Aux EB barricades! at UTS

The campus branch of the Community and Public Sector Union sounds the tocsin

The CPSU tells UTS-ites that the university’s enterprise agreement expires in June, which means bargaining will begin soon. The CPSU, which represents (some) professional staff, accordingly invites all to complete a survey on issues that matter to them.

A warning to management that the CPSU will bargain hard? Most definitely. A signal to professional staff who are members of the National Tertiary Education Union? Looks like it.

Learning during COVID-19: what students got and what they want now

Mahsood Shah (Swinburne U) wanted to know how students learnt during COVID 19 – so he asked three peak-body leaders

Key messages include,

* overall, universities did well in taking learning on-line

* what needs improving includes, teaching quality and engaging with students and more remote contact hours

* students like on-campus lectures and don’t want them reduced

* they need access to more support services

Their paper is in Features this morning. It’s this week’s contribution to Commissioning Editor Sally Kift’s long-running series, Needed now in teaching and learning.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

The fourth and final essay in John H Howard’s (UTS) CMM series on  rethinking Australian higher education. Australian students must be front and centre – they are the one’s paying, he argues.

Uni response to first wham of a triple whammy

University managements are bracing for the impact of the government’s proposed cyber security legislation and the report of the parliamentary Intel Committee on foreign interference on campus.  A first new oversight is already in place

Research offices at universities are briefing staff on the government’s Foreign Relations Act 2020, which became law last week. It empowers the minister for foreign affairs to oversight state agency agreements with foreign powers, to ensure they are in the national interest. Universities are covered by being created by state acts (no ANU does not escape, it is specifically included).

Universities lobbies made the case that the then bill is intrusive and unnecessary, costly and cumbersome. “Our primary concerns go to both the workability of these laws that will cover thousands and thousands of agreements and the deterrent effect this could have on international partnerships,” Universities Australia warned (CMM November 6).

But now it is law and universities are working out how to obey it, with research offices briefing staff.

Establishment anoints its own: Mark Scott next VC of Uni Sydney

Mr Scott  will become VC in July, he will move quietly and shake slowly

 Mr Scott is a truly marvellous mandarin. His previous appointments include MD of the ABC and Group Editorial Director of what was Fairfax newspapers. Early in his career he was a school teacher and a staffer for state Liberal government ministers.

This is an appointment which will be popular with the Sydney establishment in the professions and public service – people who went to the University of Sydney and see it as their own.

Mr Scott is highly regarded as an administrator, judged a safe pair of hands on public issues, with an acute sense of the admin-achievable and politically possible.

His leadership of the ABC offers an indication of how he might manage Uni Sydney – both organisations with large numbers of staff whose loyalty is to their ideal of the institution, not its management.

Mr Scott got more done at the ABC than is often recognised, expanding its digital presence and standing up to government – but he coexisted with rather than confronted a staff culture opposed to fundamental change in structures and numbers.

After his Uni Sydney predecessor, Michael Spence’s, early attempts to reduce employee numbers and his immense and exhausting endeavour to improve the university’s baroque bureaucracy Mr Scott will be a contrast. He will move quietly and shake slowly. There will be no brawls with the unions on his watch and if he dreams any impossible dreams they will stay publicly un-sung.

There was half-hearted harrumphing on the weekend that Mr Scott is not an academic and does not have a doctorate. This manifestly did not bother the selection panel – conventionally qualified VCs back to the 90s supervised the erosion of Uni Sydney’s once unchallenged authority in NSW higher education and the auld enemy , the University of Melbourne, has long left it behind on the research rankings.

But whether Mr Scott is the right person for a university in an alarmingly uncertain era is another question. His appointment appears to indicate the decision makers on the university senate thought that whatever happens at universities of lesser age and riches, stabile leadership is what Uni Sydney needs.

Months before he is invested as VC, Mr Scott is already anointed by Sydney’s ancien regime – the Sydney Morning Herald announced his appointment in a story, which it declared an “exclusive.” And you don’t get any more establishment Sydney than that.

The people’s choice at Murdoch U

Gerd Schröeder-Turk is re-elected as staff representative on the university council, with just shy of 70 per cent of first-preferences

 Aspro Schröeder-Turk’s  campaign message was that “collegial empowered committee-based governance structures” are “best suited for a university” and that he is against, “top-down decision making style that alienates the academic body and that carries a risk that committee processes become mere ‘rubber stamping’ exercises.”

Last year the university and Schröeder-Turk abandoned legal actions against each other, flowing from his criticism of Murdoch U’s international student recruitment on ABC TV’s Four Corners (CMM June 15 2020).

No ANU surplus surprise but management is working on revenue

The expected 2020 deficit happened

“There is not a surprise surplus as seen at other universities – we will unfortunately see a deficit for 2020 as we expected,” VC Brian Schmidt told staff Friday.

Professor Schmidt provided no details, as financials have not been cleared by university council, which precedes their going to the federal minister of education.

However, he warned the impact of COVID-19 is worse than at other, unnamed universities because of ANU’s decision to reduce its 2020 intake, “to improve the student experience.”  (In 2018 the university announced it would not increase domestic or international student numbers above 20 000 (CMM July 25 2018) ).

“So despite having a very large surplus in 2018 and 2019, our fractional decrease in student numbers is amongst the largest in the sector.”

Professor Schmidt added, “we remain confident that over the next several years we are amongst the best placed universities to regain our revenue, but we need to be prudent with our expenses while we stay focused on rebuilding our income.”

Which neatly linked to mention of a $17m purchase of land from the ACT Government, which could be converted into an “income-stream.”  University council had approved capex for investment the VC said, but not for operating costs, “like salaries.”


Tudge moving HE off the election-agenda

The education minister will use selective kindness to smother opposition from within universities

On research: Alan Tudge has declared translational research is vital. “We want academics to become entrepreneurs, taking their ideas from the lab to the market. We want them to be properly rewarded for their breakthroughs and their engagement with business. … We know that more innovation activity will lift our nation’s productivity,” he says (CMM March 1).

It is a bit hard to argue with, and last week Universities Australia chair Deborah Terry did not try, backing the government on translational research in a speech. (CMM March 10). Certainly, Professor Terry also pointed to the importance of basic research but that’s the bit the government will ignore when it claims universities back its plan.

On teaching: On Friday Mr Tudge launched Australian Catholic U’s new campus at Blacktown in western Sydney. “The impressive facilities will open up hundreds of opportunities for people to study in one of Australia’s fastest growing regions,” Mr Tudge said (via Twitter) adding there was a one-off 200 national priority places for nursing study. As with research, it signals that the minister is a friend to HE when it serves the community.

It followed his flagging a review initial teacher education Wednesday, in which he warned. “l will be impatient with education faculties that are not implementing evidence-based practices. It is the kids that miss out!” (CMM March 12).

Smart politics of the bob each way variety:  When researchers complain that pure science is being undervalued Mr Tudge will be able to point to his support for universities researching in the national interest. And when culture-war critics complain about research they do not like the minister will be able to point to where he wants the money to go.

And when the same conservatives denounce teacher education faculties he will be able to point to his new review. And if the teacher education lobbies kick-back he could respond he is acting to help students.

The minister is looking to suck the election-oxygen out of two issues which generally are good for the Opposition and Greens.

Appointments, achievements

Kaarin Anstey receives a senior researcher award from the Journal of Mental Health and Prevention. Professor Anstey is deputy director of the ARC’s Centre of Excellence in Ageing and Popular Research.

Rosemary Kayess (UNSW) is elected chair of the UN’s Committee on the rights of people with disabilities.

Shabih Shakeel takes up his appointment as lab head at WEHI (that’s the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for people who did not get the memo about the new abbreviated name).  His lab will research heterochromatin, which apparently is, “the dark matter of genome.”