New VC for ACU

Acting provost Zlatko Skrbis will step up

Professor Skrbis joined ACU in 2018 to become DVC Learning and Teaching. He moved from Monash U, where he was PVC Academic (and generally regarded as a good bloke). He became acting provost at ACU in April this year.

Professor Skrbis has undergraduate degrees from the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia and a PhD in sociology from Flinders U.

He will take over in January, replacing the irrepressible Greg Craven.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Merlin Crossley on why rare isn’t always so special in science, education and film franchises.

 Andrew Taggart (Murdoch U) argues low ATAR is better than no ATAR and doing one or two ATAR courses is good.

Jason Murphy (RMIT) and Lisa Hodge (Victoria U) on writing groups – help for researchers.

Casuals could be entitled to payments they don’t get now

It would be great for the precariat but a big hit for uni budgets

Back in May the Federal Court found a casual employee whose work was of “indefinite duration” and “stable, regular and predictable” was not a casual, at least in terms of workplace entitlements.

This may not stand, there is talk of an appeal but the Australian Securities and Investments Commission has advised companies to calculate annual leave and redundancy pay for current and former staff employed as casuals but who worked regular and predictable shifts or hours.

None of this applies to universities now but some advisors and interest groups are keeping watch.

In CMM this morning Garry Carnegie (RMIT) and James Guthrie (Macquarie U) consider what it all could mean for universities.

“More paying more” the rise and rise of student charges

“Originally HECS was simple. Each student paid the same for every subject, about $3,800 in current terms.” Not anymore. The Innovative Research Universities argues why the new model is a bad idea

The IRU charts the changes in student contributions to degree costs over-time to demonstrate how dramatic are the government’s proposed changes. In 1989, a business student (and all others) was up for $3 800 in 2020 dollars – the feds want to hike this for bizoid kids to $14 500 a year.

“The changes show thirty years of governments consistently lifting student charges and placing more subjects into the highest band, mixed with targeted reductions for priority disciplines,” the IRU observes.

But the ups and downs (mainly ups) of what students paid over-time is not the IRU’s particular point. Rather, its paper sets out why the government’s “four extreme rates” aren’t necessary.

“It is possible to take the grouping of disciplines it proposes and, at no cost to students, universities or government, moderate the changes so that no unit is subject to a charge higher than the current top rate. This would still reduce the charge for the proposed two lower bands but not as much as the government proposes. The low charge is simply not necessary to attract students.”

Not only unnecessary but harmful, warns the IRU.

Charging students greatly different amounts for the benefit of their degree either punishes them for pursuing their interests or encourages them to choose something that interests them less. If the result is that students change their natural choice, it will reduce longer term productivity; a loss not just to them but to all of us.

“This is the risk from the government’s proposed changes. They would widen the current two-fold gap between the cheaper disciplines and the most expensive. The government would make this a fourfold difference.”

Minister to Charles Sturt U: let the sun shine on the books

A federal minister is cross with Charles Sturt U

Andrew Gee has Charles Sturt U campuses in his electorate of Calare. He is also a junior federal minister, for decentralisation and regional education which ensures he likes to know what is happening at CSU.

And just now he isn’t happy. He hasn’t been for months. Back in April VC Andy Vann (now on sabbatical) announced an $80m deficit and consequential cuts to come (CMM May 5). To which Mr Gee responded he had been “given varying explanations” (but) “nobody from the university has been able to explain with any clarity precisely how that figure of $80m could be a direct impact on CSU’s bottom line,” (CMM June 3).

The university took the hint, with council announcing an audit. On Wednesday, the university stated it had already responded to the minister, with KPMG appointed “to undertake an independent and external audit.”

But Mr Gee is still not happy saying yesterday the statement is “silent on key points.”

Students and staff have been approaching my office and are increasingly concerned about the apparent disarray that is stemming from the lack of open and transparent information about the university’s financial position.

“Now is the time for the university to open up the books and to shine some light on its finances, management and operations. Sunlight is the best form of disinfectant. “

Mr Gee is keen to assist regional universities. Last month he convened a meeting of their VCs and chancellors (CMM July 15). “It is crucial that we listen and understand the unique challenges faced by country universities, while also positioning them to take full advantage of future opportunities,” he said then (CMM July 15).

But as for CSU, it needs to “audit in full.”

“Only then will students, staff and the communities which CSU serves have a clear picture about its sustainability and how the university will navigate the future which is vital in maintaining community confidence and government trust,” he warned.

The workers not united …

There’s a new voice for uni staff 

A new university group is calling for a national campaign to maintain HE funding. The National Higher Education Action Network, describes itself as a “group of rank and file National Tertiary Education Union members working at many universities across Australia.” It has convened a national staff assembly on August 24 to “consider a motion opposing the government’s latest defunding measures and call for the properly supported equitable tertiary education system that society needs.”

This establishes a national policy context for continuing campus-based oppositions to cuts at individual universities, many of which have also attacked NTEU leaders and officials.

Half a dozen individual universities, with more to come, have adopted a job protection framework designed by four vice chancellors, the federal leadership of the NTEU and management representative Australian Higher Education Industrial Association.  This accord trades temporary cuts to staff conditions and halts on pay rises in return for management guaranteeing to protect specific numbers of jobs.

But almost all staff votes so far were bitterly contested on campuses, generally under the NTEU Fightback banner, “a group of university workers and unionists fighting for our jobs, pay and conditions in the Australian higher education sector.”

To invigilate or not to invigilate, that was the question

By Michael Sankey

Despite the recent kerfuffle about on-line exams using invigilation software, it turns out only 51per per cent of Australasian public universities ended up using it

And when they did use an on-line invigilation tool they did try to minimise its use, in exams where it was seen as essential.

Mind you, almost half didn’t feel it was necessary at all. This makes one wonder, – if almost half universities in Australasia were confident enough not to run invigilated exams, are the 51 per cent just clinging on-to some of the hegemonic practices that we tend to hold so dear to in higher education.

As to the common cry, “we have to, for professional accreditation reasons,” I wonder how many of us actually tested this with those accrediting bodies. Clearly, some did and were given dispensation.

This data was revealed yesterday by the Australasian Council on Online, Distance and eLearning in a new white paper on a very recent ‘COVID-19 Exam Software Survey 2020’ across every public university in Australia and New Zealand.

All 47 institutions responded. The report is available here.

It also demonstrates that a number of institutions came up with a range of solutions, some of which were more creative than others in dealing with these important pieces of assessment.

By way of extension, if you need it:  As a  recent story shows, students are not huge fans of this form of invigilation. And clearly, they have major concerns around how and where their data is stored. A data hack of ProctorU was reported on August 5, which sent shock waves through the establishment and particularly the seven unis which recently used this tool.

Fortunately, as it appears, the data was quite a few years old and not necessarily current. Nevertheless, stories like this can only serve to fuel the fire of concerns around using such products. But this could be true of any systems we use, so we probably need just make sure we do our due diligence and potentially look on-shore rather than off sure for a potential solution. There are some out there.

Professor Michael Sankey

Director, Learning Transformations Griffith University, President of the Australasian Council on Open Distance and eLearning.

Appointments achievements of the week

Emily Banks (ANU) receives the President’s Award from the Thoracic Society of ANZ.

Michael Conry moves from Murdoch U to become DVC Finance at Uni Notre Dame Australia.

Sandra Eades (dean of Curtin U’s medical school) joins the board of the Burnet Institute.

The Commonwealth’s Equity in Higher Education Panel is in place. It’s more portmanteau than panel, with 13 members; Rob Heferen, chair, Department of Education, Skills and Employment. Penny Jane Burke, Uni Newcastle. Daniel Edwards, Australian Council for Educational Research. Leanne Holt, Macquarie University. Denise Kirkpatrick, Western Sydney U. Nick Klomp, CQU. Simon Maddocks, Charles Darwin U. Adam Shoemaker, Southern Cross U. Guinever Threlkeld, La Trobe U. Denise Wood, Uni Sunshine Coast. Paul Denny, National Indigenous Australians Agency. Sarah O’Shea, Curtin University. Amanda Franzi, (executive officer), Department of Education, Skills and Employment.

Megan Munsie (Uni Melbourne) joins Science and Technology Australia’s STEM sector policy committee.

The shortlists for WA scientists of the year awards is announced. Nominees in lead categories are, Scientist of the Year: Steven Tingay (Curtin U), Wendy Erber (UWA), Ryan Lister (UWA), Eric May (UWA). Early Career Scientist:  Xihong Zhang (Curtin U), Chris Brennan-Jones (Telethon Kids Institute), Arman Siahvashi (UWA), Sam Buckberry (UWA).