UTS towering achievement

There is, let joy be unconfined, a new snow-dome

Previously UTS had a snow-globe of the famous tower block, looking rather like a scene of East Berlin in a 1970s blizzard. But there’s an update, featuring two of the university’s new and architecturally impressive buildings which are next to – the UTS tower. Even in a snow-globe storm there’s no missing it.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Lucy Montgomery (Curtin U)  on open access– it’s now the new normal which means, “universities can radically alter the visibility and recognition of their research in the community.”

Margaret Bearman (Deakin U) on why more money for research into HE is what is needed now in teaching and learning. It’s contributing editor Sally Kift’s new selection in her series, “needed now in teaching and learning.

Merlin Crossley (UNSW) on teachers learning. “Many enthusiastic and inspiring teachers are already reaching out and forming their own communities. With just a little effort it is possible for universities to establish stable frameworks and opportunities that will enhance and sustain these collaborative networks.”

More time for Uni Melbourne PhDs to complete

HRD students with work interrupted by COVID-19 are asking university managements for more funded time to complete.  Uni Melbourne is helping, up to a point

The university is offering PhD researchers whose funding expired/expires June-November stipend extensions of 12 to 26 weeks, depending on the extent of COVID-19 caused disruption.

There is also a six-month extension for submissions. Jeremy Waite from Uni Melbourne’s Graduate Student Association calls it a, “promising preliminary announcement.”

The university expects to make a further announcement on what it can do in September. But researchers should not get hopes up. The university warns it will need to manage finite funds to assist current and soon to start researchers as COVID-19 continues.

It’s a problem all-over, with existing HDR public funds at most universities being stretched. As the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations puts it, “universities still “face the stark choice” of funding current students or “sustaining future enrolments,” (CMM May 11).

Yet another provost at UNDA

Pauline Nugent is University of Notre Dame Australia’s new provost – she’s not the first (CMM Monday)

Vice chancellor Francis Campbell announced management departures Friday with roles “merged into a newly created role of provost,” (CMM July 27).

The role is new now, but learned readers point out UNDA has previously had a plethora of provosts (sorry) – including a bloke called Greg Craven, who held the role first, as well as being UNDA dean of law.

“What?,” you ask, “not that Greg Craven, now VC of Australian Catholic University? The Greg Craven whose understated opeds on many, many, subjects have appeared for years in The Australian newspaper?” That’s the one.

The provost title was replaced with PVC Academic in 2012, an LR advises.

CRC food for thought on digital and data

The Food Agility CRC proposes industry joins it in creating data-based supply chains 

The Cooperative Research Centre argues data and digital-driven technologies, “have the capacity to better manage and mitigate the impacts of production and demand volatility, increased climate variability, rising costs of inputs and market access compliance.”

The CRC sets out 12 areas for investment for each of six major industries, “for enhancing supply chain resilience” and proposes agrifood and tech companies join its $10m R&D project.

Eight universities are partners in the CRC, UTS, Curtin U, Federation U, James Cook U, QUT, RMIT, UNE and Charles Sturt U.

VET community respond to Productivity Commission


  There is concern at the proposal for VET student vouchers

The Commonwealth Government is relying on the Productivity Commission to help shape its next multi-year VET funding agreement with states and territories.

The Commission invited submissions on its Interim Report and yesterday had published 74 of them. I expect there are more to be uploaded as submissions from some peak bodies are missing. There is also only one from a university – with La Trobe University cautioning against policy proposals based on the premise that increasing university participation might be “sub-optimal.”

Across the submissions there is almost universal concern with the Commission’s proposals for more contestable funding and student vouchers. That said, there was a compelling argument made for more contestability, in the submission from the Alliance of First Nations’ Independent Education and Training Providers. The negative impact of the current funding agreement on Indigenous providers and learners is not widely recognised and must be urgently addressed.

Many submissions are concerned, as I am, with the Commission’s recommendations to treat TAFE as just another provider and hence increase contestability. I thought this was because most states had not articulated a clear role for TAFE and its consequent funding requirements. In my submission I missed that the role of TasTAFE has not only been articulated, it is legislated.

I was surprised at the strong level of support across the submissions for private providers to receive government funding – albeit some suggested a 30 percent funding cap.

The three government submissions (NSW, Tasmania and ACT) do not support nationally consistent student subsidies, but this funding reform may yet emerge given they support the National Skills Commission costing VET courses and this is likely to subsequently drive greater consistency.

The Australian Skills Quality Authority makes a very interesting, considered submission.

I will tease out more of the issues in a detailed analysis of the submissions on my website next week.

Griffith U launches savings proposals

The campaign begins for enterprise agreement variations

The university needs to make COVID 19 caused savings and yesterday put a proposal to staff. It follows the failure of talks on a unity ticket with the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (CMM yesterday).

Management will ask staff to give up the 2 per cent pay rise due in March. In return for the $10m savings the university promises to protect 80 FTE positions and for voluntary redundancies, “ahead of any retrenchment of staff.” However, there is no word on how many FTE staff or actual individuals the university may need to sack.

Among other commitments the university also offers “transparency” on finances, “with ongoing provision of financial statements.” This appears intended to address the NTEU demand that the university open its books to an independent committee including a union representative.

Any proposal to vary the enterprise agreement must be approved by a staff vote.

The two research funding questions

The collapse of international student fees is not the only issue 

In 2018 universities spent more of their own discretionary incomes on research and research training than they obtained from external competitive funding.

“The Australian Government has in recent years enjoyed the luxury of universities self-funding up to 50 percent of their R&D activities, principally from entrepreneurial fee-paying initiatives,” Frank Larkins (Uni Melbourne) sets out in a new paper for the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education.

But how the quantum was spent is a problem. In 2008,  50 per cent of university research was “basic-type research” which was down a decade later to 41 per cent.

“The trend away from basic research should be of concern because it is from university investigations that most of the fundamental discoveries are made. … It seems that universities are increasingly having to do more mission-oriented research because of the applied nature of directed funding and the lack of industry commitment.” Professor Larkins argues.

Which means there are now two research funding issues.  One is the need to replace the “several billion dollars” from their own earnings universities could spend on research, prior to the COVID-19 crunch.  Professor Larkins suggests the $900m National Priorities and Linkage Fund Minister Tehan proposes is a start. But it does not address the second; “it is clearly in the national interest for governments to increase their commitments to university research, including to basic research. It is through basic research that new knowledge is discovered leading to translational research and wealth creation for the nation.


The British Academy announces new corresponding fellows in Australia, Anne Cutler (Western Sydney U) and Ngaire Naffine (Uni Adelaide).

The Higher Education Research and Development Journal announces its 2019 article of the year; Peter Kilgour, Daniel Reynaud, Maria Northcote (all Avondale University College), Catherine McLoughlin (Australian Catholic U) and Kevin Gosselin (Honor Health Research Institute, Scottsdale Arizona), “Threshold concepts about on-line pedagogy for novice online teachers in higher education”