Unclear at UTS

 Deputy President Sams of the Fair Work Commission describes the effect of UTS research performance metrics; “the propensity for university jargon and many multidimensional policies and procedures, to confuse and deflect from the reality of what was actually going on,”

(Scroll down for why UTS lost in Fair Work against Dr Lucy Zhao).

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning;

Maria Raciti (Uni Sunshine Coast)  on the joined-up education-to-occupation blueprint low SES students want. It’s a new essay in Contributing Editor Sally Kift’s series on what is needed now in teaching and learning.

Plus, Merlin Crossley (UNSW)  points out the positive prejudice when scientists give talks.

And Tim Winkler lists ten ways to deal with the virus crisis.


Calm and collected at Southern Cross U

The Lismore and Gold Coast campuses were closed yesterday after a staffer tested positive for COVID-19 in the Philippines on Tuesday. He had been on both March 2-6

The closures were for cleaning and “as a general precaution.” SCU observers say Vice Chancellor Adam Shoemaker decided to act quickly to “minimise potential spread.” He also ensured staff support – the university confirms everybody, including casuals, will be paid for the day.

Last night Professor Shoemaker told the SCU community that 47 staff and students who had “some level of contact” with the affected person had all been identified and would return to campus after 14 days of self-quarantine. Campuses are open today.

They have had a tough summer on the Lismore campus. It served as an evacuation centre during the fires and back in September threats of shooting on campus led to a police lock-down – but they keep things calm.

Stick to the script on medical research funding (there’s not enough)

UNSW cancer biologist Darren Saunders tweeted his labs were out of funding. Cue outrage

It got to a point where Dr Saunders returned to Twitter to advise; “Important clarification, as there’s some confusion. My funding wasn’t ‘withdrawn’. Research is funded by government and/or philanthropic grants. The funding we had has run out and I have not been able to secure new grants.”

Which does not make him Dr Robinson Crusoe. As he said yesterday; “churn and instability is baked into the business model of research careers.” Nor is Dr Saunders now unemployed, he is an aspro at UNSW.

But stating that this how it is for medical researchers can make one unpopular. Like Jonathan Carapetis, president of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes. He was quoted in a Nine newspapers story on Dr Saunders circumstance, explaining just how low research success rates are but that his advice is that grants come “eventually.” Professor Carapetis was also careful to add there are funding gaps that need to be covered to keep researchers working.

But it still did not go down well. Yesterday AAMRI issued a statement assuring Professor Carapetis, “has long supported sector reform to improve medical research career pathways” and providing links to evidence of such.

Good-o, but even if NHMRC funding rates were 50 per cent, instead of sometimes a bare quarter of that, it would not stop stories about underfunding.

No publish or perish at UTS

University of Technology Sydney fired bized academic Lucy Zhao for not meeting research publication targets. The Fair Work Commission says she keep her job

The university sacked Dr Zhao after 14 years-service for not meeting its requirement for publishing specified number of articles in top-rated journals.  Deputy President Sams of the FWC was not impressed.

For a start, he said sacking her for unsatisfactory performance was unreasonable given she was ok on teaching and service (60 per cent of her workload). “It is difficult to conceptually and rationally conclude that a 60 per cent performance rating equated to poor or unsatisfactory performance overall.”

He also found the university did not give “appropriate weight” to ten other issues shaping Dr Zhao’s performance.

And he thought the university could have been less rigid. “It is self-evident that an academic, like all of us, will have different interests, perspectives, strengths and weaknesses. A university, of all of society’s institutions, should have the flexibility to accommodate an academic’s personal and professional qualities and attributes, and maximise a particular individual’s interests and talents to enhance the best outcomes for the common good.”

VP Sams concluded that in dismissing her UTS was harsh and unreasonable. He ordered the university to reinstate her, with no break in service and with lost pay made up.

This is a judgement universities will not like, especially ones with complex and contested research publishing requirements.

VC pay: attracting top performers or the wrong sort of person entirely

The Association of Australian University Professors (bolshie in a dignified way) is surveying members on what should be the salary range for vice chancellors

Perhaps the association suggests, million-dollar pay is the way to attract the top-performers needed to administer unis. Unless, the association offers, because greed is a “moral weakness” paying buckets of money attracts the wrong people.

That the question merits asking at all is a very Australian issue. Back in 2013 Timothy Devinney and Graham Dowling produced a paper on US, UK and Aus VC pay. They discovered the locals made a motza more than their Anglosphere colleagues, but found “no reason to believe that Australian universities are any more difficult to run than major US universities or those in the UK or that the individuals chosen to run the Australian universities possess any special skills that demand greater compensation,” (CMM August 12 2013).

Not much politics in new grant announcements

The feds have announced 25 Linkage Grants, without government MPs getting the good news out there

It’s another in the regular roll-out of Linkage announcements, but the first since the Senate voted to require the Australian Research Council to report new grants to it each month (CMM February 28). This was done to stop the government holding announcements until local MPs had a chance to take credit for money going to universities on their patch.

This can still happen, MPs just have to be quick.

As was Julian Simmonds, whose seat of Ryan includes Uni Queensland.  With Education Minister Dan Tehan he announced Monday a Linkage Grant for Jose Botella, Jian Zhu and Neil Parami at UniQ for research to improve pineapples.

Rather supporting Mr Tehan’s strategy, that research wins when government backbenchers support it, the member for Herbert, Phillip Thomson was also out supporting a grant at James Cook U, which has a campus on his patch – to research rare earth deposits.

The other 25 grants that MPs did not get to announce include; a study of men’s’ religious beliefs and domestic violence (Flinders U and the Lutheran Church), design-based repair and reuse of consumer products at UNSW and a new poultry vaccine (UNSW).

Reaction to U Tas course cuts

The U Tas branch of the NTEU issued an all-points appallagram yesterday over management’s announcement to cut, really cut the number of degrees on the books

VC Rufus Black set out the case for a 75 per cent cut in degrees offered, to 120, yesterday, saying the university needed savings and efficiencies to be financially viable and improve what it provides students. But while he acknowledged there would be less work he was careful not to specify job losses (CMM March 11).

Which impressed the union as much as not at all. “The Vice Chancellor said that yesterday’s announcement was the start of a discussion process, but this is a hollow assurance. It is clear that decisions have already been made,” National Tertiary Education Union president Alison Barnes says.

And  the union’s Tasmanian state secretary, Kelvin Michael went right to what will be the popular point in the campaign against the course cuts. “The university has bought huge swathes of property in the Hobart CBD, in some cases at reportedly inflated prices. UTAS has arguably over-committed funds for campus transformation projects in Burnie and Launceston,” he said.

He has a point. While the popular headline is that this is a COVID-19 crisis the university has long-needed to lift earnings and cut costs – Professor Black has been making the point since last year’s strategic plan (CMM August 5 2019).

The ambitious strategy to move much of the university into the Hobart CBD and to invest in new facilities in the north is supposed to deliver on the earnings – but U Tas watchers wonder whether it will end up increasing a cost base that is unsustainable.

Yesterday supporters of the degree cuts were arguing that the changes are long overdue. But for staff who fear many fewer courses are the precursor to job losses, Dr Barnes had the last word, for now.

“It is clear that decisions have already been made. We will be addressing this if necessary through the appropriate industrial forums.”

Dolt of the day

Is CMM who reported yesterday Vice Chancellor Helen Bartlettis moving from Uni Southern Queensland to Uni Sunshine Coast. In fact, Professor Bartlett is leaving Federation U.



Ian Duncan moves jobs at the Australian Research Data Commons, becoming director for outreach. He is now ARDC’s director for eResearch Infrastructure and Services.