In breaking news

Something’s happening at Uni Southern Queensland,” USQ announced yesterday, via Twitter. That something is the “R Block Upgrade. Opening 2021.” Must be quiet indeed when nothing is going on.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Angel Calderon (RMIT) on the enduring uncertainty the government has engineered for universities.

Airdre Grant (Southern Cross U) argues Master Chef has the student assessment recipe. On Commissioning Editor Sally Kift’s menu this week for her series, Needed now in Teaching and Learning.

Warren Bebbington (Uni Melbourne) on the transformation of teaching and learning the pandemic the pandemic has imposed.

Merlin Crossley (UNSW) on why Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna deserve their Nobel Prize in Chemistry and what CRISPR does.

David Kellermann (UNSW) on creating a serious solution for on-line lecturing. Curated content from Microsoft.

Socially-distanced demo

Noon today the National Tertiary Education Union is holding a demonstration in Victoria Park, adjacent to the University of Sydney and near UTS and Australian Catholic U

Its physical-distanced and for NTEU union members to protest, “the federal government’s destructive agenda for higher education.”

NSW Police opposed the rally but the state Supreme Court allowed it – the demonstration will consist of a maximum of five separated groups of 19 members each.

QUT proposes $38m in staff savings

The university will cut a net 72 jobs, none academics

In a statement last night, the university “outlines” 174 staff positions may be made redundant, while 102 new roles are created. “Affected on-going staff” will be offered “the opportunity to take-up” 40 fixed term training roles in areas including learning design and digital marketing.

“QUT’s plan from the beginning of COVID-19 has been to reduce the number of job losses which we have done through the savings achieved to date and restrictions on appointment of new staff. However, it is regrettable that not all jobs can be saved,” VC Margaret Sheil says.

“It is clear, however, that the impact of COVD-19 on international education will continue during 2021 and beyond.”

QUT has previously announced new academic and admin structures.

Yesterday’s change proposal is current to November 9 for an end January start, if adopted. The savings would be made by end 2021. The university commits to no forced redundancies this financial year.

More opportunities to exit Monash U

The university has new ideas about reducing staff

In September management proposed operating areas where it preferred to see staff take voluntary separation packages. It’s now put a hold on some and expanded others.

The 277 FTE positions the university intends to lose is in-line with the savings agreement reached with the union in June, with sources of VSPs first suggested last month, (CMM September 17).

Back then management nominated the library, research support and student admin as areas where people could be spared but yesterday job cuts to elements of all areas were put on hold, subject to meeting workplace change negotiations.

However, the number of academic areas where staff in low-enrolment areas have priority for VSP has expanded to include economics, management, and departments in engineering.  That’s staff in general in academic operating units , not specific individuals in them , but Monash observers suggest deans will know who they want to go and may encourage some applications for voluntary separations more than others.

One previously affected AOU appears to have had a win. The Centre for Theatre and Performance will move to what is now the Sir Zelman Cowen Music School. This follows lobbying, including from well-organised students, who suggested this move, (CMM September 29).

Staff who want out and are approved to exit will be told in the week commencing November 2. And if the university does not get all the FTE exits it needs, “a move to involuntary redundancies on the basis of permanent insufficiency of work would follow further consultation prior to proceeding.”

Now for the hard part at ANU

Stage two recovery plan announced today

This is the one that will impact where people work, detailing savings in colleges and admin portfolios – the one which is expected to start the process to remove a planned 215 positions. That’s on top of the 250 FTE already gone, or scheduled to go (CMM September 17).

But while what proposals are not out, staff have a fair idea what they will and won’t be.

 The campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union proposed protecting jobs by;

* abolishing annual leave loading, which would save 33 FTE positions, if applied for all three years of the recovery plan. Adopting this would require staff approval of an enterprise agreement variation.

* staff taking annual leave for the three days at Christmas the university now gifts.

Management is happy to discuss both.

Ideas that aren’t happening include;

* freezing pay-rises. This won’t work because the pay-rise staff agreed to defer in July was the last of the existing agreement.

pay cuts, “not likely to be supported by a vote of staff,” management suggests.

* mandatory leave, “not feasible in a way that would support individual staff choices and local operational requirements”

* “reconsider” academic promotion rounds: “negligible savings” if done this year and “we wouldn’t be paying our staff at the level which they are working,” ANU management states

Operating change are also expected;

* “removing red tape, reducing duplication and complexity” in service delivery and research services

* and then there is the one that will cost jobs. “consideration of … changes in academic organisational units, programs, resource allocations and/or a reduction and rebalancing of both academic and professional staff workforce which may be required.”


After the TEQSA investigation: speaking up for standards  

In May 2019 Murdoch U academics Duncan Farrow, Graeme Hocking and Gerd Schröder-Turk appeared on ABC TV’s Four Corners criticising the university’s international student standards

A subsequent investigation by regulator TEQSA, announced Friday, found that the university had “responded appropriately” but that “Murdoch had been at risk of non-compliance due to an inconsistent application of its own admissions practices, which resulted in the admission of some international students (in 2018) who were ill-equipped to progress through their course of study.” The university responded to the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency’s findings last week, (CMM October 8).

Last night Farrow, Hocking and Schröder-Turk issued a statement;

“We consider that rigorous admission criteria, and effective oversight of their implementation, are essential to ensuring academic standards, student welfare and staff morale. In Australian universities, the potential conflict between financial benefits of admitting greater numbers of students and the upholding of academic standards remains an urgent concern, for both international and domestic student recruitment. Giving greater credence to concerns expressed by academic staff is beneficial for managing that conflict, and is in the interest of academic quality and student welfare.”

Associate Professor Schröder-Turk also states; “the views expressed in the statement are his personal views. He is not suggesting in any way that the views expressed here represent the views of his university, Murdoch University, or of the Senate of Murdoch University or of any other group that he belongs to.”

Queensland senators call for oversight of Reef science

A Senate Committee inquiry on the health of the Great Barrier Reef also included an argument over scientific method and demands for a government-funded agency to assess scientific research

The Committee reports that, “in line with the Australian and Queensland governments,” it “is satisfied that the evidence shows strong linkages between agricultural practices and the decline in water quality in the Reef.

But nor does the report disguise the vehemence of contra claims, which questioned not just scientific findings but the culture of peer review as applied to research on the Reef.

The Committee is not having it; stating it; “is extremely concerned by the unsubstantiated claims made by various witnesses and submitters about the adequacy of the peer review process. Those who hold this view questioned the reliability and replicability of the science produced by the well-established, peer review process. … the committee does not share the view that the peer review process is inadequate or lacking, that it produces group think or corrupt behaviour, nor that it has created a replicability crisis within Reef science. Further, the committee does not believe that Australia’s scientific community is intentionally covering up flaws in research and vilifying or excluding those scientists that raise concerns with the quality of the research.”

But a minority report from three Queensland senators, questioned research about the Reef and called for Queensland and the Commonwealth to, “establish an office of scientific review to evaluate the existing science of the Great Barrier Reef and how it informs policymaking.”

“While the exact details regarding the design and remit of this office will have to be thoroughly consulted on, we believe it could help to provide industry with greater confidence in the science and repair what has historically been a very strong partnership between science and agriculture. One way we see this occurring is via greater focus on the observation process and the utilisation of empirical data, which is the recorded evidence that has been measured and is not subject to opinion, to demonstrate cause and effect.” Matt Canavan (Nats), Susan McDonald (Nats), Gerard Rennick (Lib) state.

Last year another Queensland National Party federal MP, George Christensen called for “an independent science quality assurance agency, to check scientific papers underpinning public policy and affecting peoples’ lives and livelihoods,” (CMM September 16 2019).