plus words that matter in WA

some budget gain for (not much) education pain

and suddenly its secrets at Deakin

Next train to Glynetown

University of Melbourne VC Glyn Davis wants the station at Parkville on the new underground rail line to be called (and prepare yourself for a shock) University. The man is too modest.

Corker of a course

The University of Adelaide is very pleased with its MOOC performance via edX, cracking 300 000 users in seven subjects. A third of them are in one course – a six-week introduction to project management. In contrast, World of Wine: from grape to glass has had 40 000 users to date (a new vintage was opened yesterday). This is a respectable number to be sure – the university has but 27 000 students – but it’s a less than optimists (well CMM) expected.

Friday July 1

Who will get what

While it looks like the coalition is back who will get what front bench berths is less uncertain than opaque. “Before he rebuilds support in the electorate Malcolm Turnbull has to appease opponents without upsetting allies,” one connoisseur of cabinet making said yesterday. Most observers agree that Simon Birmingham wants and will keep, education but not necessarily all of it, with Christopher Pyne arguing research better belongs with his industry and innovation portfolio. Karen Andrews is also expected to stay in science reporting to Mr Pyne. However Foreign Minister Julie Bishop could well call in one of the many favours the PM owes her and ask to take over international education, which her work to make the New Colombo Plan happen gives her a strong claim to. As to training, Scott Ryan could keep it, “it’s not as if anybody wants to replace him,” a VET watcher says.

Scare the scales off

“Will our brave TEQSAns survive the crocodiles in the Northern Territory?” the agency asked yesterday. (TEQSA’s Anthony McClaran was speaking at a student conference in Darwin). As if! No Crocodylus porosus would ever dare approach a teqsan, lest it be asked about its performance standards.

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Words matter

Both employer and union leaders are acutely aware that where industrial negotiations go at WA universities, so they go at the rest of the country. Curtin, Edith Cowan and Murdoch managements certainly have muscled up in early talks with their respective branches of the National Tertiary Education Union, taking advice from peak employer body the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association. And now the University of Western Australia demonstrates it is up for a fight, beginning negotiations during a major restructure, which will likely generate its own discord in detail.

What the universities want is straight out of the AHEIA playbook, short agreements that give management flexibility and the union says they are all reading from the same script. “So far ECU and Curtin have consistently been presenting identical draft clauses for us to consider even down to the same typos,” NTEU state secretary Gabe Gooding says. This is a real threat to the union’s authority, which has long relied on complex agreements specifying terms and conditions in great detail to represent members, ultimately in the Fair Work Commission, where decisions can turn on the construction of a clause. As Ms Gooding puts it; “when the universities talk about a simple agreement what they mean is removing the words that protect us with protection at work. … It’s true that there are a lot of words in the current agreements that don’t do much work but that’s no excuse for removing the one’s that do.” And this before managements and the union start bargaining over pay.

New narrative

It takes a bit to surprise people who work around politics but one who remembers Pauline Hanson the first time round wonders why higher education people are sneering at the senator elect. “You don’t have to accept anything she says but her vote will matter when it comes to university and VET funding and she represents 165 000 frightened Queenslanders who need to be convinced that education is the solution to their worries about work.” Not innovation, at least not the whizbang high tech kind Malcolm Turnbull failed to sell at the election, education, including training.

This does not mean ignoring research but it does mean explaining that for all the jobs that will go education will create new ones. And they will go to the people game to acquire new skills and their kids. “We need a new narrative for a new economy and we need to sell it senators, including Ms Hanson,” the observer says.

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Depends on what’s being counted

The Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Report is out, with editors and publishers who did well talking up the results. The Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia, for example, was very pleased to report yesterday that its journal is now ranked 20th out of 230 in the education and education research category.

But ranking journals, and their content by citations and impact is one of the darkest arts of bibliometry and there are always anomalies. People from the excellent Public Library of Science certainly say so. Véronique Kiermer from the University of Montreal and PLOS advocacy director Catriona MacCallum argue no article can be judged by the impact factor of the journal where it appeared, including PLOS products. Publishing articles on super-specialist topics or across disciplines with different citation cultures shapes journals’ impacts, they warn. But what worries them is the way what they see as misuse of impact factors “has become institutionalised in the research assessment methods of universities and national evaluation panels, leading to a perverse incentive system.” More and better ways of assessing output is needed, including the ORCID individual identifier, they suggest.

In the meantime the Public Library of Science will have to put up with rankings like TR’s new assessment of PLOS ONE, which published the most items of all ranked journals last year, a not inconsiderable 28 114. This generated a number five ranking for total citations but a somewhat distant 1786th place for journal impact.

Health benefits

RMIT has announced (quietly it seems to CMM) an agreement “formalising its relationship” with the Blackmore Institute, which is the “complementary medicine company’s research and education division. Apparently, ”the Institute aims to further enhance the education offered to healthcare professionals by partnering with RMIT.” Head of the Institute, Lesley Braun has taught at Monash and WSU and has a PhD from RMIT.


Some gain not much pain

Although it looks like a second Turnbull Government will struggle to get a motion endorsing motherhood through the Senate it may have more savings options than appear. In the heat of the campaign Labor promised to back three of the 2014 walking dead deficit eaters. While the party, if in opposition again may want to forget them, it’s a fair bet the coalition wont. Indexing university and research funding by the CPI instead of the existing formula will save $120m. Tinkering with HECS repayment rates will raise a bit and capping VET FEE HELP loans at $8000 will save $350m plus over time. All up relatively painless savings of around $500m across the forward estimates are possible.

Not telling

A learned reader asks why Deakin University has ceased publishing council meeting minutes. They were listed as available at the end of May but are no more. Now the university states it “will publish an outcomes from council report on the university website. “This report provides information on those decisions of council which can be made public and is available following each council meeting.” So what’s so secret all of a sudden? Looks like Appleby’s Law of Not Saying applies (“he who has a secret to keep must keep secret that he has a secret”).


HEADS UP: the week’s workplace news

The National Library of Australia is in the market for a new director general. Incumbent Anne-Marie Schwirtlich, in the job since 2011, was reappointed for a year in February. Applicants will be wondering whether she will have bedded down the much protested budget cuts by the time she leaves.

Kevin Bell is Western Sydney University’s new PVC for “digital futures” which means he will (among other things) “lead innovation in learning and teaching, support digital technology integration across programmes and campuses, and analyse the impacts of these initiatives.”

UNSW is upping its India profile, appointing former consul in Sydney Amit Dusgupta as the university’s first country director there. More recently Mr Dusgupta was campus head of the SP Jain Business School in Mumbai, (SPJ also has a Sydney campus). He will be “a key ambassador” for expanding research collaborations.

UNSW’s Nicholas Fisk has joined the Association of Academic Health Centres as chair of the US organisation’s international division steering committee. Professor Fisk is DVC R at UNSW, which he joined from UoQ, where he was dean of medicine (CMM May 20).

The University of Adelaide has appointed its own Noel Lindsay as part-time PVC EntrepreneurshipProfessor Lindsay will continue as Director of the Entrepreneurship, Commercialisation and Innovation Centre at UniAdelaide. He will now also “provide vision, leadership and management of a range of new and existing entrepreneurial programs.”

The UK Higher Education Academy has appointed ANU bio-anthropologist Alison Behie as a fellow, for her teaching. She follows her boss, VC Brian Schmidt, who became a senior fellow in April (CMM April 4). ANU was the first Australian institutional member of the HEA.