What took them so long

It took 18 hours for UTS to tweet Dylan James rocketing through the Ninja Warrior course on Monday night. Mr James is in fourth year engineering student there. “Turns out physics and maths can help you over some big obstacles,” UTS announced. When they add puffery to the Ninja course UTS is a sure thing. Mr James did really well in the semi-finals last night.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

James Guthrie (Macquarie U) considers the Victorian Auditor General’s report on 2020 university finances. “It is time for a public enquiry into the business model of Victorian public sector universities, which has relied upon fees from international onshore students and casualisation of staff to generate significant financial gains,” he concludes.

Plus, Lyndon Megaritty makes the case for keeping the live, in-person lecture. “Learning is better and more effective when everybody is ‘present’ in the room, feels part of the one group, and the teacher can respond to the moods, preferences and questions from the class.”

And Rhiannon Lee White (Western Sydney U) reports on the opportunities COVID-19 created. “the way we teach on campus and the way we teach on-line are not the same. Instead, we need flexibility; flexibility to create the best learning experiences, whatever they may be, however long they go for, and via whatever mode or platform works best for each activity.” It’s a new addition to Contributing Editor Sally Kift’s celebrated series, Needed Now in Teaching and Learning.

Demography is destiny for education

The Intergenerational Report includes hard numbers for universities

In Feature this morning Angel Calderon (RMIT) sets ouwhat population change will mean for universities.

“The number of academic and professional staff working in universities is unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels. Student to academic staff ratios are likely to continue to worsen over the next few years. In turn this may mean that the levels of student engagement and satisfaction with the quality of education is likely to suffer,” he concludes.

CRC’s to maybe be

The long-awaited Round 22 Cooperative Research Centre announcement is said to be imminent (CMM yesterday)

Of the five short-listed bids three are expected to get up. Observers suggest those most-likely to succeed are,

* Heavy Industry Low-carbon Transition (includes ANU, CSIRO, Curtin U, Swinburne U, Uni Adelaide, Uni Newcastle)

* Marine Bio-products (bid led by Flinders U)

* Digital Finance (led by a group of entrepreneurs)

ASQA has a way to go

The VET regulator is but a year into a reform process – the Australian National Audit Office is not entirely impressed 

The performance review of the Australian Skills Quality Authority reports it is “not yet fully effective in planning and implementing the reform to the regulation of the VET sector.”

Among numerous particulars, the ANAO urges ASQA to;

* align its corporate plan with the recommendations of last year’s rapid review of the agency

* improve its quality control

* improve its approach to regulatory risk management

* develop measures to assess performance against reform targets

ASQA agrees with all recommendations but responds that 12 months into a five-year programme it has a bit on and that, “it is of the view that the report continues to underplay the significant agency-wide response.”

ASQA management also recently addressed questions on a range of staffing issues in Senate Estimates, reported by Claire Field in CMM, June 9 here.

In early reaction Troy Williams from Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia said ANAO shows, “the process of transforming ASQA into a fully engaged, responsive and effective regulator that enjoys the support of the VET sector is very much a work in progress.”

However, Mr Williams added the authority, “has a genuine commitment to more fully engage with ITECA and membership.”

Human Rights Watch calls on unis to protect staff and students 

“Universities will be best served if they commit to acting together to confront China’s threats to academic freedom” independent monitor Human Rights Watch argues in a new report to be released this morning

HRW documents claims of harassment of Chinese students in Australia and academics and suggests universities have not always acted to defend their own.

“The failure of Australian universities to adequately respond to incidents of harassment and intimidation of students and staff has left them exposed and vulnerable. The higher education sector has also failed to develop strong policy responses to discourage such abuses from occurring and to ensure academic freedom,” HRW states.

The report builds on March evidence HRW’s Sophie McNeill and Elaine Pearson gave to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security for its current investigation into “National Security Risks affecting the higher education and research sector.”

HRW now calls on the Group of Eight and Universities Australia, as well as individual universities to, act collectively to protect students from China and academics from intimidation and harassment.

Specifics that some university managements will not like include, “refrain from having Confucius Institutes on campuses.” HRW also calls on the Commonwealth to ensure the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, “requires universities to meet a standard on protecting the academic freedom of international students from foreign governments.”

Peak body Universities Australia responds this morning, that “it condemned all forms of coercion, on campus, or in the classroom, or elsewhere in the community.”

UA calls for a united front of government, security agencies and universities in the Commonwealth’s University Foreign Interference Taskforce, “to develop additional guidance for the sector in dealing with difficult issues that affect students and staff, including those raised in the Human Rights Watch report.”

UA’s statement does not dispute HRW’s content.

It takes a college: Claire Field on helping grass-roots community services


Small, not-for-profit providers do not have the resources to bid for and win major government contracts

Yesterday’s Community Colleges Australia annual conference highlighted the importance of the Adult and Community Education sector and the challenges it faces, as well as hints that National Skills Agreement negotiations are not progressing smoothly.

The conference demonstrated the impact ACE providers have in regional Australia.  NSW Minister Geoff Lee highlighted that 64 per cent of ACE students are from regional areas. NSW Shadow Minister Tim Crakanthorp went further, stating that ACE providers “go where TAFE and for-profit providers won’t.”

Victorian Shadow Minister Matthew Bach offered bi-partisan support for Victoria’s ACE providers, Learn Locals, while the state’s Minister for Training and Skills, Gayle Tierney, outlined the reforms the Victorian government has implemented which embed Learn Locals into the VET sector.

In other states, there is little in the way of a formal ACE sector, but there are many not-for-profit community-based providers (both RTOs and non-accredited providers).

Hence, one of the sector’s key challenges is that while all governments acknowledge the need for training to assist disadvantaged learners, there is no consistency on the best models or provider-types to do this. Instead, there is significant variability in what counts as ACE, and even if and how ACE is funded by different governments.

Commonwealth Minister, Stuart Robert, focussed on global figures who found success later in life, including the founders of McDonald’s, Honda, and KFC, as well as UK singer Susan Boyle. He went on to outline the foundation skills programs the Commonwealth funds directly.

Conference participants noted that these Commonwealth programmes are mostly delivered by large government and for-profit organisations, emphasising that small, not-for-profit providers do not have the resources to bid for and win major government contracts.

If governments want a strong ACE sector – they need to think carefully about sustainable funding models and to introduce procurement practices which enable ACE providers to fairly compete to win some of these contracts.

And the insights on the National Skills Agreement? I’ll unpack them next week.

Claire Field is an advisor to the tertiary education sector

Attila Brungs moves from UTS to UNSW

From financial fire to fiscal frying pan

Professor Brungs has been VC at UTS for nine years and in January will take the short tram-ride to UNSW, where he will replace Ian Jacobs, who has cut short his contact to return to the UK (CMM January 29).

The move is a step-up in scale for Professor Brungs, UTS has 46 000 students and UNSW 63 000. But both institutions have roots in the NSW technical training system and are expected to benefit from the Morrison Government’s funding emphasis on translational research.

Professor Brungs will also feel at home inheriting UNSW’s financial circumstances, both universities have had large international enrolments and scrambled last year to reduce costs.

 UTS had a $43m deficit in 2020, due in large part to a $38m drop in international student fees and $51m in staff redundancy costs. At UNSW, the underlying loss for last year was $63.9m after $192m in savings, including forced redundancies.

Appointments, achievements

Halina Rubinsztein-Dunlop (Uni Queensland) wins the 2020 Harrie Massey Medal from the Australian Institute of Physics. In February she was awarded the C.E.K. Mees Medal from the Optical Society of America.

At Uni Wollongong, Marc in het Panhuis becomes Interim ED, Science Medicine and Health, replacing previous interim dean, Tracey Moroney. “Exciting news” about a permanent appointment is said to be imminent.

At Edith Cowan U, Cobie Rudd becomes DVC (Regional Futures) and MD of the university’s Bunbury campus. In the latter role she replaces Lyn Farrell, who is retiring.

Magdalena Zych (Uni Queensland) is the Australian Institute of Physics 2020 Ruby Payne-Scott Award winner.

The Australasian Research Management Society announces appointments to its accreditation council, Kate Gunn (Children’s MRI) and Andy Hor (Agency for Science, Technology and Research of Singapore).

 The Australian Health Research Alliance Women’s Health Research, Translation and Impact Network announces its inaugural rewards to support EMCRs.

The federally funded Alliance provides $15 000 to 36 people. (With 300 applicants, it’s the sort of success rate new researchers will have to get use to). They are (by first listed affiliation)

NSW Regional Health Partners: * Katherine Brain, Hunter Integrated Pain Service * Catherine Chojenta, Uni Newcastle * Melissa Harris, Uni Newcastle * Melinda Hutchesson, Uni Newcastle * Beth Mah, Hunter Medical Research Institute,

Sydney Health Partners: * Julieann Coombes, George Institute * Tessa Copp, Uni Sydney * Rachel Dodd, Uni Sydney * Megan Gow, Uni Sydney * Juliana Oliviera, Institute for Musculoskeletal Health *Anna Singleton, Uni Sydney * Xia Wang, George Institute * Phoebe Williams, Uni Sydney

Maridulu Budyari Gumal (Sydney Partnership for Health, Education, Research and Enterprise): * Sonali Gnanenthiran, UNSW * Alexandra Hawkey, Translational Health Research Institute * Kate McBride, Western Sydney U * Janelle Weise, UNSW

Brisbane Diamantina Health Partners: Heena Akbar, QUT * Jane Currie, QUT * Priya Martin, Uni Queensland

Tropical Australian Academic Health Centre: * Janelle James-McAlpine, James Cook U * Margaret Jordan, James Cook U

Health Translation SA: * Prabha Andraweera, Adelaide Medical School * Jane Chalmers, Uni SA * Jessica Grieger, Uni Adelaide * Erandi Hewawasam, South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute

Melbourne Academic Centre for Health: * Clare Whitehead, Uni Melbourne * Ali Fogarty, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

Monash Partners Academic Health Science Centre: * Caroline Gurvich, Monash U, *Anju Joham, Monash U * Siew Lim, Monash U * Jillian Tay, Monash U * Emily Camm, Hudson Institute of Medical Research

Western Australian Health Translation Network: Anne-Marie Eades, Curtin U * Georgia Halkett, Curtin University * Kristie Harper, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital