Heresy of the morning

“It is not a Manichean fight between light and dark. It is the standard everyday political challenge to find a plausible grey outcome with flecks of colour on the horizon.,” Conor King from the Innovative Research Universities calls for senators considering the government’s funding bill to focus on ways to improve it (as the IRU suggests) rather than denounce it.

The last time CMM saw “Manichean” in a media statement it was announcing the Cathar Crusade in 1209.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Marnie Hughes-Warrington (Uni SA) on why we need just one ERA, but have two.

James Guthrie and Tom Smith (both Macquarie U) on how university magic make casuals disappear.

Maree Meredith (Flinders U) argues it’s time to re-write the rules about the roles and operations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research centres. New in the CMM series from Indigenous academics and policy people.

 Tim Winkler went to 17 virtual open days. He found much not to love and three ways recruiters can make them better, way better.

Sally Varnham (UTS) makes the case for a dedicated body to deal with student-university disputes. It’s a new idea in Commissioning Editor Sally Kift’s series, “Needed now in teaching and learning.”

The big question for SA VCs

If yesterday seemed quiet it was probably because the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee was taking a breather

But the committee is back today for the second day of hearings on the government’s undergraduate funding bill. Thursday features industry, union and academy representatives, plus public and private sector VET lobby leaders.

No less than nine policy panjandrums from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment are on the menu, sorry witness list, for Labor senator Kim Carr.

And those wizards of wonkery, Andrew Norton and Mark Warburton will undoubtedly make clear how fiendishly complicated HE funding is.

The VCs of all three South Australia’s public universities are also on. While this is sure to set off another round of speculation of a uni-merger in Adelaide, CMM thinks there are two way-more likely reasons why they are there.

One is the collective smarts of Mike Brooks (Uni Adelaide interim VC), David Lloyd (Uni SA) and Colin Stirling (Flinders U).

The other is South Australian crossbench senator and committee member Rex Patrick is keen to hear expert advice.

As he asked Universities Australia representatives in Tuesday’s hearing; “I am not an education expert. I take advice from people who are experts. I would be grateful if you could assist me. If this bill was not amended, would you advise me to support it or to sit on the negative side of the chamber?”

Be interesting if Senator Patrick asks this question of the three and if he does what they reply.

RMIT “consulting on change”

People are being invited to chat about their futures

This follows the voluntary redundancy round (CMM August 21) which generated 355 departures, saving the university $48m (CMM August 24). But it appears those departures are not enough to help reach the $200m saving VC Martin Bean reported RMIT needs (CMM June 26)

As to how many people will be effected by what is called “current change proposals” the university is silent, telling CMM; “”as we are currently in consultation, we are not able to confirm the number of roles that may be impacted by the current change proposals, or the expected savings.”

The university adds no decisions will be made until consultation is complete and “feedback is considered.” However, RMIT, “is not working to or aiming for a particular headcount target.”

Which may, or may not, cheer up staff sweating on expected college-level briefings.

Charles Sturt looks to balanced budget

CSU says its savings plan has halved the 2020-21 financial year deficit to $22m, with a balanced budget expected by the end of the 2021-22 FY

This may go some way to settling community concern over  the impact of savings measures, which has percolated into politics. Federal regional education minister Andrew Gee has CSU campuses in his seat and has not been happy. Last month he called on CSU, “to open up the books and to shine some light on its finances, management and operations. Sunlight is the best form of disinfectant,” (CMM August 7).

This might be why Acting VC John Germov is keen to remind the world that the NSW Audit Office examines all the state’s universities and that CSU also commissioned KPMG “to review our financial position.”  The consultants “broadly confirmed the key points” in the university’s financial projections and Professor Germov now hopes, “our students, staff and community stakeholders are reassured that our actions are returning the university to financial sustainability.”

He adds, “the response from the staff of Charles Sturt has been exceptional” as the university “has dealt with this challenging period.”

Challenges he might mean could include a first set of redundancies (CMM June 19), course cuts (CMM July 31) and leadership changes (CMM July 30). And then there is curiosity on campuses on why long-serving VC Andrew Vann, who was implementing a change plan went on sabbatical in June, with his job advertised that month (CMM June 19).


More jobs to go at ANU

“The need for our university and its mission is clear, and we must make sure we can deliver on that mission, and not be a hollowed-out shell of our former selves,” VC Brian Schmidt told staff yesterday

Even with savings already made, the university expects a $192m deficit next year, with shortfalls of “a similar magnitude” in 2022 and ’23. “Our current spending profile remains structurally misaligned with our revenue projections,” a briefing paper for staff states.

The university expects staff savings to make up 50 per cent of the needed reduction, which means 215 positions from across colleges and administration will be abolished – optimally by natural attrition and voluntary departures. “The university will seek wherever possible to avoid redundancies,” the briefing paper states.

The next round of departures will follow 250 staff who have already taken, or are expected to, a voluntary separation. Staff have also agreed to defer a pay rise, which created sufficient savings to protect 90 positions.

As to what will happen next; “this is not a course of action we wanted to take, but it is our only viable option going forward if we want to remain a sustainable, stable university,” Professor Schmidt told staff.

Details on the impact for operating units is due early October.

The 277 FTE positions Monash U wants gone

The university is targeting student administration, research support and “units with low enrolments” to provide candidates for a proposed voluntary redundancy round

These are the job losses the university announced in June. Yesterday’s proposal is in-line with the accord Monash U struck with the National Tertiary Education Union on making savings (CMM June 11).

Specific operating units targeted include;

Library: 30 positions from 202 FTE now, with a second stage next year when a proposed reorganisation is in place

Faculty based research services and HDR support: 14 positions from 38 “in scope”

Course rationalisation:  58 FTE across faculties (effectively ending some small specialist teaching areas)

Student admin and support: 91 in central services and 56 in faculties

If enough VRs are not found from these areas the university may accept requests from people in other areas, “in limited circumstances,” to “minimise the need to seek involuntary redundancies.”


Appointments, achievements

Tim Boyle (ANSTO) becomes chair of ATTP,the global alliance of national peak professional bodies for commercialisation, industry engagement and entrepreneurship.”

Mia Christensen (QUT) receives the university’s Jean Ferguson Memorial Award for early childhood education.

Laura K Davey joins ANU as a research fellow in the Crawford School of Public Policy. She moves from the Public Service Research Group at UNSW.

Hugh Possingham (Uni Queensland) becomes Chief Scientist of Queensland

Sally Young (Uni Melbourne) is awarded James Cook U’s Colin Roderick Literary Award for 2020. Professor Young wins for Paper Emperors: The Rise of Australia’s Newspaper Empires (New South Publishing).