There’s more in Mail

In Features this morning

People whose partners sabotage their education through coercive control need help – university communities should provide it. Angela Hill, Braden Hill, Fiona Navin and Michelle Rogers (all Edith Cowan Umake the case.

On Thursday Labor leader Anthony Albanese proposed funding a “start-up year” for students and new graduates “with ventures attached to a tertiary institution or designated private accelerator.”

But how will they know how to start their start-up? Flinders U has a university-wide programme teaching innovation and enterprise skills and competencies. Vice Chancellor Colin Stirling explains what it does and why it works.


Curtains at the Schonell Theatre

The asbestos problem in the Uni Queensland landmark is worse than thought

The university closed the complex including the theatre Thursday night, after advice that asbestos containment in the roof are no longer “completely effective.” Uni Queensland says there was no risk to anybody who has been in the theatre but it is closed for six weeks of tests and checks. The university hopes the building will re-open in then.

But not for an indefinite run.

Planned redevelopment of the student complex, which includes Schonnel, was paused for the pandemic last year. Consultation, including with the Student Union executive is underway, which Vice Chancellor Deborah Terry says, “will be part of the governance structure when the design phase begins.”

Keeping the teaching awards alive

There is no funding for the national university teaching awards in the budget (CMM May 13), perhaps because the feds really needed to save $600 000 allocated to the awards and the on-line learning and teaching research archive.  Although it won’t make much of an impact on this financial year’s underlying cash deficit of $106.6 bn.

Whatever the reason, this means the current round (submissions due September) will be the last – unless individuals and organisations step up, to find funding and organise everything.

Given members of the teaching and learning community worked for free to assess entries, the expertise is available. And some money should be – there is a bunch of consultants and corporates with learning and teaching products and services, that could donate to support awards.

But they will have to be asked.  Question is – who is up to do the asking?

Union says casual work unpaid and unacknowledged must stop

University managers want a workforce that is dependable but disposable,” says Alison Barnes, federal president of the National Tertiary Education Union. She isn’t having it

Dr Barnes, federal president of the National Tertiary Education Union, signals that the conditions of casual university staff will be a big issue in the enterprise bargaining round about to begin. In a weekend speech to the Industrial Relations Society of NSW she warned that 95 000 university staff are on casual contracts and that, “it is normal for academics in these arrangements to subsist on only a few hundred dollars per week despite being constantly on-call and busy with preparation, staff meetings and student emails, most of which goes unpaid and unacknowledged.”

“This is not casual work, it is on-going work performed in perpetuity.”

“This state of affairs is not acceptable and we will be aggressively pursuing significant increases in job security for our members in the current round of enterprise bargaining with universities,” she said.

Dr Barnes also rejected claims (CMM April 26 for example) that new legislation allows for casual employees who meet tests of regular employment in the same roles within a specific period to secure conversion to continuing positions. She argued that managements can reject applications it does not deem reasonable.

“In my sector, given the specific nature of the casual contracts used by managements for academic employment, it is expected that these changes will be of no benefit, and it is possible that the changes will result in less secure employment overall by leaving our sector without a workable conversion mechanism at the national level and entrenching the casualisation of work.”

More cuts considered at Uni Sydney

Think a “remarkable financial outcome” for Uni Sydney last year meant the pain is past? Think again

The university confirms discussions continue about changes in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

Possibilities being considered include a restructure that cuts the existing six schools to five and closing “some” departments and programmes. A university representative named two departments “considered for closure,” Studies in Religion and Theatre and Performance Studies, both in the School of Literature, Art and Media.

The Sydney College of the Arts is also in the faculty, but after the huge blue moving it from harbour-side parklands to the main campus it is hard to imagine management being up for change (Feb 13 2020).

But, “these are discussions, not decisions” a university representative states and there are six months of consultation to come, “including alternate and creative responses to our current circumstances.”

Last month VC Stephen Garton reported a “remarkable” financial outcome “in a challenging and highly unpredictable year.” Uni Sydney reduced costs by $259m, much from staff savings, for a net loss of $2.2m.  He added domestic enrolments for 2021 so far are up 7 per cent. However, he added there is “a great deal of uncertainty” around the return of international students, “and the long-term effect this will have on Australia’s higher education sector,” (CMM April 23).

A whole lot of zooming going on

Plenty of people were studying on-line pre pandemic

The Australian Communications and Media Authority reports on-line activity from March ’20 (when COVID-19 restrictions kicked)-in to June 2020. The survey sticks to the broad-population but even at a macro-level it appears a bunch of people were already learning on-line.

“Study from home?” was not asked in June’19. But in June ‘20 44 per cent of the 18-54 sample were using the internet to study from home.  That’s not students, that’s all people in the age group.

And despite the rush to get classes on-line it seems it was not such a novelty. ACMA reports that 10 per cent of the total sample had first started studying from home during COVID-19, and while 46 per cent increased the activity, 35 per cent stayed the same.

March international student numbers: Dirk Mulder digs into the data


The March stats include first in-takes at institutions, using a semester timetable and are a good guide to what is going on. (Have a look a HE starts in NSW)

And the bad news is

Across the nation in March, the key YTD stats are:

Overall commencers for all sectors were down 55 400, or 30.9 per cent while total enrolments were down 111 400, or 16.8 per cent.

Higher Ed commencers were down 16 600, or 21 per cent while enrolments were down 44 000 or 12.3 per cent.

VET commencers were down 4 800 or 9.5 per cent while first-time enrolments were down just 31 (no, there no noughts missing) starts or 0.02 per cent.

Schools commencers were down 3 400 or 51.2 per cent while enrolments were down 5 600 or 65.6 per cent.

ELICOS (Visa) commencers were down 18 500 or 65.8 per cent while enrolments were down 43.5 000 or 65.6 per cent.

Non-Award commencers were down 12 000 or 78.9 per cent while enrolments were down 18 000 or 66.1 per cent.

VET has peaked

The VET sector has defied the enrolment free-fall all year, including March – with starts down just 31 people.

However, the slide will steepen. The government’s decision to lift of work caps for international students working in tourism and hospitality (CMM May 6 and May 7) and the possibility of students moving to a 408 COVID-19 Event visa will have an impact over the coming months.  As CMM has regularly reported, there are international students who enrol in VET to stay in the country, with the option to stay in the country full-time, many won’t enrol.

Higher Ed stabilises

In the February YTD figures the downturn in enrolments was 17 000 or 36.5 per cent. The March YTD decline is better, down 16 600 or 15.4 per cent. Business, Engineering and IT Deans will be happy the decline trend line has plateaued and even kicked back a little (CMM May 7). But the news is not all as good as it looks (as the numbers from China show).

A tale of two large markets


China is down 4.3 per cent in commencements and 9.9 per cent in enrolments across all sectors. However, China in HE is up 15.9 per cent or 4,028 in commencers and only down 0.3 per cent or 411 enrolments. Much of this growth is in NSW which is up 38.4 per cent in commencers (3,560) and 6.3 per cent in enrolments (3,253). There is also growth in Queensland, up 27.6 per cent in commencers (889) and 8.1 per cent in enrolments (1,257).

That Chinese students are still happy to enrol to study on-line, in the hope that they will be able to come to campus here at a date to be fixed, is good.

But the figures are not as good they look. The government closed the borders to arrivals from China at the start of February last year so no visa applications were accepted – what the figures really indicate is revealed by comparing this March, with March ‘19, which shows overall commencements down 19 per cent.

There’s also an intriguing number in the new data – 3 560 of the 4028 March 2021 commencements are in NSW. Learned readers speculate that this might be the result of one or two universities that very keen to get their numbers up incentivising agents in China with generous commissions. Perhaps along the lines of the bonus-scheme at least one university is offering to agents in India and Nepal.


 India is down 28.8 per cent in commencements (7,782) and down 11.2 per cent in enrolments (12,484) across all sectors. In HE India is a very different story to China, down 51.9 per cent in commencers (8,135) and down 28.7 per cent in enrolments (20,967). All states are down feeling pain from this market.

May offshore figures indicate currently 21 per cent of Indian visa holders are offshore.

 Tomorrow: what happened state by state


Hirini Kaa (Uni Auckland) and Grace Karskens (UNSW) are joint winners of the Ernest Scott Prize (from Uni Melbourne). Dr Kaa is wins for  Te Hāhi Mihinare – The Māori Anglican Church (Bridget Williams Books) and Professor Karskens for People of the River: lost worlds of early Australia (Allen and Unwin).

Peter Sherlock is appointed for a third term as vice chancellor of the University of Divinity.