But which one?

“Study a master of health,” Federation U spruiks on social media. There is no word who the university has in mind.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Garry Carnegie (RMIT) and James Guthrie (Macquarie U) on where the casuals are and the universities that rely on international student income @

Lynette Vernon (Curtin and Edith Cowan universities) on why STEM will go nowhere without more maths in senior schools. Another case-made in Contributing Editor Sally Kift’s series on what we need now in teaching and learning.

Merlin Crossley (UNSW) recommends celebrating the small achievements in lab-life.

Judyth Sachs on the  lessons learned when Studiosity and partner universities took their annual “students first” symposium on-line.

Staff call for open-books at Uni Melbourne

Law school staff want the finances vetted

Members of the Uni Melbourne law school suggest the University Council open a dialogue with staff and students on dealing with the pandemic. Quite a few members. A letter to Council Friday was signed by over 110 staffers.

They also want Council to provide full information on the university’s finances, “that is verified by an independent third party.” No faulting them for frankness.

A ways to wait on international arrivals

Despite regular media announcements, international students are not about to arrive in Adelaide

On Adelaide radio Friday Leon Byrner was upset by the possibility of international students arriving from Singapore when the state’s borders stay closed to other Australians. Education Minister Dan Tehan spoke in calming tones, assuring Mr Byrner that state border restrictions and caps on flights for off-shore Australians, “will be sorted before international students return.”

As a learned reader remarks, “much longer and we will have to invigilate international students sitting second semester exams on their flight to Adelaide.”

Jobs to go at Victoria U

But there’s no mention of involuntary departures

Management and union at Victoria U are talking about a joint proposal to staff on savings, along the lines of the job protection framework drawn-up by four VCs and the National Tertiary Education Union.

The talks follow VC Peter Dawkins telling staff $30m in non-staff savings are made, partly meeting COVID-19 driven deficits of $50m this year and $20m next. He has already signalled the need for voluntary redundancies and variations to the enterprise agreement, which sets pay and conditions, (CMM August 6).

Word is that local leaders of the NTEU will meet with management this week. The university is expected to ask for a range of concessions to save 90 EFTS, including deferring the 1.2 per cent enterprise agreement pay rises for 2020 and ’21 and for staff to purchase five days leave.  In return, the university would look for 100 voluntary departures – there is no mention of a compulsory redundancies.

If a deal is done it would likely first go to NTEU branch members and if approved by them to an all staff vote. That could be a bit of an if.  A meeting of union members at VU has voted against any agreement with management that would reduce wages/conditions (CMM August 10).

Physicists warn: new funding model penalises unis that invest more in student education

The Australian Institute of Physics warns the government’s proposed funding undergraduate funding model is bad for teaching and research

Its submission to the draft bill is supported by the Astronomical Society of Australia and includes specific concerns with funding allocations, including:

* physics departments “will not be able to absorb” a 16 per cent decrease in funding per EFT, “without a substantial loss of quality of physics education”

*  funding for teaching and research should not be separated; “students taught by active researchers are intimately connected and thus inspired by the forefront of the scientific discoveries. Researchers who teach are grounded by the daily reality of the student experience and motivated to make their research more accessible.”

*  The Institute also argues the Deloitte study of teaching costs is not fit for the purpose of establishing funding for student places in physics. “It is currently not clear that the cost of degrees which have been averaged are really like-for-like. We risk penalising institutions that currently invest more in student education. … in our view, the study does not address in sufficient depth the degree to which a research environment is, in physics, crucial for the success of the teaching environment (and hence needs to be co-funded) and the notion of  “efficiency” does not appear to be informed by pedagogical evidence in relation to the educational efficacy of the various education delivery modes.”

Consultants Deloitte Access surveyed teaching costs at 32 universities for 2019. While the report acknowledges limitations in its findings, the report was used by government to established proposed new funding rates for teaching. (Vin Massaro critically considered it for CMM on July 15,/here ).

Elsevier expands into data management, again

The journal giant continues its transformation

It has bought “semantic AI” company SciBite, which “provides an enterprise-ready semantic software infrastructure to standardise and transform scientific information silos into clean, interoperable data.” It’s another in the for-profit publishers plethora of purchases of AI data analysts, (CMM June 21).

Another to step towards making Elsevier (perhaps) unloved but indispensable for researchers.

At RMIT 355 people are on the way out

The VC thanks them for their “wonderful contribution” to the university’s future

Vice Chancellor Martin Bean tells staff that 355 staff are approved for voluntary redundancy. “I want to thank those of you who applied for voluntary redundancy for your wonderful contribution to the future of RMIT,” he says

The VRs will save RMIT $48m, which the VC says “will not be enough … we need to find savings in excess of $200m as we head into 2021.” But while Mr Bean mentions non-staff savings sources, he is silent on further redundancies, although they are likely on the list. In June, he told staff VRs were being explored, “before we consider forced redundancies,” (CMM June 24).

There is no word on how many RMIT casuals have already not had contracts renewed overall, but in May the School of Science told staff it needed to reduce the budget for casual staff by 40 per cent in second semester (CMM 18).

The next news on savings is due early next month.

Call for direction action to defend higher education

“A national university strike is both politically possible and necessary”

University activists meet virtually today to condemn federal government HE policies and speak up for education as a social good.

“We recognise that we have no choice but to defend this crucial public institution ourselves, collectively. Traditional channels are slow to respond and limited in their actions,” the National Higher Education Action Network argues.

Gosh, who could they mean? Vice chancellors for sure, but the federal leadership of the National Tertiary Education Union could cop collateral damage.

Today’s meeting will consider direct action; a “national university strike is both politically possible and necessary.”

“With careful preparation over time, we think we can overcome the constraints of existing industrial relations legislation and make strike action possible again outside the limits of enterprise agreement negotiations,” Nick Riemer from the University of Sydney says.

This isn’t impossible.

Individuals or groups of staff at a university, who are members of the union but acted independent of it, could decline extra work, arguing, for example, management increasing workloads breached health and safety conditions.

It’s also astute.

It would be a bad look for a university to go to the Fair Work Commission demanding staff work as directed, in an environment of higher education job losses across the country.

And if the FWC told the NTEU to do something about the action, the union leadership, which is obliged to work according to the Fair Work Act could be in a tough spot. Officers and officials might face a choice of either not condemning informal industrial action they did not organise or being denounced by critics for not supporting university staff who have had enough.

If today’s meeting backs Dr Riemer’ suggestion, what happens next depends on how many supporters of the new network on a given campus are prepared to take their own industrial action.

The national leadership of the union commands the loyalty of all state divisions and almost all university branches. But at half a dozen, its opponents are influential – rejecting the existing strategy of agreements with universities that involve concessions on pay and conditions to protect jobs during the COVID-19 funding crisis.

Appointments, achievements

At Swinburne U, Matthew Bailes moves from astrophysics to lead the Data Science Research Institute. Biomedical manufacturing/engineering researcher Sally McArthur takes over at the Manufacturing Futures Research Institute.

News of the 2020 Young Tall Poppies science awards continue to appear sporadically. Adding to last week’s reports are new YTPs for NSW; Matthew Dun (Uni Newcastle) – treating leukaemia/tumours. Celia Harris (Western Sydney U) – memory in context. Lining Arnold Ju. (Uni Sydney) – heart disease. Laura McCaughey (UTS) – antibiotics. Alice Motion (Uni Sydney) – open source drug development. Caroline Moul (Uni Sydney) – empathy in life. Jill Newby (UNSW) – mental health therapies. James Shine (Uni Sydney) – brain science. Tayyaba Zafar (Macquarie U) – astronomy. Katie Sizeland (ANSTO) – collagen for heart valves. Sabin Zahirovic (Uni Sydney) – modelling continents moving.