Filing deadline

If you had Monday off and have lost track of the week TEQSA warns responses are due today to its proposed research thresholds for institutions to become/remain a university, (CMM April 15).

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Changes to the Fair Work Act can mean secure employment for casual academics. Jim Hackett explains how .

Tracy Creagh on the  big role  role for open access in expanding access to teaching and learning research and communities.

In universities policies for equity, diversity and inclusion can build communities. And strategic planning helpsMerlin Crossley makes the case.

Angel Calderon crunched the numbers on Australian universities performance in yesterday’s Times Higher Impact Rankings. Here’s what he found.

John Dewar steps up at Universities Australia

La Trobe U’s VC is elected chair of the peak body – maybe he ran on a glutton for punishment platform

Professor Dewar steps up from deputy, so he knows what he is getting into. While predecessor Deborah Terry did well to make UA a much smaller target for conservative critics, universities are still not the government’s first favourites. Which will not bother Professor Dewar who carefully says what he thinks, vigorously criticising the government for excluding universities from JobKeeper last year but not framing it in party political terms. (CMM April 27).

Nor does annoying other VCs appear to upset him. Professor Dewar was one of four university chiefs who did a cuts-to-save-jobs deal last year with the National Tertiary Education Union, which was vocally rejected by some of his colleagues.

But Professor Dewar is also highly regarded for his tenacity – running La Trobe U requires it and his policy perspicacity – ministers listen to him.

This, maybe why he is elected at UA, which now has a president who understands that all politics is vocal, except when it isn’t.

Passing a union baton

Lachlan Clohesy is running for National Tertiary Education Union ACT division secretary, which incumbent Cathy Day is said to support

Word is she is standing for her substantive position, assistant secretary. Dr Day has been acting in the top job for nearly two years and is said to be happy for Mr Clohesy, now ACT Division organiser to take over.

Unless another contender emerges, the ACT looks like the second NTEU leadership poll in the present round which will be more coronation than election. In NSW Damien Cahill, who appears unopposed, is endorsed by branch president Nikola Balnave, outgoing secretary Michael Thomson and a bunch of branches.

UNSW safely through ’20 and “in sound shape” for ’21 says VC

Ian Jacobs reports a lower deficit than planned for

Professor Jacobs tells staff COVID-19 occurred in a year when the university had planned for a deficit as part of the 2025 growth strategy. “We had long standing plans prepared to address a fall in student enrolments for whatever reason and these were quickly actioned,” he says.

This allowed UNSW to balance a $196m drop in income with “proportionate reductions, primarily in non-people expenditure.” However there were voluntary redundancies and 256 FTE forced departures were announced in September (CMM September 16 2020).

The result is a $19m deficit against the $32m loss originally planned.

Savings, plus a $100m in additional research funding from the Commonwealth place UNSW in a sound position.

Professor Jacobs tells staff “we can be confident of financial stability during the remainder of this year,” and that the university is able to “maintain the trajectory of Strategy 2025 despite the pandemic.”

Standard and Poor’s report UNSW raised $250m last year to “shore up its liquidity” (scroll down).

VET-Industry engagement needs work warns Claire Field


Perhaps Euro COVES might offer an answer

In the same week the NCVER released a report comparing VET-industry engagement in a number of OECD countries, the European Union issued a briefing note on their Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs).

Australia has a “top down” approach to industry engagement formalised in Industry Reference Committees, the Australian Industry Skills Committee, three pilot Skills Organisations, and other bodies (for example the Digital Transformation Expert Panel). Concurrently VET providers consult employers on their proposed teaching and assessment approaches, but this engagement is secondary to the national parameters established in training packages.

The current arrangements have proven inadequate with an ongoing decline in the number of employers using VET.

To solve the problem, Steven Joyce recommended new governance arrangements for the Skills Organisations (i.e. created by industry) and that they have a role in funding VET providers. Jenny Macklin recommended a place-based approach through “Future Skills Labs”, echoing a key feature of the CoVEs.

CoVEs “bring together a wide range of local partners, such as providers of vocational education and training, employers, research centres, development agencies, and employment services (among others), to develop ‘skills ecosystems’ that contribute to regional, economic and social development, innovation, and smart specialisation strategies. They aim to provide high quality vocational skills, support entrepreneurial activities, diffusion of innovation, and act as knowledge and innovation hubs for companies (particularly SMEs), while working with centres in other countries through international collaborative platforms.”

Governments have piloted/are implementing similar approaches here, for example, the NSW government trialled a “skills ecosystem” approach 15 years ago, and the South Australian government has established Lot 14 as an innovation hub involving employers, universities and TAFE SA.

With further changes expected to industry engagement arrangements in VET, it remains to be seen if governments will look to encourage more place-based approaches.

In the meantime, a hat tip to the NCVER for their contribution to the debate. Their report is well focussed and refreshingly direct in its language. Australia needs more international comparisons to guide policy development. One minor point for the future: governments need this analysis at an earlier point in the reform process.

 Claire Field is an adviser to the tertiary education sector.

High-flying info-structure

Flying helicopters on Mars is impressive – a database of drone data is essential

The Australian Research Data Commons has a three-year research project to create a “nationally accessible ecosystem for drone-related research and innovation.”

“We must transform already substantial drone data processing capabilities towards best-practice, automation and intelligent decision making.”

It’s what the ARDC does – last month it announced a project to create a national data management system so that institutions need not create their own stand-alone systems. (CMM March 26).

Uniform drone data management is not a ten on the NASA scale of tech whizbangery but it helps if everybody can find all of it.

“Lean years ahead” rating agency warns

With borders likely to stay closed this year and “a souring” relationship with China Standard and Poor’s is negative on HE

However, the agency suggests universities have addressed the present, and to come loss of international student income, by cutting costs and in some cases, raising debt.

S&P states that of the four Australian universities which it reports,

* University of Wollongong issued $350m in December, “the funds are needed in relation to a student accommodation public-private partnership that has become uneconomical because of COVID-19”

* last year UNSW drew on $250m from banks “to shore-up liquidity” and,

* ANU plans to borrow $243m

Among other universities, Charles Darwin U, CQU and James Cook U took up loans backed by the Commonwealth’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.

While S&P warns cash and investment coverage of debt should be treated with caution as a measure it identifies 2o plus universities with a “particularly sturdy” coverage of 3x or greater. Those with way less coverage include, UTS, Monash U, Macquarie U, RMIT and La Trobe U.

System –wide S&P predictskey-credit drivers” for 2021 are,

* borders staying closed, although small numbers of international students could return through safe corridors

* lower Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding for some student places, which will place a “greater burden” on other revenue streams, such as tuition fees

* balance sheet “strain”. “Some universities will raise debt, sell assets or draw down on financial resources to bridge their budget shortfalls”

* Chinese students choosing to study in other nations

* prestigious universities will attract strong student demand but “lower-tier” institutions could struggle to retain market share

“If there’s a silver lining, it is that the crisis has shown universities have substantial flexibility to respond to ups and downs,” S&P suggests.


Hills to be alive with the sounds of nursing

Uni Canberra officially announces an open-secret – a new campus for nursing courses in Sydney’s Hills District

The campus will teach the university’s nursing bachelor and a graduate-entry masters, starting first semester 2022.

Target markets are domestic and international students. It’s a joint venture with Education Centre of Australia.

Planning appears well advanced, with applications for the campus principal (Level E) closing in January. However, accreditation is not complete with the university stating yesterday that it is “working with” the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency and the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Accreditation Council.

No faulting the partners for optimism – what with an uncertain future for international students arriving. As to the domestic need for a new nursing-education venue, Uni Canberra says there is high demand for health courses in the Hills. Overall, the 2019 Schwartz Review of Nursing Education concluded, “Australia, it seems, is not experiencing a shortage in the number of nurses but in the number of high-quality graduates.”

Appointments, achievements

National Computational Infrastructure announces the 2021 Australasian Leadership Computing Grants go to, Ben Corry (ANU), Alan E Mark (Uni Queensland), Bernhard Müller (Monash University), Ekaterina Pas (Monash University), and Julio Soria, (Monash University).

The United States Studies Centre at Uni Sydney announces Mick Mulvaney is a new non-resident senior fellow. Mr Mulvaney was President Trump’s chief of staff (2019-20) and director of the Office of Management and Budget. He is joined by Duncan Lewis, formerly Director General of Security at ASIO. Jennifer Jackett, on leave from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet joins as a non-resident fellow.