Plus Federal Court slams (really slams) Swinburne

Cashed-up Chris

Apparently Industry, Innovation and Science Minister Chris Pyne is under orders to release his inner revolutionary and not worry about money. You mean like he did in education? “When everybody else around the cabinet table is being asked to tighten our belts, and reasonably so, the Prime Minister sees innovation as a driver of the economy into the future,” Mr Pyne says. So that’s why Simon “softly softly” Birmingham can’t find the blank chequebook in the education department office.

ANU Sept 15

And so it begins

In bad news for business schools everywhere MIT has taken a first step to making its qualifications available via MOOC. Starting in February students can study online for a six month “micromasters” in supply chain management, awarded on passing “a comprehensive examination.” Coursework is free and for those who pass the proctored exam the micromasters will be awarded on payment of, “a modest fee for verified certificates.”

The micromasters also counts for a semester’s credit towards the year-long on-campus supply chain management masters, which looks to CMM like MIT is offering a 50 per cent discount on a US$60 000 business degree. However micromasters graduates keen to complete the full degree on campus will still have to compete the standard MIT Graduate Application.

MIT says other programmes it offers “are interested in participating in the accelerated masters programme.” CMM bets they are. As a way of expanding access without eroding brand value this strategy looks hard to beat. Marnie Hughes Warrington is even righter than she realises in thinking MOOCs are disruptive startups with potential few fully grasp (see “MOOC in progress”, below).

UniMelb bushfire

Miserable at Murdoch

There’s never a dull moment at Murdoch U, with a VC and DVC plus a dean resigning in the last 12 months. And now the National Tertiary Education Union is representing 22 Development and Communications unit staff, who allege unprofessional and unreasonable behaviour by members of management. CMM hears it took a while for decision makers to grasp the seriousness of staff concerns but the university has established an external investigation, with interviews said to be imminent.

Debate Watch

Charles Sturt University isn’t research-intensive and yet VC Andy Vann endorses Universities Australia’s new policy push for research funding. So does Jan Thomas from the teaching-focused Southern Queensland University. “Regional universities like USQ will be standing firm with the national campaign to bolster an urgent need to invest in research, skills and ingenuity to transform our industries – and create and fill the jobs of the future,” she says.

There are two reasons for this, apart from the dream of every VC that somewhere on their patch a future Nobel laureate lurks.

CMM suspects that the “$100k dollar degree” campaign has stopped deregulation of undergraduate fees for the foreseeable future because Australians now see access to university education as a right of the universal healthcare kind. And while this makes it impossible for universities to impose charges it also makes it very difficult for government to increase the share of degree costs students pay (granted, cuts to payments per EFT is another issue).

So with undergraduate costs effectively off the agenda universities are free to focus on increasing funding for research. Which is why, as well as the national interest, Universities Australia chief Barney Glover focused on research as an economic necessity at the National Press Club on Wednesday. And why every vice chancellor and discipline lobby in the country has or will support him.

But there is another reason why all VCs back more money for research, even if existing distribution formulas ensure many of them will not see much of it – their support ensures a seat at the table when ways to allocate research money is debated.

Hanging jury

Across the ditch staff at Lincoln University want to be involved in selecting the next vice chancellor. Given the university is looking for somebody with “superior execution skills” perhaps workers want to make sure applicants have no ideas about them.

MOOC in progress

When universities think of cash creating spin-offs they focus on research, not teaching and learning, which means people dismiss MOOCs too soon. “If the groups providing MOOCs perform to form, market readiness could take another five years to achieve …. That doesn’t make MOOCs a lost cause, or as sceptics like to conclude, pure hype. It simply makes them a start up,” ANU DVC Marnie Hughes-Warringtonwrites this morning.

And as with all new industries no one knows where the money will come. Perhaps MOOC as platform will produce profits, perhaps it will come from content – which is why LinkedIn bought training provider Lynda.

“The point of all of this isn’t to show that MOOCs are our only option for innovation and commercialisation and innovation. Far from it. It is simply that our impatient expectation of an immediate return on investment lays bare how skewed our understanding of university spin offs might be.

“Market readiness doesn’t happen overnight, and it happens in more sectors than biotech and medical innovation. How many education spin offs are on your university’s spin off list? My bet is, not enough. We clearly aren’t there yet,” Professor Hughes Warrington writes.

Although at MIT (above) perhaps they are getting closer.


Really inexpensive infrastructure

QUT is very pleased with physicists Stephen Hughes and Darren Pearce who have reported research showing oceans rise as they heat up, even without the impact of melting ice sheets. And they did not need expensive infrastructure to prove it; “this new experiment uses a glass marble immersed in a beaker of water, with the marble suspended by fishing line and paper clips from an overhead electronic balance,” QUT reports. Good-o but what’s with the headline “MacGyver this!”? To save you the googling, MacGyver was a TV scientist-special agent a generation ago who used Swiss army knives to defuse nuclear weapons and such like. Here’s hoping the government does not hear about this – NCRIS is not funded forever.

Changing the subject

All of a sudden Labor is talking about infrastructure. Cynics suggest that this is because Simon “softly softly” Birmingham is defusing deregulation, but what can you expect from cynics.

Swinburne slammed

A Federal Court judge has slammed Swinburne University over a dispute with the National Tertiary Education Union.

The case arose from a plan by Swinburne to move university preparatory programmes to a subsidiary, which would have reduced staff costs, to the detriment of existing employees.

“Part of that plan (I accept, not the whole of it) included a consciousness that the entitlements of employees at Swinburne College could be adversely affected if the proposal went ahead. Indeed the cost savings and more favourable industrial landscape for Swinburne (especially at the expense of its casual and fixed-term employees) were motivating factors in the proposal,” Justice Mortimer said in her judgement yesterday.

While she acknowledged that the restructure “had broader and legitimate aims” Justice Mortimer was scathing about the role of university leaders, including Vice Chancellor Linda Kristjanson, Vice President (Engagement) Andrew Smith and the University Council in planning the move.

“The seniority of those involved does say something about the calculated nature of the contravention, because for those at such senior levels to be involved, it is clear that this was a carefully planned course of action, over a considerable period of time, with objectives and outcomes to which experienced and senior people had turned their minds.”

And Justice Mortimer warned all higher education institutions to be on notice that “industrial and employment protections and commitments, even when they are perceived to ‘cost’ an employer more, or to make for a less ‘flexible’ workforce, are to be adhered to and respected, or appropriately re-negotiated.”

Late yesterday Mr Smith reported to the Swinburne community that the case was decided and that “the university decided to settle out-of-court rather than exposing staff and students to the uncertainties associated with a protracted litigation” and had made a ‘legal admission’ that it had threatened staff with ‘adverse action,’ although none was undertaken. He added that the university would pay a $14 000 fine. The university had previously agreed to pay $120 000 to the union for legal costs.

ANU Sep 15 1

Not good as gold

Griffith University is an official partner of the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, which means internships for students. Given the event is on the university’s patch this is hardly surprising. But what certainly surprised CMM is the welcoming statement by Queensland Games Minister Kate Jones. “It means students from Griffith University have the opportunity to graduate with more than just a piece of paper but with the first line of their resume already completed.” “A piece of paper”! Surely that does not mean what it sounds like.