And doing the numbers on maths in school

On your bikes

The Monash media minions win the yellow jersey for promoting academics available for press comment on the Tour de France. There are experts on nutrition/hydration, the psychological impact of winning/losing, aerodynamics, and performance enhancing drugs. Riders? on the needle – in the Tour? Surely not – such cynics they are at Monash.

Bad example

Chris Pyne was on radio in regional NSW the other day, explaining how deregulation would benefit country campuses, like those of Charles Sturt University, allowing them to compete on price against rich urban universities when now they are obliged to charge the same costs for courses. “A law student at Charles Sturt University pays exactly the same for their degree as a law student at Sydney University. Now, that effectively is a rural student cross-subsidising a city student,” Mr Pyne said. Or it would be if CSU had a law school. Perhaps Mr Pyne was getting confused with the university’s long campaign (which seems no closer to success) for a medical school – the same argument could apply. No wonder CSU VC Andy Vann was polite but not overwhelmingly enthusiastic in describing the minister’s plan on ABC Radio’s PM on Friday night.

What hath Wollongong wrought

Last week the University of Wollongong told Council member Michael Zelinsky to shut up and stop criticising Vice Chancellor Paul Wellings’s support for fee deregulation (Campus Morning Mail June 30, July 4). This was very dumb indeed, creating a controversy where one did not exist before. The local Illawarra Mercury is now campaigning on what a deregulated Wollongong degree could cost. “Family fears UoW debt the size of a mortgage” the paper headlined on Friday. “The University of Wollongong has opened the door to higher education for thousands of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, yet there are fears that those doors could soon slam shut,” it continued on Saturday. And all before UoW says anything about fees if, and it is a very big if, deregulation occurs.

Cooperative federalism

When it comes to schools Chris Pyne and NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli are not always on tbe same page. In February for example, Mr Pyne established an inquiry into teacher training by universities, which Mr Piccoli preempted last month by announcing student teachers will have to pass literacy and numeracy tests before being allowed into state schools for their final practicum. But apparently they are still speaking “Adrian and I talk regularly and we’re working closely on collaborating … and I think you will find over the next month there will be several announcements which will prove that,” Mr Pyne said last week. Hard for them not to work together, what with the federal minister having the money and the state one the classrooms. But what are they up to?

You get what you pay for

The University of Queensland will host Harvard economist Dale W Jorgeson tomorrow who will talk about the way China will overtake the US (who knew?). It’s a snip at $120 for the lecture, lunch, plus “networking.” I wonder if the audience will stop selling to each other long enough to listen to Professor Jorgeson?

Stripping honours

On Tuesday Edith Cowan University announced that paintings by Rolf Harris were off university walls within hours of his conviction. Then on Friday the Australian Catholic University at Ballarat stripped former local bishop Ronald Mulkearns’ name from a lecture theatre. The Victorian inquiry into how churches deal with sexual abuse of children heard Father Mulkearns moved known child abusing priests between parishes in the 1970s and 1980s. On Friday I asked what ACU is going to do, if anything, about the honorary doctorate awarded Father Mulkearns in 1998. And if they tell me I will tell you.

A new era

As in Excellence in Research for Australia, the immensely complex quality review the Australian Research Council will publish next year. The ARC is making a range of changes from the 2012 data collection process, most of which only bibliomaguses will understand. But others reflect significant policy changes and even the need to stop people gaming the system. One notable requirement demonstrates the way open access is now on the research policy agenda. The ARC requires institutions “to state whether a research output is available in an open access repository.” This is now a requirement for all publications resulting from research the council funds.

The ARC also appears to be acting against universities inflating performance by retaining research rock-stars for a day a week and then claiming credit for all their publications. “For ERA 2015, staff employed less than 0.4 fulltime equivalent at an institution at the staff census date must have a publication association with the institution,” the new rules state.

And there is no doubt the council is keen to stop universities gaming ERA by re-cycling research. “Research outputs that are based on the same research but are published as different research output types can only be submitted once. For example, a conference paper that is subsequently published as a journal article with no new research content must only be submitted to ERA as either the conference paper or the journal article.” All the very detailed details are here.

Top that

Just days into the top job at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School the pressure on Geoff Garrett (ex UNSW) is increasing. US News and World Report has just named Wharton the best business school in the country. I have no idea how Professor Garrett will top that, but reckon he does.

By the numbers

Australia’s poor performance in school mathematics is not for want of effort by maths ed academics. The Mathematics Education Research Group of Australians held its 37th annual conference at UTS last week and dead set serious it was too. Inevitably there was the (very) occasional paper heavy with cultural theory, which did not appear to have much to do with classroom teaching. However, the vast majority of the many, many presentations focused on students, teachers and student-teachers and how to lift learning. Did easy solutions appear to our PISA problem in the papers? Not that innumerate me could see – but there was a deal of data on Australia’s poor performance and ample ideas how to fix it. One thing that seems strange to an outside is the primary – secondary disconnect. Jill Cheeseman and Angela Mornane reported a survey of Year Three and Four students, which found “most students believe mathematics is important, they feel confident and capable of learning mathematics.” Which is good. But a separate report of another survey of Years Seven to Nine students found they had mainly male role models in maths, which may account for girls losing interest. Which is bad. Of course this would be easily fixed by a bunch of young women teaching maths, but that is rather were we started.

This may take some time

The La Trobe branch of the National Tertiary Education Union has posted its tactics manual for staff affected by Vice Chancellor John Dewar’s re-structure. It sets out all the steps, more a long march really, that management must take to comply with the consultation clauses under the university’s new enterprise agreement (implemented on June 26). While the university says two weeks to a month is appropriate the union believes this is not necessarily long enough. But the big division between union and management is over what the university exists to do. According to Professor Dewar, La Trobe must become “a more modern and agile organisation that best meets the needs of community and industry now and in the years ahead.” Of which the union is not having any, saying, “the university is an education and research institution that has obligations to society, as well as the university community. Corporatisation and privatisation undermines the open exchange of ideas, intellectual freedom and the social good that define a university.” Both positions can mean whatever the two sides want them to and while the VC is determined to have his new structure in place for the next academic year this seems optimistic if the union rank and file demands to consult, and consult and consult.

In breaking news

The scholarly publication once known as the British Medical Journal changed its name to BMJ 20 years back. Now, innovators that they are, the publishers are at it again – from hereon it will be The BMJ ! And of course there is the usual guff about the new logo, which has “a warm and informal texture, a friendly but forceful feel, and an antique but not old fashioned tone.” Perhaps they should have called it the Blather Medical Journal.