But while the PM talks up training, it’s the universities (as usual) that are working hardest

How to expand women and men from minorities enrolling in STEM. It’s clear as (Harvey) Mudd – ask them what they want and make them welcome

It is rocket science: Science Minister Sinodinos thinks about a space agency

and University of Melbourne honours departing dean Field Rickards



Stay, Kip, stay

Curtin U’s autonomous bus now has a name with a competition winnerCMM April 4) announced. Its Kip, the name of John Curtin’s pet black kelpie. Spot-on for heritage but CMM wonders about naming a self-driving vehicle after a breed known to nip at the heels of bicycles and vehicles in the absence of sheep to herd.

Never say no to a nar-na

You can’t beat bananas, just ask the University of Queensland. Back in 2015 UoQ took a development plan back because it upset the neighbourhood bananas, as in “building anything not acceptable, no, absolutely stop,” ( CMM July 23 2015) Now the university is having another go under a Community Infrastructure Designation awarded by the state government. This allows the university to build for; “primary uses for education and research with supporting uses including: child care; sporting facilities, parks and recreation; storage and works depots and similar including administrative facilities associated with the maintenance of the community infrastructure; associated infrastructure including road, vehicle lay-by and car parking; student accommodation; and retail and commercial activities ancillary to and supportive of the education and research facility.” The university would have to ask the education minister for approval for a toxic waste dump but otherwise it seems UoQ can build pretty much what it likes (CMM March 14).

And in adjacent suburbs bananas are bent well out of shape. Critics are now getting a run in the Courier Mail and negative coverage in a one-paper town is never good. “The vice-chancellor and his unelected Senate seem to me to have more power than the mayor and the city council. … And now the university’s neighbours feel the hallowed institution has abused its privileges,” Des Houghton  wrote on Saturday.

Vice Chancellor Peter Hoj is fronting the project to the press, saying all of Brisbane will benefit and defending the detail. And articulate he is too, but arguing the case now will make it hard for him to intervene and broker a deal down the track. “Has no one told him God created DVCs to take the hits?” a UoQ watcher asks. When it comes to calming community activists, the ancient TV advert was right deal makers should; “never say no to a nar-na”


Star in different sky

Shining star of the twitterverse AstroKatie is off to the old north state. University of Melbourne astrophysicist Katherine Mack, will join the physics department of North Carolina State in January.

Good start to UniSydney talks

There is progress in early enterprise bargaining at the University of Sydney, where management appears well-inclined to union calls for paid parental leave for primary carers regardless of gender and for paying casuals for all the work it takes to do their job.

But the university also has proposals of its own which do not impress the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union, notably an end to detailed and codified workload requirements that allocate academics’ time between teaching, research and service functions. This, horrifies the NTEU, which warns it could mean individual staffers having to negotiate workloads with management each year. It also contradicts the union’s log of claims, which includes a 60 per cent cap on teaching hours for classroom-focused academics. Management also wants to end professional staff getting first go at jobs, before they are advertised externally, which the NTEU opposes. The discussions don’t appear to have got to the unions call for elected committees in academic units to make binding policies on workloads. (CMM February 27).

Western civ not at UNSW

Last month Paul Kelly reported in The Australian that a centre for the study of western civilisation was to be established via a bequest from the estate of healthcare billionaire Paul Ramsay. There was speculation back then that it would be based at UNSW, and the rumour was running again on the weekend, with columnist Andrew Bolt  mentioning UNSW. However, John Howard, who chairs the nascent centre’s board carefully says “the centre will collaborate with universities.” When CMM checked in March a university spokeswoman said “UNSW is not aware of any bequest to create a centre for the study of western civilisation.” So, if UNSW is not getting a piece of the action which institutions are?


Industry, Innovation, and Science minister Arthur “stellar” Sinodinos says he is looking at the for and against arguments for an Australian space agency, to which his Labor shadow Kim Carr replies that “he is looking forward to seeing the detailed announcement in the budget,” Such cynicism in one so young! In fact, there are all sorts reasons why the minister might want to come over all astrobloke – a bunch of satellites down load data to Australian tracking stations and telescopes, notable the coming Square Kilometre Array, search space. The University of Queensland’s scramjet research team is exploring how to use the technology to launch satellites. This will surely appeal to Senator Sinodinos, with an Australian rocket he could shoot the Review of the R&D tax incentive review into a black hole without ever releasing it.

Passage to India

Finally, Simon Birmingham gets to go to India, with the prime minister, no less, plus 120 higher education panjandrums and VET poobas. “If you want to ring a vice chancellor this morning, remember to add the code for New Delhi,” an education export observer advises.

They are all there for the Australia-India skills conference, on today and tomorrow.

Back in 2015 when he was the junior minister for training, Senator Birmingham planned a passage to India, to sell Australia’s services in VET (CMM September 29 2015) but it was pulled when he took over the portfolio from Chris Pyne. So, this trip is long overdue and will hopefully start work on a new export market, as the PM said at the Sydney Institute on Thursday, “the Indian Government is aiming to train 400 million people by 2022 – we can help them achieve that goal, both here and in India.” With the government’s ambitious income targets for education exports the training market in India is too big not to take very seriously. “Indian students contributed about $2.3 billion to the Australian economy in the last financial year and while those financial benefits are huge, what will have even more of an impact is the enhanced capability we are helping to establish across India, strengthening the opportunities for even more collaboration and two way trade in the future, providing real benefits to people in both of our countries,” Senator Birmingham says.

Unis in front

Despite the PM’s talk of the India training market (above) it is universities keen to make their big Indian markets bigger that are talking up opportunities on the trip. This makes eminent sense, the HE sector is too dependent on Chinese students studying business. Universities Australia is there, hosting an alumni event and the Group of Eight are rolling into New Delhi with 27 people from all members, including the VCs of UNSW, UniQueensland, UniSydney, UniMelbourne and UWA. The Eight’s approach is to focus on research partnerships in India and attracting postgraduates from there to here, under 20 per cent of Indian students at the Eight are u/gs. “We are not going for the high volume, low quality market and we are not targeting u/g students,” CEO Vicki Thomson says. Another smart move, Indian demand for Australian courses is often migration focused, with elite students still preferring the UK and US – by positioning themselves as for the very smart the Eight can create top-end demand.

Rickards honoured

The University of Melbourne is conferring the title of dean emeritus on Field Rickards who will step down as dean of the graduate school of education in August (CMM December 8). “I am deeply honoured to be acknowledged in this way.  None of the achievements of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education would have been possible without the world class team that I work with,” Professor Rickards told CMM yesterday.

ANU applauds alumna

Elizabeth Bryan is ANU’s alumni of the year. Ms Bryan is a prominent businesswoman, the first to lead a major Australian financial institution, taking charge of NSW State Super in the early 90s. She is a former CEO of Deutsche Asset Management and director of Westfield. She now chairs the boards of Virgin Australia and Insurance Australia Group.

Achieving diversity clear as Mudd

At Californian elite STEM school Harvey Mudd College Maria Klawe found a way to end its days as a club for white blokes – make highly talented women and minority men welcome.

Women in first year rose from 24 per cent in 2006 to 46 per cent a decade later. Hispanic first year students accounted for 5 per cent of enrolments in ’06 and 22 per cent in ’16. The figure for African-American first years now is not great, 10 per cent, still, it’s a five-fold rise over the decade.

But Mudd did not make the change via quotas and directives, mandated by management. Dr Klawe says she did not try to force faculty when she took over as president a decade back. The transformation occurred because the college chose to change, “the only reason this worked is because our community decided to make it work,” she told the Times Higher young university conference at QUT on Friday.

The college changed its student mix by simply making it obvious that women and minority men knew they were welcome. It wasn’t hard  Mudd to make it clear that it was different. “Every single engineering school in the US publishes a magazine three or four times a year, I would flick through the pages and look to see if there were women represented … there were examples with 1,000 people in the magazine and none were women,” Dr Klawe says. Harvey Mudd also researched the different wants and needs of prospective Black and Hispanics students and acted to address them.

There were, and are, inevitable arguments that standards have fallen since 2006 – a campus controversy is simmering now over workloads and teaching styles for Mudd’s gender and ethnically diverse student body. But Dr Klawe points to the way the college has learned how to support starting student who “are very bright and hardworking” but did not get “great teaching” in their public schooling.

“We’ve got a long way to go but my feeling is unless we change undergraduate education so we can get a truly diverse group of graduates ready to enter the workforce, we’re not going to change the workforce.”