Employment conditions must change to meet the challenges of flexible delivery and digitisation

 plus the slippery slope of paraphrasing software

 and OUA’s big hire to focus on the student experience

Grapes of right

The ANU Wine Society is holding a tasting today. CMM wonders if any wines from VC Brian Schmidt’s vineyard are selected.

Missed message

Students protested at UNSW yesterday, supporting staff suffering in a restructure and opposing management’s plan for a new teaching period over summer. “We consider that timetable restructure goes hand in hand with potentially hundreds of staff redundancies, faculty restructures and course cuts. Students hold strong concerns that trimesters will result in both mass job losses and remaining overworked staff who have to place content within shorter teaching periods,” Student Representative Council Education Officer Dylan Lloyd, told his members.

The SRC says 1000 students turned out to protest and 2000 of then have signed a position opposing the next teaching structure.

The protest was planned for under Vice Chancellor Ian Jacobs’ office window but a recent reorganisation of the chancellery meant consultants working on the restructure heard all about it instead. CMM suspects they heard, but did not get the message.

What’s Mandarin for “Blow the man down” ?

Australian Maritime College (part of UTasmania) has just completed a course on the shipping industry for academics from the Guangzhou Maritime University – and they taught it in Mandarin. This is just brilliant – training in consumers’ language rather than expecting them to struggle through technical subjects in English is a whole new market for export education. But it did it include shanties?

Nursing hopes for clinical places

The University of the Sunshine Coast has moved into new digs at the coast’s super-sparkly new hospital, which give “USC students access to some of the best health education facilities in Australia.” But health education means nursing not medicine. Hopes for a university with a medical school, perhaps Griffith, to allocate places for clinical training there are stalled by the feds refusing to fund them. There should be news one way or another in the review of the distribution of medical school places, commissioned by Assistant Minister for Health David Gillespie. Observers suggest the rural health conference in Cairns at the end of April might be appropriate for an announcement.

Colour of money is green

Monash University’s green bond has won a gong at the Climate Bonds Initiative conference in London for being the first university anywhere to issue green debt. The $218m raising supports projects including low carbon building development, solar energy installation and LED lighting, all intended to reach Monash’s net zero emissions ambition.

OUA’s big hire

Open Universities Australia was big in digital delivery before online courses were all massive and open but times are tougher now that everybody’s a MOOC magister. This might be why OUA is staffing up in user services appointing serial online entrepreneur Andy Sheats as executive general manager for student experience. Mr Sheats is best known for his work in property marketing, building behemoth realestate.com.au.

This is a more tailored fit with OUA as it sounds, Mr Sheats says he will use the organisation’s two decades of data to, “enhance the student experience and help students make more informed decisions about what and where to study.”

“Choosing the right course is an important factor in completing a degree and realising the personal benefit. …  If you don’t find the right fit then no matter how good the delivery is, it’s unlikely you will follow through to completion.”

CSIRO and Swinburne joint appointment

Swinburne scientist Sally Macarthur is taking up a joint appointment with the CSIRO. She will build a transdisciplinary team across both institutions working on 3D in vitro cell culture systems in health and medical research.

Uninspired paraphrase

Plagiarism is escalating from cut and paste to paraphrasing, with students using internet tools to take text and turn it into words they claim as their own. Ann Rogerson and Grace McCarthy from the University of Wollongong explain what is going, why it is wrong and what can be done about it in a new journal article,  here. Which in terms of plagiarism detection software is not much. “Tools contracted to identify original source materials cannot necessarily be used at this time to identify where writing has been repurposed,” they write.

This, they add, makes for a problem for academics with big classes and a bunch of students who don’t see anything wrong with “repurposed writing”. “There is a fine line between use of paraphrasing tools and the use of tools to plagiarise, however it is only through open discussion that students will learn to appreciate the benefits of articulating their understanding in their own words with the appropriate acknowledgement of sources.”Perhaps CMM is missing something but there seems less of a fine line between plagiarism and using e-paraphrase programmes as no line at all. Original work the latter is not. But how hard is it to find – undoubtedly very amongst a mass of averagely written undergraduate essays. CMM fed Ben Chifley ’s  famous “Light on the Hill” statement of the Labor creed into a paraphrase engine and came up with sludge which could pass for bad, but original writing. Apart from the giveaway, the speech was about “the slope on the hill.”

CRC updates

More news this morning on membership of new CRCs (CMM yesterday). Charles Sturt University is a member of the Food Agility CRC, with QUT, UTS and Curtin U as well as the High Performance Soils CRC. Flinders is a member of the transport iMove CRC with QUT.

Lovegrove confirmed

Bill Lovegrove is confirmed as president of the Nan Tien Institute, “Australia’s first government accredited tertiary institution grounded in Buddhist wisdom and values.” Professor Lovegrove has acted in the job since February 2016. He is a former DVC at Griffith U and was VC of the University of Southern Queensland for eight years until 2011. The Institute is headquartered in the NSW Illawarra, south of Sydney adjacent to an especially imposing Buddhist temple.

What vice chancellors want, simpler staff agreements, more flexible workforces and did they mention money?

As university managements in Western Australia signal a much tougher enterprise bargaining approach than previous, consultants Lee Hecht Harrison have talked to university managements, including “high-profile progressive vice chancellors,” on how to build on the Australian Higher Education Association’s blueprint for change, released a year back (CMM February 4 2016).  The report includes acres of consultant-copy on leadership, industry engagement and opportunities among other issues, but for university staff wondering what management wants the emphasis on workplace change is especially interesting. The report is circulating among university management’s now.

Who talked: Strangely the “high-profile” VCs are not so lofty as to be named in the report but LHH does report it variously talked to VCs, DVCs and HR directors from Group of Eight and what it calls regional and technology universities. However, it lists contacts with; Australian Catholic U, Charles Sturt U, Edith Cowan U, Flinders U, LaTrobe U, Macquarie U, UniNewcastle, QUT, UNSW, Swinburne, UniWollongong, UniAuckland and Western Sydney U.

The big issue: Is what it always is; underfunding, absence of resources, incomplete cash – and did they tell you how they can’t continue without more money. “We must find a mechanism that increases the unit of research investment and the funding per student, we simply must find more money to keep delivering at a similar level of quality,” one VC is quoted as saying.  Although one suggested that existing resources are not being well-spent by research agencies; “When we look at CSIRO, ARC, NHMRC, ANSTO and pool all these resources we really need to ask the question [of] how this research funding is configured and if we are indeed obtaining the best value. My view is that we are not.”

What they want to do: What indeed, with a range of opinions that will have AHEIA up and applauding, people focused on improving productivity. “We need to have the ability to manage our workforce much more flexibly than we currently do. There are rising expectations on universities to do more with less, yet we often need to contend with industrial agreements that are out of step with the modern demands pertaining to fiscal responsibilities, flexible delivery of education and the digitisation of our sector,” a HR director said. And a VC blamed enterprise agreements for the high use of casual staff. “The unions are very concerned about the ongoing casualisation of the sector and frankly so are we. Yet due to the very restrictive and expensive provisions in these agreements universities are being forced to employ more casual staff in order to flexibly adapt to the changing demands of the sector. An undesired outcome for all.”

Change is coming: And no, this is not all talking tough before the bargaining starts. As one VC puts it; “once upon a time, universities were in the business of creating and curating knowledge. Much of the new knowledge nowadays is not created in universities but in the private sector and Google does the curating. We need to move to the space of making knowledge useful.”