Consulting silos

Perhaps export education agencies could ask each other

The Department of Education and Training is  inviting tenderers to, “assess the scale and scope of offshore and online higher education opportunities.” Perhaps Austrade has an idea.

U Tasmania’s big-city push attacked

The backlash begins as U Tasmania’s move into town gives Hobart the horrors

The University council has adopted management’s plan to move from Sandy Bay to the CBD. This isn’t popular with some staff, who want to stay where they are . And now local, Booker Prize winning novelist, Richard Flanagan has bought into the argument, with an op ed in Saturday’s Mercury.

Mr Flanagan warns the plan would, among many other problems, lead to more traffic, increased homelessness and cause a loss of city character. But what should worry university management worse is  that he argues, “the interests of the university are not necessarily the same of those of Hobart and its citizens, and we should not believe the university when they say they are.”

The university works to present itself as the saviour of the state, that education and training, can transform Tasmania. If the locals lose faith the university’s political influence will decline.

New VC for the University of New England

Heywood to take over at Armidale

Brigid Heywood is the University of New England’s new vice chancellor. The chemist and biologist  was DVC R at the University of Tasmania, leaving earlier this year.

She was previously assistant DVC R at Massey U and PVC R at the Open University. She will replace Annabelle Duncan, who announced last September she would leave at the end of her first term, this August.  Professor Heywood starts in July,


More Labor future funds for CQU

There’s $3m more for an emergency response centre in Townsville

Labor commits $3m in government for an emergency response and innovation centre (ERIC to its mates) in Townsville, to be run by CQU.

This strikes CQU as a splendid idea with Provost Helen Huntly saying, it would “establish Townsville as a world-leading region within the emergency response sector.”

Professor Huntly adds the promised funding, is, “a major coup for both CQUniversity and the Townsville region.”

They must be thrilled at Townsville head-quartered James Cook U as well. It used to have Cairns and Townsville to itself, until recently retired CQU vice chancellor, Scott Bowman started to expand north.

The money would come in government from Labor’s promised $300m University Future Fund. The Innovative Research Universities lobby is keeping track of commitments from the fund (CMM Thursday), which ERIC will take to $140m.

Last month Labor kicked $10m from the future fund into CQU’s Cairns aviation education hub ( CMM March 13)

Three Aus unis dropped from Singapore medical education list

Doctors from Flinders U, Uni Newcastle and Uni Tas no longer wanted

Graduates of three Australian universities will not be accepted to practise medicine in Singapore from 2020. Flinders U, Uni Newcastle and Uni Tasmania are among medical schools worldwide dropped in a cull which reduces the roster by a third, to just over 100.

However, the Group of Eight remain on the Singapore list, with ANU, plus unis Adelaide, Melbourne, NSW, Queensland, Sydney, WA and Monash continuing accredited. Present students at the deleted three, or scheduled to start before February, are exempt.

The Singapore Ministry of Health  says the republic’s three medical schools increased intakes from 300 to 500 between 2010 and 2018 and “we expect our need to recruit overseas-trained doctors to moderate and stabilise in the coming years.”

But adding insult to injury, the ministry also mentions it, “took into consideration various factors including international and national rankings of these universities, as well as performance of conditionally registered doctors from these universities, to ensure that the quality of overseas-trained doctors practising in Singapore locally remains high.”

The  way from Bee to Alpha

Bees make for popular research

Kit Prendergast from Curtin U is off to the national Fame-Lab finals (it’s a three-minute thesis sort of thing). The winner there gets to go global, competing in the worlds in the UK. Ms Prendergast studies native bees. Back in UTS scientist Nural Cokcetin was runner-up in the world finals, explaining her research on the antimicrobial and prebiotic properties of honey.

How to protect academic speech

Amend the HE act or rely on enterprise agreements

Last week the Federal Court found in favour of Peter Ridd in his case against James Cook U for sacking him, because, Judge Vasta  concluded, academic speech protections in the university’s enterprise agreement overrode its code of conduct.

Professor Ridd would have been in trouble over his criticism of colleagues’ science if it was the other way around. The explanatory statement to the university’s code of conduct states; “staff must seek to maintain and enhance public confidence in the integrity of the university as a body receiving public funding, and our actions should not adversely affect the good standing of the university,” which seems to CMM to be capable of meaning whatever management wants.

As the French review of  campus free speech puts it, in addressing the generality of statements like this; “These codes raise the question how the effect of an opinion on the ‘reputation’ or ‘prestige’ of the university is to be judged. Is it the vice-chancellor’s view or that of the governing body, or some university official, or a survey of public opinion?”

And even when codes, as statements of university policy, protect academic speech, without such qualifications, (for example, the University of Melbourne’s) they are not necessarily armoured by legally enforceable industrial agreements. When the Uni Melbourne branch of the National Tertiary Education Union wanted an academic freedom comment included in the now adopted enterprise agreement management told CMM, “the university firmly believes that academic freedom is too important to be governed through an industrial agreement,” CMM, August 28 2017).

Of course, academic speech could be included in the Higher Education Support Act Mr French proposes adding clauses to protect academic freedom, including;

* “the freedom of academic staff to teach, discuss, and research and to disseminate and publish the results of their research;

*  the freedom of academic staff and students to engage in intellectual inquiry, to express their opinions and beliefs, and to contribute to public debate, in relation to their subjects of study and research;

* the freedom of academic staff and students to express their opinions in relation to the higher education provider in which they work or are enrolled (and) the freedom of academic staff, without constraint imposed by reason of their employment by the university, to make lawful public comment on any issue in their personal capacities;

However, coalition education minister Dan Tehan was not impressed with Mr French’s idea of amending the act and universities have not spoken up in support.

And so, academics who dispute the research orthodoxy, like Professor Ridd, rely on industrial protections.

As Alison Barnes, national president of the National Tertiary Education Union puts it, “the most important implication of this judgement is that the only real protections for academic freedom in Australia are in the enterprise agreements negotiated by the NTEU. Most universities have policies on academic freedom, but they are completely unenforceable and therefore of very limited value,” (CMM April 18).


Michael Bunce moves from Curtin U is to be chief scientist for the New Zealand Environmental Protection Agency. Professor Bunce is a Curtin professor of molecular and life sciences.

An Australian-based team receives an honourable mention in the University of California, Case Studies in the Environment 2018 essay award. R. M. Colvin (ANU), G Bradd Witt (Uni Queensland) and Justine Lacey (CSIRO) are  noted for “Using a community vote for wind energy development decision-making in King Island, Tasmania,” December 2018