Keep it short

It had to happen. Professor Andy Miah from the University of the West of Scotland has announced the first peer reviewed academic journal “publishing original research only on Twitter.” Um, I think that means Twitter is the subject, not that papers have to be 140 characters max.

Barber trims his term

University of New England Vice Chancellor Jim Barber gave six months notice on Friday, saying he and his wife want to go home to Melbourne. Professor Barber has done well, certainly compared to the shambles preceding him during which former VC Alan Pettigrew and chancellor, John Cassidy, did not get on. Professor Barber was a calming presence and skilfully navigated the odd eccentricity on his watch, notably the precipitate departure from public life of Mr Cassidy’s successor as chancellor, local MP Richard Torbay. The university, which is small and not rich, also did well during his term. According to the NSW Auditor General’s report last year UNE has a solid current ratio and it’s 15 per cent operating margin in 2012 was 10 per cent up on 2010, although there was a timing element in government grants in this. However UNE is dependent on funds from Canberra (ex HECs payments) for over 50 per cent of income and it is a small distance education specialist, which has not caught the international wave (900 of 11 000 EFTs are internationals). Certainly UNE is expanding, it had just 9000 EFTs in 2011 – but in the world of MOOCs it is exposed – something Professor Barber was acutely aware of as he planned how UNE can compete in an online world. He explained what he thinks will happen in an ABC broadcast in October, “those traditional universities that do manage to prosper in the new environment will be those that appropriate free content from the web, unbundle their unitary product offerings and collaborate with other universities around the world in a network of integrated hubs that drive down cost by sharing expertise and infrastructure.” That he will not be around to set up UNE to survive, at least for a while seems surprising, particularly as he accepted a second five year term last February.

Advanced warning

Charles Sturt University announces a federally funded MOOC “to help increase participation in tertiary education by students from low SES backgrounds.” So it’s a course that qualifies completers for university entry, right? Wrong. Damn, so it’s just promotional bumf masquerading as a course. Wrong again, in fact it looks like structured information on what actually occurs in class, “it will address the key areas of academic writing and reading, student expectations, and digital literacy and online learning skills”. If this project reduces first year attrition by explaining what commencing students are in for it will be money well spent.

Ask for danger money

The University of Melbourne is staffing up with a new position, vice principal, policy and projects. Reporting to Vice Chancellor Glyn Davis it will advise on strategy and oversee “strategic university projects” “in collaboration with other portfolio heads. This presumably includes Provost Margaret Sheil, and Senior Vice Principal Ian Marshman, who will undoubtedly be delighted to welcome their new colleague.

And if that one does not send your risk rater to red you are obviously the fearless change agent the University of Newcastle is looking for. That university has a new strategic plan and needs somebody to re-engineer business performance and process as part of it. And to make it that little bit harder UoN is using Cubane Consulting’s Uniforum , which provides a blueprint of a university’s processes, thus making the base to improve from clear, very clear, indeed. Anything else? Oh yes, you have two years to get it done, after which the university “may” consider another term.

Comparative pay

Those UTS staff who did not defect to the University of South Australia last week are being urged by the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union to stand firm in the face of management meanness. According to the union, after six months of enterprise agreement negotiations, the university “has not seriously engaged, and has refused every single NTEU proposal to improve staff conditions. Instead their focus has been on trying to strip back safeguards in the performance management, change management and disciplinary processes, threatening the job security of all staff.” Even worse the pay offer is only 2.5 per cent while, “massive spending on buildings and infrastructure continues and appears to be the university’s priority.” Except that capital is outlayed but once while staff costs make up 60 per cent of recurrent expenditure. On the other hand, the UTS wage bill as a per centage of overall outlays is fractionally less than the state average and as UTS’s overall position is sound management will have to do more than blame federal cuts to explain why it is offering less money than the University of Sydney up the road.

Preferred address

Last week’s announcements that UWS is losing a research team to ACU and UTS business academics are moving to UniSA were quickly followed by claims that such poaching is all the fault of the ARC, with universities trying to inflate their research ranking by stealing productive staff. From Toronto Gavin Moodie suggest that while such movement may be no bad thing it is easily stopped. Under existing ERA rules a university is credited for research by staff who they hired up to six years before a cut-off, regardless of the institutional affiliation they published under. Mr Moodie suggests attributing research to the institution authors’ list as where they work in published papers.

Publishers without a paddle

Textbook publishing is in trouble. In the US Democrats have turned it into a second-order electoral issue, with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan once musing it would be good if textbooks were free. In November Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) announced legislation to fund the creation of free textbooks. All sorts of variations on the theme are already underway. Some are dubious, like the company that copies textbooks, rewriting the text, changing variables in charts and diagrams but in essence copying the original authors’ work. But others create original not for profit texts in big undergraduate subjects, with authors paid by institutions or philanthropists. Rice University based OpenStax College and Lumen Learning  announced a new deal along these lines on Friday. It is bad news for text publishers, not to mention the academic authors of successful 101 texts – and with digital distribution making production and shipping close to free it probably indicates the rivers of gold have run dry and publishers are up the proverbial creek without a paddle.