No issue tomorrow

CMM is taking Australia Day off – back Wednesday

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Rola Ajjawi (Deakin U) argues feedback to students should be about learning, not justifying a grade – a new addition to contributing editor Sally Kift’s series on what we need now in teaching and learning.

Merlin Crossley is delighted President Biden is taking science seriously.

Last month Michael Tomlinson set out the rationale for the new Higher Education Category Standards (CMM December 6), “The names of the roses.”  Now he explains what the standards mean for applicants.

NSW MPs call for action on VC pay

The NSW Legislative Council committee inquiring into the future of the state’s tertiary education sector asked VCs about their pay. MLC’s were not impressed

“The vast disparity between the salaries paid to senior university administrators and the casual and insecure payments made to so many of the staff who actually conduct the teaching and research in universities is a matter of real concern to the committee. If the role of universities is to create new knowledge and disseminate that knowledge to students then the people who do this critical work need to be valued and respected.

“The current system that sees university vice chancellors paid 25 or thirty times more than many of the people undertaking the core work of universities must be reviewed and the failure to do this by the governing bodies of universities is evidence of a failure of leadership.”

And they want an investigation

“This is a matter that should be reviewed by the Auditor-General.”  Which it seems could do so if it chose.

“The Auditor-General may at any time make a report to parliament on any matter that arises from or relates to the exercise of the audit or other functions of the Auditor-General and that in the opinion of the Auditor-General should be brought to the attention of Parliament,” the NSW Audit Office told CMM (December 4).

International arrivals aren’t imminent

It will take a vaccine to change things

Education Minister Alan Tudge says he does not know when international student arrivals can resume at scale, saying being able to “take numbers in again” depends on an effective vaccine. “We have to make sure the vaccines work. We have to have some surety about the fact that the student has indeed been vaccinated with a proper vaccine and we know that that person is safe to come into Australia,” he told ABC TV news, Friday.

He added that state and territory governments were yet to present plans for arrivals approved by their chief medical officers. “State governments are working through those things, along with the higher education providers, but we’re still not at that stage yet where we are in the position to be able to have significant quarantining arrangements for those international students.”

Where the pain is worse

Mr Tudge added that private education and training providers and English-language colleges are “hurting the most at the moment.”  “But as far as those public universities and some of the TAFEs – yes they’re down, but not down too much.”

That public providers are not suffering especially is in-line with the government’s long established position that universities do not qualify for job-support funding because of the pandemic.

The Minister added, “we are obviously keeping a very close eye on what the enrolments look like in this academic year.”

The big risk of foreign interference (it depends who you ask)

The major threat universities face is interference with their operating systems, the Innovative Research Universities warns. As for campus controversy – not so much

The IRU’s submission to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence inquiry into foreign interference on campus argues “data theft and cybersecurity are a serious and ever-present risk for Australian universities,” and while pointing out what the sector is doing about it, the lobby calls on the committee, “to identify the additional support the government should provide to universities and research bodies to ensure optimum operating systems capable of resisting external interference.”

The IRU is less exercised by allegations of foreign interference in campus life. Its submission acknowledges “much has been made of the role of Confucius Institutes,” but suggests they “are a form of Chinese ‘soft power’ comparable to the Goethe Institute, Alliance Francaise and British Council.

And the IRU outright rejects claims that foreign interference shuts down free speech on campuses. “These issues now consume considerable time and energy for low-level examples where a case can be made that free and open discussion was not achieved.”

“These debates make for interesting news stories. However, they are not a threat to Australia’s sovereignty, economy or national security.”

“All up, the number of cases and their detail do not suggest any major problem with freedom of speech or academic freedom due to foreign interference. They show the need for universities to ensure students understand the freedom to debate issues and to support staff who are challenged to respond to the concerns students raise, without giving up on any reasoned argument or position. Parliamentarians and others who believe in free speech should support the open exchange of these views,” the IRU announces.

Good-o for universities which have not had major public controversies over their relations with foreign powers

But it’s not so simple for universities where there are perceptions of management’s not wishing to offend great and powerful friends.  As occurred last year at Uni Queensland, where student Drew Pavlou denounced the university over connections with the Chinese state. The university disciplined Mr Pavlou but claimed it was for misconduct, not his human rights advocacy – which was not enough to save it from ferocious criticism from federal MP Bob Katter and blistering coverage on TV’s 60 Minutes (CMM July 20).

The real risk of foreign interference in universities may well be in IT but the appearance of a student critical of the Chinese state being disciplined by a university with large numbers of full-fee paying students from China is not easily ignored.

The parliamentary intel committee may want to hear from Mr Pavlou – he is reported as saying he has been invited to appear before it.

Ensuring the right rate for casual staff  

The push continues for universities to pay them correctly

As the world was gearing down for Christmas, La Trobe U management was revving up an investigation into the possibility of casual staff being underpaid.

This was very wise indeed, given the LT U Casuals Network has just made a submission to the Senate committee inquiring into job security.  The Network claims (via Twitter), underpayment of casuals is “systemic and widespread” at LT U and a “systematic, transparent and accountable investigation” is required.

Which management will likely respond is what it is undertaking. “While La Trobe U has not been made aware of systemic underpayment issues relating to our staff, it goes without saying that it is important that we pay our casual staff fairly and correctly,” acting HR ED Emma Hardy said in December.  She asked casual staff to submit pay records and assured them the university “will objectively review claims and will rectify any errors that are found,” (CMM December 11).

LT U joins universities that appear to have anticipated Senate interest by checking they are paying staff the right rate for the jobs they actual do, including Uni Wollongong (CMM September 4) and QUT (CMM August 28)

However, they may not the ones in the sights of senators.

Last year Uni Melbourne had to pay casual teaching staff in maths and stats and computing, who had been paid lower rates than applied under the enterprise agreement (CMM March 27 and May 13).  And it acknowledged some casuals in arts had not been paid for marking, in accord with the university’s enterprise agreement, (CMM June 29).

Appointments, achievements

Angela Carbone moves from Swinburne to RMIT, where she is now Associate DVC Learning, Teaching and Quality for the STEM College.

Andy Tomkins (Monash U) wins the Society of Economic Geologists 2021 silver medal. Margaux Le Valliant (CSIRO) wins the Waldemer Lindgren award for published research by an author under 37, (sorry no idea why that birthday).