Swinburne’s DNA is “fundamentally STEM” says new VC

In-coming VC Pascale Quester sets out her thinking

“One of the things we will do in relation to COVID-19… I am going to pare down everything that doesn’t speak to technology or science. Because, do we need to be the 10th  university that teaches Chinese or Italian? No… we are the Swinburne University of Technology, we are going to be working with industry and students on creating the technology of the future,” she tells Farrin Foster in the Adelaide Review .

Does Professor Quester care to expand? CMM asked.

She does.

“The process by which the university will focus on technology is not so much what I shall or shall not pare down. The intention is very much to lead the university to an agreed position in relation to our specific role, in a state where all other universities are  more or less trying to do everything. The quote merely illustrated that we should not need, nor want, to be doing the same as the others do.
“My vision for Swinburne is that we need to differentiate from the pack and that our DNA at Swinburne is fundamentally STEM and technology and preparing the human capital required to make it sing.”

Professor Quester takes over next month.

There’s more in the Mail

New in Features this morning

Nigel Penny on how universities can establish their own unique purposes, based on what they do and where.


There are five big assumptions in the government’s UG funding package, some have exercised policy analysts since HECS was createdIan Marshman (Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education), asks the questions, including the big one; “can the cost of university teaching really be determined?”  here.

Michael Tomlinson suggests asking TEQSA to police enrolments is a step too far, plus the government’s plan has too many layers addressing too many dimensions.

Merlin Crossley argues the ARC and NHMRC should double fellowships for young researchers

Second loss for UTS in research-performance case

The Fair Work Commission has rejected UTS’s application to appeal in Lucy Zhao’s case

What this is about: UTS sacked Dr Zhao for not meeting her target for publishing  in top-rated journals.

She took her dismissal to the Fair Work Commission where Deputy President Sams ordered her reinstatement, stating that as her service and teaching performance (60 per cent of her workload) were ok dismissing her was harsh and unreasonable, (CMM March 12).

What’s happened: UTS sought leave to appeal. In a split decision

yesterday Vice President Catanzariti and Commissioner Johns said no, rejecting UTS’ argument that Sams made significant errors.

They also rejected the claim that reinstating Dr Zhao will make it difficult for universities to ensure quality research is produced. “The decision does not stand for any general proposition regarding the inability for universities to performance-manage their staff in respect of meeting expectations regarding research,” they write.

However, Deputy President Colman disagreed, stating that UTS was denied procedural fairness in not being able to respond to matters Deputy President Sams raised in his judgement. “If the deputy president had not held the view that teaching is the primary purpose of a first-class university, that universities can become obsessed with research rankings, and that universities should maximise an academic’s interests, his assessment of Ms Zhao’s application … might have been different,” Deputy President Colman states.

What’s next: UTS could reinstate Dr Zhao and leave it at that. Or it could take the case to the Federal Court. Whatever happens, universities who want to cut their casual teaching budget by moving continuing academics from research and teaching to teaching only positions might read the judgements closely.

Policy expert exits

Tony Peacock is leaving the Cooperative Research Centre Association, which he has led for a decade

Policy people will miss his encyclopaedic knowledge of policies that successfully and otherwise link applied research to industry.

CMM will miss him for giving a trade publication sub an unbeatable headline, “Mutton announces Peacock appointment to pork body,” (CMM June 22 2018).

Dr Peacock will transition out of the association, working part-time until a replacement is found.

Deakin U staff restructure plan still stalled

Deakin U management has a COVID 19 savings plan it wants it implement. It was talking to staff separately by operating unit about proposed job losses

The campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union thinks this should be happening at a university-wide level and last week the Fair Work Commission told management to stop until it met with the union to work something out, (CMM, July 3, July 6).

Which they did not manage to do Tuesday, when union and uni met in the commission.  They will meet again on July 22.

Young hands-on STEM

Kim Flintoff from Curtin U delivers on his job title, learning futures advisor, creating a new resource for kids

With Tim Rowberry (John Curtin College of the Arts) he has created a  site  for school students, STEM 4 Innovation.

Participating schools are now working on challenges set with burns surgeon Fiona Wood – to improve control of airborne viruses in hospital operating theatres and to design an operating table with access to all sides of a patient’s body during burns surgery. Details here.

La Trobe U re-sets for reduced finances

The university circulating a “re-set strategy” paper which goes way beyond “undifferentiated cost-cutting”

The paper assumes revenue will be down 25 per cent by end 2021 and take three-four years to recover which means, “a fundamental reset of what and how we do things.”

Proposals include:

teaching: a “slim-down” of subjects and courses to those with a “strong reputation,” “or which contribute strong financial returns

Decisions on what goes will be based on load, demand and teaching quality, “moderated by strategic criteria, particularly for regional instances.”  “Our academic and professional staffing will be reduced to reflect our continuing core teaching needs.”

research: fewer funds mean a focus on research areas where LT U will be in the national top five. Proposed areas for focus are, * agriculture, food, environment * biomed, clinical, allied and public health * society, culture, social change * digital innovation and transformation.

The agriculture cluster is expected to be a strong performer on research and industry-community links.

partnerships: “a reconfigured range of offerings and close partnerships with TAFE based on parity of esteem of higher and vocational education.”

Management assures the university community that no decisions are made. But the context is clear; “all aspects of our new plan must result in a lower cost base, a reduced number of staff and improved productivity to reflect our reduced revenue. This is not optional. Lowering our costs means that we can operate within our anticipated revenue; and increasing our productivity, including margins (i.e. excess of revenue over expenditure), means that we increase the resources available to us to reinvest in our teaching, research and infrastructure.”

what’s next: Staff have a fortnight to comment with a final plan to Council by end August.

Academic cheating inquiries: more trial and not enough learning

Guilty or innocent, students investigated for contract cheating have a horrible time

Deakin U researchers Penelope Pitt, Kevin Dullaghan and Wendy Sutherland-Smith talked to students who underwent a formal university investigation. They found people involved did not tell their families about the allegation, suffered “reputational damage” on campus and were acutely vigilant about assignments in the future. Students also see university investigations as a legal process, which contributes to stress.

The authors suggest investigations should be “primarily a learning experience” which students survive and move on from, to complete their courses.

They propose process changes, including; * easing up on the legalese, * assisting students and staff in the process, * independent assistance for students facing allegations, * specific advice in academic integrity training, “to ensure students understand good writing practises,” and * “raise awareness of the myriad consequences for contract cheating.