrates, professional, clerical and tech support staff, especially women have precarious employment conditions. Mandatory public reporting reveals, she says “the creeping levels of insecure work in our universities.” According to Ms McDonald, at the University of Melbourne the level of casual employment, in various forms, is such, that only 58 per cent of workers have access to employer paid parental leave.

Among teaching and research staff, including casuals and contractors some 69 per cent are insecurely employed while the figure for clerical workers is 76 per cent. Apart from the clerical category the per centage of women in casual/contact work exceeds men. “We can draw from this that the genderfication of casual employment (as we have known for many years) is continuing unabated, and what’s more, that insecure employment is now the norm in all non management areas at the University of Melbourne, noting that this Go8 does not have the same funding constraints as smaller or regional institutions,” she says. And she suggests the evidence indicates that U of M is not alone.

Another life of learning

“Happy 20th anniversary to Adult Learners’ Week! Learning is for life,” Senator Catryna Bilyk (Labor-Tas) tweeted yesterday. Curious, “learning for life,” is the title of the Howard Government commissioned West Review of higher education, which called for a post-school voucher system. CMM suspects it isn’t an indication of Labor thinking.

Research training in ok shape

Overall university research training is in generally good shape with “a significant proportion” of research students already working in the discipline areas Canberra has targeted for funding focus, according to the Innovative Research Universities group. The IRU makes its case in a submission to the research training inquiry being conducted for the Commonwealth by the Australian Council of Learned Academies. The IRU also urges the feds to butt out; “being wary of directing activity or limiting where research training occurs.”

The Cooperative Research Centre Association also urges government to keep research training flexible. As there is no single type of PhD student so there is no case for creating a standardised system, it suggests. The Association should know, all the 200 plus CRCs that have existed since the ‘90s have run PhD programmes.

No end of an ERA

Researchers worrying that the feds want to fund applied research at the expense of basic lab work should stop. The game has already changed, as Tim Cahill, from Research Strategies Australia, explained to the National Scholarly Communication Forum the other day. While universities are focused on a basic research paradigm of publication and grant getting, applied research became the main research activity five years back. “ ‘Applied income’ accounts for 53 per cent of income, but only drives 27 per cent of research funding (ex training),” he says.

But not all the old ways are lost. Dr Cahill suggested the ARC’s Excellence for Research in Australia is a force for established performance measures. Academics now focus more on publishing in quality journals rather than just churning out articles without much worrying where they appear.

criterion update

Cop this CMM

Vicki Thomson from the Group of Eight deplores CMM’s suggestion yesterday that even if the national research spend increased her organisation would want it all. “The Go8 is very happy to share quality, in what other sector do we reward mediocrity in performance with taxpayer dollars. The best research should be funded wherever it occurs Go8 or not.”

Paul Kniest, from the NTEU is also exercised by a CMM suggestion that the forthcoming Senate Education and Employment References Committee report on private voced and training providers will be a deplore-a-thon. “I am reminded of all those times people on the conservative side of politics say that the only people who need to worry about increased security or surveillance are those people who have done the wrong thing. Therefore the only private providers who have anything to fear from the Senate Committee hearing are those that have done the wrong thing, so therefore are you implying that this a long list.”

Tune out, calm down

Innately hostile people who watch a lot of television are at greater risk of injury than less aggressive citizens according to a study by Anthony Fabio (University of Pittsburgh) and colleagues published in the International Journal of Injury Control and Safety Promotion. Apparently the hot-heads take cues from video violence. The authors suggest watching less television, especially violent programmes, “may reduce injury risk, especially among those who are high in hostility,” they conclude. So all that is needed is public info TV advertising encouraging people to attack the box with an axe.