Who would have thought

Dan Tehan points to one way universities could deal with COVID-19 funding falls 

There’s important work going on with the unions and the sector at the moment to see whether some workplace relations flexibility will also help,” the education minister told Sky News Thursday.

Mr Tehan did not mention that it is the National Tertiary Education Union federal leadership and four VCs proposing, with rank and file union activists, and vice chancellors from universities large and small opposing, albeit for very different reasons.  Perhaps because he thought, not unreasonably, people would assume he was making it up.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Sonal Singh (UTS) on the digital skills divide between regional/low SES students and the rest. This week’s contribution to Contributing Editor Sally Kift’s series on what is needed now in teaching and learning.

Gary Carnegie (RMIT) and James Guthrie (Macquarie U) read Queensland uni annual reports. Uni Qld saw COVID-19 coming but state’s other unis not so much

How Flinders U uses Microsoft platforms to keep its community informed on COVID-19.

Merlin Crossley (UNSW) on the boss-less life of the lab leader.

WSU management and union have a plan to save jobs

The university branch of the National Tertiary Education Union and management are close to a cost-saving proposal which would help meet this year’s COVID-19 created budget shortfall

A draft is believed to include staff purchasing five days leave from the university, which they will be able to use over the next five years. The purchase would be deducted from fortnightly pay over the rest of this year. Staff earning under $65 000 a year would be exempt.

In return, the university would commit to no staff stand-downs or redundancies and to maintain the original 2020 budget for paying casual staff.

With $60m in non-staff savings already made by management this proposal could mean the university meets the $75m shortfall expected this year.

While WSU has not commented on the national accord proposed by the NTEU’s national leadership and four vice chancellors, to trade employment conditions for job security, this local agreement appears in-line with it. Nor has Vice Chancellor Barney Glover joined the chorus of criticism from VCs opposing the national accord’s proposal for union representative over-sight of savings proposals at individual universities.

The possibility of a WSU-specific arrangement occurs while the future of the national accord is unknown. The NTEU’s national membership is expected to vote on the proposal Friday, however vice chancellors, including those of Australian Catholic U, CQU, Griffith U, UNSW, Uni Melbourne, RMIT and Flinders U have ruled out adopting the agreement if it passes.

A local agreement designed to suit WSU specific-circumstances would be a big-win for both Professor Glover and university staff, giving members of the campus community a level of security in the event of a national approach not succeeding.

If there is a proposal, it would go first to union members and if approved by them to a vote of all WSU staff to vary the enterprise agreement.

UNSW says no to accord

Vice Chancellor Ian Jacobs and Provost Anne Simmons say it would constrain the university, “given the scale of the financial pressures we are facing”

In a Friday message to staff they expected a loss “up to” $600m this year, “with your help we have made good progress in addressing the 2020 shortfall through a combination of non-wage savings and using our reserves.”

But they reminded the community that there were possible losses of $450m both next year and in 2022, adding these are management’s focus.

As such the proposed national trade-off of temporary cuts for wages and conditions in return for job protection over the next 12 months does not meet UNSW’s needs, they said.

“We are concerned about being constrained in making important decisions about managing the implications of COVID-19 over the next year. Given the scale of the financial pressures we are facing, we cannot pursue the proposal.”

Jacobs and Simmons spelt out what these pressures would mean; “we will continue to explore ways to minimise the number of job losses required to effectively address our financial situation.”

More support for internationals

There’s $10m plus in Queensland  

The state government announces a $10m fund to support 20 000 international students in the state, “separated from family and their home countries.” The government’s Study Queensland agency is also cooperating with an appeal established by Lilly Luhrmann. The appeal is asking for money, laptops, meal vouchers and internet data packages.


Even if we ask them Chinese students might not want to come

The China market might have more problems than COVID-19

 Professor Ka Ho Mok (Lingnan University) reported surveys of students in Hong Kong and the PRC to a UK webinar last week (thanks to a learned reader for the pointer).

One found 29 per cent of applicants to UK universities were likely/very likely to cancel and 39 per cent were undecided.

A second survey asked students if they are interested in  studying abroad after COVID-19 and 84 per cent said no.

Of those that were, the top five destinations were the US, Hong Kong, UK, Japan and Taiwan. (The bottom five were France, NZ, Korea, Malaysia and Italy.)

Professor Ho Mok says media, and especially social media (specifically YouTube) reports of discrimination against Chinese people in Australia might have something to do with its absence from the top five. It could also explain Japan and Taiwan’s popularity – with parents of prospective students preferring destinations where they think their children will be safer.

Certainly both are small surveys taken during fast-changing times but the second is not great news given it was taken before the PRC upped its criticism of Australia.

CQU to go it alone on savings plan

CQU says, the NTEU plan “would only provide temporary financial relief while eroding everyone’s staff conditions”

Vice Chancellor Nick Klomp says, “the university executive does not support enforced pay cuts and reduced working hours, which would be by far the biggest contributors to any temporary cost savings.”

The federal leadership of the National Tertiary Education Union and four vice chancellors have proposed an accord for staff at individual universities to accept temporary cuts to wages and conditions in return for job protections.

However, Professor Klomp tells staff  that local branches of the Queensland Teachers Union and Together Queensland, the other two unions at the university “are strongly opposed to the NTEU proposal.”

Informal staff feedback … is overwhelmingly in opposition to the NTEU proposal,” he adds.

“CQU’s workforce is diverse and the university has considered these diverse viewpoints in its decision making.”

The vice chancellor adds CQU “must take decisive action now on our structure and costs, and rapidly move forward, without eroding important employee conditions.” The university will now proceed “with its own recovery plan.”

CQU has accepted 182 applications for voluntary redundancy, but with this and all other savings, observers suggest it is still $25m short of its revenue shortfall this year, (CMM April 22, May 12 and May 19).

NTEU branch president Bruce Young responded to Professor Klomp’s announcement, saying the union had hoped CQU would sign-on to the accord, to ensure job security for staff, “and even get some of our casual and fixed-term staff (who) have lost work back.

“It looks like that will be far more difficult now.”

The university’s “recovery plan” goes to staff Thursday. CQU says that while it will work to keep involuntary redundancies to “a minimum” they will occur.

Elsevier expands open access deals

Another adaption to the journal giant’s business model

Where research in the journal-giant’s publications used to be pay-to-read the company has responded to the open access movement by starting to switch to a pay-to-publish model. In this case, Dutch research organisations will pay around €80m over four years.

They will also have access to Elsevier’s vast data resources. This fits the company’s apparent move to become less a journal publisher and more a vast research data miner/refiner. CEO Kumsal Bayazit set out the strategy in a speech last November (CMM November 13).

It is another make-nice move by Elsevier, which has struck deals across Europe in the context of open access Plan S. The awaited big-breakthrough will be when, or if, the company reaches agreement on OA with the University of California network. Talks stopped early last year and while there are signs an agreement on cost and OA terms is possible it has not happened yet.

Australian Academy of Science announces new Fellows

The academy’s list is released this morning

Tim Bedding, astrophysicist, Uni Sydney

Annabelle Bennett, chancellor, Bond University

Lee Berger, biologist, Uni Melbourne

Linda Blackall, microbiologist, Uni Melbourne

Wenju Cai, climatologist, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere

Peter Currie, stem cell biologist, Monash U

Andrew Cuthbertson, chief scientific 0fficer, CSL Limited

Aurore Delaigle, statistician, Uni Melbourne

Cathy Foley, Chief Scientist, CSIRO

Gary Froyland, mathematician, UNSW

Kevin Galvin, chemical engineer, Uni Newcastle

Adèle Green, epidemiologist, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute

Kate Jolliffe, organic chemist, Uni Sydney

Ping Koy Lam, quantum physicist, ANU

Ryan Lister, epigeneticist, UWA

Justin Marshal, marine biologist, Uni Queensland

Harvey Millar, plant biochemist, UWA

Lidia Morawska, aerosol physicist, QUT

Robyn Anne Owens, mathematics of computer vision, UWA

Ian Paulsen, microbiologist, Macquarie U

Simon Poole, director, of business development, Cylite Pty Ltd

Andrew Roberts, clinical haematologist, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

Alan Rowan, physical organic chemist, Uni Queensland

Jenny Stauber, ecotoxicologist, CSIRO Land and Water