Stranger than fiction

Colm Talbot (Caltech) wins an award from the Astronomical Society of Australia (scroll down for all the hons). He is honoured for researching, “does spacetime have memories.” If he is ever short of a quid for kit he could write a script about it for Christopher Nolan.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

James Guthrie (Macquarie U) on Uni Wollongong’s 2020 financial experience – a financial loss and staff gone.

Plus, Matt Bower (Macquarie U) and Penny Van Bergen warn the Federal Government has abandoned innovation in learning and teaching. “The need is particularly acute in 2021, with unprecedented upheaval in HE brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and other policy forces,” they write. It’s this week’s piece in Commissioning Editor Sally Kift’s long-celebrated series, Needed now in teaching and learning.”

Open all-hours at ANU

ANU Library asks students to take a  survey, “to provide honest feedback on out services, buildings, resources and performance”

It’s a comprehensive combination of quant and qual questions and will provide the library community with a bunch of data on the good, the bad and the so-so in their performance.

But heading off one possible criticism, the Law Library moves to pilot 24/seven access, Monday week.  It will join Chifley (HASS and Buseco) and Hancock (STEM) libraries which are always open to ensure, “students and staff have access to additional safe and comfortable study areas on campus at whatever time they like!”

Uni Queensland’s business school needs a new head– again

Michael Brüning is returning to the School of IT and Electrical Engineering

He moved from there to lead the business school two years back (CMM July 31 2019). He becomes head of ITEE on Monday.

Professor Brüning is the third senior departure from business is a couple of years. Julie Cogin who moved from UNSW to become dean and head of the business school in January 2018 left for RMIT in April ’19 (CMM February 8 2019). She was followed by deputy head of schoolMartie-Louise Verreynne, who announced her departure from Uni Queensland, also for RMIT in October ’19 (CMM October 25 2019).

Andrew Griffiths, Executive Dean, Faculty of Business, Economics and Law, thanks Professor Brüning for leading the business school through COVID-19 and developing new executive education in the CBD and masters programmes.

The university is expected to recruit internally.

Webb ready to RUN

The Regional Universities Network has a new ED

Alec Webb joins from membership organisation London Higher, which represents 50 plus universities and HE providers in the UK capital.

Mr Webb is a veteran of Australian HE policy, working with the Australian Technology Network, including as acting ED in 2019. He has also worked as an economic analyst at the Group of Eight.

He succeeds Caroline Perkins who is moving to the UK (CMM February 17).

VU and UAC make a mission no longer impossible

Victoria U is partnering with the NSW Universities Admission Centre on a new student application system to manage requests for course credit

UAC Advance is designed for the 30 per cent of all applications to universities across the country that include requests for credit on the basis of prior study, which are now often manually assessed.

According to a report 2019 report by consultants Nous Group, assessing requests for credit costs universities $125 an application.

The new system will integrate national tertiary education databases with VU’s admission procedures.

According to UAC, the technology “heralds a major shift in how credit is assessed and awarded and is a key stepping-stone towards fully automated, instant credit outcomes.”

This has to be a system which is needed now and will be more so soon – as micro-credentials that count for entry and credit become more common.

Given VU’s VET and HE base, it is a good place to start.

UWA proposed cuts “intellectual vandalism”

For the university to act on its proposal to close its anthropology and sociology discipline group would be, “an act of intellectual vandalism,” warn Debra McDougall (Uni Melbourne), Suzi Hutchings (RMIT) and Lisa Wynn (Macquarie U) on behalf of the Australian Anthropological Society

“The proposed changes also diminish the overall national social science research capacity in Australia by sacking some of the most accomplished scholars in the country,” they add.

UWA proposes reducing the two disciplines from eight to one staff as part of a savings plan for the School of Social Sciences (CMM July 12).

The university argues UG enrolments in the anthropology-sociology major were down 70 per cent 2015-20 and that the discipline area earns 6.5 per cent of the School’s external research funding (Geography generates 45 per cent).

However, McDougall, Hutchings and Wynn argue “the relatively high full-time staff to student ratio” does not justify abolishing courses, given “the high levels of student satisfaction reported by anthropology and sociology students.” As to research income, “anthropological and sociological research is great value for money. We  don’t need huge grants to do innovative and important research.”

“Even in the context of serious budgetary shortfalls, we cannot understand why the school is proposing the destruction of one of the best anthropology and sociology discipline groups in the country, they write

Claire Field on lasting improvements to learning


If we improve assessment design and offer more authentic opportunities for students to demonstrate what they have learned, we improve learning

In recent weeks HES hosted an excellent webinar on the future of on-line assessment and VET consultant Joe Newbery published a very thoughtful piece on “observation” assessments in VET.

The webinar saw Joanne Wright (Uni Queensland), Liz Branigan (La Trobe U) and Helen Gniel from Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency reflecting on the changes they had seen in the sector in 2020 as teaching and assessment moved on-line, and which of the changes would be long lasting.

The takeaways were;

* unsurprisingly, there are risks to academic integrity in re-using assessments year after year (a more pronounced trend in business, maths and physics according to Professor Wright),

* that students have concerns about data privacy with some on-line invigilation tools and that they are not suitable for all disciplines (despite endeavours by some senior academics to use them anyway)

* that on-line assessment can allow for more authentic assessments if, as educators we think about the knowledge, skills and aptitudes we want to test – and then design assessments accordingly.

Dr Branigan described how her team in Education Services provided La Trobe U’s academic staff with a variety of assistance to create more authentic assessments. She also shared an elegant solution to students’ need for feedback but lack of interest in reading written comments. By turning on additional functionality in Moodle, academics are now able to provide two minutes of verbal feedback to each student on each assessment rather than spending 20 minutes per student drafting written feedback.

Mr Newbery’s piece was less a reflection on how things are changing and more a step-through of what educators need to think about when designing observational assessments in VET, how to do them well and in compliance with the regulatory requirements. A must read for VET trainers and assessors.

If we improve assessment design and offer more authentic opportunities for students to demonstrate what they have learned, we improve learning and allow for greater innovation in teaching.

Claire Field is an adviser to the tertiary education sector.


Optimism at Uni Newcastle

Uni Newcastle classes will be on-line for the first fortnight of second semester (starting Monday)

Open Day at the Central Coast campus is moved from Saturday July 31 until September.

Uni Newcastle’s core campuses are not caught in the Greater Sydney lockdown, but its central coast facilities are.

The university is “hoping to resume normal operations across all campuses” on August 1. No faulting them for optimism.

La Trobe U to announce jobs will go

The university proposes axing 200 positions

Staff whose positions are in-scope for compulsory redundancy were advised yesterday, with a university wide-briefing today. The full-time equivalent position loss is less than forecast and will be accompanied by up to 200 new jobs.  However, how many individuals are effected by the termination of FTEs is not clear but there are expectations on campus that FTEs to go could translate to 230-250 people.

Staff whose positions would be redundant under the proposal will be able to apply for new jobs, but the university’s expectation is that only “some” displaced staff will remain.

Vice Chancellor John Dewar signalled there would be job losses this year in February, when he warned staff, “the challenges we face have not diminished.” Last week he told the university community, “the savings we need to make can no longer be achieved through voluntary measures.”

The new cuts follow emergency-responses to COVID-19 last year which included 335 people taking voluntary redundancies (300 FTE) plus departures under two separate restructures.

Professor Dewar’s all-staff briefing today is expected to be immediately followed by meetings of academic and administration operating units for details of the proposed workplace changes. The VC is scheduled to speak on outcomes at the end of the  month.


Appointments, achievements

The Astronomical Society of Australia announces its awards, Geraint Lewis (Uni Sydney) wins the David Allen Prize for his search for meaning in our cold, dark universe. Madeleine McKenzie (ex UWA now ANU) has the Bok Prize for studying ancient stars as fossils. Keith Bannister (CSIRO) is the Anne Green Prize winner for developing a way to trace the origin of fast radio bursts. Colm Talbot (formerly Monash U now Caltech) receives the Charlene Heisler Prize for models of how binary black holes form. Joseph Callingham (Leiden U) takes the Louise Webster Prize for discovering the most distant stellar object. Tamara Davis (Uni Queensland) will be the society’s 2022 lecturer.  Matthew Bailes (Swinburne U) delivers the 2019 lecture at next week’s annual meeting. (No lecture last year, due to COVID 19).

The Australasian University Safety Association announces its new executive committee and branch leaders. Committee: Scott Burnell president (Griffith University). Theresa Walsh (Uni Melbourne). Xin Li (ANU and CSIRO). Colin Chua (Uni Sydney). Paul Kozina (Swinburne Uni). Mikhail Farid (UNSW) and Glenn Blackley (UTS). New Branch Leadership Team: NSW/ACT: Emilio Saliba (UNSW). VIC/TAS:  David Hurst (Monash). SA/NT: Charles Nelson (UniSA). Queensland: Felicity Couperthwaite (QUT).

Megan Davis (UNSW) becomes chair of the UN Expert Mechanism on the rights of Indigenous people.

Graeme Maguire becomes associate dean of Curtin U’s medical school. He joins from Western Health in Melbourne.

Sharon Pickering is confirmed as DVC E, at Monash U. She has been acting in the position for a month, when Susan Elliott moved to provost.  VC Margaret Gardner says Professor Pickering’s is appointed, “following interviews conducted by a University Council-approved selection committee.” Professor Pickering’s previous substantive position was dean of arts.

Short lists for Research Australia’s Health and Medical Research Awards are here.