Plus maths grad numbers don’t add up and the games politicians pay

Room for one more

CMM was wrong in suggesting it would take until the end of the week before Warrnambool community leaders called for government assistance to keep a campus in town following following Deakin’s announcement it was out of there. (CMM, Tuesday). Yesterday the ABC reported a delegation is on its way to talk Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s office. They could have saved themselves the trip and called Federation U VC David Battersby direct. Unless Professor Battersby has already called Deakin. With campuses across rural Victoria, Federation U is well placed to take over at Warrnambool.


Scary numbers

Just 27 000 Australians have a post-school maths qualification, which does not add up in a data-driven world. But it is hard to see how it is going to get better given just 5000 of them work in education and training. Sure many, many more have a maths component in their higher and further education qualifications but even so we are not exactly awash with maths-focused workers. It makes the case for the Australian Academy of Science’s maths “vision” for 2025, announced this morning.

The Academy sets out where we need to be in a decade in a document that is heavier heavier on the problem than it is on ways to solve it. There are the usual calls for dialogues, collaborative campaigns and more money for projects but among 12 recommendations two stand out.

The first is more professional development for out of field maths schoolteachers. Surely this is in the power of state governments to mandate – and if a MOOC on maths teaching, both content and method, which could be accredited does not exist now, DVC Es pray start your engines.

And the other is something that should have always existed. “Australian universities should immediately plan for the staged reintroduction of at least Year 12 intermediate mathematics subjects as prerequisites for all bachelors programs in science, engineering and commerce.”

Yes, maths is not popular at schools but this is a sure way to increase its appeal. If the Academy really wants a goal it could commit to convincing say 15 universities across the country to be doing this in a decade.

All the better to bargain with

The National Tertiary Education Union is preparing for the enterprise bargaining round that kicks off next month. The union has applied to the Fair Work Commission for variations of the existing academic and professional staff awards. Among others the union asks for an amendment requiring universities to make “reasonable efforts” to ensure general staff overtime is authorised and thus paid and it wants “a term providing for the determination of ordinary hours for academic staff.” This is needed, the NTEU claims, to provide a benchmark in negotiations so that agreements are better than the award. “This should assist with workload provisions whilst maintaining the flexibility academics have to pursue non-allocated work, research etc.

CMM ads2

IT degrees not essential

As IT enrolments grow a report for the Australian Computer Society has bad news for universities and colleges who assume that calls for coders and the innovation boom will mean people queuing for their courses. For a start, degrees date fast. Even worse, people hired into IT roles need broad skill sets. “Eight of the top 20 skills demanded by employers hiring new ICT workers are broader than core technical skills.” The report cites “relationship management, customer service, strategic planning and contract negotiation,” to make the point, suggesting “this reflects the increasing integration of ICT in core business functions.” So much for a degree without soft skills.

But the really alarming information is that “many of the top ICT-related skills demanded by Australian companies can be acquired without necessarily relying on a tertiary qualification.”

“Companies are recognising the importance of qualifications, experience and training outside of the tertiary education sphere in their recruitment practices. There is an increasing trend away from relying on university results and credentials as the key criteria for hiring decisions, with businesses instead moving towards the use of pre-employment skill tests to assess their talent pool.”

Bad news for deans who hope credentialism will keep them in business but a great opportunity for those with MOOCs on their mind and who are happy to talk to VET providers about diploma courses and customised training.

Messages from MOOCs

In January (2015, that is) University of Sydney DVC E Pip Pattison announced the university was getting into the MOOC game with a provider yet to be announced, (turned out to be Coursera). There was $35 000 in development funding for each of four courses which were to be ready to go that year (CMM January 28 2015.

The people whose proposals got up nearly made the deadline, with the university announcing its inaugural MOOC yesterday, “the place of music in 21st century education”, by Sydney Conservatorium of Music lecturer, James Humberstone. If the polished promo is an indication there will not have been much change from the $35k.

The six courses set to follow are in social media, astronomy, eHealth, chronic disease prevention, a study of Aboriginal Sydney and one described as “positive psychiatry.”

This looks like a catalogue created by the enthusiasm of academics to communicate their work to an enormous audience all over the world and as such the MOOCs will be positive for the generic Uni Sydney brand.

But this is a strategy for a rich university one which does not need to use open access courses to create demand from potential fee-paying students. Or one which enhances a brand on the basis of specific attributes, which is what QUT will do with four new MOOCs on the maths stats and modelling of big data management and analysis. They launch April 4.


UNSW delivers what the doctors ordered

The University of New South Wales has come good on its commitment to offer a full medical degree in regional Port Macquarie, which locals feared was in doubt (CMM March 15). The six-year programme starts next year. The university also offers years three through six in four other regional centres, including Albury, Wagga and Griffith – all in the catchment of the Charles Sturt and La Trobe proposed medical school.

VET problems already identified

Labor is  promising a full-scale inquiry into the vocational education and training sector if it wins the election, “to build a stronger VET sector and weed out dodgy providers and student rip-offs.” Which is good, up to a point – and that is the one made on Tuesday in Peter Noonan’s comprehensive report on why VET is a mess and what are the political and policy preconditions that needed to be in place to tackle the problems (CMM yesterday). VET’s operational issues are born of a failure of federalism, voced is neither national nor provincial, but it suffers from the structural problems inherent in both. And it will always be under-valued while it is seen as a second-class alternative to university. An inquiry is needed less than a political plan to address the first and a generation of advocacy for training to deal with the second.

ATSE impact unknown

The Innovative Research Universities group has endorsed the research engagement model proposed by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (CMM yesterday). IRU members piloted the model and executive director Conor King calls it a “useful contribution towards a comprehensive impact and engagement measure for Australian research as envisaged by the National Innovation and Science Agenda.”

Whether it will be used depends on the Australian Research Council, which is now working on research impact and engagement measures for the next Excellence for Research in Australia.


Games governments pay

Just in time for the footy season, the Economics Society of Australia has  asked a panel of learned members whether government investment in sporting events generates net benefits for cities and regions that host events. What, like the $19m the Tasmanian Government gives Hawthorn FC over five years for naming rights and four competition games played in Launceston, you ask. Sounds like it to me CMM replies.

Some 12 per cent of economists agreed public funds create benefits, 32 per cent didn’t and over half either did not know or thought the question was poorly put. But Monash U economics professor Stephen King has no doubts; “politicians, from Roman emperors to today, get electoral benefit out of the events. So they are likely to use public funds to bid more than the economic gains to get hold of these events. So basic economics tells us that when politicians bid for sporting events then the economy is likely to be losing.” Or as proud Tasmanian Saul Eslake puts it; “governments rarely make publicly available the basis for their assertions that investments in major sporting benefits generate net benefits, which makes it very difficult to believe that they do.”