Plus Curtin kickstarts planning for future workforce 

Duelling honorifics

Professor Datuk Jimmy Choo speaks at Curtin University this Friday, on “how he came to global fashion power and what gave him the inspiration to design shoes worn by Hollywood superstars and European royalty alike.” Not to be outdone, the University of Western Australia will be visited at the start of May by former Indonesian president His Excellency Professor Doctor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

ANU new 1

Talking at cross-purposes

Curtin University also hosted a meeting of senior university administrators just before Easter to discuss the “workforce of the future.” “We need to start a conversation about what we need to do be globally competitive,” Ian Callahan, Curtin’s DVC resources says.

Mr Callahan pointed to submissions to the Productivity Commission’s workplace relations inquiry, including from the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association, as “raising lots of issues we need to deal with.” Mr Callahan also suggests the changing nature of work is an emerging issue, pointing to the potential for professional staff to work from home. But he stressed that industrial relations “are only a subset of grappling with workplace change.”

“We need to start a conversation in the sector which must occur outside bargaining,” he said.

The WA branch of the National Tertiary Education Union is thinking along the same lines telling members that “better working conditions including more secure employment” for all research staff is a key priority for the next enterprise bargaining round, beginning in 2016. The union wants to start conversations with researchers now.

I’m guessing the two sets of conversations will be a bit different.

Who wants what

“Deregulation, reregulation or what?” Good question, and who better to argue it out than University of Melbourne VC Glyn Davis and his local member, Adam Bandt (Greens-Melbourne) on Thursday evening? Perhaps Chris Pyne will come and take notes to work out what Professor Davis wants, now that he, with the rest of the Group of Eight, has abandoned the minister’s package.

The event’s chair is National Tertiary Education Union president Jeannie Rea, well known to Professor Davis because of the union’s industrial action during enterprise bargaining. Dr Bandt also knows a bit about the union, it spent $1m campaigning for the Greens in the 2013 election, a fair swag on his re-election.

You can book a (free) seat here.


Anderson’s not especially fond farewell

Warwick Anderson, now the former chai r of the Australian Health and Medical Research Council, is Strasbourg bound, where he will become head of the International Human Frontier Science Programme. But although gone he will not be forgotten by the medical research institute sector, thanks to advice in his Easter-eve farewell address. First up he reiterated the message in the February discussion paper from the Review of Independent Medical Research Institutes, of which he is a member, that some need to lift their game (CMM February 9); “I have an ongoing concern that some small institutions, highly geared on NHMRC competitive funding, are not well placed to deal with the flat Forward Estimates for NHMRC funding. Research institutes in the USA have folded in the face of flat NIH funding; it would be serious if the same happened here,” he said.

And he slammed the sector for the way institutes recruit young researchers without considering their careers, especially those of women with childcare commitments. “it is heart breaking to me to see postdocs made entirely dependent on gaining NHMRC funding for their ongoing employment at some of our research institutions. Come on, this is not responsible behaviour, leaders!  Recruiting staff without any assurance of ongoing support is in my mind indefensible, as is inadequate support for women having children. So, postdocs, my suggestion is to ask for a contract that provides you with some guarantee of support beyond a competitive fellowship, say for 2-3 years at least. If your institution doesn’t come up with the goods, shop around; there is a market for good postdocs.”

It’s not advice IMRIs will thank him for but I doubt Professor Anderson cares, relations with some in the sector frosted over a while back.

The door for dissentors

The WA NTEU is deeply suspicious of state government discussions with universities over changing their acts to “reflect contemporary strategic and operational requirements,” (CMM March 30). This could be so they can commercialise land-holdings, Murdoch in particular has big plans. But the union suspects a scheme to remove elected staff, students and alumni representatives from university councils, leading to “the suppression of the only voices in senates and councils who have continually advocated for the public character of universities.”


Macquarie’s very big plan

Macquarie University proposes a comprehensive restructure of teaching and learning in its new ‘green paper,’ which extends the message of its motto ‘and gladly teche’. According to DVC Academic John Simons, employment outcomes are why students choose a university and “what is being proposed here is not placement, not weak models of work integrated learning, but a core focus on authentic partnership between the student, the university and the employers to change the landscape of what it means to be a graduate.”

The plan includes a commitment to “enquiry-driven learning” which prepares “students for productive professional and civic lives” by having staff use their research in teaching and requiring students to “participate in and conduct research.” The university proposes having this model in place in five years time.

The employability plan also includes having industry/community advisors in all programme development, including “relevant external partners” involved in the design of a minimum one assessment task per course and for “employability and entrepreneurship knowledge and skills (to) be embedded in all undergraduate and postgraduate curricula, “ by 2020.

The university will begin providing students with “the opportunity” of an internship next year, with their being universally offered by 2025.

This is a big deal indeed, intended to transform Macquarie’s standing with potential students and enhance its overall brand by lifting student satisfaction and increasing its rating in research league tables.

Bowman’s bulls-eye on

Scott Bowman from CQU defines Labor’s post-deregulation legislation problem with demand driven funding. “Perhaps then it is the fault of every regional community for not giving the former Labor government the extraordinary credit it deserved for this transformative policy. Because it is the Labor opposition which now seems to be considering watering down this policy. … (Shadow minister) Senator Carr categorically rejects the persistent scuttlebutt that Labor is intending to impose an enrolment freeze – and regional Australia is in his corner on that one. But they (sic) are hinting at peripheral reforms that will ultimately slow, if not pause, the growth of regional students studying at university.”