No minister for Mensa

ANU called for a minister for intelligence, via Twitter yesterday. It was reference to national security oversight – sorry VCs with dreams of fitting authority

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Reporting changes can make it hard to know how many casuals universities employ. James Guthrie (Macquarie U) demonstrates the difficulty and why the actual numbers matter.

Michael Healy and Jason Brown on the new QS Employability rankings – on the need for way better ways to work which students get what work.


The test of time for uni casuals

Australian Catholic U assessed 2759 casuals for conversion to continuing employment under the new requirements of the Fair Work Act – it made offers to ten

The problem for just about everybody was that they either had less than 12 months of service or they had not worked a “regular pattern of hours” for six-months, as required under the rules.

This isn’t only at ACU. Less low than barely above ground offers is just about the universal outcome at universities CMM knows about. Which is good for universities that rely on employing casuals but very bad indeed for people who can teach all year – but do not meet the six-month test because semesters are not long enough.

Be interesting to know if there is the makings of an appeal in this.

ACU’s offers according to the Act went to six professional staff and four academics. The university also converted 21 FTE sessional academics to fixed-term or continuing teaching-focused roles under its Enterprise Agreement. That’s full-time equivalents, not actual people.


MOOC of the Morning

Is Uni Newcastle’s, “The science of weight loss: dispelling diet myths.” It starts this morning

Clare Collins and Tracy Burrows have run the course (via edX) for years. It shows how “to develop a healthy eating plan to achieve a healthy weight.” This is an excellent example of the MOOC as community service. It’s also brilliant branding for three Uni Newcastle qualifications 

RMIT quick off the blockchain

RMIT rates second in the world for teaching, research and service in this transformative technology

Industry research resource Coin Desk compares institutions working on the blockchain on a bunch of metrics of the university ranking kind.

After RMIT, UNSW rates 13th and Uni Sydney 20th., Uni Melbourne is 34th Monash U 48th, Uni Auckland is 85th, Uni Adelaide is 90th, UWA is 91st, ANU is 128th, and Uni Queensland is133rd.

There is way more to what blockchains can accomplish than crypto-currency, which RMITers have long got. “Blockchain has the potential to automate, and disintermediate, the institutions and services that underpin our lives. It could change how we interact on-line, who controls our information, and shift the incentives that guide businesses and cooperative systems,” economist Jason Potts and colleagues said in announcing the original RMIT study centre (CMM September 4 2017).

Word at RMIT is the ranking is also a win for university management, which backed researchers as they expanded into applying blockchains in utilities and the arts, for entrepreneurs and investors.

DVC (Business and Law) Julie Cogin is said to have had a bunch to do with that.

Macquarie U back to campus plan

Fully vaxed people get first access

The university will follow the state government’s three stage timetable. As of Monday, up to a third of fully vaccinated staff and research students can come to campus, with executive group members deciding who gets the nod in their various faculties and portfolios.

This increases to 80 per cent when NSW reaches that per cent fully vaxed, expected by October 25. Mandatory on-campus classes are due to start October 18, but there will be no large group on-campus classes in the November-January summer session.

As of December 1, “we estimate all staff will be able to return to campus, depending on the NSW Government rules in place,” but the university makes no mention of vax status.

The university “hope(s) to see a return to large group teaching, such as lectures in a number of units of study” from end January.

Grad stats in a hard year

Graduate employment last year was disrupted by the pandemic – but by mid-ear it looked like employment as usual-ish

The Graduate Outcomes Survey (from the Social Research Centre) finds that by May ’21 FT employment of recent graduates was at 72 per cent, close to the 2019 comparison – although the SRC points out May was before the latest lockdowns.

As usual, new graduates with generalist degrees, in HASS and creative arts for example, can take longer to get a career start while pharmacists, medical doctors and vets had highest rates for FT work.

Perhaps reflecting hard employment times, just over 21 per cent of 21 UG completers were in further study six months later, 2.5 per cent more than in ’20.

Less desirable property at UTS

The university has sold three of its four student accommodation blocks

Buyer is Scape, which is big in London and obviously optimistic about Sydney.

It’s new Redfern accommodation high-rise is where the 250 international student cohorts will serve their quarantine.  All up, the company will have 6300 beds in Sydney. UTS is not disclosing the sale price but Vice Chancellor Attila Brungs says, the sale will “help the university deal with the financial challenges brought about by the global pandemic in a way that doesn’t impact upon our core business of teaching and research.”

As James Guthrie points out, UTS had a big investment in property prior pandemic and relied heavily on international student fees (CMM August 1).


Aus education innovation: more than an emergency response  


A raft of teaching and learning practices were being developed well before COVID-19

Much of the discussion in the sector over the last 18 months has focussed on the challenges of shifting overnight to fully on-line delivery.

While this was a significant sector-wide challenge, we should not ignore the raft of innovative teaching and learning practices which were changing education well before COVID-19.

One of the more innovative examples is the University of Queensland’s RiPPLE platform. Dr Hassan Khosravi in the university’s Institute for Teaching and Learning Innovation wanted to provide more personalised learning opportunities to students, even across very large cohorts. RiPPLE therefore uses algorithms to adapt learning materials based on student performance, to estimate each student’s skills, and to actively monitor student progress. Not only is there less need for on-going teacher feedback, but it is the students who are the content creators on the platform, as they participate in different learning activities. To ensure the integrity of the resources, Dr Khosravi has patented a methodology to determine the quality of the learner-developed content.

Uni Queensland is not alone in bringing innovation to teaching and learning. There are many other examples across the university sector of virtual and augmented reality in use (particularly in the sciences); of gamification (including virtual escape rooms) being used to engage students, reduce attrition and improve academic performance; and assessments requiring students to develop apps to solve real world problems.

In the VET sector too, there was considerable innovation in online learning underway pre-pandemic. TAFE NSW launched TAFE Digital in 2018 and pre-COVID it had 47 innovation projects underway, eight AR/VR prototypes in development, and had produced 2,500 digital course assets. Its learner analytics are used to improve student achievement and reduce attrition. The NSW government has in turn used this innovation to support more virtual VET in Schools activity.

And private providers have also been harnessing the best in EdTech – either in partnership, e.g. UP Education’s partnership with Swinburne University to deliver their online VET programs through ‘Swinburne Open Education’, or through their own accredited and non-accredited offerings e.g. Academy Xi, DDLS, General Assembly, Generation Australia, and Goanna Education’s involvement in the Victorian government’s Digital Jobs Program.

 Claire Field is an advisor to the tertiary education sector

Asking about research integrity

The Australian Academy of Science and for-profit journal giant Springer Nature are conducting a national survey

It’s a re-run of the survey conducted last year, which was apparently so successful the partners want more responses. The goal is to “understand the perceptions of Australian-based researchers towards good research practices and research integrity, and to assess the current levels of training in research practices, data management and research integrity in Australian institutions.”

The survey asks responders for their definition of research integrity and to rate 12 attributes of research design on a five-point scale, followed by a range of questions about how research integrity is communicated and managed at their (unnamed) institution.

There are also questions about open access, whether responders’ institutions, “recommend data repositories for open sharing” and if they “actively encourages open access publishing” – which are undoubtedly relevant to research integrity, just in ways that escape CMM.

The academy and publisher will use the results “to help develop directives for change to be shared across the sector.” Which raises another question – since when do commercial publishers issue directives to researchers.

Appointments, Achievements

At Uni Wollongong, Corinne Cortese starts as interim dean of Graduate Research. Hers is an internal appointment.

Birgit Loch is moving from La Trobe U to Uni New England, to become faculty dean of Science, Agriculture, Business and Law.

Ken Sloan (VC Enterprise and Governance) leaves Monash U this week, on his way to start as VC of Harper Adams U in the UK. VP Government Relations Damien Farrell will act in Professor Sloan’s portfolio.

The International Education Association of Australia announces its 2021 Awards;

Distinguished contribution: Peter Burgess (EdBIz), Shanton Chang (Uni Melbourne)

Leadership: Brett Blacker (English Australia)

Rising star: Thomson Ch’ng (ASEAN-Aus Education Dialogue)

Best practice (student driver delivery):   Zana Bytheway, (JobWatch), Gino Carrafa (D’Accord OAS), Olivia Doyle (Swinburne U), Steve Kirkbright (Swinburne U), Gabrielle Marchetti (JobWatch), Annie Peake (Swinburne U), Peta Simpson (Fit2Drive Foundation), Desma Smith (Swinburne U)

Best practice (information systems): Bardo Fraunholz, Lasitha Dharmasena, Craig Parker, Harsh Suri, Van-Hau Trieu, Vivek Venkiteswaran (all Deakin U)

Innovation (virtual programme): Australian Consortium for ‘In-Country’ Indonesian Studies

Innovation: Anita van Rooyen (Confidence Crew)

Professional commentary: Ly Tran (Deakin U)

Life membership: Betty Leask (La Trobe U)