Plus University of Melbourne staff hang on for golden goodbyes

On song

If there was ever a case for a research impact metric this is, sort of it. The Canberra Times reports ANU music school maestro Peter Tregear led a choir that performed with the Rolling Stones at concerts on their current tour But will it rate for ERA?

Research active and angry

Australian Catholic University staff who have had their 2015 research time less reduced than removed (CMM Friday) were busy over the weekend compiling information from colleagues who are aggrieved by the hours they were allocated, more accurately not allocated. The local National Tertiary Education Union is working on a similar project and I’m guessing the two groups will share information in what will be a complex fight. Under the terms of the new enterprise agreement teaching-only is encouraged and staff who want to keep a viable research allocation will have to show management got their performance wrong.


Golden goodbye at Melbourne

The University of Melbourne’s Business Improvement Plan is rolling along with people at the top of middle management restructured in and out of jobs and work underway on fitting workers into the new shared services model. Yes jobs will go, headcounters say the plan is to lose 550 out of around 3500 administrators by the end of next year. But the university is adamant that attrition, rather than redundancy will reduce the payroll, which is not necessarily good news for everybody.

It seems staff, “fewer than 300” is all the university will say, have not applied for jobs in the new structure. Sure management expects some of them to send out CVs “as not all roles have yet been opened for expression of interest, we anticipate more staff will apply for future roles.” Good-oh, but there is another reason why up to 299 workers are waiting to be spilled out of a job – the prospect of a golden goodbye. Staff aged 45 and plus who started working at the university before the present enterprise agreement kicked in qualify for a 12 month redundancy payment, regardless of length of service.

Less so at LaTrobe

Out at La Trobe VC John Dewar has run his restructure by the book, explaining the need for change, addressing endless complaints and consulting to a point where no one (well, except the campus union) could consult anymore. In September even Fair Work Australia accepted that it was time for less talking and more doing – granting the National Tertiary Education Union three more weeks of consultation but saying after that Professor Dewar could get on with it.Yet even with the last delay done complaints about the process continue still. The NTEU is worried that a preference for employing staff with PhDs will mean the loss of 15 jobs in the school of education and hit the Bendigo campus hardest. “We call upon the university to demonstrate its stated commitment to regional campuses by giving equal weighting to excellence in teaching practice to the completion of doctoral qualifications,” NTEU La Trobe president Virginia Mansel Lees says. And if the university did education staff with doctorates would point out that it contradicted the university’s research strategy.

Expert experts

The Australian Research Council has announced research evaluation committee chairs for ERA 2015. Stephen Buckman (ANU) –physical, chemical and earth science, Graeme Turner (UoQ) – humanities and creative arts, Hugh Possingham (UoQ) – engineering and environment, Brenda Cherednichenko – education (Deakin), Leon Sterling (Swinburne) – maths and IT, Merlin Crossley (UNSW) – biology and biotech and Terry Nolan (UniMelbourne) – medicine and health. That’s five out of eight chairs from Group of Eight institutions – be interesting to see where the members of their committees come from.

Who would have thought

A University of Sydney management update graciously informs the plebeians that a report by health science dean Kathryn Refshauge has found staff, “are firmly committed to ensuring the wellbeing of students.” Senior managers were expecting anything else?

There is no over-supply, but if there is it’s not here

There is a new round in the teacher education debate, which inevitably leads to claims universities are churning out low quality graduates to meet non-existent needs. One way of neutralising the argument is to keep the focus on the need for more teachers, which Greg Craven, VC of top two teacher training ACU, is doing. According to Professor Craven, “an ageing teaching workforce combined with an increase in school student numbers over the next decade meant more, not fewer education graduates were needed.” Nola Alloway, arts and education dean at James Cook University agrees, “I often take calls from principals from northern Queensland schools asking to see the list of students who will be graduating, before they have actually graduated.” And Charles Sturt U lecturer James Deehan argues that talk of a NSW teacher over-supply is “unhelpful”, the result of a “beach over bush location preference.” “The uneven distribution of the casual teaching workforce means that areas such as inland NSW continue to have high demand for teachers despite the larger trends to the contrary.”

 Different audience, same message

Outgoing UK Open University chief Martin Bean has warned UK universities that they will render themselves irrelevant if they stick to the venerable classroom teaching model and do not adapt to digital delivery. I imagine he will have the same message for RMIT when he takes over as vice chancellor in February, which is maybe why it is retiring staff – nothing a new VC intent on change likes on day one than a gift wrapped war chest.

Camm to counter VET attack

The public VET lobby is pointing to shonks and spivs rorting state government training funding as reasons why the government should back away from allowing private providers access to publicly supported places. TAFE directors want an inquiry into the industry. Shadow training minister Sharon Bird wants, “the education minister to ensure there are no abuses of the VET Fee Help system by poor quality or unscrupulous providers.” And, what a surprise, the National Tertiary Education Union says public money for crook private providers makes the case for Canberra to cancel cash proposed for for-profit colleges in higher education. According to national president Jeannie Rea, “encouraging the expansion of private providers, without regard for what has occurred in the vocational education sector, will only see the same influx of sub-standard courses and reckless providers proliferate in higher education, to the detriment of students, employers and the reputation of Australia’s higher education sector.” Critics have a point, what with the way the previous funding model in Victoria was gamed and while colleges are in the news for running courses that cost government a bomb for not much.

The new head of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training, Rodd Camm knows it, which may be why the former CEO of Skills Queensland and NCVER chief is working on the principle that attack is the best form of defence. He acknowledges courses that are too short cause reputational harm but adds that ACPET will deal with it, sooner rather than later. Education Minister Pyne will hope he does – extending public funding to private colleges is a key element of deregulation and a fight over private provider quality is a distraction he does not need.

Days and days

This week there is a bunch of stuff to commemorate/celebrate/commiserate, including a fair dinkum remembrance day. For a start it is National Psychology and Spinal Cord Injury Awareness week. On Wednesday it is World Pneumonia Day and Sunday is Traffic Accident Victims day. Remembrance? Oh, yes, tomorrow is the 96th anniversary of the ceasefire that ended WWI. How long before somebody proposes a National Awareness Day Oversight Authority.

Citing retweets

Business Spectator names Byron Sharp the sixth best person in advertising to follow on Twitter. Quite right too. Professor Sharpe from the University of South Australia is a marketing scientist (it has laws as immutable as physics) whose research is impressive, or appalling if you think clever campaigns are what matters. But here’s hoping nobody tells Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane about this – I’m not sure the research community is ready for Twitter as a research impact measure.


Get it right

In big news out of Hobart the University of Tasmania has announced the University of Tasmania’s Menzies Research Institute Tasmania is now named the Menzies Institute for Medical Research. But UTas still insists on getting a mention, suggesting the research palace is referred to, as the University of Tasmania’s Menzies Institute for Medical Research. Maybe they should allocate themselves an awareness day.