Working with what he’s got

Jon Black, NSW TAFE MD  speaking at a conference yesterday. “We are finding out that all our students are university graduates because they can’t do anything and they come to us to learn how to learn a skill to do something.” Perhaps he did not mean “all” literally.

Glyn Davis has a message for unis: “we have a moral responsibility to not be self-satisfied”

In Features today, David Myton is in conversation with  Glyn Davis, University of Melbourne VC for the past 13 years, who leaves in October.

“When I began academic life, I hoped one day to be a professor of political science who contributed to public debate – and that remains my aspiration,” he says.

Davis also reflects on the state of Australian higher education. “We have on average the largest public universities in the world and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. More diversity, more range, would be great,” he says, adding, “we have a moral responsibility to not be self-satisfied”.

And if leftist radicals are unduly influencing students, he says: “If it is true that universities feed students Marxist ideology, then it doesn’t seem to workGraduates vote in much the same way as the broader community. They are more than capable of forming their own political judgements.”

Open Day of the Day

Edith Cowan U promotes its beer making course as reason to attend Open Day. But there’s hops more (sorry) with a bunch of presentations designed to demonstrate that doing a degree can be really interesting, (for e.g. “sugar sabotage: find out how much sugar is in your food and drinks and learn about nutrition and dietetics,” and “could you identify an offender out of a line up? Test you powers of observation and learn more about criminology”.) The campaign looks like it was designed by present students for prospective students.

Researchers slam Defence Department’s ambit gambit

The Department of Defence’s suggestion that the government should decide access to any technology under the defence export control scheme (CMM Monday and Tuesday) will qualify as ambit gambit of the year if the research community has anything to do with it. Supplementary, and scathing, submissions to the Thom Review of the Defence Trade Controls Act, were released yesterday.

Universities Australia: “Should Defence be given the power to unilaterally prohibit or control supply of any technology, irrespective of whether it has been included on the defence strategic goods list, this could make the confident conduct of research very difficult. If research cannot be published, nor supplied for commercial or non-commercial use, it cannot be effectively employed. Researchers and institutions would, rightly, refuse to conduct research where the spectre of such a wide-ranging control system looms.

Group of Eight: “DoD’s proposals have the potential to significantly impact not only the course of researcher activity, affecting choices as to which research our universities and researchers engage in, but the fundamental academic freedoms upon which the quality and diversity of our research is reliant.

Australian Academy of Science: “The Defence recommendations amount to the unilateral ability to prohibit, control or regulate any technology … and the ability to suppress publication of any given research activity. Such a regime would create enormous uncertainty, with no ability to determine whether a technology would be allowed to be developed, deployed, communicated or exported.

Australian Academy of Technology and Science: “These changes would make compliance with the Act burdensome and challenging for Australia’s industries, researchers and institutions…. the Department’s submissions proposes warrantless entry and search powers, which also do not appear to be adequately justified.”

Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes: “This could potentially cripple international research collaborations …. Such unprecedented power would threaten research progress, improved health outcomes as well as the commercialisation of research.”

There is more, much more, from other institutions, but you get the idea. Last night UA’s Catriona Jackson said “we are engaging in discussions with Defence and we are hopeful of a good outcome.”

Industrial action by NTEU roo

There was a social media pic of a kangaroo basking on the UNE School of Health’s lawn yesterday. Clearly an NTEU roo doing nothing as part of yesterday’s industrial action over working conditions, a learned reader remarks.


Busting the international education boom

Everybody knows it but nobody much says it, Australian higher education is fearfully exposed to any decline in demand from China. So, policy paladin Frank Larkins, sets out incontrovertible evidence in a new paper for the L H Martin Institute.

In the 15 years to 2017, he reports, the number of Chinese students in Australia increased from 17 400 to 133 600, growing from 14 per cent of total individuals enrolled in higher education to 38 per cent. Indian students doubled over the same period to 15 per cent.

But while the two biggest student markets have grown, numbers from Indonesia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan and the United Kingdom were lower last year than in 2002.

“The vulnerability of higher education institutions to the dominance of students of two nationalities should be of concern for political, financial and academic reasons,” Professor Larkin warns.

The proportion of international students in the Australian system is stark in comparison with comparable countries. Only 13 per cent of UK university students are internationals from outside the EU, just 5 per cent (one million individuals) of students in the US are from other countries.

“It is timely that a broader discussion be held about the changing trends in the nationality distribution of international student enrolees in Australian universities. The outcomes have implications for Australian society beyond education, including economic and strategic security,” Professor Larkins writes.

For universities, the problem already exists. “This misalignment does raise important questions regarding the balance of the educational experience being provided to students by Australian universities,” he warns, before putting it plainly

“There are faculties in some universities where the majority of the students are from overseas, with more than half of one nationality. Most university students continue to express overall satisfaction with their university experience. International student satisfaction levels are lower than for their domestic counterparts. Demographic profile changes may accentuate concerns. Students do have concerns that the richness of the educational class experience is being compromised. There is a strong case for a more coordinated national response to the management of international student trends.”

No flag flying

The new subject rankings from Shanghai-based ARWU (CMM yesterday) identifies the national affiliation of universities by their flag – with the exception of unis in Taiwan, which are listed without colours.  

Charles Sturt U: productivity plus pedagogy

Charles Sturt U has released a guide to its economic importance to communities where it has campuses. The university reports what it kicks in to household income and FTE employment, in seven regional centres, plus Sydney and Canberra.

“We are proud of our record in educating students and conducting research that delivers lasting impact in regional Australia. We are also proud of our record in advocating on behalf of the citizens across the university footprint to ensure the prosperity of regional cities, rural towns and remote communities,” Vice Chancellor Andrew Vann says.

The idea that education should underwrite regional economies is as old as state governments setting up teacher colleges in the country and is politically non-negotiable. As education and training moves ever-more on-line, regional universities will want to keep it this way.

Appointments, achievements

Amir Mahmood will become dean of business at Western Sydney U in October. Professor Mahmood is now head of the University of Newcastle’s Singapore campus. Senior DVC Scott Holmes now doubles as WSU biz dean.

Deb Verhoeven (UTS) has Cad$350 000 per annum for seven years as a Canada 150 research chair at the University of Alberta. She moved from Deakin U to UTS a year or so back to become associate dean, engagement and innovation in the arts and social science faculty. Professor Verhoeven will go to Alberta in April where she will lead a team, “using machine learning and crowdsourcing to create an open-linked, open data knowledge base of feminist content sourced from a wide range of Canadian cultural collections.”

Engineers Australia’s selection of 30 innovative engineers for 2018 is out, including;

Ben Horan (Deakin U) for a VR childbirth simulator

Francesca Iacopi (UTS) researches the miniaturisation of electronics

Sumeet Walia (RMIT) for his work on nanoscale electronics

Daniel Messina (RMIT) has built a scanning robot

Marc Carmichael (UTS) for a robotic system for abrasive blasting

Ravi Naidu (Cooperative Research Centre CARE) for soil remediation

Riyyadh Al-Ameri (Deakin U) works on using medical plastic waste to improve concrete

Bing-Jie Ni (UTS) for low greenhouse gas-emission wastewater management

Bret Hallam UNSW) has created technology to increase solar-cell efficiency