Really remote working

With a new round of enterprise bargaining to start this year CMM was interested by a  Federal News Network headline, “NTEU will push agencies for permanent telework arrangements in post-pandemic world. ” But lest university managements start refining bargaining plans, it’s not the National Tertiary Education Union but the (US) National Treasury Employees Union.

There’s more in the Mail

Andrea Simpson and Kim Alley (both La Trobe U) warn that cultural safety for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island students can be over-looked in the rush to take education on-line. It’s the first 2021 essay for Contributing Editor Sally Kift’s long-running series on what is needed now in teaching and learning.

Leo Goedegebuure and Lynn Meek (both Uni Melbourne) have edited a special edition of Studies in Higher Education, on the impact of the pandemic on universities around the world. An edited version of their introduction is in CMM this morning.

Exits at Uni Adelaide

157 staff start the working year by clearing their desks

The first round of Voluntary Staff Separations occurred last week, with the second scheduled for February 14.  Some 38 academics and 119 professional staff have elected to exit. “We should not forget that the staff who are leaving us have made enormous contributions through their work. Some have been with us for decades, providing a high level of dedicated service in support of our education and research,” Interim VC Mike Brooks wrote in a farewell message.

The VSS was accepted by staff as part of a COVID-19 savings plan (CMM August 19).

Short and sweet in up-skilling courses

As the economic impact of the pandemic began to bite last year then education minister Dan Tehan, went big on short courses at universities. If the success of VET is an indication he was on to something

The estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research sets out VET student outcomes for 2020 in new research.

It finds short courses appealed to people in work who needed to increase their skills, with 82 per cent of completers employed when they started.

58 per cent of them had “improved employment status” after training and 49 per cent reported they “gained extra skills for my job.”

The vast majority surveyed thought this was all very good, with 93 per cent, “satisfied with the overall quality of training.”

Of course, short-courses may not suit all VET and HE teaching models, but micro-credential providers (Google and Coursera, for example, (CMM October 19) ) can help out.

ASIO warning on foreign interference in unis

University lobbies assure the inquiry into foreign interference on campus that the means to deal with such are in-place (CMM yesterday). However, ASIO says “there is scope to further assist the HE and research sector.”

The domestic intel agency’s submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security warns it is;

* aware of researchers and their families who have been threatened, coerced or intimidated by actors seeking to have their sensitive research provided to a foreign state

* aware that some universities have been threatened through financial coercion should critical research continue

* aware of instances where academics have self-censored their course material in order to avoid adverse outcomes such as cuts to foreign funding or threats from individuals who may be linked to a foreign government

* aware of attempts to steal sensitive Australian intellectual property.

Undoubtedly ASIO has further and better particulars which it will share with the committee, but perhaps not in open hearings.

NSW TAFE reform: stuffed from the start

Management got a Christmas gift when the state’s Audit Office released its review of the “one TAFE” programme on December 17, when training reform was top of not many minds

While more understated, the report rivals the NSW Legislative Council inquiry (CMM September 10 2019) into the state government trainer as a scathing indictment.

The One TAFE programme, the Audit Office concludes, was meant to “progressively reduce significant cost inefficiencies, including by moving away from separate institutes to a single institute model.”

It hasn’t.

The Audit Office’s key findings include,

* governance to implement the programme was not “fit for purpose”

* commercial goals “conflicted” with legislated community service obligations

* rapid implementation required multiple programmes to be undertaken simultaneously

“The consolidation of ten separate institutes into one was a clear driver of the modernisation programme. However, TAFE NSW did not undertake detailed analysis of the existing state of courses, systems and processes … . This meant TAFE NSW committed to timeframes and benefits without fully understanding its baseline, nor how achievable these timeframes and benefits would be,” the AO states.


WA government launches international education recovery plan


But there’s less on bringing students back and more on seeing COVID through

Last month, the WA Government released its International Education and Recovery plan, developed in the context of broader “recovery activities and reforms to strengthen and diversify the state’s economy.”

Good-o. The 32-page document indeed provides a lot of context and some optimism for those in WA who are tarred with a brush of a government which doesn’t appear to want to move at any great speed to welcome international students back.

Of the immediate priorities, WA seeks to expand on-line learning, to support delivery to students who are unable to come on-shore due to COVID-19.

A fund is established to support this however locals warn it is only available for providers who have already started the journey to on-line delivery and doesn’t support those wanting to start the process.

One of the more supportive measures is the COVID-19 industry support fund, announced on November 27, with hardship grants of $50k for providers.

The industry response has focused less on the content of the document, than the fact the government has actually announced an interest in its fate – with acknowledgements by the premier and minister for education and training.

However, locals shouldn’t get too excited about government interest – Premier McGowan and Minister Ellery have not issued a media release about the plan or made an announcement via their media site

The WA government election is on March 13 and while there are plenty of announcements on local issues, it appears there just aren’t many votes in international education.

Dirk Mulder is CMM’s international education correspondent.


Researcher productivity in the pandemic

There was a big boost in ARC funding apps last year

The Australian Research Council  reports 11,446 applications last year for 2020-21 National Competitive Grants Programme funding. This was up from 5031 in 2019, which was marginally down on 2018’s 5283.

People were particularly busy at Monash U, where apps increased from 469 in ’18, 463 in 2019 to 1133 last year, at UNSW (527, 499 and 1166) and QUT, where there were 141apps in ’18, 129 in 2019 and 349 last year.

All up, a learned reader points out, 2020 applications from 29 universities were more than twice those of 2019.

How come? The learned reader, wise in research metrics, suggests it might be due to the pandemic – with people searching for funding wherever they could. Or perhaps it is an anomaly easily explained by the ARC experts. Whatever the cause researchers kept busy in 2020.

Claire Field calls for an international student access reality-check


It’s time for education providers to push for the plausible rather than demand the politically impossible

With fresh community outbreaks of COVID-19 over summer, new and more contagious variants emerging, and 40,000 Australians still trying to return home, it was unsurprising that in early January the NSW premier said the return of thousands of international students to NSW was unlikely to proceed as planned this semester.

This week the Victorian premier reached the same conclusion.

Combined with the growing public backlash to the Australian Open tennis players, it seems clear that the international education sector needs to move swiftly from calling for borders to open to students, to arguing forcefully (as the tourism sector now is) for specific government assistance until students return.

The dilemma is that while this might be a successful strategy for independent providers, it is less likely to work for universities (if 2020 offers any precedent). TAFE Institutes should continue to receive State/Territory government support.

The sector needs to think carefully about its communications or run the risk that when students return they face increased hostility.

In the last week we have seen a report on the Victorian coroner’s findings on the rate of suicide amongst international students. Specific factors included isolation and homesickness.

More recently a story ran headlined, “Overseas students dump Australia for Canada and COVID-ravaged Britain.” The story triggered a raft of racist comments on social media. The less inflammatory included “Good riddance to them”, “universities have lost focus on educating local students”, “Good!!”.

Our international education sector should be a source of pride to Australians. Sadly, at the moment it is not.

As the sector continues to argue for its survival and makes claims that Australia’s reputation will be damaged by keeping borders closed – it has one mechanism entirely within its control to lift its reputation – the education and support it is offering to students studying on-line.

In November TEQSA published a report showing many students (domestic and international) found the shift to on-line learning during COVID to be isolating, with reduced interactions with academics and peers.

While most Australian-based students will return to on-campus study this year – we owe it particularly to those stuck offshore to provide meaningful support and excellent online education.

Claire Field is an advisor to the tertiary education sector.

Appointments, achievements

Kylie Boltin is the Uni Queensland Library 2021 creative writing fellow.

The Journal of Proteome Research (proteins in an organism – CMM looked it up) announces its take on the field’s rising stars.  Among the 40 are, Nicola Gray (Murdoch U), Benjamin Parker (Uni Melbourne), Nichollas Scott (Uni Melbourne) and Luke Whiley (Murdoch U).

Nina Fotinatos is now dean for learning and teaching at Federation U.

Amala Groom and Sidney McMahon are the inaugural UTS artists in residence.

Kelly Smith is appointed PVC International at Murdoch U, “after an internal recruitment process.” He has acted in the role since last April.