Staff fear for jobs but management says it’s just looking for options

 plus: the great knowledge give-away at the University of Tasmania 

WA universities want to rebuild international market share 

and admired economists and where to find them  

Please explain

“It is important providers know the facts about the new VET Student Loans program,” the Department of Education and Training tweeted on Friday. Presumably so they can explain the scheme back to DET.


Locate infrastructure where there is room for research

There was fluff and flurry last week about the Innovative Research Universities proposal for more research infrastructure outside inner cities, as if it was a push to expand economies of regions where the IRU happens to have campuses. In fact the plan builds on an established argument to improve access for the large numbers of young researchers who don’t work in, sometimes because they cannot afford to live near, universities inside the goat cheese belt. “Access and spread should be two key principles underpinning this research infrastructure roadmap. New research infrastructure should be devised in such a way that it can be located anywhere in Australia ensuring full access to all potential users, the IRU suggested back in September (CMM September 12).

Now the IRU is  expanding the argument to suggest spreading infrastructure investment makes policy sense; “the concentration of Australia’s population in a few major cities poses major challenges. There is an urgent need to make better use of the potential from the breadth of the country, for example from its northern regions, to reduce the pressure on the major cities and create positive outcomes for all current and future Australians.”

As for the old idea of critical mass of; “the rapid changes in digital technology and its impact on communications means researchers from all universities can be effective members of world wide networks … the co-location of researchers with related researchers is less important than previously.”

There is also the obvious advantage of locating research where the issues are – in tropical Australia, for example, where the IRU has two members, Charles Darwin and James Cook.

Newcastle consulting on its options

New review: The week begins badly for professional staff at the University of Newcastle who are being reviewed again. Management has hired Partners in Performance, a management consultancy which sells on the savings it generates for clients, “more than $10bn of validated, fully-implemented in EBIT improvements,” over the last four years, it announces. According to the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union, some of the savings are already lined-up, with members told how many jobs are to go in particular operating units.

Professional and academic staff are exhausted by the endless rationalisation of staffing and services, and should not be subjected to this latest round. At some point, cost-cutting becomes counter-productive, and we have passed that point. An alternative vision, and some courageous leadership, is required, beyond the lazy cycle of external (usually pre-determined) review, rationalisation, and job-cuts, that has characterised our current senior leadership,” union president Tom Griffiths says.

Staff in the Research and Innovation division in particular wonder whether the new structure adopted in July still applies or whether their restructure is to be restructured. And people who got involved with the university’s “curious, collaborative, courageouscultural change initiative are wondering whether the consultants are reading some of the forms they filled in. The ones that asked people how they could do their job differently, for example.

One too many: It does seem people at Newcastle think this is indeed one review too many. The Your Voice staff survey, now selectively circulating among the UniNewcastle community, reports drops in staff satisfaction, the way management handles change and confidence in leadership. “No doubt these indicators are reflective of the level of change and restructuring that has occurred at the university since the previous survey” YV advises. It recommends management involve staff more and suggests “consolidating the amount of change and restructuring occurring,” just like isn’t happening now.

There are a couple of questions staff say they would like VC Caroline McMillen to answer, one is how many people will go. That’s the other one as well.

No worries: But not to worry; late Friday the university told CMM;

“No decisions on any changes to roles or jobs have been made. The review process is designed to inform our decisions in the context of an uncertain policy environment and major changes to the delivery of higher education, including the opportunities offered by digital disruption and new modes of university study.”


Knowledge wants to be free

Giving the IP away: So why is the University of Tasmania waving course fees for Australians studying its new degree on treating dementia (CMM Friday)? Generosity and community service is the answer. According to a close observer of U Tas, of the people studying dementia there some 1200 work in the aged care system and as such are not well paid. But letting them study for free is no sure thing and depends on the university’s capacity and it could change in any year. One answer is for the Feds to fund people working with dementia to do the degree, which the government apparently does for nurses training in aged care. The more workers who know how to deal with dementia the better managed, and presumably more economic, the system will be. But given UTas’s leadership in dementia ed surely there is money to be made selling the online degree to students all over the world, or licensing the IP to universities overseas.

But how does the garden grow?: UTas is also after another enormous online audience. It is offering an online unit, the science of gardening, which is fully accredited as part of the bachelor of general studies. “You’ll learn fundamental sciences behind a range of traditional and modern gardening techniques, which will answer why plants do what they do, and what you can do to grow and shape your garden like never before.”

Great idea, which will reach an audience in Tasmania and overseas (and no that does not just mean across Bass Strait). But as with dementia, what is the business plan in giving it away? All Australian students enrolling qualify for a HECs scholarship. CMM sees the sense in letting health workers study dementia for free, but gardening?

Looking for leadership

Western Australia’s share of the international education market is down from 9.9 per cent of national sales in 2002 to 7.8 per cent in 2015. The decline for higher education is even worse, from 11.2 per cent to 6.8 per cent. The report, by two research teams at Curtin University is big on bad news, detailing the decline and setting out reasons why it should not occur, such as the state’s advantages in selling to Asia, notably distance and aligned time zones. But there is less on how to reverse the trend. “The attractiveness of Western Australia as a study destination for international students could be enhanced with streamlined access to courses and by enhancing the student experience in WA, says Professor Alan Duncan from one of the research teams, at the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre.

Good-oh, so what is to stop the state’s universities? Lack of leadership by the state government it seems. The report also points out that every state and territory other than WA has an international education sales strategy, driven by “the main economic development agency.” Perhaps but does anybody think the market shares of Sydney and Melbourne are due to what the Baird and Andrews governments have come up with?

When we said …

Last week Monash Malaysia’s registrar Susheela Nair warned students not to participate in demonstrations banned by the government (CMM Friday). Cue student outrage at which point the university backed down and explained it meant was that students needed to know the government took a dim view of unlawful assembly.

Really? The registrar’s original message included, “you are advised not to participate in any illegal gathering/related activity which contravenes Malaysian laws. Any students found to be participating in such gathering/activity or who is arrested by the authorities for doing so may be subjected to disciplinary proceedings.”

But the university also  assured students, “we want you to be safe, happy and as successful in your studies and student life as possible. At the same time, we also want you to be aware of and abide by local laws and considerations.” So there you go, “disciplinary proceedings” was all about helping.

Saving Tasmania

Tasmanians have always been commendably keen on the next big thing which would transform the island’s economy. Once it was hydropower, followed along the way by apples, wine, tourism and art (think Mona). And now its educationUTas VC Peter Rathjen is number two on the Hobart Mercury’s list of the one hundred top Tasmanians. His growth strategy “could prove transformational for this state … all sides of politics listen when Rathjen says education is the future of Tasmania,” the paper announces. When it comes to the power of education Tasmanians have really drunk the campus kool-aid.


Scientists’ academy awards

The Australian Academy of Science award winners for 2017 are:

Mathew Flinders Medal: ANU colloid scientist Barry Ninham. Thomas Ranken Lyle Medal: University of Sydney astronomer Joss Bland-Hawthorn. Gustav Nossal Medal for Global Health: Barend Marais, University of Sydney. Jacques Miller Medal for Experimental Biomedicine: Jian Li, Monash University. Nancy Millis Medal for Women in Science: Kerrie Ann Wilson, University of Queensland. Anton Hales Medal: Juan Carlos Afonso, Macquarie University. Dorothy Hill Award: Joanne Whittaker, University of Tasmania. Fenner Medal: Simon Ho, University of Sydney. Gottschalk Medal: Kathryn Elizabeth Holt, University of Melbourne. John Booker Medal: Dayong Jin, UTS. Le Fevre Memorial Prize, Deanna M D’Alessandro, University of Sydney. Moran Medal: Joshua Ross, University of Adelaide. Pawsey Medal: Igor Aharonovich, UTS. Ruth Stephens Gani Medal: Sarah Medland, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.

Admired economists

Thanks to the learned reader for the pointer to the new research ranking from the Federal Reserve of St Louis. It is based on readership of the freely available and immensely accessible Research Papers in Economics database.

Australia rates 13th in the world for publication listed in RecPec for the last decade, but this is not as good as it sounds – the US is broken out by state. So while the UK is number one and Germany number three, Massachusetts by itself is second, California is fourth, Washington DC is sixth and New York eighth.

The top Australian research units are (i) Monash Business School, (ii) Faculty BusEco at the University of Melbourne and the Monash economics department (equal), (iii) Crawford School of Public Policy at ANU, (iv) Economics at the University of Queensland, (v) UNSW Business School, (vi) Economics at the University of Sydney and the Economics School at UNSW (equal), (vii) College of BusEco at ANU, (viii) Business School at UTS, Research School of Economics at ANU, Department of Economics at the University of Melbourne (equal) (ix) Deakin Business School. Melbourne Institute of Applied Economics, Econometrics and Business Stats at Monash Business School, Economics Discipline Group in the  Business School at UTS, Department of Economics at Deakin Business School, Centre for Applied Macroeconomic Analysis at ANU’s Crawford School and the Arndt-Corden Department of Economics at Crawford, all equal ninth and (x) the University of Sydney Business School.

The top ten of 1378 authors are: Adrian Pagan (ANU), John Geweke (UTS),Yves Zenou (Monash), Ronald Masulis (UNSW), Edward Nelson (UniSydney), Alison Lee Booth (ANU), C Knox Lovell (UofQ), John Quiggin (UoQ), Paresh Kumar Narayan (Deakin) and Kym Anderson (ANU).