The consequences of changes to demand driven funding

plus Red Copperburr arrives

and U Tas new MOOC on dealing with dementia

Drink it slowly

“Two minute noodles for life,” is what students will get under the Liberal’s plan for higher education study debt, according to the National Tertiary Education Union, via Twitter yesterday. Ah the NTEU, always understated.

Friday June 17

We can deal with dementia

The University of Tasmania’s MOOC on understanding dementia is a hit, with 70 000 starters and a top completion rate of 45 per cent across its four runs (CMM March 18). And if a course on understanding the disease is in this sort of demand imagine how the university’s new MOOC on preventing dementia will do.

“Recent evidence indicates that around a third of dementia cases may be effectively preventable by attending to a number of life-course factors,” James Vickers from UTas says.

The possibility that dementia could be delayed, even denied, makes the coming MOOC  a very big deal indeed. As Professor Vickers explains, “In Australia, dementia is the second major cause of death after ischemic heart disease, soon to be the major cause of death in women.”

The new course uses work from UTas’s Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre plus that of researchers at Uni of Cambridge, ANU, Uni Melbourne, Monash, University of Sydney and the University of the Sunshine Coast.

The first run starts in July and Professor Vickers hopes subsequent iterations will reach audiences in the developing world, where the disease is set to take off.

CMM keep banging on about the way government should fund health and community service MOOcs as a means of empowering people with the knowledge they need to deal with illness and disadvantage. U Tas  makes the case.

App of the Day

James Cook U’s Usman Malabu has a World Diabetes Foundation grant to develop a mobile app for diabetes and TB sufferers in Papua New Guinea to remind them to take their medication and keep clinic appointments. Mobile phone use is high in PNG, but so are the diseases.

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No movement at Murdoch

Enterprise bargaining isn’t underway at Murdoch University, yes management and union reps are meeting, they just aren’t agreeing on what to argue about. At yesterday’s meeting union reps say management flatly rejected their calls for domestic violence leave and a central career development fund (as distinct from on-the-job training) for professional staff. The union adds management also knocked back internal reviews of unsatisfactory performance, saying staff can go the Fairwork Commission.

“What we see as important provisions that protect you they see as a plethora of restrictive practises that don’t suit the needs of the business,” union reps say.

They have a point, although Murdoch management would express it differently. In common with Edith Cowan and Curtin universities, MU wants to avoid the clause by clause negotiations the NTEU excels at and which specify a mass of specific working conditions. Instead, management wants an agreement based on overarching principles that make for a flexible workplace.

It’s not that the two sides aren’t on the same page. They aren’t reading from the same book.

Stranger in those parts

“Welcome to Victoria, Red Copperburr,” La Trobe U announced yesterday. “But who or what you ask, is Red Copperburr (oh go on)? No, not a character in a Quentin Tarantino western, it’s a small plant newly discovered in the state. At La Trobe media people work with what they have got.

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The great participation pie fight

Anybody who remembers the pie fight in the original Great Race will enjoy this week’s higher education participation debate. But among all the fun as the policy pastry flies two cakey consequences are clear if there are changes to the existing system of all but open access to university. First, participation rates will fall and second rationed places will inevitably lead to government deciding who studies what.

The Group of Eight started the stoush the other day, with a pie projected at the demand driven funding system, saying it “is not sustainable in the long term” and advocating “moderating” it. The problem is access to university for everybody an institution will accept is an article of faith in the electorate, making this something of an own pie. Lots of Liberals loathe demand driven funding (yearning for dreaming spires) and Labor’s Kim Carr worries about the quality of student support in a mass system but both sides of politics backed the establishment of DDF and they cannot back away from it now.

Ironically, what the Go8 is arguing fits Kim Carr’s plan for a new system of institutes providing sub degree and diploma courses. “Sub bachelor and post graduate courses should also be incorporated in the demand driven system to ensure incentives for choice of study are not skewed,” the Eight state. But having his proposal associated, if only by unfair implication, with a revision to demand driven funding is a pie in the plan for Senator Carr. Other lobbies and VCs are also now getting into the fight, making a mess of themselves in their enthusiasm to attack the Eight.

All up the pie fight makes universities look divided and disorganised and will lead to voters not listening – which is exactly whoever the next minister is will want when it comes to the next round of cuts.

But the big problem with all the merengue slinging is that it puts two issues on the agenda which until now weren’t. First, the basic question of access to post compulsory education. With demand for undergraduate places now settling at around population growth any reduction in places can only mean a fall in the participation rate. Second. if there is more demand than places it will be government that decides which universities get how much funding for what courses. The potential for politically inspired deals between Canberra and campuses is obvious. So is the risk of officials deciding what skills the economy will need and funding programmes accordingly and workforce planning rarely works. Of course this could be handled by an elite agency, such as Senator Carr’s proposed higher education productivity and performance commission, (CMM September 24 2015).

And wouldn’t that be a pie in the face for vice chancellors who want to be left to run their own shows.

All green cons

CSIRO has bought software which shows a home’s environmental impact and running costs. This has “the potential to positively influence property value by addressing the other side of affordability, the running costs.” Oh good, just what capital city homebuyers need, another factor to push up prices.


Agility is all

All of a sudden there are competing technologies for blockchain credit transfer systems (CMM Wednesday) but asking whether they can be ignored for a while is a kodak of a question. Because if these two don’t create a new academic qualification system something else will. And the same speedy changes apply across just about all mass customer based, high-transaction industries. Its why a thousand people, including some from Monash, Deakin, Uni of Melbourne, Uni of Adelaide, Charles Sturt U and Griffith U are all attending next week’s Agile conference in Melbourne to hear experts including MIT’s Kate Darling and IBM CIO Jeff Smith discuss disruption and the digital technology to embrace the challenges and overcome the crises of an endlessly agile world. The two day conference includes a session for school and university students on working with at the absolute edge tech companies.  Content Activated by Agile


work wins of the week


Adam Shoemaker will be the next vice chancellor of Southern Cross University, replacing Peter Lee when he retires in September. Professor Shoemaker will move from Griffith U where he is academic provost. His previous posts include dean of arts at ANU and DVC E at Monash.

Macquarie U CFO John Gorman retires at the end of the year. The university says his most notable achievement was its 2010 $250m bond issue, a first among Australian universities.

Joseph Powell from the University of Queensland is the 2016 winner of the Commonwealth Health Minister’s Award for Excellence in Health and Medical ResearchDr Powell uses big blocks of genomic data to look for DNA sequence variants that contribute to disease. The $50 000 prize goes to fund his research.

The Queens Birthday Honours List is here. Among members of the research and higher education community honoured CMM especially noticed a few;

Industrial relations researcher Marian Baird, from the University of Sydney. Edith Cowan U executive dean Lynne Cohen, AM for services to tertiary education in psychology. Science journalist Elizabeth Finkel AM. Flinders University criminologist Adam Graycar AM. Doug Hilton from Walter and Eliza Hall and the Association of Medical Research Institutes, AO. University of Sydney professor Nalini Joshi AO for services to maths. Deakin U chancellor John Stanhope OAM. UNSW finance researcher Peter Swann, AM. ACU ethicist Bernadette Tobin, AO. Chair of the research funding review Ian Watt, AC.

Curtin U has a new $1.4m endowment for a new chair geophysical exploration and data analysis. The money comes from Boart Longyear in Utah and the chair goes to Curtin professor Anton Kepic.

CQU is recruiting a PVC to run operations in its VET division and grow the training business. It’s a new position, reporting to DVC Helen Huntly.

UWA aspro Kevin Pfleger has won the British Pharmacological Society’s Novartis Prize for his work on chronic kidney disease.

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