Plus Andy Vann’s plan progresses and for-profit provider to access research funds

Top of the pops

Australian National University poster Canberra airport “ANU: first Australian university in the world’s top 20” to which CSU VC Andy Vann responds, “didn’t even know ANU had released a single”.

ANU Sept 15

Less rivers of gold than Torrens of cash

Last week Education Minister Simon Birmingham announced that Torrens University is now eligible for block grant funding, “placing it on an equal footing for research funding as other Australian private universities.” This means it can compete for funding under the Research Training Scheme, the Sustainable Research Excellence in Universities Scheme and that its students are eligible for Commonwealth postgraduate research scholarships.

This makes sense to higher education private providers. “TEQSA require scholarship and if one employs PhDs they expect support for their research. There are museums and other institutions that are also eligible for ARC grants and it is a source of frustration (for private higher education providers) that have research activity and are self-accrediting that they are ineligible. The sector ignores research activity in privates,” one industry veteran says.

But there is a big difference between private universities, such as Bond and Notre Dame and Torrens. The first two are Australian not for profits, the latter is owned by Laureate International Universities, which is in business to make money.

Hooray, more MOUs!

So what’s in the China FTA for education? Minister for International Education, Richard Colbeck explains, “providers will also benefit from commitments and accompanying MOUs that will support collaboration and exchange between teachers, students and researchers.” Gosh, MOUs!

ANU Sep 15 5

Change agent of the day

Charles Sturt U VC Andrew Vann, is another step closer to his restructure, with Academic Senate approving a three faculty, down from, four model. CMM hears a great deal of anguish from professional staff worried about job losses and academics upset at the new arrangement but compared to the riots of over restructures elsewhere CSU is a model of consultative calm. Giving Senate a choice of two three faculty models was very smart given losing one matters much more than which one is lost. That Senate has made a choice after months of discussion answers in advance the question somebody on Council will inevitably ask – did staff get a say? The faculty proposed to go is education, which will merge with arts.

Students observed

At the University of Sydney DVC E Pip Pattison announces the new Office of Educational Integrity. A unit charged with overseeing the quality of courses you ask, to ensure students get what they are promised. No, it will look at “academic misconduct,” by students “including plagiarism.”  The unit will have a university wide brief and be to undergraduates and coursework postgrads what the Office of Research Integrity is to the university’s researchers.

Sun shines on USC

After a long dispute over workload assessments at the University of the Sunshine Coast a deal is done. CMM hears the circuit breaker was the intervention of DVC Birgit Lohman who made it plain she wanted to reach agreement with the NTEU (CMM October 12). The union responded to the university’s conciliatory approach (it says management created the problem in the first place, by increasing workloads in February) and an agreement was brokered in the Fair Work Commission. A consultation process is now in place with staff having the right to refer disputes to executive deans who can take advice from the relevant DVC.

UniMelb water

Murdoch is stalled

The mayhem at Murdoch U continues as members of the university community rue 12 months of discord and dysfunction.

A year back Murdochreferred actions of then vice chancellor Richard Higgott to the WA Corruption and Crime Commission. The Commission is yet to report. Murdoch has also suffered from dissension generated by inquiries and resignations of other top staff, notably Provost Ann Capling. And through it all Murdoch staff members have briefed journalists, some on the record, most on background, on the great job Mr Higgott had done, the absence of a case for him to answer and alleged failings of acting VC Andrew Taggert.

However staff problems that appear to have begun in the Higgott years continue to emerge. An external inquiry is now underway into management of the development and communications unit following formal complaints by team members and the resignation of senior staff frustrated by what they see as a previous lack of progress in dealing with their grievances. CMM requested an interview with development and marketing comms director Paula Barrow, but was told by interim people and culture director Bob Farrelly, “we are undertaking a review across the area of development and communications as part of our people and culture strategy. The strategy is a positive initiative designed to help colleagues assume shared responsibility for creating the best possible future working environment. Any grievances lodged at Murdoch University are internal administrative matter that are handled with complete confidence. It wouldn’t be appropriate to comment further.”

CMM has also seen documents relating to a staff member’s application for promotion, which dragged on for years and ultimately ended up with the state Ombudsman on the advice of the CCC. There is no reason to connect this matter to the Commission’s inquiry into Professor Higgott however there are numerous allegations of procedural failings involving other university officers.

For close to a year Murdoch people have told CMM morale and efficiency were suffering due to management instability and that as acting vice chancellor Andrew Taggart has lacked the authority to establish a new agenda. While the university originally hoped to announce a permanent replacement for Mr Higgott in November Mr Farrelly reports applications only closed last month.

The selection committee needs to get going, Murdoch U is stalled.

Encouraging innovators not accountants

Now the prime minister has instructed Chris Pyne to go forth and innovate how to get academics and entrepreneurs talking is the issue of the hour. There are certainly clever ideas around. Mr Pyne is proposing legislation to make crowdfunding easier – Labor’s Chris Bowen has long called for changes to the way provider platforms are deemed to be offering investment advice and thus need a licence ( CMM August 25 2014). And the much discussed idea of an impact measure for research funding would surely encourage researchers to reach out to business.

However a great deal of the talk focuses on the same old same old, the need for more government funding, via grants and subsidies – which strikes CMM as a way to ensure more tax accountants than innovators get involved.

And then there are nay sayers, who warn Australia adapts but does not innovate. Yet on many of the World Economic Forum’s core requirements (educated workforce, IP protection, research base) we do well, (Campus Morning Mail, October 7).

But what we do need to do , as CMM argues elsewhere; “is release our inner larrikin, to create a culture that is contemptuous of convention and is game to have a go.” And to everybody who suggests Australia’s natural resources and century long dependence on the state leading in education and research makes an economy driven by entrepreneurs and ideas impossible CMM suggests they go and read economist Dierdre McCloskey, who argues that ideas, not raw materials or governments transform economies. (CMM is a big fan). In particular, she makes the case that it was respect for the bourgeois virtues of hard work and profit that kicked started the industrial revolution. CMM suspects Malcolm Turnbull’s optimism is well-placed, that ideas can kick-start a new Australian innovation culture – in any case has anybody got a better idea?