Plus the loneliness of the lecture and Monash slips on education

Worth the weight

Jing Tang and Seana Gall from the University of Tasmania’s Menzies Institute have analysed weight gain over five years in 388 000 continuing and 63 000 quitting smokers. They found people who keep lighting up put on 2.6 kgs and those who butt out 4.1 kgs – that’s probably from all the money they save weighing down wallets plus the burden of living longer.

CEF June 15 2

Things are crook at James Cook

James Cook University management has taken a hammering in the comprehensive staff survey discussed with staff earlier this week, but not made public. Copies of the report seen by CMM show members of the university community have a strong commitment to its mission, are confident in their immediate colleagues and comfortable in work communities. However faith in management has declined, in some cases collapsed, since the same survey was administered in 2011. Less than a quarter of permanent Australian-based staff believe administration is improving, that change is handled well, workers are effectively consulted and that senior management listens to people. With a 71 per cent Australian staff response rate this is a scathing result, (things are better at the Singapore campus). There are all sorts of explanations why people are unhappy – but tough enterprise bargaining and the relatively recent restructure keep coming up. As management’s briefing notes for the survey presentation put it, “we know we have had a period of significant change” and there are “no illusions that this year’s survey would reflect staff feelings about our change processes.”

Acknowledging people are not best pleased is a start, but it is not a solution and VC Sandra Harding and her immediate staff, Senior DVC Chris Cocklin and DVC Tricia Brand, have their work cut out. Especially as these problems are not new. A 2011 report for JCU management referred to survey results that found the management of change, “was considered to be very poor and centred around concerns to do with appropriate levels of communication and staff involvement. … Connected to this concern about change management are issues around the recognition that staff received for their efforts.”  It seems JCU has sailed in circles for quite a while.

ANU June 4

New distance dimensions

Charles Sturt U has a new uni-prep MOOC, covering “the key areas” of academic writing, student expectations, plus digital literacy and learning. The project is funded by the feds and is available to other universities. Take-up will shortly show whether it will appeal to young people without family traditions of higher education but it is an excellent example of how universities can build new markets for teaching and research. The University of Tasmania has a MOOC on dementia and Swinburne signed 10 000 people up for its autism MOOC (CMM, March 11). There is a mass of public information issues, especially in health and education spaces, which universities have the resources to create and which governments will happily pay for. Imagine wbat a distance education expert like CSU could do with short, for-credit MOOCs that can feed nurses, teachers and community workers into postgraduate diploma and degree courses. Oh, wait, it already does for IT masters.

Not what it reads like

The National University of Singapore is reviewing a name change for its integrated student information system. Apparently not everybody is happy logging on to MYISIS.

Missed slip

Monash University is staffing up in education, looking to hire 35 staff, on top of 18 appointments last year (CMM June 22). And because they want the best the university is keen to spruik its credentials, stating Monash is “ranked number six in the world for education.” And, as a learned reader points out, so it was, by QS in 2014. But sad to relate this year is not so good with the 2015 QS rating marking it down to 16th spot. Obviously, as the reader suggests, an oversight.

mindhive 2

On-line not in-person

It seems there is an inverse relationship between academics’ love of the lecture and undergraduate indifference. Marnie Hughes Warrington’s startling stats on lecture attendance at ANU (CMM yesterday) generated a vigorous debate in the Twittersphere. There was a great deal of sense in just about all the ideas (on Twitter!), academics deeply believe in the lecture as an efficient, effective and enduring way of communicating with kids. Without in-person lectures universities are moocwards-bound some suggested.

But nobody much had an answer to Professor Hughes Warrington’s hard numbers, which show students leaving lecture theatres and not coming back. Which means universities must find a way of making them turn up to take notes in person or accept that if students will not commute to lectures universities must take the content to them. This strikes some as a very bad thing, but it is very much the thing.

Training in the right research

Another day, another announcement re a major review. Yesterday’s came from the Australian Council of Learned Academies, which announced membership of its review of research training and postgraduate student outcomes. Education Minister Chris Pyne announced the project back in May, CMM May 21).

The review team is led by former Rio Tinto executive and chair of the Institute of Chemical Engineers, John McGagh. Eight very senior research and postgrad management deans and PVCs, DVCs and provosts join him as well as former Flinders VC Jim Barber. It is a carefully constructed group balancing genders, geography and discipline groups although there are a couple of hints that postdocs in the humanities may not find a strong emphasis on their career options. One is that the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technological Science and Engineering are providing support, perhaps the academies of humanities and social sciences are busy. The other indication of emphasis is in Mr Pyne’s terms of reference, which made it plain what he wants, “ensure the research workforce pipeline is secure in fields of national importance, including areas aligned with national science and research priorities.”