Look back loudly

“Read the three things student blogger Laura wishes she could go back and tell her 2014-self,” QUT via Twitter yesterday. If she shouts she should still be able to hear herself.

James Cook U staff vote down pay offer

In a 54 per cent turn-out 58 per cent of JCU staff voting have rejected an enterprise bargain proposed by the university but bitterly opposed by the National Tertiary Education Union. The vote was announced late Friday with JCU VC Tricia Brand calling the result “disappointing” but pointing to the large number of staff who either supported the university or remained “on the fence”. Ms Brand tells CMM the university is considering its options and will not rule anything in or out, including following Murdoch U by asking the Fair Work Commission to cancel wages and conditions set under the old JCU agreement.

“Negotiations to date, after 18 months and 41 meetings, have failed to give proper acknowledgement to the cost of the existing entitlements in the agreement and changes we need to make to be competitive. Unless there is significant movement from the NTEU, it is not likely that we will be able to reach any agreement as we cannot merely offer more, without there being financial consequences for doing so,” Ms Brand said.

To which NTEU Queensland state secretary Michael McNally replied yesterday; “The most important decision management has to make is what to do next.  Do they continue down the path of confrontation and dispute, or do they sit down with the NTEU and negotiate a reasonable settlement?  We really hope that management see sense and come back to the table and negotiate.”

And that will mean more money on the table. As workplace relations consultant Andrew Dempster points out; staff voting knocked back the university’s offer of 1.5%, 1.5%, 1.6% and 2.0% over the next 4 years in the context of a more generous deal at neighbouring CQU.

Keeping busy

“If I have learned one thing in 27 years in higher education it’s that it’s never too late to complain about decisions made during your lifetime,” Charles Sturt University VC Andrew Vann at the teaching citation awards (below).

Uncertainty over course costs drives mature-age uni apps down 10 per cent

UA says planned start date for student contributions increases and reduced government spending not feasible

No decision on the government’s funding cuts is causing “stress and confusion” among prospective students and leading to “double digit’ declines in mature age UG enrolment applications, according to peak lobby Universities Australia.

UA argues that with the Senate not set to consider the changes until October the present proposed start on January 1 is not feasible.

“It’s not fair to expect students to apply for university without knowing what fees they will pay in 2018 or even whether the subjects they hope to study will still be available by the time they arrive,” UA chief Belinda Robinson says.

Universities are also caught in a quandary over budgeting, with the government’s proposed funding cut on the agenda for next year, if the Senate agrees.

“Once again, universities find themselves struggling to finalise budgets and course offerings for next year – this time with 10 per cent of their anticipated revenue hanging in the balance.”

Ms Robinson added universities do not want “to sack staff, reduce student support services or close courses when the fate of the bill has yet to be determined.”

However a long-time industry observer suggests the uncertainty has not stopped universities agreeing to pay rises through to 2021 in the present enterprise bargaining round.

Since when can the feds charge more than parliament permits?

The government is also in a difficult position in telling universities what course costs they must quote. A learned reader points out that the Department of Education is specifying charges that include the 1.8 per cent budget hike for students. with an asterisk that the increase depends on legislation. “I read this as meaning the rates are not correct at time of printing, but might become so,” the reader suggests, adding, “should unis be putting out rates higher than the parliament has so far endorsed, and then?”

Vann calls for a higher education teachers academy

Australia needs a professional body for higher education teachers, says Charles Sturt U VC Andrew Vann

An independent agency could, “take on the role of a learned society to support, inform and improve practice,” Professor Vann said at a Sydney ceremony honouring NSW recipients cited in the national awards for university teaching.

“Joining such a body would be a powerful signal of an individual’s commitment to professionalism in higher education teaching. It would demonstrate public acceptance by university academics of the mantle of responsibility and leadership for the future of the profession.

“It would demonstrate public acceptance by university academics of the mantle of responsibility and leadership for the future of the profession,” he said.

And a focus only on ever-improving teaching would make it a powerful voice. “Imagine how valuable it would be to have a professional body to speak to higher education reform, independent of the alleged rampaging greed of vice-chancellors? I think it might not say very different things, but perhaps it would not be quite so readily dismissed by politicians,” Professor Vann suggested.

Professor Vann suggested the UK Higher Education Academy could be a model, an idea the HEA might not encourage, given its expansion into Australia this year.

Boys club

Federation U VC Helen Bartlett and IBM’s Dee McGrath have announced 21 scholarships for IT students. All the $35 000 each awards went to blokes.

Evidence rich

CMM sometimes struggles to find explanations among the advocacy pumped out by the science communications industry. But not in occasional papers from the Chief Scientist’s Office, which are heavy on evidence, light on opinion and founded on the heavy-duty thinking that keeping it simple requires.

Roman Dronov and Will Howard’s new paper, Gene editing and CRISPR makes the point – public interest writing without harrumph or hype. The series started when Ian Chubb was chief scientist and continues under Alan Finkel – and a good thing they are too.

Western Sydney U “verges on chaos” says union leader

“There is an absurd pretence that everything is really normal”

Veteran WSU academic and union leader David Burchell warns that for a year the university “has been in a state of continual turmoil verging on chaos.”

“Many hundreds of professional staff now find that their existing jobs have vanished, and in many cases they are being asked to locate to different positions in different parts of the new structure, often at a lower HEW level – or else face retrenchment. Workloads have been increasing everywhere as staff cover for departed colleagues,” Dr Burchell and National Tertiary Education Union colleagues tell staff.

Union members will strike on Wednesday over what the campus NTEU leadership says is senior management turning “a deaf ear” to “all of our major claims.”

“Instead, they seem overwhelmingly focussed on presentation and appearance – upon lovingly-scripted videos and painfully-orchestrated staff forums, in which all of the major issues are ignored and there is an absurd pretence that everything is really normal, and that it is simply business as usual. This pretence has gone on far too long, and the entire university community is suffering as a result.”

Last week the university proposed a pay rise which it described as the “final offer the university is proposing in our current financial environment.” However a spokeswoman said management will continue to “bargain in good faith with the unions.” (CMM September 14)

Medical science awards short list

Medical science lobby Research Australia  has announced finalists for its 2017 awards, which include;

Data Innovation: Professor Lisa Bero, University of Sydney (research evidence integrity), Professor Helmut Butzhueven Royal Melbourne Hospital. (monitoring MS).

Griffith University Discovery: Dr Avnika Rubarelia, Monash University (regenerative medicine), Dr Tamsyn van Rheenen, University of Melbourne (schizophrenia and bipolar disorder)

Health Services Research: Australia and New Zealand Hip Fracture Registry, Professor Lorna Moxham (University of Wollongong) mental health nursing

The awards will be announced in Melbourne on October 5.

At last

There is an end in sight to the long Macquarie march towards a single business and economics operation at MU. Dean Stephen Brammer is inviting all staff in the faculty, the Macquarie Graduate School of Management and the Macquarie Applied Finance Centre to a “town hall meeting” on October 10.

Business bails on R&D

Business expenditure on research and development went backwards last year

According to new figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2015-16 spending was $16.6bn, down 11 per cent on the previous year and just above investment in 2009-10. As a per centage of GDP, BERD dropped from 1.19 per cent in 13-14 to 1.01 per cent in 15-16.

The biggest contraction was in the mining industry, down 34 per cent, followed by manufacturing at 19 per cent.

By research field, engineering took the biggest hit, declining by 26 per cent, while IT grew by 9 per cent.

According to research policy observers the decline in spending reflects decisions made before the Turnbull Government’s innovation strategy, although the continuing absence of a government response to the Ferris-Finkel-Fraser review of the R&D tax incentive cannot be encouraging investment now.