Plus the five winners of the week

Welcome back

Universities Australia issued a statement yesterday, congratulating New Colombo Plan scholarship recipients (below), which is a very big deal indeed. Not just for the subject but because it was the first UA announcement for three weeks. Undoubtedly UA is very busy advising the corridors of power but in public, not so much these days. The peak body is keeping its head down while its constituent factions squabble over deregulation.

Enough to steal the moon

David “Gru” Buckingham, Monash VP for marketing, comms and recruitment has signed off on the new org chart for his 130 or so minions, sorry staff, operational from Monday. Yes it sounds like a lot, but then again they do a bunch of stuff. There are units dealing with admissions, campaign management, channel management, market analytics, marketing comms and student recruitment, sales management (no, I don’t know what they do that is different to recruitment either), strategic comms and brand services. The leadership group is 11 strong and they are all at HEW10 + or on executive pay-grades. The structure seems a little light on for people who can write and design but perhaps the latter is largely farmed out. Nor can I see who does the serious political and media liaison with 24-hour access to the vice chancellor. No matter, I doubt that this structure includes everybody in marketing, sales and comms related roles at Monash – there will be a bunch of people in International and other staff squirrelled away in faculties and sundry other offices. My guess is one way or another this is about half the overall strength. Otherwise it looks like a sensible marketing and sales structure for a big corporation, sorry university.

Good news and bad news

The former is that University of Melbourne researchers have found a natural treatment for asthma – the latter is that it involves eating two cups of “lightly steamed broccoli” a day. I suppose it could be worse – say, brussels sprouts.

Winners of the week

Politicians (no, not Christopher) are winners this week, especially Foreign Minister Julie Bishop who saw the first round of New Colombo Plan scholars announced at a ceremony with the Governor General on Wednesday night. Everybody in education bangs on about the importance of Australian links with Asia, particularly learning languages, without doing much to improve them – well Minister Bishop has. It will take a generational change for Australians to become Asian language and culture literate but somebody had to start the process.

Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane also had a brave win on Wednesday – telling an ACPET conference that the training system is a shambles and he is going to enlist industry to fix it. Yes, many have tried and all have failed to do this before, but there is no faulting him for being game to have a go.

Labor MP Amanda Rishworth was promoted during the week, becoming shadow minister for higher education. Some suggest she was only moved up to complete South Australia’s frontbench quota, replacing former senator (and science minister!) Don Farrell. She could have proved this wrong by hoping into Minister Pyne in Question Time, but didn’t. Instead she tweeted about a meeting with the University of Wollongong (see below).

Two VCs also did well this week. Deakin Vice Chancellor Jane den Hollander was appointed to a second term, taking her through to 2019. Scott Bowman supervised the merger of CQ University and Central Queensland TAFE, to be formally confirmed next week. This is a big win for Professor Bowman –last year the university was in financial strife and while he successfully managed an emergency restructure locals wondered whether CQU was viable with fewer international students. Becoming a dual sector institution creates opportunities to better serve the region, not to mention needed mass.

Less than burning questions

While they did not come from Ms Rishworth higher education finally got guernseys in Question Time yesterday – albeit obliquely, with two questions relating to protests over CSIRO job cuts. One pro forma Opposition effort, which asked why the prime minister thinks science is “crap,” went nowhere when Mr Abbott said he didn’t. And then Opposition Leader Bill Shorten asked the PM why he held science in contempt, given science degrees could cost $120,000 after deregulation. The PM batted it away, saying that Mr Shorten “should have more faith in universities. They will do the right thing by students and our traditions and the last thing they want to do is price degrees out of the reach of students.” He’s right – under deregulation universities could subsidise science courses with money from students in other disciplines. But the answer avoided the issue and ignored the obvious – the feds are cutting expenditure which means some (well business and law) students will end up subsiding more expensive courses more than they already do. The government has got off very lightly indeed this session of parliament when it comes to justifying its higher education plans.

Notes to the accounts

Unionists at La Trobe have responded to Vice Chancellor John Dewar’s long awaited plan to cut courses, consolidate faculties and crunch jobs with a proposal of their own. “There is only one job that needs to go, and that’s the VC’s,” National Tertiary Education Union branch president Virginia Mansel Lees says. “NTEU analysis of the annual report and other documentation shows that the university has fabricated a ‘financial crisis’ and that there is no genuine need to cut the jobs of professional staff who ensure the smooth running of the university, and the jobs of academic staff upon whose research and teaching the university’s reputation has been built.” Ms Mansel Lees wants a meeting with the university council to explain staff and student concerns; she could show members how they misread the university’s books when they backed Professor Dewar while she is at it.

Not Pozible without professionals

The University of Western Australia is embracing the wisdom of crowds, announcing a crowdsourcing program to involve the community in research and a crowdfunding scheme to raise research money from the public. Good stuff, except at this stage the university intends to do it alone, although a spokesman says it will consider using “a third party provider for the funding.” You have to wonder why UWA is waiting. Deakin has built a brilliant crowd funded research program, but in partnership with agency Pozible. It’s harder than it looks.

Researching its strengths

Back in 2011 Paul Wellings set his own performance objective as vice chancellor of the University of Wollongong, eight months before he started. He wanted UoW to be in the top 200 research universities in the world. It sounded like a standard goal to be achieved by a standard means – spending money to buy in talent. But Wollongong under Wellings is smarter than that – the university has created a research brand that suits its strength and circumstances, a brand that will attract researchers and investors.

UoW launched its “global challenges” program in Parliament House this week, thus ensuring it was lost in the political fray and not get the attention it merits. Which was a shame because this is a model program for a regional university. Global Challenges UoW will focus on are healthy ageing, innovative manufacturing and coastal environments, all of which suit the circumstances of Wollongong’s Illawarra region, with a population that is getting on, a declining industrial base and a long and lovely coastline. They are research themes that will resonate at home and away and should ensure the university is not lost among the many, many similar size institutions around the world, which want to be in the first 200.