Plus a pause in La Trobe’s long march towards restructure

Horns of a dilemma

A policy analyst wonders whether the Go8-RUN alliance should be called “gate-run” as the unlikely allies charge at the Senate cross bench, trampling UA unity in the process. But he concludes no, it has to be the Pamplona Alliance, “because bull is making the running.”

A halt on La Trobe’s long march

La Trobe’s long march towards a restructure stopped yesterday with Fair Work Australia bringing down a decision in a case brought by the National Tertiary Education Union demanding more information on management’s plans and the university’s circumstances. The NTEU had asked for access to documents, which the university used in creating its plan for a restructure and accompanying job losses. Fair Work agreed to the union’s call for access to many, but not all, planning documents – which the NTEU argues is a big win. “The Fair Work Commission has directed that NTEU and staff have an opportunity across the next three weeks to influence the vice chancellor and the university council to adopt alternative strategies which don’t involve the slashing of jobs, undermining of campuses and trashing of courses,” union industrial officer Josh Cullinan said. However the university says FW did not dispute the need for the restructure and that three weeks of talks is better than the eight the union asked for. “The delays caused to the program by the dispute will continue until after all feedback is reviewed and considered. Until that time, all changes are on hold and no further progress will be made in terms of appointments or decisions. … We know this continues to be a difficult and challenging time for many people and we appreciate your patience,” Vice Chancellor John Dewar told staff yesterday. Challenging indeed for people whose jobs are marked to go but are now left in limbo for another three weeks.

PUP digs in

PUP Senate Leader Glenn Lazarus reiterated the party’s opposition to deregulation last night. “The higher education reforms proposed by the Abbott Government will reduce funding to Australian universities and increase HECS interest rates. This will push up the cost of university study in Australia for all Australians and increase student debt levels. In fact, under the Abbott Government‘s higher education reforms, student debt levels are expected to skyrocket and some degrees are expected to rise in cost by as much as 300%. As a result, demand for university study will decline and Australia will become the ‘dumb country’ ,“ Senator Lazarus said.

And in case anybody missed his point the senator also said; “Clearly the Abbott Government thinks that only the rich should get a degree. I don’t agree with this. Every Australian deserves the opportunity to attend university.”

This does not sound like the starting position in a negotiation – it sounds like a flat rejection of deregulation.

Reform advocates started losing the argument when the debate switched from being about university funding to what a degree will cost students. That Senator Lazarus spoke after meeting with University of Queensland student union leader Joshua Millroy, who is quoted in the statement makes the point. VCs are not getting equal billing in PUP announcements.

Nothing relaxing about being casual

The Group of Eight used to be noted for communicating not much but lately it is pumping out the papers. Some cynics suggest this in preparation for the arrival of the new secretariat head, the energetic Vicki Thomson but I guess the Eight just wants to support its case for deregulation with data demonstrating the state of the system. A new paper certainly shows how higher education employment has changed, but perhaps not in ways the Eight would want to celebrate. Overall the stats show universities grew by 35 per cent to 116 000 FTE workers between 2002 and 2012. While professional and support staff increased at a marginally slower rate they still accounted for 55 per cent of total employees in 2012. Growth in the academic workforce indicates the ever-increasing emphasis on research output. Traditional teaching and research staff declined from 61 per cent of academic employees to 51 per cent while research only staff increased from 16 per cent to 23 per cent. But the significant stat is that research-only positions above senior lecturer level grew by 164 per cent. “This may reflect government funding incentives to retain and regain researcher stars, and university staffing strategies to attract high fliers in the research reputation race alongside structural adaptation to government regulation of universities,” the Eight speculate.

So who is teaching all the extra students? Casuals. Over the decade teaching-only appointments below Level A grew by 71 per cent and there were 21 per cent more teaching-only Level Bs. The Eight explains “the bulk” of the growth came from casuals. The number of FTE casuals grew by 39 per cent to 16 per cent of all appointments in 2012. “This may reflect growth in the volume of student enrolments, and university strategies to accommodate that growth at low cost.” And if cost was the driver then it will be even more important if deregulation is delivered. Casuals are an academic underclass, overworked and underpaid, just not for the full year – and every VC knows it. While the prospect of student fees cross-subsidising research upsets people the reality is that this is what casuals do now, teaching classes at low cost to free up research staff and they will do a lot more of it if deregulation occurs. For young scholars committed to teaching and research some work is better than none – but it isn’t a career.

Deakin wins big

Deakin University is Victoria’s International Education Provider of the year. The university also won the university category of the excellence in international education award as well as sharing the student employability and career development for internationals gong with William Angliss Institute. Monash won the innovation in research partnerships award and the University of Melbourne the prize for innovation in industry partnerships. The rest of the institution awards went to the training sector with Victoria’s five other universities not bothering the scorers.

Library of the lost

The staff restructure at the University of Sydney library grinds on. Certainly the HR process has been by the book but it has not assuaged the anguish of library staff worried about their jobs and general campus concern at years of restructuring. And so, yet again, Vice Chancellor Michael Spence has had to get involved, assuring staff that not as many people as assumed will lose their jobs. “While it is technically correct that under these change management processes 156 existing positions would be made redundant at a future date, it does not mean that 156 people will be made redundant because they will all be invited to express interest in the vacant positions in the final approved structure.” And won’t that cheer everybody up!


A learned reader asks that as the University of Sydney has around 100 marketing minions when will it employ more flacks than librarians.

Special relationship

Education Minister Chris Pyne is in China and Laos for four days. In the People’s Republic he will promote research collaboration and Australia as an education destination. I’m guessing he will also provide his counterpart Minister Yuan Guiren with a few laughs by explaining that in Australia the legislature does not follow orders. Mr Pyne will then attend a Laos meeting of East Asia education ministers. The timing for the trip cannot be especially convenient for Mr Pyne, what with the state of the debate on his reforms but he does not have really much choice. The government has made a big noise about the New Colombo Plan and ministers have to get out in the region. And without Chinese fee paying students the government would have no hope of cutting university funding.

 Mr Pyne certainly emphasised bilateral links in his Beijing speech yesterday and told the Chinese what he tells us, that we do not have a monopoly on quality in the relationship. “Five years ago, there were no Chinese universities in the world’s top 200 as measured in the Academic Ranking of World Universities. Today there are six. As minister for education in Australia, this keeps me on my toes. But I plan to keep up.” Nicely done, but I doubt the Chinese will miss two speech stats. There are 60 000 students studying for Australian qualifications in China and 120 000 Chinese students in Australia. In contrast, there are 3 500 Australians in the PRC.

Too right

Even though it is only Wednesday I am giving the week’s “you don’t say” award to Uni Sydney’s Michael Spence for; “change is always challenging, especially in a university environment.” Who would have thought it?

Still standing

University and business school is not a synonym yet in the US. A major analysis of staff and students between 2007 and 2012 by the American Academy of Arts and Science finds humanities departments slipping but surviving. The report points to “evidence of a modest decline in the number of majors.” Communications is the biggest undergraduate area, ahead of History and English. However English for graduate students.

After all the warnings during the recession of academic unemployment it seems the university workforce survived the slump relatively unscathed, or at least quickly regained lost ground. Between 2007 and 2012 there were slight increases in the proportion of non-tenured English and History teaching staff. However, across the board some 75 per cent of students in introductory courses had fulltime staff teaching (including part timers and contract staff). Nor was there any marked difference in hiring patterns in 2007 and 2012. “In most of the responding disciplines, half or more of the departing faculty were retiring (rather than leaving their departments for other reasons, such as alternative job opportunities or a denial of tenure).” Of course this does not address the fate of all the new PhDs looking for jobs that are not appearing in a no growth environment.