Medicinal entertainment

For just $65 “loyal supporters” of the Hunter Medical Research Institute can buy an entertainment package of offers on products and events. What’s more “20 per cent of your membership price directly supports medical research.” CMM is waiting on a raffle for a knee replacement.

Here comes Google with a game-changer

Google announced Friday, “a free digital skills training initiative.” Equally interesting, it was launched with shadow treasurer Chris Bowen.  


What Google’s got: There isn’t a bunch of content on Grow with Google and the skills on offer are generic – Lynda will not be losing sleep. But, and it is indeed a very big, government agencies, industry groups, trade associations, and a private business college are partners.  The potential to provide micro-courses and skill primers is as big as Google and partners want.

A googol of challenges for trainers: The potential for people to learn what they need, when they need via Google could become an alternative to formal VET courses and sub-degree platforms, expanding on the way students now use social media to acquire specific skills at their own speed. As Victor Callan and Margaret Johnston set out in a paper for the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research, “trade teachers in apprenticeship programs reported that their apprentices were major users of YouTube, as the videos show the performance of practical skills, often over several steps.”

The Googleisation of training also makes a challenge for the Australian Qualifications Framework – how to maintain the authority and credibility of formal accreditation when people can assemble their own informal credentials outside the regulated system.

With political appeal: And if you think this is overblown Chris Bowen does not appear to – which should alarm the training establishment. For a start, Mr Bowen is a big-ideas bloke and as shadow small business minister a new way to up-skill start-ups and support self-starters will appeal. Plus, as possible treasurer after the election, he will undoubtedly be acutely conscious of the costs of his party’s promise to restore demand driven funding of undergraduate places and his colleagues talking up resourcing TAFE.

And a great history: There’s a precedent for all this – back in 1993 a Labor Government funded the Open Learning Agency of Australia, as an open-access alternative to campus-study.

USC VC announces departure

Budget hawks will cheer the news Greg Hill will retire next year. The University of the Sunshine Coast VC is adept at extracting more money from the Commonwealth as USC has expanded across the region. And as chair of the Regional Universities Network he spoke-up for the special interests of his members with an enthusiasm that rivals Dan Tehan.

What they really think: ACU chancellor and union leader exchange opinions

John Fahey calls union leader Leah Kaufmann’s letter “discourteous”. Dr Kaufmann responds his is a “highly-gendered” criticism.   

When George Pell was convicted of child abuse Australian Catholic University said it wouldn’t comment until all legal processes are complete. Then VC Greg Craven wrote an op ed about the Pell case. This upset the university branch of the National Tertiary Education Union, which wrote to Chancellor John Fahey. Here’s how he started his response.

“In the circumstances, it is not unreasonable to draw the conclusion that the letter was intended primarily to attract media attention. I regard your actions as discourteous and probably hypocritical … “

Mr Fahey proceeds to argue that Professor Craven wrote his piece “as an individual,” “in the exercise of his own academic freedom, a concept which your union supports.”

NTEU uni president Leah Kaufmann isn’t having any of it, responding to the chancellor, that Craven wrote as VC of ACU, and that he should make it clear his position is not that of the university.

Dr Kaufmann isn’t thrilled with the chancellor’s tone either. “I wish to express a personal displeasure with having my actions labelled as ‘discourteous’. Specifically, it seems to me that this is a highly-gendered criticism, often levelled at women who are seen to be speaking out of turn.”

Good news from Universities Australia

Australians get that international education is excellent for us. Universities Australia says 81 per cent of people surveyed, “grasp that international education makes a major contribution to national prosperity.” UA adds that it is no coincidence Australia “is tipped” to over-take the UK as the world’s second destination for international students.

Sound like the preamble for an ask? It’s not, UA isn’t calling for a policy change or more funding. The lobby just wants to share some good news.

Yet more ideas to improve regional uni achievements

The feds review of regional, remote and rural post school education, chaired by Denis Napthine had heaps to say in “a framing paper” to set a context for submissions (CMM January 24) and so university groups duly responded.  But Dr Napthine and colleagues have a bunch more ideas, which they set out in six more papers on a range of issues, including access and retention. And so, the endlessly energetic Regional Universities Network and Innovative Research Universities shouldered their policy swags and delivered responses to them as well.

RUN backs proposals in the papers including, * flexible delivery modes in regional centre study-hubs. * uncapping UG, enabling and pathway places, for courses “in areas of regional skill need”. * enhanced RRR focus by the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Programme. * new research funding grants for RUN universities. * halving existing gaps in urban-RRR attainment levels by 2030. * a RRR education commissioner.

Some IRU recommendations are, * the government fundall additional enrolments” at RRR campuses. * tying equity funding to specific outcomes per university. * “build research capacity as part of a broader suite of action to strengthen the capability of RRR university operations”

Skills set a new Tasmanian divide

There’s a new Tasmanian divide, and it’s bigger than Hobart v Launceston. 

The split is in employment. Well-educated winners working in tourism, education and the ever-growing health and aged care systems are doing well. Those who aren’t include middle-skilled workers in old industries, plus people with qualifications out of synch with the economy.

A new report by Lisa Denny from the University of Tasmania’s Institute for the Study for Social Change finds that in 2006-16 the state saw “heightened job polarisation.”  The share of the workforce employed at top-two skill levels increased to over a third of the workforce while 46 per cent of jobs were still at Certificate Two Level. Especially alarming news for people with no formal training is that half the people in low level jobs are over-qualified. This appears to indicate middle-skill work is disappearing and people who would have worked in those jobs are now crowding out the unskilled.

“Such trends highlight the need to create more knowledge-intensive, high skill employment while providing flexible training options to ensure workers can adapt to the rapidly changing labour market,” Dr Denny writes.

This makes the case for the University of Tasmania’s new associate degree programme, designed for school leavers not interested in full-on study and older workers who need to retrain in expanding areas of the economy.

MUP to go big in open access

Melbourne University Publishing will diversify delivery, launching a digital open access list in October. 

Ten books are scheduled for this year, expanding to 50 per annum in three years. The list will focus on the disciplines where the university has the strongest academic standing, defined as “well above world standard,” in the Australian Research Council’s Excellence for Research in Australia, plus international discipline rankings.

The ARC rates UniMelb tops in physical sciences, chemistry, environmental science, computing science, engineering, medicine, education, economics, commerce, law, history. However, it is likely that the list will focus on humanities disciplines, where research is published more in monographs than journals.

Sorcery with apprentices: there may be fewer than appears

You don’t have to be an apprentice to be counted in the figures for them.

The feds set up the Skilling Australia Fund to increase apprentice numbers and “other employment-related training.” It’s funded by a levy on employers of foreign workers, plus Commonwealth payments to the states. Apart, that is, from Victoria and Queensland, which have not signed up. The levy is also said not to be raising the expected amounts.

But otherwise how’s it going? Hard to say, it seems to CMM, as revealed in Senate Estimates, (thanks to a learned reader for the pointer).

The ever-inquisitive Doug Cameron (Labor-NSW) asked about “apprentice-like activity” in the scheme, and whether including such could lift numbers towards state targets. To which a DET official replied;

“It was always envisaged in the agreement that there would be an opportunity to consider what you would say is a like activity, an opportunity for jurisdictions to come up with innovations, solutions, to the issues that they’re confronting within their jurisdiction. Of course, the core is about mainstream apprenticeships and traineeships, but we have given these jurisdictions an opportunity to come up with solutions that are outside the mainstream approaches.”

Good-o, but Senator Cameron’s point was that “apprentice-like” activity does not an apprenticeship make.  There will be hours of fun for the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research in working out how to account for this in the apprentice-trainee stats.

Appointment, achievement

At Edith Cowan U, Angela Hill is promoted to the new position of DVC Education. She joined ECU in 2017 and is now PVC Education.

Liam Hall from the University of Melbourne has won drug company Merck’s Next Game-Changing Technology Prize for a concept on miniaturising nuclear magnetic resonance. “This research has the potential to revolutionise our understanding of many chemical reaction mechanisms and pathways,” Merck announces.