Plus UNSW’s Martin delivers and peace (possible peace) at Swinburne
UWS (as in) University of Worrying Start
A couple of weeks back the University of Western Sydney promised its rebranding would “elevate the university to its rightful place,” in higher education and the community (CMM July 20). This might be harder than management hoped – the campaign is not off to an especially good start. Talk of a name change, from the University of Western Sydney to Western Sydney University was running on Sydney radio 2UE on Friday and a petition opposing the change picked up just short of two thousand signatures in a couple of days. The UWS SRC has also rejected the new name and livery as unnecessary and expensive. Undoubtedly management saw this coming, university communities rarely respond well to big marketing spends but the problem is after a generation of positioning itself as the voice of Sydney’s west what can UWS, unless its WSU, do when locals arc up?
Diseases of the decade
The National Health and Medical Research Council has released its annual “ten of the best” report on research, which must irritate hundreds of researchers who have to settle for funding but no praise. Back in 2006 the top ten included work on Parkinson’s Disease, prostate and colorectal cancers plus obesity and related diabetes. This year’s list of work under way cites diabetes, Alzheimer’s and – you guessed it – obesity.
Anthony McClaran tells Times Higher Education that the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency’s risk based assessment model has lessons for the English university quality organisation. And wont Mr McClaran’s new colleagues at TEQSA, where he will soon start as chief executive, mark him as a man of sound judgement!
Numbers tell the story
Faith in the power of education grows apace. Full year 2014 higher education enrolment stats are out, with total uni enrolments up 4.5 per cent to 1.373m. Overall commencements were up 5.8 per cent with domestic starts increasing by 4.4 per cent.
Growth was strongest in the private sector, up by 11 per cent, but it was off a low base, rising to 109 000 students.
Women accounted for 55 per cent of students with commencing low SES enrolments up marginally to 17.4 per cent. Indigenous student enrolments grew by 9 per cent but still accounted for 1.1 per cent of the total.
Commencing student growth was strongest in hospitality and related areas (30 per cent), IT (12 per cent) and education (8 per cent). In contrast, agriculture and environment starts were down 5 per cent.
Inevitably attrition is a problem. Completion rates after four years for 2010 commencers, taking us to 2013, is marginally down but when people still studying are included it is much the same as the past, with attrition around 20 per cent. However some institutions lost over 25 per cent of students. In the long term this is not dramatically worse than the figure for drop-outs, time-outs, plus institution and course swaps in the past but critics will suggest that it is due to universities taking advantage of demand driven funding to enrol too many students who are not suited to, or capable of, higher education study. They have a point. But if young people believe that they need a degree it is up universities that accept them to help them adapt to the challenge.
Peace probable peace at Swinburne
It looks like business as usual at Swinburne with hawks in management and the National Tertiary Education Union refusing to budge in the dispute over an enterprise agreement to replace one adopted in 2009. The local union is as aggrieved as ever and the university did not help its cause last week by warning that pay increases given on the assumption of a new deal would be rescinded if there is no agreement. But money isn’t the issue – both sides are comfortable with the amounts involved. Rather, the university wants productivity improvements from academics and has a comprehensive consultation process underway, based on direct talks without union involvement (which is required under the 2009 EA). The union does not like one bit the idea of having no role in such talks, which the university wants for the future.
But while there is a chasm between them both sides want it bridged, which is why vice president (operations) Stephen Beall is now representing the university, in talks with NTEU state secretary Colin Long CMM July 31).
There are two reasons why there will likely be an agreement by month’s end, which the union has told members is its deadline. Management is conscious that the continuing conflict is very bad for its reputation and is anxious to get its workload changes through, not least because they are linked to an enormous student-focused course redesign. ( CMM July 16) The consultation period for the changes expires on August 4. And Dr Long will likely want to resolve the matter himself, lest the national union intervene and take credit for ending a long and bitter dispute fought by the Victorian branch. Both sides may only agree that they need to agree but that should be enough.
Back in April UNSW DVC Iain Martin stepped up to allegations of plagiarism by international students, telling staff, ”I am not aware of instances at this university of plagiarism being ignored or of pressure being exerted to pass under-performing international students. I would act immediately if any such evidence was presented, and I urge any staff members with concerns around these issues to contact my office.” (CMM April 22). Yesterday he delivered, reporting to the university community that 22 of 23 allegations against students were substantiated. Some 22 students have either received fail grades in the subjects involved or been suspended. Another’s degree is revoked. Professor Martin has emailed all students about the outcome and urged staff to help struggling students but also watch closely for plagiarism.
Higher degree is destiny
No one seems to know how many permanent academics without higher degrees there are but following last week’s Fair Work Commission decision that CQU was empowered to make redundant Davood Alizadeh, an accounting academic without a higher degree, there will likely be less. (CMM July 29 and July 30). The university relied on a TEQSA escape clause, that staff who do not have an academic qualification higher than programmes they teach can continue to teach at or above their degree grade if they have extensive relevant industry experience, which FWC rejected in this case.
This has delighted the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association, especially as the Commission also rejected the idea that the university should have cobbled together a new job for Mr Alizadeh by reducing its use of casual staff. What will please AHEIA even more is that the National Tertiary Education Union tells CMM it will not appeal the decision.
However the union argues “the commissioner ducked the question of professional equivalence by finding that in this case the university required new and higher level work to be done.” With other cases of this kind to come perhaps the NTEU will rely on an equivalence argument again.
When perfect is not nearly enough
Academics from England, Andrew Hill and Thomas Curran warn, that perfectionists burn out because ultimately they cannot cope with fear of making mistakes, letting people down or fail to meet their own impossible expectations. Nonsense, they simply are not trying hard enough.
More ideas the better
The Crawford School of Public Policy at ANU is hosting a forum on higher education financing Thursday week. “Our goal should be a competitive higher education system that ranks among the world’s best, and there is a need for researchers and commentators to continue the debate as to how this can be achieved,” the School states. Quite right. Crossbench senators say they recognise the existing system is not sustainable but don’t want change that costs anybody but the taxpayer more money. And the Greens think “education should be a human right, not a privilege and the only way we can ensure this is if it is free.” As to paying for it education spokeswoman Senator Lee Rhiannon says; “it is shameful that a rich country like Australia, which gives billions of dollars to big polluters, under-funds public higher education compared to the OECD average.” In the end good policy is always good politics so hooray for Crawford for adding to the debate. CMM wonders if Senator Rhiannon will attend.
No relaxing for Curtin casual
There is nothing relaxed about the life of university teachers on fixed-term contracts what with wondering whether they will have work next semester. It seems one long-serving staffer at Curtin got sick of it after 11 contracts over four years and asked for conversion to permanent status. According to the WA branch of the NTEU he was then only offered casual hours, in contrast to people in similar positions who were given new fixed term contracts. What is worse, according to the union, is that when its officers stared asking questions Curtin management refused it access to documents, beyond the worker’s personnel file. The matter is with the Fair Work Commission. What is there the university does not want to reveal, the NTEU asks? Who knows CMM replies –Curtin management replied to a request for comment on Friday that the relevant person was not available but that the university would respond when they are, today.
Another average-ish league table
On CMM’s list of league tables the Jeddah based Centre for World University Rankings is top of the utterly obscure category, even though it performs the same as most of the others on the important “drive a pantechnicon through the methodology” measure. (Some 50 per cent goes to alumnus awards and employment as CEOs). This year, like last year, (CMM, July 18 2014) Harvard, Stanford and MIT are the big three with Cambridge and Oxford the only non US institutions in the top ten. The top Aus entries are up a bit on last year with Uni Sydney at 98 (up from 95) and Uni Melbourne at 93 (97 last year). The rest of the Group of Eight follow, with Adelaide last at 335 in the world, followed by Macquarie a ways back at 449 and Wollongong at 467. CMM suspects Uni Wollongong VC Paul Wellings will not worry, it’s not like a hostile story in the local (eagle-eyed) Illawarra Mercury.