Plus change on the way at CSU and TAFE tells Greg Craven not to worry

Job to die for

According to the New Zealand Tertiary Education Union, Lincoln University is advertising for a vice chancellor with “superior execution skills.” If a VC tried that here they would end up arguing with the NTEU over the length of the rope.



Research on investment

The message in Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane’s ministerial statement yesterday will be news on Mars (but only to residents with bad broadband). For everybody else it was an addition to the applied research structure he has set out for a year. Science, research and innovation, the minister said, “are now at the centre of industry policy” and the government “will continue to put in place the new framework for Australian industry – brick by brick.”

Mr Macfarlane outlined key elements and institutions in the plan, the Industry Growth Centre scheme, the Cooperative Research Centre programme, the National Science and Research Priorities and whatever plan emerges from the research infrastructure review.

Yes, Mr Macfarlane said; “scientists often work on long-term goals, patiently letting years of research finally deliver results that literally change lives for the better. That work should continue.” But he made it plain that science is now about building the economy more than expanding knowledge for its own sake.

“Australia has an unprecedented opportunity to align industry, universities, the research sector and the science community, to turn great ideas and breakthroughs into great leaps forward for business, for industry, for local communities and for every Australian.”

CMM continues to be amazed by the success of Mr Macfarlane’s strategy. With little academic opposition the nation’s science effort is now about return on investment.

ANU June 3

Scientifiques! Prenez les bras!

“The Australians who work in our labs, in the field and in research hubs around the nation are truly the foot soldiers of the future,” Ian Macfarlane, in the Reps yesterday. I wonder if that came out as intended – scientists generally do not see themselves as other ranks.

UNSW thinks big

Change agent of the day (i) is UNSW VC Ian Jacobs, who yesterday released the university’s white paper to inform the next ten-year plan. It’s a comprehensive proposal with three key international emphases. First, creating a “two-way exchange of knowledge” with “disadvantaged and marginalised communities in selected countries.” Second internationalising “our local student experience by making opportunities for international experience available to all students.” And third, creating “a small number of strategic, centrally-led partnerships with major universities across the world to enhance our global impact, international standing and ability to address contemporary challenges.” There is also the range of education, equity and engagement objectives expected from a rich Group of Eight institution.

The absence of hard numbers is not surprising; this is a policy paper not an operational plan. But there is one number in the document, a very big one that Professor Jacob obviously intends to define his tenure at UNSW.

“To establish UNSW as one of the top 50 research-intensive universities worldwide. UNSW will have leading researchers across all faculties and many of our staff will be amongst the world’s most highly cited researchers. The number of publications appearing in leading journals will have doubled. Our best researchers will be recognised by prestigious national and international research awards.”

Granted the paper does not say on what measure he wants this to happen, but based on Saturday’s Academic Ranking of World Universities it would mean UNSW climbing 75 places (Kylie Colvin from the Higher Education Consulting Group estimates UNSW exact place in the 100-150 bracket is 125th).

This is a big ask, not because it just means UNSW must significantly increase the quality and quantity of research – it must do it faster and better than the dozens of other universities around the world with the same goal.

Criterion Student-Retention

Standardising CSU

Change agent of the day (ii) is Charles Sturt University VC Andy Vann who seems set to implement a KPMG plan. “Our current structure and service model have served us well for many years, but we are now seeing unprecedented competition for distance education students and pressure from successive governments’ change to higher education funding and policy,” Professor Vann told staff yesterday.

“We need a model that provides a quality, sustainable service to students, that is consistent across the university. A common approach, with a greater level of standardisation, will help us to achieve advantages of scale through grouping functional activities.”

Specifics mentioned yesterday include, “merging the existing logistics functions into one area to enhance service delivery through the consolidation of ‘like’ functions.”

Professor Vann and senior staffers Toni Downes and Rob Coombes will be available in a five-week consultation period, but yesterday staff feared a spill of jobs. According to one CSU person, “the term ‘purity of function’ is being bandied around but it’s the relationship with our students that seems to be missing.”

This will likely be a smooth process, at least for management, thanks to the Enterprise Agreement agreed to by staff in 2013, over the strenuous objection of the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union. The maximum severance payment for redundant staff is 60 weeks, question is how many will collect.

TAFE can teach

With Martin Riordan back from a Shanghai scholarship Malcolm White is standing down at TAFE Directors Australia. Mr White stuck to the script to the last in his farewell address yesterday, suggesting TAFE has the political capital that comes from “standing tall in the quality stakes in the face of questionable behaviour from some non-TAFE providers. We need to capitalise on this and calls for a binary system similar to Table A universities should not be out of the question.”

And as for academics suggesting TAFE is in trouble: “Professor Greg Craven suggested that a meeting of TAFE Directors was like entering a depressive’s ward.  How wrong he was. In fact we are merely anxious about the low ATAR scores in some universities, knowing as we do that a TAFE pathway to higher education leads to better student outcomes and lower attrition rates.”


Never on Saturday

Only media people at the universities of Adelaide and Tasmania were working on Saturday to announce good news in the Academic Ranking of World Universities as soon as the embargo lifted. And by Monday it seems most universities had decided the ARWU was old news. James Cook was out early yesterday, announcing it had done very well “for an institution of our size” especially in marine science, tropical health and medicine, in the 301-400 group for the sixth year running. But apart from Swinburne U and UofQ which also announced strong showings, that was about it. This is very useful information for any minister with bad news for universities – announce it on Saturday and nobody will notice.