Always on message

The University of Canberra was early with the aphorisms, tweeting New Year’s Eve, “Wishing you all a safe and happy new year! We can’t wait to see what 2019 will bring.” To which the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union responded, “We predict a new enterprise agreement that values, respects and rewards all staff.”

First Linkage Grants announced

Education Minister Dan Tehan advised Australian Research Council funding on Saturday for eleven projects.

Notable new Linkage programme awards include: data- driven grants for Swinburne U, one on firmware vulnerabilities in smart home devices and the other on vehicle traffic analytics. An RMIT team and partners are funded to investigate electricity demand due to households’ digital consumption.

The University of Adelaide is funded to work on sensors to predict water pipe bursts and Curtin U to develop computer intelligence for planning repair and maintenance of infrastructure assets.

More rooms of their own at U Tas

The University of Tasmania was busting a gut over the summer, creating 300 more student beds in Hobart for the start of semester.

The university was a victim of its own success last year, creating accomm which senior students in residence do not want to leave. In the past 60 per cent or so moved into independent digs for each new year but the quality of the university’s halls and Hobart’s tight rental market mean more want to stay, leaving less room for freshers.

It all got a bit tense in December (CMM December 12) but on the Friday before Christmas, VC Rufus Black said “around the clock work” meant there was enough beds to go around. “Current residents can head into Christmas knowing they have an accommodation place if they want one,” Professor Black said. This is said to include 60 refurbed and utilities-connected shipping containers previously used at Queensland mine-sites to temporarily accommodate 180 students, with a development application lodged with Hobart council on Christmas Eve.

Government performance metrics for growth funding

It took a year to deliver on Simon Birmingham’s threat, but the government has announced it will tie growth funding for student places to performance measures.

Where this came from: In MYEFO 2017 the then education minister suggested some funding could be tied to metric outcomes for each university suggesting, “student experienceattrition and completion rates and graduate outcomes.” Senator Birmingham said the government had two years to get the model right ( CMM December 19 2017). It now has 12 months with his successor Dan Tehan announcing performance based funding reforms would be in place for 2020.

In MYEFO 18 Mr Tehan announced University of Wollongong vice chancellor Paul Wellings will lead a panel to advise the government on measures to allocate growth funding, based on national population increase. Professor Wellings and colleagues will provide an interim report by end March and final advice on June 30.

Who’s helping: The other members of the panel are; ACU VC Greg Craven, Rufus Black, VC UTas, Dawn Freshwater, UWA VC, Sandra Harding, James Cook U VC and former senior Commonwealth official, Barbara Bennett.

How to do it: To assist universities which want to make a case to Professor Wellings and his colleagues the government has published a consultation paper on what metrics could merit money, and how much.  This will not be difficult –  the detail in the discussion paper is such that it appears the government already knows what it wants

Principles for performance measures are: * relevance per outcome, * within a university’s control, * measured on relevant and reliable data, * applicable to all unis, * cost-effectively and not burdensome on providers and government, * “appropriately accurate and expeditious”

Principle for benchmarks: * achievable yet aspirational,” * based on “sound, reproducible methodology,” * responsive to institutional change, * institution “context specific”.

The feds will assess performance in August and advise institutions how much they will get in September.

How much:  Not much is how much. The performance pool is based on the Australian Bureau of Statistics population growth rate for 18-64 year olds, which for 2020-30 is projected to be 1.1-1.2 per cent, translating to $70m per annum, split across all eligible providers.

Options: There are seven significant questions up for consultation. Should the funding pool be national or regional. Should a university’s performance funding per year be added to its subsequent maximum basic grant amount or be kept separate. What performance measures should be used, from student experience, outcomes and equity categories.  Should universities be allowed to choose some of their own assessment measures. How to rank performance. Should money not awarded to a university go back in the pot. What is the lag between year of data and year of payment.

Will it happen: This may not depend on who wins the election. Labor is committed to reinstating demand driven funding but the party is also keen on university accountability. The draft national platform which went to the party’s national conference last month, included; “Labor will ensure universities are accountable for public funding and work in partnership with the federal government to deliver outcomes in the national interest. Labor will introduce national interest thresholds for university funding agreements that ensure universities align their resources to their areas of strength and strategic interest so the sector as a whole more effectively addresses our national priorities and needs.” A small-ish competitive funding pool allocated along these lines would surely not contradict any commitment.

Labor warns unis (again) on teacher education entry standards

What a generous woman is Tanya Plibersek. The Labor education shadow minister helped out editors short of a story the other Sunday by warning universities that if they do not impose a top 30 per cent ATAR for teacher education students a Labor government will.

“We cannot afford to continually dumb down teaching degrees, to enrol people who will never be competent teachers. It’s a waste of time and a waste of money for those students. It’s a waste of time of public funding as well.”

Just as she said last September, “universities do have to, I think, tighten entry criteria to make sure that we are attracting and retaining the best and brightest, that it’s a first choice for students who passionately want to be teachers not the course that they do because they couldn’t get into anything else,” (CMM September 19).

This is not as tough as it sounds, as the Australian Council of Deans of Education points out, less than 25 per cent of initial teacher ed students are enrolled exclusively on their ATAR. To which Ms Plibersek agrees, “there have to be alternative pathways into teaching degrees for people who have the capacity to be a great teacher but don’t achieve a great mark.”

The name’s the thing at Charles Sturt U and VUW

In transformative reforms not seen since the Reformation, Charles Sturt U wants a new name and across the ditch Victoria University of Wellington has failed to change its moniker to the University of Wellington.

Charles Sturt University is spending $24m on refurbed course content, delivery and student support, but the part of the plan which is getting all the attention is “the brand transformation strategy” which includes a name change. However acting VC John Germov tells staff that nothing is final, because a new name, “will ultimately require the endorsement of the NSW minister for education.”

The new name the university is keen on is, Sturt University. Nothing says refresh like dropping “Charles”. CSU is already in the market for a mascot, presumably not to be called Charlie.

Perhaps CSU (as is) will have better luck with its minister than VUW. Just before Christmas the NZ minister of education personally tore the proposal off VUW’s cathedral door. “Given the level of opposition to the university’s recommendation, including by its own staff, students and alumni, I am not persuaded that the recommendation is consistent with the demands of accountability and the national interest.”

With a petition circulating to keep Charles in CSU management there should hope the NSW minister is not talking to his Kiwi colleague.

UniCanberra to review assistant professor programme

The University of Canberra will review its assistant professor scheme, created to fast-track research growth. Just before Christmas VC Deep Saini told staff that while he could see “no compelling reason” to abandon it, “many of you have pointed out significant areas for improvement and have made valuable suggestions on how to achieve this.”

Assistant professors have seven years and two performance reviews to build research reps to qualify for permanent positions but the scheme is not universally supported. In October 30 Uni Canberra professors and aspros wrote to Professor Saini warning, “the human, organisational, and cultural costs to the people involved, their colleagues, and the university outweigh any benefits that may accrue,” ( CMM October 19). The campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union  agrees, warning of the schemes “unconscionable side-effects” and calling for assistant professors to be given continuing employment.

With the university losing a staff vote on an enterprise agreement offer put without union support (CMM November 13)it seems Professor Saini is looking to neutralise assistant professors as an issue.


Santa CRCs

Winners in the sixth round of CRC Projects were announced by Karen Andrews on December 24. No, this was not a case of a seasonal taking out the trash. Rather, the minister for Industry, Technology and Science was yo-ho-hoing, at least for the 19 consortiums that will share $40m for researchers and industry partners to develop products and address specific problems over three years.

Some 13 focus on use of AI, funded by a budget allocation for artificial intelligence research, including, detecting brain aneurisms and grading almonds. One that doesn’t is the OrpeusPod, to be developed by UNSW, Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and tech consultants Hydrix. It will extend the preservation of hearts to get them to more people in need of a transplant.

There are university participants in 16 projects, with UNSW a member of five and Monash U four. CSIRO is part of five.

Appointments of the summer

In the week before Christmas, Industry, Science and Technology Minister Karen Andrews appointed the expert members of the new National Science and Technology Council, (CMM November 29).  They are, ANU VC and Nobel Prize winning astro physicist, Brian Schmidt, UoQ cervical cancer co-inventor Ian Frazer, ANU cultural anthropologist and technologist Genevieve Bell, University of Sydney mathematician Geordie Williamson, Griffith U DVC and metabolism and diabetes researcher Debra Henley.

Demonstrating Ms Andrews is not thin-skinned Professor Frazer, stars in the new Universities Australia comms campaign for applied research, released days before the government cut $238m from Research Block Grants in MYEFO.


Susan Dodds becomes DVC Research and Industry Engagement at La Trobe U. She joins from UNSW where she is dean of arts at UNSW.

Catherine Marks joins Bond U as VP Engagement. Ms Marks moves from the University of Swansea in the UK.

Tony Willis will become executive general manager of the Australian Research Council next month. Dr Wills joins from the National Health and Medical Research Council, replacing Leanne Harvey, who is moving to QUT as VP administration and registrar.

Elizabeth Labone is the new executive dean education and the arts at Australian Catholic U. She joined ACU in 2000.

Desiree Cai is the new president of the National Union of Students. She finished her term as president of the University of Melbourne student union in November.