Features

Play it again Johann

The government announces ARC funding for a research centre at the University of Melbourne, to produce an “organ on a chip.” Will Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in d minor, ever sound the same? Too-right, this is about technology that will mimic human organs for testing new drugs.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features today, David Myton looks at a new technology that could help sustainability-conscious universities save on energy and maintenance budgets.

Peak uni lobby sets terms for the coming education debate

The Innovative Research University group has seized the initiative in the debate on funding and sector roles in post-school education we will likely have, whichever party wins the federal election.

In the process IRU executive director Conor King makes the important case for his members, that higher education should be accessible to people across abilities. “There is significant value in providing open access to university education for all who think they will gain from it. We have repeatedly challenged wrong assumptions that universities should provide only for an elite group while others receive a less intensive skilling,” Mr King argues.

And he has a reminder for education lobbies intent on protecting their patches; “the point of focus for an effective tertiary discussion should be people, the skills and knowledge they aspire to, not providers.”

Mr King suggests:

* all Australians will need post school qualification(s) which can come from VET and/or higher education

* HE is not the exclusive preserve of “the best and the brightest”

* teaching-only institutions are not universities. “Other higher education providers do not need to hide under a familiar term, they need to establish their own offering. Resourcing, not title, is the real issue.”

* universities should be publicly funded for teaching and research. Not to do this will do to higher education what has already occurred at TAFE. “Funding TAFEs solely for the most efficient delivery of particular qualifications undermined their capacity to support the full skilling needs of their regions. Splitting the main university grant to target funds at two ostensible outcomes would cause a similar loss of university effectiveness.”

Pitch of the day

“Georgia Tech‘s Online Master of Science in Cybersecurity is the only interdisciplinary degree in cybersecurity from a @ usnews top 10-ranked public university that you can earn online, on your own schedule, for less than $10,000,” edX via Twitter yesterday.  Still think MOOCs will fade away?

La Trobe University to let education staff go

There are fears at La Trobe U that management will spill 40 of 54 academic jobs in the School of Education. The university tells staff change is necessary to address state and federal requirements and declining enrolments which, “threaten the sustainability of SOE.”

The university also wants to change content and delivery at regional campuses, committing to, “refreshing and renewing our course portfolio” and to have visiting academics, “providing more online and block/intensive mode delivery on our regional campuses.” Management also intends to hire research-active academics, to “heighten our reputation as a school of choice in the teacher education landscape.”

Of the 40 academic jobs, 15 are only open to existing staff, one is recently filled and will continue and 21 new roles will be open-advertised. Displaced continuing staff will have priority over applicants now on fixed-term contracts. Five professional staff continuing  roles are also effected. The university estimates that 30 existing staff “will be potentially retained” in the new structure and 25 “potentially displaced”.

Education academic and National Tertiary Education Union spokeswomen Cathleen Farrelly warns, “regional campuses will be strongest hit, losing high levels of expertise and experience as jobs go in regional communities.”

The restructure is outlined in a change proposal, which management wants to implement for the start of next year.  But no one should fear the aftermath of a tense summer; the change plan assures them; “A healthy and collegial environment will provide a safe space for risk-taking, innovative practice and collaboration in teaching and research. Our core values are to be connected and caring, so staff and students feel supported to be innovative and accountable. “

Analysis of engagement and impact

University performance on the ARC impact and engagement metric are nowhere near publication but already there’s an autopsy. Policy paladins, including Glenn Withers and ANU’s Sally Wheeler, will discuss how universities managed the process of presenting their work in ways the community will understand and appreciate, Friday week from 3pm in Canberra. The Australasian Research Management Society is sponsoring, email ARMS @ for details.

DASH deans dilemma: explaining what their degrees deliver

Arts, humanities and social science graduates have essential workforce skills, which are too often unrecognised, and discipline deans group DASH wants to do something about it.

“In contrast with the ‘technical and specialist skills’ associated with STEM, there is no readily available shorthand for HASS,” a new DASH report states.

“Just as science, technology, engineering and maths will play a key role in our technologically advanced future, it is evident that the transformation of society will be powered in large part by creativity, critical thinking, human interaction and design. The HASS disciplines are indispensable but undervalued in this context,”

The report covers the present and potential contributions of graduates in education, management and commerce, society and culture, plus creative arts, who combine to account for 59 per cent of university enrolments.

DASH proposes;

*  industry-funded research into the value of HASS degrees to the national and global economies

* Universities Australia table the report as an official document, “with a view to greater support and collaboration across the UA and our peak body”

* a comms strategy to include learned academies, universities, government and industry

Academic restructure rolls-on at Flinders U

The Flinders U academic restructure will continue, with union and management agreeing on a process brokered by the Fair Work Commission.

What’s happening: VC Colin Stirling wants academic staff who do not meet research-active criteria to apply for teaching-specialist positions. In October management started the process, in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences, and was met with adamant opposition from the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union, which took  a dispute to the commission. (CMM October 2 and October 22).

The two sides have now agreed that the process can continue across the university, with new conditions. Staff will have a choice of asking for a move to either teaching or research focused roles. Any academic deemed surplus to requirements will have access to redeployment or voluntary redundancy. Teaching specialists will have “a reasonable workload allocation for maintenance of discipline currency and professional development.”

Where it came from:  From 2015. Professor Stirling told staff then that he wanted more academics in research or teaching roles and he has worked towards it ever since. The NTEU has been anxious to protect members – which makes yesterday a win for the union. But it also means the process to assign some academics to teaching-only roles will continue across the university.

Ramsay Civ Centre acquires a brother

The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation has strengthened its connections with what is left of  the socially-conservative labour movement, appointing Michael Easson to the board. Dr Easson is a funds manager and entrepreneur and a previous vice president of the ACTU, secretary of the NSW Labor Council and vice president of that state’s branch of the ALP. Former federal Labor leader Kim Beazley was a Ramsay board member before resigning in May to become governor of Western Australia.

Sponsoring spirals of success

University leaders can create career opportunities for their immediate staff by actively sponsoring them. A guide the Universities Australia Executive Women group releases this morning sets out how.

It does not seem hard, once consciously on leaders’ agendas; “opportunities at all career stages can create a positive spiral of success,” but the reason to sponsor people goes way beyond individuals. “Cumulative career advantage and disadvantage impacts not just on individuals but more broadly on the success of the research group, centre or department, and ultimately the institution.”

That’s the good news, what can happen to staff without a sponsor is the bad. UAEW suggests; “validation is not received, opportunity is hard to come by, confidence is undermined, networks and visibility are lacking, talent is not developed, and careers stagnate. An absence of sponsorship results in accumulating career disadvantage and can be career breaking.”

The case for UA getting involved is on the numbers. While a third of vice chancellors are women it is still a third, and although two-thirds of higher education professional staff are women just 44 per cent of HEW Ten and higher workers are female.

Appointments, achievements

Heiko Spallek steps up as head of school and dean of dentistry at the University of Sydney. Professor Spallek became pro dean in 2016 and has acted as dean and school head since early this year.

Guang Shi will be the inaugural head of the University of Wollongong’s School of Earth, Atmospheric and Life Sciences. Professor Shi will move from Deakin U to UoW in March. The school was created following a restructure and commences in January.

Caroline Mansfield will be the new dean of education at the University of Notre Dame Australia, Freemantle. She will move from Murdoch U and start in February.