There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning, David Myton’s regular wrap on what’s happening in higher education overseas.

VU on track for hospital partner

In the great election giveaway now running in Melbourne, Victoria University is on track for a big win if the government is returned. Labor has promised La Trobe and Monash universities stations on a proposed underground rail-line to be built sometime between now and never. But VU is on a promise with a start date (2020) and costings ($200m) for a new hospital at its Footscray Park campus.

“Our partnership with the new hospital will be of major significance for the further development of our already high standing in education and research in the areas of health, biomedicine, exercise and sport,” VC Peter Dawkins says. What odds the case for a VU med school will follow.

Pay per view: financial penalties proposed for unis that ban controversial speakers

Universities that do not comply with legislated “best-practice” free-speech on campus codes should face ‘financial penalties”, according to Jeremy Samut from the Centre for Independent Studies.

In a paper released last night he proposes requiring universities to implement “a compulsory university freedom charter policy” which could be monitored by the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency, “backed by the potential threat of discretionary financial sanctions for proven non-compliance.”

“Implementing university freedom charters would take meaningful action — demonstrating the political will necessary to generate the essential institutional will — to stem the growth of an intolerant anti-free speech culture on campus and ensure universities remain true universities: bastions of civil debate, rational discussion, and intellectual freedom,” Dr Samut writes.

He argues “a free speech crisis on campus” results from “contemporary identity politics” and cites protests at a University of Sydney address by columnist Bettina Arndt and the University of Western Australia cancelling a booking by a US speaker as examples.”

“The apparent lack of institutional will within the university sector to take appropriate action to address free speech issues suggests that imploring universities to voluntarily self-regulate freedom of thought and expression is insufficient,” Dr Samut states.

University lobbies were quick to respond last night. ““Every day on campuses across our country, students and academics debate ideas freely, backed by a respect for evidence and encompassing a broad diversity of views. That is as it should be.” Universities Australia CEO Catriona Jackson said.
“There is no case for the imposition of heavy-handed regulation and red tape – in direct violation of university autonomy – let alone the imposition of ‘compulsory freedom charters’.”

And the Group of Eight’s Vicki Thomson pointed out, “each of our universities has in place policies and procedures, in staff agreements, codes of conduct and university by-laws which are designed to ensure that free speech can occur in a respectful, safe and civil manner.  We have a strong tradition and track record of protecting free speech and the expression of ideas and will continue to so. We do not believe that the suggestion of government-sanctioned financial penalties is a constructive way to assist our universities in their commitment to providing an environment in which freedom of speech is protected.

There is also the issue of proportion with the paper itself noting that the “vast majority of those who work and study at Australian universities simply go peacefully about their core business of teaching and learning in a professional and respectful manner”. So, where’s the crisis here?”

Really big table required

The Australian Journal of Public Administration has announced its new 41-member editorial board. “We look forward to working with you all in the next stages of developing the journal,” one of the four editors Janine O’Flynn, from the ANZ School of Government says. Assuming everybody remembers everybody else’s name.

Finkel’s law of university branding: “you can spend an awful lot of money for words that look awfully familiar”

University marketers should switch off the random slogan generator for a bit and go read Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s speech to last week’s university chancellors’ conference. Especially the bit where he set out his fourth law of higher education, “the amount you invest in rebranding will be inversely proportional to the originality of the outcome.”

Dr Finkel’s concern was less the interchangeable anondyne aphorisms that universities often mistake for brand-building than the responsibility of institutions to present what prospective students need if they are to succeed in study and to only accept undergraduates who have a chance. “That means restoring prerequisites, specifically maths prerequisites for courses that need maths! Like science, and engineering, and economics, where at least intermediate maths should be expected. And we should adhere to high ATAR expectations for any degree where the graduate will have a direct impact on people’s lives,” he said.

But he also had a message for the marketers. “I think we do need to have a serious conversation as a sector about the way we communicate with young people, beyond trying to attract them with slogans, … “We have all thought it… you can spend an awful lot of money for words that look awfully familiar.”

Peacock gets it right

Tony Peacock from the CRC Association predicted Friday that the second stage for Round 19 of cooperative research centre funding would consist of six bids; advanced medical biotechnology, blue economy (offshore energy and seafood), future battery industries, future cities, future food systems and proposers of a SmartSat CRC. And lo, that was what the government announced, at peak media-consumption time – 8am on Saturday morning. More people would have read the prediction than the announcement.

Enterprise arguing at Victoria U and Uni of Wollongong

Victoria University has banned the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union from communicating with staff who are neither members nor have opted-in to union messages, via the official email system.

In a letter to the union, VU VP People and Culture Shaun Eltham cites 13 emails sent to university staff who are not union members and refers to previous demands that this stop, stating it breaches the VU privacy policy.

The letter follows the decisive rejection of a management proposed, union opposed enterprise agreement. Some 77 per cent of staff voting in the ballot opposed the deal.

Mr Eltham states VU “does not seek to constrain the NTEU from communicating with its members, nor with any staff member who has subscribed to the NTEU to receive communications from the NTEU directly through appropriate means using its own contact lists.”

The university’s last enterprise agreement is silent on e-comms between the union and staff who are not members. However, clause 72.2 states union reps on staff at VU can “post any official notice of the NTEU in each staff room of the university,” which appears to establish a principal for the union communicating to non-members.

The University of Wollongong branch of the union is upset with management telling members they must complete an “industrial relations participation” form and submit it with “the required approvals.”  The form must be “reviewed” by two levels of management.

This, union official Joshua Gava tells Vice Chancellor Paul Wellings, is not on. “Management knows participation in legally protected industrial action is a legislative right. The (Fair Work) Act confers no rights for management to review a staff member’s intended participation nor does it permit management to approve or not approve participation.”

“All this for a two-hour work stoppage, including a common lunch-hour as part of enterprise bargaining,” a UoW observer remarks.

The union demands Professor Wellings withdraw the communication and apologise to staff.


UNSW’s Martin Green has won the Global Energy prize for decades of work which have “revolutionised the efficiency and costs of solar photovoltaics, making this now the lowest cost option for bulk electricity supply”.  The prize is funded by Russian energy companies. Professor Green shares the award with Sergey Alekseenko from the Russian Institute of Thermophysics.

Flinders U’s Sebastian Raneskold (PVC I) and colleagues have won the education and training category in the Business SA Export Awards.

UNSW’s hot tip to diminish the dump

A survey for UNSW finds 70 per cent of people think Australia should, “invest in new technology to re-form waste into high value materials for re-use.”

How fortunate then that UNSWs has developed the very thing they want. Veena Sahajwalla and colleagues are developing transportable shipping-container size micro-factory technology, which breaks down waste and uses a precise temperature furnace to transform components into reusable materials. The Australian Research Council funded project has built an e-waste facility, with a second that transforms glass and plastic into building material imminent.

The university says for plastics or metal modules there would be a return on the $300 000 capital investment within three years.

Micro-factory technology delivers triple-bottom line benefits of sustainability, job creation and significant economic revenue. It has the potential to play an important role in meeting the national waste crisis, will enhance Australia’s reputation as a hub of innovation and can deliver economic opportunity for ordinary Australian workers and businesses, the universe stated in a submission to the Senate inquiry on waste and recycling this year.

Dolt of the day

Last week CMM named the MD of med tech and pharmaceutical growth centre, MTP Connect Don Grant, he’s Dan.