Return on investment

This week’s Mandy (“well they would say that wouldn’t they”) Award goes to the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute which praises NSW government plans to spend $150m over ten years on research into, heart disease.

“Research into heart disease is needed now more than ever. What is particularly visionary of the NSW Government is its strong show of support for biomedical research. … the NSW Government should be applauded for its commitment to fundamental biomedical research and innovation.”

Group of Eight adjusts and advances

With the end of demand driven funding (at least the uni-only Mk1 version) its every lobby for itself, as uni-groups position themselves for more government regulation (if the coalition stays in power) and/or more competition from the public training system (if Labor wins the election).

Yesterday Group of Eight CEO Vicki Thomson demonstrated how her members will adapt, whatever happens.

In an opening statement to a Senate committee inquiry, Ms Thomson signalled that her members could coexist with TAFE; “It is not true that only university entry holds the key to a future career. TAFE must be returned to a position of value; seen as a respected and much needed partner in post-secondary education, not treated as a lesser education stream.”

This is smart and painless politics for the Go8.  Other unis will struggle but the Group of Eight will not lose out if higher and vocational education have to compete for student places in the same federal funding system. Ms Thomson also backed another Labor policy, a review of the entire post-secondary system. “It ought to be a national priority to have the courage to unpick Australia’s post-school education system with a comprehensive national review,” she said.

And if the demand driven system stays dead she has constructive ideas on how to work in a world where student-growth is regulated.  The country needs, “high level strategic advice on workforce and employment forecasting,” to make the most of investment in undergraduates. “Such a body is even more critical as we move from a demand driven system to a system which reflects the needs of Australia and our economy.

“The now-defunct Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency was enabled to undertake research and develop long-term strategy in key areas that informed industry activity and direction.” Workforce analysis might also explain how despite oft stated demand, “a significant proportion” of recent STEM graduates in full-time work do not use their skills or expertise.

It was the usual realpolitik from the Go8 which knows how to work with whatever the electorate provides.

Walter and Eliza Hall opens its childcare centre

Walter and Eliza Hall launched its $9.8m childcare centre yesterday. ““Without improving gender equity, Australia’s medical research sector will continue to lose significant talent. In the long-term this will make the difference in our ability to continue to meet our biggest health challenges, and improve lives,” WEHI director Doug Hilton said when construction started last year.


Anita Bowman (CQU) is the Australasian Sonographer Association educator of the year and sonographer of the year. As learned readers (but until now) not CMM know, sonography uses ultrasound for medical diagnostic examinations. Both honours double as lifetime achievement awards as Aspro Bowman, along with husband CQU VC Scott Bowman are leaving the university at the end of the year to travel.

Vanessa Pirotta from Macquarie U won the Australian round of FameLab, the British Council’s explain-your-research-in-three-minutes competition. She goes on to the world finals, at the Cheltenham Science Festival, which starts today. Ms Pirotta uses drones to collect whale-blow, which she uses to check their health. She follows UTS microbiologist Nural Cokcetin who was last year’s world runner-up.

RMIT researcher Hannah Badland is the Australian Health Promotion Association’s new thinker in residence.

Old news from TEQSA is good news

TEQSA announced yesterday that it will look at, “student wellbeing and safety standards” in considering registration renewals by higher education providers.

What, the wellbeing and safety standards in the Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards), which became law in October 2015, you ask. Those are the one’s CMM replies.

“After the release of recent research, surveys and media reports revealing the extent of sexual assault and sexual harassment at Australian universities, the higher education regulator is seeking assurance that all providers are fostering safe environments and supporting students in need,” TEQSA said.

Good.  Standard 2.3. (3) states, “a safe environment is promoted and fostered, including by advising students and staff on actions they can take to enhance safety and security on campus and online.” “Advising” does not sound so tough, but “promoted and fostered” gives the regulator ample authority in assessing standards. And with the power to do it on the books since 2015 no one will be able to say they didn’t see it coming.

Aus unis stable in Asia Pacific innovation ranking

Japan and South Korea lead the 2018 Reuter’s ranking of the Asia Pacific’s most innovative universities, with Monash U leading the five Australian unis, at 25 (28 in 2017). Japan and South Korea have four institutions each in the top ten, with China and Singapore having one each. The ranking is based on Web of Science research citations plus other data sources including patent filings. The top five are Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, University of Tokyo, Pohang University (SK), Seoul Uni, and Tsinghua Uni.

Australian universities following Monash, are UniSyd at 36 (31 in ’17), UoQ at 42 (41 in ’17), UniMelb at 45 (46 in ’17) and UNSW at 51 (50 in’17).

Free advice for Macquarie U law students

In February Macquarie U VC S Bruce Dowton told staff that the feds’ funding freeze and the end of the demand driven system meant the uni was “examining structural issues in the budget assumptions to which we have become accustomed,” (CMM February 21). Sound like cuts to you? It certainly does in the law school where there is a proposal to reduce the time casual academic staff can spend helping students out of class hours. This, campus union official Lance Dale says, is crook.

“Because casual academics are committed to their students, are often driven to do their best in the hope of continuing employment, they will continue to provide student consultation (be it, online or in person) irrespective of whether payment for this work is provided or not. This is wrong and exploitative of the good-will and loyalty of these staff. Moreover, because tutors are in direct face to face contact with students, and have thus developed a platform of trust with them, it is natural and desirable that students approach tutors about many issues in the first instance.”

Mr Dale adds, that the five minutes set aside before and after class “does not cut it”, – too many students, not enough time.

This looks economising of the every little bit helps kind, as the university pays down its $253m in borrowings last year, down $100m on 2016.

A UoQ take on the transformation of higher education

UoQ researchers Kelly Matthews, Carmen Garratt and Doune Macdonald will have captured and held the attention of the university Senate, with their paper on the future of post-compulsory education, not least because it is a concise as it comprehensive.

They headline three issues:

lifetimes of learning in a digital world: “Continuous learning will be vital as people change careers more often over a longer working lifespan. … University curriculum has to create space for students to learn how to learn and imbue values for continuous learning.”

student expectations will change and new providers will appear: “more favourable attitudes toward online delivery from prospective students and growth in lifelong learning for professionals signal a need to rethink the traditional, on-campus only model of learning.”

technologies will power education and change campuses: new and emerging technologies promise integrative systems affording a nuanced and personalised student experience creating opportunities for flexible, relevant, and deep learning. … The possibilities of micro-credentialing and online learning opportunities create space to rethink the traditional academic calendar.”