Courtesy counts

“Desert bush spider could help develop new drugs and insecticides,” University of Queensland announcement Friday. But only if you ask it nicely.

ANU adopts statement to protect academic freedom

The ANU Academic Board has published a university statement on academic freedom, which includes;

Academic freedom enables scholars within the university to pursue knowledge, speak and write without unreasonable restriction. This includes the right to comment on political matters including policies affecting higher education, and the actions of the university, on the basis of legitimate intellectual and professional criteria. The Australian National University affirms its institutional right and responsibility, and the rights and responsibilities of its members, to free enquiry. The university will defend the right of our staff and students to exercise their academic freedom, provided it is done with rigour and evidence.”

Work was underway long before the Ramsay Western Civ Centre negotiations blew-up and the statement certainly would not prevent an academic teaching the “alleged superiority of western culture and civilisation,” which upset the campus branch of the NTEU (CMM May 23).

However, the Academic Board statement does cover a case in the College of Law where student comments critical of the federal government’s asylum seeker policy were deleted from marketing collateral. VC Brian Schmidt intervened on that one stating; ““ANU prides itself on the principle of academic freedom and I am always proud to see our students standing up for issues they feel strongly about. I am disappointed this happened and everybody has learned from it,” (/ CMM March 22).

The new statement appears to extend to professional staff, as well as students, researchers and teachers. “Academic freedom is enjoyed by all members of ANU: staff, students and official visitors. It is exercised through activities relating to that membership centred on the three pillars of teaching, research and public engagement.”

Professor Schmidt backed the statement Friday, thanking AB chair Jacqueline Lo and stating, “we must continue to protect academic freedom within the University to enable the pursuit of knowledge and the exploration of challenging and new ideas that are fundamental to our purpose.”

V for Wellington

The council of Victoria University of Wellington “has agreed in principle” to change its name to the University of Wellington. But, “the draft decision also includes a commitment to the ongoing use of the word Victoria to ensure its heritage is honoured and maintained.” The reason for a change is to end confusion with other unis with Victoria in their name (like VU in Melbourne).  But how will they include “Victoria”? Perhaps not, “University of Wellington, Victoria.”

Queensland unis expand influence in China HE

Queensland universities have combined to provide professional education to Chinese academics. Led by Abby Cathcart (QUT) academics from all the state’s universities, with Queensland government support, presented to 180 staff from 49 Chinese institutions, including Shanghai Jia Tong, at events in Hong Kong, Shendu and Shanghai. Queenslanders also worked with 60 Chinese academics applying to become Higher Education Academy fellows.

“I’ve been inundated with WeChat messages from new colleagues across China who are really excited to be part of the fast-growing global community of fellows and are already planning visits to Queensland and new research and teaching collaborations,” says Professor Cathcart, director of QUT’s Academy of Learning and Teaching.

“The program has created new communities of practice between Chinese and Queensland academics, and highlighted the benefits of HEA Fellowship in benchmarking teaching quality and rewarding those leading, delivering and supporting teaching,” she adds.

QUT has a long relationship with the British based Higher Education Academy, with the 500th QUT fellow announced in January. The university was one of HEAs original Australian affiliates.

This is a brilliant move by the Queenslanders. It enhances the state’s reputation in China’s universities and lays a foundation for professional development programmes run by and from Queensland universities as China moves to improve teaching quality.

Group of Eight speaks up for VET and backs post-school review

The Group of Eight is calling more respect and recognition for the training system. And the lobby also “strongly champions an holistic review of post-secondary education,”  CEO Vicki Thomson will tell a Sydney audience this morning.

“It is undeniable that society needs graduates of the TAFE system as much as it needs those from university,” she will say.

The speech is a carefully calibrated statement designed to address concerns that the demand driven system unbalanced post-school education, with universities expanding in enrolments and esteem, while the VET system declined in both.  The Labor Party has committed to a post-school education review if it wins the next election.

“It has always seemed the great irony to me, that a system that was conceived to create more equitable access to higher education, gave birth at the same time, to what amounts to almost a repudiation of the alternative pathways to acquiring a range of valuable skills that our nation needs,” Ms Thomson will say.

“There is a need to recognise the immense value of school leavers choosing careers they love and know they can be achieve in; whether it’s as a neurosurgeon or tree surgeon.”

However, Ms Thomson will also carefully point out the benefits of degrees, notably those taken at her members; “we would always say that our role is to ensure our graduates are employable. We would all want our graduates to find the employment they want, and we will continue to assert that a degree will definitely assist their skills base to do so: but we are not job factories.  To us that’s a very critical point as we deal with a workforce that is likely to be characterised by change and disruption for some time to come.”

And she will make a case for a national skills-development strategy, including a national post school education and training student ID, to produce more and better data to track demand for graduates and their employment, “so that we have longitudinal data that the sector and the government can actually work with to inform policy.”

“I am committed … to us having a unified strategy for managing skills, advising school leavers, and importantly with all of us having access to a cohesive future planning model that equips us with knowledge of the skills needs, employment trends and timelines of the future. Frankly, we will need this if we are to negotiate the looming challenges of automation, globalisation, big data and other disruptions we have not even conceived of yet.”

UNSW expands India access

The UNSW business school will give advance standing to biz students from Jindal Global University in the Indian state of Haryana, adjacent to New Delhi. The state is a major market for Australian education, where the Varghese Report says, “employment opportunities for educated urban youth are generally positive.”

ANU commits to accommodating more students

There is  talk ANU will guarantee accommodation for commencing postgraduates from 2021 however whether this will be all on-campus or include assistance for students who rent in the private market is not clear. The commitment dates from Vice Chancellor Brian Schmidt’s 2016 ten-year plan (CMM August 2 2016).

Certainly ANU is investing in accommodation – including benefactors Graham and Louise Tuckwell funding two halls of residence to accommodate 800 students. The first, with 428 beds opens first semester ’19. (CMM July 6 2018).  But more rooms of students’ own will be needed. ANU enrols a bunch of PGs, some 4800 started in 2016.

ANU is not alone in working to get students housing. The University of Tasmania has just bought a hotel to convert into accommodation for students out in the cold due to booming demand in Hobart ( CMM May 23).

Random chances: why research grants should be awarded by lottery

The House of Reps committee inquiring into the “efficiency, effectiveness and coherency” of Commonwealth-funded research convenes in Brisbane this morning, where it will hear from the University of Queensland, Griffith U and QUT, plus a range of specialist lobbies.

Professor Adrian Barnett (statistics, QUT) will also give evidence. With Professor Phillip Clark (economics, UniMelbourne) he submitted ideas on improving the research system including awarding grants via lottery.

“Funding systems are often conservative and award funding to ideas that build incrementally on past work. A lottery would free researchers to pursue ideas with potentially large public benefits and hence may be more effective than current peer review based systems.

Lotteries are certain to be more efficient than current funding systems, as researchers would not need to complete long applications. This would return vast amounts of scientists’ time to their research, which would be of huge benefit to the public.

Lotteries are free from pernicious biases such as sexism, racism and cronyism. This would increase the diversity of Australian scientists and reduce wasted talent,” they propose.

The committee is yet to reveal who it will hear in its Melbourne meet next Monday – but with its manifest taste for fun whoever it is will not be dull.

But there will be no members of the medical science community mightily exercised by the new grants system from the National Health and Medical Research Council.  The committee has made it clear the NHMRC is not being reviewed.

This will confound those med researchers who think theirs is the only research that matters, (Their peak body calls itself )



Jason Young (professor of gynaecological surgery at UNSW) will chair the Commonwealth’s National Endometriosis Steering Group, which will run a five-year research programme.

Australian Catholic U has appointed Zlatko Skrbis,  DVC Students Learning and Teaching. He moves from Monash U where he is Senior PVC (Academic). He replaces Anne Cummings who is retiring, after “two decades of close associaition with ACU.”

Su-Ann Tan is the new director of ANU’s Singapore Liasion Office. She moves from the university’s school of Asia-Pacific affairs, where she managed comms.