Plus Colin’s sterling strategy and incomprehensible announcements

Everybody clear on that?

“Launch of the new ANFF ToF-SIMS laboratory,” the Education Department announced last night. “And some people think university staff talk in acronyms,” a comms veteran says. (Read to the end for more).


Bigger than Bucks Hur

The bigger than Ben Hur University of Western Sydney rebranding is not impressing all the locals, with some suggesting that the new look resembles the livery of soccer club Western Sydney Wanderers and others not much liking a proposed logo, a big W on a maroon background. There is also speculation about what it has cost – and this is before the media spending starts. “Half the students at Parramatta campus can’t find parks while we spend big on this,” one staffer says.

A settlement at Swinburne

It looked like industrial relations as usual at Swinburne yesterday with the campus National Tertiary Education Union saying management was threatening to pull already granted pay rises unless an enterprise agreement including them is reached. “Rather than continuing with threats and anti-union rhetoric, it would be much better if the vice chancellor simply sat down with union representatives and reached agreement,” union state secretary Colin Long said.

Perceptive bloke Dr Long, because last night he and the university’s strategy VP Stephen Beall were scheduled to meet to try to end a dispute which has run for years. These two are grown-ups and that they are both involved indicates both high commands want to stop a fight that is now self-perpetuating.

It is in the NTEU‘s interest to end it because the union has made its point and punished Swinburne for putting a wage offer to staff without union endorsement. The union was so upset that the deal passed that it then went to law to have the vote overturned on the grounds that casual staff not employed on the day of the ballot were allowed to vote. Having won the case in the Federal Court the union can now claim victory and sign-off on an industry-average wage offer, confident that Swinburne will not want to ignore it in the next enterprise negotiation.

It is also in the university’s interest to get a deal because without one the 2009 enterprise agreement remains in place and this specifies management must consult with the union on pretty much every staff change. Swinburne is presently consulting directly with academics on productivity proposals and would likely prefer not to have union officials at the table for discussions on how many articles people must publish.

CEF August A

Research strides

CMM’s texting on the go was interrupted by news from Plos One that Conrad Earnest (Texas A&M) and colleague have found that people sending messages on their phones walk more carefully. One small step for a man …

Is Andrew interested

Murdoch University is about to advertise for a new vice chancellor, almost a year after Richard Higgott resigned following the Western Australian Corruption and Crime Commission announcing an inquiry. And not just a VC – there are at least two other executive positions to be filled. This strikes CMM as strange, surely an incoming VC would prefer to put his own people into key jobs especially if it is doable without having to manage incumbents out. But what is exercising Murdoch minds is will acting VC Andrew “the stroller” Taggart put his hand up? Despite sniping from supporters of Professor Higgott (which continues still) and the inevitable manoeuvring for authority and budget by powerful people, Professor Taggart has kept the campus peace – no mean feat at machiavellian Murdoch. Whether Chancellor David Flanagan thinks this qualifies Professor Taggart to tackle the university’s major problems – especially student demand, both domestic and international, is one question. The other is whether he wants the job.

We must cite lunch

A learned reader suggests that Monash must have a candidate in mind for its schmooze-the-Australian-Research-Council job (CMM yesterday). Quite right, being charming is one thing, charming people who rate chats on an Excellence for Relationships in Australia scale is rare.


Help for HELP

The Australian National Audit Office is conducting a performance review of what the government calls the Higher Education Loan Programme, and everybody else refers to as HECS. The audit, due next autumn, is assessing the administration of student debts and collections and the ANAO invites people to contribute information on programme administration (not policy). Submissions are due by September 18. Given the enormous amounts of money the Commonwealth loans students any indication that the programme is not super-efficient will surely lead to “a please” explain from the IMF.

Stirling strategy

What is Colin Stirling up to at Flinders with the way he is handling the possibility of a campus “collaboration” with Bjorn Lomborg? Less establishing than entrenching his authority is what. The new VC has said the university would consult over what, if any relationship Flinders would have with the divisive Dane, which is what is happening. There have been staff discussion sessions and it is said student meetings are set for next week. There is even talk of a web page on the subject. Smart stuff, whatever occurs Professor Stirling demonstrates that he leads as well as listens.

Textbook cases

It’s only a matter of time before business schools use the post secondary education industry for case studies. And when the bizoids start studying how suppliers chase share in new markets they will turn to Viktor Callan and Kaye Bowman’s study of VET providers delivering degrees, for the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research.

While some of the steps are a bit on the obvious side (“be strategic,” “develop the business case”) this is an immensely useful guide for public and private VOCED providers who have decided that the boundaries between dips and degrees are breaking down and they can cross the eroding boundary between the two post school sectors. The core-take out is that the providers studied only got involved when they had something special to sell, sorry teach; “they generally look to complement rather than compete with other higher education providers, especially universities, and rely on special points of difference to attract higher education students.” Really worth a read.

ANU June 4

Pharmacy to finish

Charles Sturt University has announced “a new direction” for its pharmacy course and it is away from the Wagga campus. The degree programme there will close in the face of more universities teaching the discipline and pharmacy will now only be offered at CSU Orange. But Dean of Science Tim Wess says the degree will be taught out at Wagga (to 2019) with all 91 students there able to complete and no jobs will go. The move is necessary, he says, because of reduced overall demand, with applications this year down 40 per cent on 2009.

Absent from OLT

Supporters of the Office of Learning and Teaching are upset at the government’s decision to replace it with a new university based organisation, allocating fewer and larger research grants. But the Regional Universities Network, not so much. “Much is good about the OLT,” Peter Lee, Southern Cross U VC and RUN chair, says, it’s just that his members do not get much of a go. “The OLT specialist panels are relatively small and do not adequately represent regional universities. Under any new arrangement, there should be broader representation from the regions and chairs of various panels should be rotated to ensure representation from a range of universities,” he said.

* But what does it mean?

“For anybody who has not looked it up already, the ANFF ToF-SIMS lab is the Time of Flight Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry, which Education Minister Christopher Pyne launched at La Trobe U yesterday. CMM suspects he did it because the project is funded under the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy, which the minister is very proud of having rescued, that and his enduring interest in time of flight etc etc. As is customary at La Trobe there was a student protest probably over officials issuing incomprehensible press releases.Akolade