Thundering agreement on ARC deciding grants

The Senate Committee considering The Greens’ bill to amend the Australian Research Council Act takes evidence today

The bill’s purpose is to prevent ministers vetoing specific grants recommended by the ARC. The research community is pretty much in favour of this– perhaps making for a chorus of consensus from witnesses.

Of which there are a  bunch.  Representatives of four of the five university peak bodies are on first, followed by two sessions for representatives of seven universities, then one for humanities and social science lobbies, followed by sessions for STEM then staff and student groups.

Just about the only major absence is the Australian Technology Network.

The sole individual opponent of the bill appearing is Peter Ridd – the ex James Cook U scientist is the author of the Institute of Public Affairs’ submission. The Australian Research Council and the Department of Education Skills and Employment are also on – last, after a very full schedule.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Simon Bedford (Western Sydney U) on the university’s new teaching and learning Badugulang Centre. This week’s selection by Commissioning Editor Sally Kift for her celebrated series, Needed now in teaching and learning.

plus James Guthrie and John Dumay (Macquarie U) examine how their research performance is analysed in rankings and issues it points two.

with Merlin Crossley (UNSW) on teaching awards – hard to decide but way worth the effort.

and Jenny Gore (Uni Newcastle) considers the policy and politics in the Quality Initial Teacher Education  Review.

For and against UNSW publishing student course evals

On Monday the Fair Work Commission approved this happening (CMM yesterday)

In CMM this morning the university’s DVC E Merlin Crossley makes the case for publishing and sets out what UNSW will do

“Data on research achievements are everywhere. But some of our most appreciated courses are invisible to our community. Now staff and students will be able to see how well-appreciated our courses are. Finally, we can celebrate the good work and learn from it,” he writes.

And the union argues it shouldn’t

The National Tertiary Education Union calls the Fair Work Commission decision to allow UNSW to publish course evaluations, “disappointing, although not entirely surprising given the pro-employer bias of the Fair Work Act.”

The NTEU took the university to the FWC last year, arguing the UNSW enterprise agreement forbad publishing student evaluations of courses that could identify individual academics. The FWC originally agreed with the union, (CMM November 23).  However this decision was overturned Monday, with a full bench deciding that course eval data itself does not identify people.  To which NTEU state secretary Damien Cahill responds the decision has “opened up the possibility of course evaluation results being made public.”

“At stake here is the proper use to which student course evaluation surveys should be put. The NTEU believes student surveys can be useful for pedagogical development, however their well-documented limitations must be recognised – including gender and racial biases.” Dr Cahill says.

He adds the union will make this an issue in enterprise bargaining – which is due this year.

VET has achieved “so little” for equity group students  


We must lift participation, lift attainment and ensure learners from equity groups achieve the same outcomes as others students

Congratulations to the NCVER for the excellent work they have done on making data on equity group participation in, and outcomes from, VET so accessible

Of note is the:

* continuing underrepresentation of people with disability (5 per cent of VET students versus 18 per cent of the general population) and learners speaking a language other than English at home (12 percent  in VET versus 27 per cent of the population)

* high levels of participation in VET by Indigenous learners (5 per cent versus 3 per cent of the general population) but overwhelmingly in lower level Australian Qualification Framework courses (34 per cent of non-Indigenous students are in courses at Certificate IV and above compared with just 21 per cent of Indigenous students), and,

* strong VET participation rates and outcomes for remote learners.

What should shock everyone working in VET is that despite the incredible efforts of so many VET trainers and support staff, the sector has achieved so little over the years for people with disability, Indigenous learners and for those speaking a language other than English at home.

In 1992 Indigenous people were already overrepresented in VET (as a consequence of our school systems not providing them with sufficient support). Indigenous VET students were significantly over-represented in preparatory courses and under-represented in trades and paraprofessional courses.

Twenty-five years ago learners with a disability made up 3.3 per cent of VET students. Superficially the sector has increased enrolments for this group, but in 1997 numbers were undeniably under-reported due to the high proportion (22.7 per cent) who chose not to disclose their disability status. Today the proportion of students not reporting disability status is 12.7 per cent.

In 1998 people who spoke a language other than English at home comprised 13 per cent of the VET population, which was in line with their share of the population (13.9 per cent). The Australian population has since become much more multicultural and yet the VET student population has not reflected that change.

We need to ask ourselves honestly – in the last 30 years what have we achieved?

It goes without saying that individual lives have been changed – but far, far, too few of them.

With an election on the horizon it is beyond time for a truly bipartisan, national effort to refocus the VET sector on equity. We must lift participation, lift attainment and ensure learners from equity groups achieve the same outcomes as other VET students.

Claire Field is an adviser to the tertiary education sector

In on the policy ground-floor

The James Martin Institute announces applications are open for grants to “outstanding academics undertaking applied policy research, or translating existing research for a policy audience.” But not just any outstanding public policy researchers. They have to be at, Uni Sydney, UTS or Western Sydney U – which are the NSW state government’s partners in the JMI.

Grants are for $100 000 max over two years and are for direct research costs.

JMI was established last winter “to bring academic experts into the early stages of policy making. By creating a trusted environment we can enable the contestability of ideas and neutralise vested interests”.

What IRU wants the next government to do

The Innovative Research Universities has a brief for whoever is minister after the election

Some of the proposals are unlikely to surprise. IRU calls for,

* additional domestic UG places to meet demographic demand and the needs of the economy

* broadening research commercialisation, to “all sectors and disciplines to maximise the impacts deriving from public investments”

* sustainable long-term plan to fund basic research in all disciplines

Some propose filling policy gaps,

* make the Australian Qualification Framework “a coherent whole” so universities can “innovate and deliver new credentials”

* use the Universities Foreign Interference Taskforce model to strengthen education and research partnerships in the Indo-Pacific

And one addresses a not universally apparent problem, ensuring the Job Ready Graduates Package is “not adversely affecting student choice and not preventing universities from effectively contributing to other government priorities.”

Appointments, achievements

Amy Baxter (Molecular Science) wins La Trobe U’s 2022 Tracey Banivanua Mar Fellowship for a researcher with major care-giving responsibilities.

Kathy Belov is interim DVC R at Uni Sydney, pending Emma Johnston arriving in July.

 Gary Bowman becomes MBA Director at Uni Adelaide. He moves from Bond U.

 Yuri Kivshar (ANU) receives the Max Born Prize from Optica (“the leading society in optics and photonics”). It’s for theoretical/experimental physical optics.