Plus Australia as top creativity country AND Ian Chubb is a hard bloke to replace

Stakhanovites only need apply

An announcement of the new chief scientist is expected early next week, if  anybody wants the job, that is. At his Science Prizes on Wednesday night Prime Minister Turnbull praised outgoing chief scientist Ian Chubb for his prodigious workload and urged him to keep up the pace and work till he drops (CMM yesterday). That’s less a high than stratospheric expectation for any successor. One bloke who could match Professor Chubb for energy and ideas and whose name is widely mentioned as a replacement is retiring Monash chancellor Alan Finkel.

ANU Sept 15

Job losses in lighthouse land

The restructure at Macquarie University continues, with word that printing will be outsourced with ten plus jobs to go.  The cuts in campus-wide marketing are also becoming clearer. Of a university-establishment of 100 plus people CMM hears only 56 individuals will move directly into new positions with the rest of the jobs spilled. There are also positions going in learning and teaching, which is being devolved to faculties. Macquarie U watchers have counted 35 jobs set to go there. Then there is talk, of IT functions being outsourced. While no restructure plan is yet public this is not surprising given widespread staff frustration with management revealed in a recent workforce survey. (CMM August 28).

Under-achieving ASQA

Back in June then training minister Simon Birmingham announced $68m for the Australian Skills Quality Authority, “to better enforce the tough new standards for registered training organisations.”

So how’s that going? Not very far, according to ASQA. This week’s report of audits on training providers was at pains to explain that whatever is wrong with the loan system it isn’t ASQA’s fault

“At the inception of this project, ASQA recognised that the major harm to be addressed was the issue of vulnerable students being enrolled in inappropriate qualifications without accurate advice on their training and VET FEE-HELP debt. ASQA also recognised that it was not wholly responsible for or able to unilaterally address this harm. While it had an important role in ensuring the compliance of the relevant RTOs (registered training organisations) against the standards, the cooperation of other agencies—for example, consumer law agencies and the administrator of the VET FEE-HELP program—was essential if this harm was to be addressed.”

So that is all right then. No it’s not. If the government is save anything from the wreck of the badly designed training market it needs heads on pikes to prove the system punishes providers who exploit students. ASQA’s plodding approach is unlikely to provide them. CMM wonders why Labor isn’t calling for an independent inquiry, unless of course the party is uncomfortable with deregulation being originally designed on its watch. Still that did not stop the new-ish Victorian Labor Government from establishing an investigation.

UniMelb bushfire

Bright Brown

The consensus in the corridors of influence yesterday was that Simon Birmingham has done very well in appointing Darren Brown as his higher education adviser. The general view is that his advice is astute and mouth shut outside the office.

Fewer collegians 

Western Sydney University‘s pathway provider, The College, (yes that’s what it is called) is handing back office functions to the university. The National Tertiary Education Union warns that while some staff will transfer to the university jobs are expected to go in some or all of IT, finance, marketing, facilities and student services.

Cash for QILTing

It took a while but critics have certainly started trying to unpick the QILT. Some of the criticism of the Quality Indicators of Learning and Teaching are partisan, like Kim Carr having a crack at what will be one of Christopher Pyne’s lasting achievements. Some is simple sneering by education insiders who hate the idea of prospective students having sources of independent information they can use to compare institutions on attributes that are important to them. But while the critics carp universities are starting to use QILT to point to their achievements, including institutions that do not rate on research focused league tables and which lack big-city advertising budgets.

QILT was part of Mr Pyne’s plan for deregulated undergraduate fees, markets need price information to function but even under the status quo it is already serving an immensely useful purpose. What CMM wants to know is whether Labor, and the government for that matter, will guarantee its funding for years to come. Yes this is a product the private sector should have created but in this case market failure has failed the market.

Universities pick up the tab

New OECD figures demonstrate the mix of public and private, government and university expenditure on research. It confirms the common suspicion that Australian business is not working with universities. Industry funding of R&D in Australian higher education rates Australia 22 out of 37 nations. In contrast, universities fund around half of their R&D work from general funds.

Way to go on OA

So at the end of Open Access week how long until the for-profit publishers accept that the rivers of gold do not flow like they used to? Quite a while it seems. As Stephen Pinfield points out the publishers still have plenty of pals among academics;

“There is considerable inertia built into the existing system with reputation building (the currency of academic research) still clearly based on traditional approaches to scholarly communication (including established journal brands, impact factors etc.)” he writes.

Gold rather than green OA is big among medical and life-science researchers and in the UK humanities people are not keen on open access of any hue.

ANU Sep 15 1

You’re nicked sunshine

“Zombie star caught in the act of ‘killing planets’,” the ABC reports UNSW researcher Robert Wittenmyer has found. Understated your ABC is.

Creative country

The Rotman School of Management (University of Toronto) builds an annual creativity index based on a range of factors from talent to tolerance, innovation to urbanisation, creativity to competition. “Capitalism is in the midst of an epochal transformation from its previous industrial model to a new one based on creativity and knowledge.1 In place of the natural resources and large-scale industries that powered the growth of industrial capitalism, the growth of creative capitalism turns on knowledge, innovation, and talent,” this year’s report states.

So that finishes resources based economies like Australia off, which rely on what they can dig up rather than what they can learn and teach, right?

Wrong. This year’s creativity index ranks Australia number one, from the US, New Zealand, Canada, Denmark-Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Singapore and the Netherlands. “Capitalism in the creative age is thus organised more around places that attract and mobilise talent and technology. Indeed, place has supplanted the corporation as the key economic and social organising unit of our time,” the report states.

Next time somebody suggests that we are over-skilling people point them at this. In an age where ideas are currency all education and training is an investment.

Will local rules apply

Last week’s Senate committee report on for-profit training included a recommendation that the Australian Skills Quality Authority have “powers to directly regulate brokers or marketing agents in the VET sector, and to protect students.” Is this intended to include offshore based agents with local representatives a reader asks.

Harder than it sounds

The training community talks more about getting involved in India than actually doing it. For understandable reasons, a close observer of the market there tells CMM. For a start, demand is so huge that it is hard to know where to start – demand for trainers is projected at 70 000 a year! But just as important, the overall education system is in terrible shape, with few foundations to build on.

According to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, “only a small proportion” of graduates are considered employable. The best figure is just over a quarter of science grads are deemed fit for clerical work. “Unemployability is driven by several factors including irrelevant and out-dated curricula, shortage of high-quality faculty, fewer academia-industry linkages and a limited focus on developing soft/workplace skills.” And when the Federation talks about shortages of academics they mean absence – up to 40 per cent of jobs are empty – and those that are there are not getting much done.

As the British Council’s Lynn Heslop puts it; “the system is beset by issues of quality in many of its institutions: a chronic shortage of faculty, poor quality teaching, out-dated and rigid curricula and pedagogy, lack of accountability and quality assurance and separation of research and teaching.”

So where can Australia be most and most profitable use in India. In teacher and trainer education it seems – but Ms Heslop warns relationships will have to be at institutional rather than federal government level.