Google partners with STEM superstars

Google becomes technology partner of the Super Stars of STEM. The  programme, from Science and Technology Australia, “aims to smash gender assumptions and empower leading female scientists, technologists, researchers and educators to become well-known public role models.”  According to STA it’s already “acclaimed,” so imagine what it will be with Google involved – you will have to, the announcement is silent on what partnership involves. Then again google “Super Stars of STEM” and you get 1 290 000 results.


There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning, global ICT guru Hugh Bradlow casts his expert eye over the latest developments in the technosphere.

New ANU parental leave benefit and an idea for the next one

ANU management celebrated International Womens Day by extending employer superannuation contributions to its parental leave scheme. Last year the university introduced 26 weeks leave on full pay for primary carers. And now the university announces up to 26 weeks of employer superannuation contributions to staffers taking unpaid parental leave.

“We know that women typically spend more time away from the workforce and, on average, retire with 46.6% less superannuation than men. This is something we can change – and we must change if want our campus to be a place of inclusivity and equality,” Vice Chancellor Brian Schmidt says.

The National Tertiary Education Union thinks this is a sound-idea, ACT secretary Rachael Bahl calls it, a “warmly-welcomed,” “sector-leading initiative.” Ms Bahl suggests the university work with the union to incorporate the new benefit into the ANU enterprise agreement.

The union also suggests ANU extend overall access to paid parental leave, which is now available to permanent and fixed-term staff with 12-months plus service. “We believe that all staff deserve employer paid parental leave. Adopting a policy whereby all staff are entitled to employer paid parental leave will demonstrate the University’s commitment to becoming a family friendly community and an employer of choice for women,” the union’s Women’s Access Network states.

They have seen the future and it is Greene

Leo Goedegebuure and V Lynn Meek from the L H Martin Institute set out a perhaps satirical, perhaps aspirational future for higher education in their contribution to a new essay collection on universities in 2040.  Climate change, digital comms and global competition destablise Australia, so that only “the strongest research universities survived.” But the gap is filled by a small, elite institution, where faculty, “have reconstituted the art of rhetoric and debate” and alumni “slowly but steadily are reforming the public and private sectors through their values based leadership.”  The name of this Newman-esque institution is Cleaver Greene U. The better the policy thinkers the less seriously they take themselves.

Union postpones conference – warns risk of industrial action by staff

Possible industrial action is disrupting a peak event at the National Tertiary Education Union, with national leaders postponing the elected officials conference, scheduled for this month. A letter to branch presidents, state secretaries and national executive members advises that union employees negotiating a new enterprise agreement have applied to the Fair Work Commission for a protected-action ballot on taking industrial action. Management says this means “there is the potential” for the conference, “to be disrupted, either in the lead-up, or during the meeting.”

However the committee bargaining for staff says this is no reason to cancel, saying the ballot does not close till after the scheduled conference dates. “NTEU staff regret that we have had to exercise our rights to take protected industrial action given our claims are not excessive and are affordable,” it tells branch and state leaderships.

The union leadership position is that;  “while we are disappointed by this development we support the rights of our staff to engage in industrial action. We want the union’s staff to continue to enjoy good conditions of employment, but we also have a responsibility to carefully manage the resources entrusted to us by members.”

UNE on the money for another campus

A learned reader points to another NSW election HE commitment (CMM Friday). The state government promises $26m for University of New England to expand in the regional city of Tamworth. The money is said to be contingent on the feds kicking in another $10m. If so, this shouldn’t be a problem, given the endlessly insistent Barnaby Joyce is the federal member, Education Minister Dan Tehan is focused on study opportunities in the regions and a national election looms. Unless, of course Labor gets in first and pre-commits money from the universities future fund it promises.

Macquarie U offers an early exit for selected academics

Macquarie U is offering a voluntary early exit to older academics, which the Australian Tax Office agrees qualifies as a tax concessional early retirement scheme. Applications will go to committees which will ration places if demand exceeds supply.

The university suggests the offer could appeal to academics between 50 and 65 who do not like the impact of changes on work and working lives, such as, “the increased competitiveness of research and the digitisation of education.”

However, while the university is expansive about who qualifies it is quite precise as to who doesn’t. Staff who the university rates as research productive and/or hold external grants, or who have won teaching awards/grants, are barred. So is everybody in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Department of Chiropractic. And MU Distinguished Professors can forget it.

The scheme is being rolled out faculty by faculty, with people approved expected to be gone a month after accepting an offer.

Uni Sydney sets canon-free HASS priorities

Annamarie Jagose announces “flagship themes” for humanities and social sciences researchers at the University of Sydney.

The FASS dean says the six themes were selected from the faculty’s 40 plus disciplines, “in a two-tiered process.” They are; * asset-based capitalism (“a fresh take” on housing affordability), “and the new forms of inequality it insidiously engenders. * what developments in biomedicine and biotechnology, mean for what is meant by ‘the human’. * research protocols for “community-led research“. * research on open-economies, “not typically considered in much economic policy analysis.” * “a post-human reconceptualisation of justice” and * “a HASS take” on human/machine interactions.

Gosh, a Ramsay western civ centre (which UniSydney management wants) would feel right at home.

Universities defend their good name

The Coaldrake review of higher education category standards asks whether “university” should continue to exclusively refer to institutions that teach and research (CMM December 10 2018).

Too-right it should, is the essence of responses from the Innovative Research Universities and Regional Universities Network to the review’s discussion paper.

“The title of university should remain targeted at providers that have significant education and research outcomes. The argument to alter the scope of what it means to be a university would conflate different styles of education rather than highlighting them to assist effective student choice,” the IRU asserts.

RUN agrees; “Provider Category Standards describe a ‘university’ in terms of the teaching and research it delivers and its self-accrediting status. … “RUN considers that the Australian University category should be protected. It is fit for purpose and does not require change.”

Not that this is institutional-interest, heavens no, as RUN explains: The introduction of ‘teaching-only universities’ would, in effect, be a return to the binary system of higher education which Australia rejected decades ago. A two-tier system would fuel the perception of ‘superior’ and ‘inferior higher education providers and run the risk that the regions would be dominated by teaching-only education provision.”

The IRU provides its usual policy-dense analysis of the issues (if the UN ever wants an independent governance review, IRU could do it) focusing on how the existing provider standards can be refined. And it warns the review against addressing the wrong issue;

“There is a constant concern from some that the “university” category somehow disadvantages unfairly other providers. The argument is in reality about access to Australian Government funding. Funding follows government policy and political need. The review is not tasked to consider funding issues. It should not allow funding issues to shadow its outcomes.”

And it urges other HE providers to build their own products; “The non-university higher education providers should not be a pale version of a university. They do not need to hide under a familiar term, they need to establish their own offering.”

If they do, IRU suggests they could get an exclusive provider-title of their own; “to prevent others using the same term,” and even self-accrediting powers, “a signifier of the providers’ standing and capabilities.”

The (other) Joyce review reports

The Joyce Review is released, just not the one the feds commissioned on the VET system. Former New Zealand skills and tertiary education minister, Steven Joyce has also advised the South Australian government on better using its agencies to support growth-areas of the economy, including education.

Mr Joyce suggests that because the state has a 4.5 per cent national share of the international education market, this “suggests opportunities for further growth,” including private-sector VET.  But (and it strikes CMM as a rather big but), “current weaknesses in the SA VET sector as well as strong competition from other jurisdictions are key constraints to the sector being able to meet its growth potential.” It’s going to take more than sharpening-up public sector support for industry to fix that.

Student to student support

Study-support provider (and CMM advertiser) Studiosity is working on a new product, which the National Tertiary Education Union criticises as an extension of “the gig economyinto education and “a further corporatisation of what we consider to be core academic and support services.”

Studiosity, responds that it is developing a service where it will pay students at a client university who have completed a course to provide “study support” on its content.

While it will use Studiosity’s existing on-line access model, the new service will not replace the company’s core-product, which provides a client university’s students with tutorials by discipline-qualified Studiosity staff.

The company is believed to be in discussion with universities on introducing the new service. Studiosity lists 22 Australian public universities as partners.

Appointments, achievements

Richard Scully from UNE is elected a fellow of the UK Royal Historical Society. Aspro Scully’s works include a three-volume  history of 19th century UK political cartoons.

Gloria Calescu has taken over the comms role at the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency. She replaces Raphael May who announced his departure, for parts unknown, late Friday.