After months of worry finance, IT and AGSM workers are finally getting the bad news

 plus marvellous MOOC! UniTas takes a course on dementia to China

 Late starter at 50 LaTrobe U launches its first fundraiser  

Deakin app-lauds

Deakin U does well in presenting itself as student-focused, demonstrated by a new  top ten apps for undergrads. It’s a great idea and you can hardly blame the deakins if number ten is a campus guide, for, of course, Deakin. Hah! As if there are others worth exploring.

MOOC of this (and many more) mornings

The Wicking Dementia Research Centre at the University of Tasmania is expanding the reach of its excellent work, with the translation into Chinese of its marvellous MOOC, Preventing Dementia. The course explains the good that moderating risk factors can do. The MOOC will launch in China in May.

This is just brilliant – foreign aid that will really help people. The World Health Organisation estimates there will be 14m people in China with dementia by decade’s end, making a huge market for information. And as a way of expanding opportunities, and funding for Wicking’s work it is hard, strike that, impossible to beat, at least until Wicking starts taking this and its earlier hit Understanding Dementia, MOOC to other language markets. Spanish could be a start.

This is not the only recent example of the University of Tasmania recognising that a great way to educate in China is to do it in Chinese. The university’s Australian Maritime College has just completed a course on shipping for academics from Guangzhou Maritime University taught in Chinese (CMM March 9).

Staff cuts at USW

At UNSW word is some 159 professional staff positions in finance, IT and at the Australian Graduate School of Management are set to be disestablished. It seems staff who are disestablished are invited to apply for a job that involves some functions of their old role but for less money. Last night the university confirmed “a workplace change proposal has been presented to staff in its Finance and IT departments, and to staff in the AGSM. Management teams in these areas are consulting staff and getting feedback on the ideas and proposed changes.” A spokeswoman did not comment on the number of people involved, only stating “this process is still underway and until it is completed we will not know the impact on current staff.”

Two other big UNSW issues are also bubbling along. The campus branch of the NTEU warns academic staff there is not enough information for anybody to take on one of the proposed teaching-only roles and it is convening staff-student forums to oppose management’s proposed summer teaching session.

Gosh, thanks

Last night UNSW VC Ian Jacobs told all staff that; “change on this scale is not easy, particularly when it concerns structural change involving people we work alongside, admire and respect. We will progress these developments as rapidly as is possible through proper consultation and planning so as to minimise the stress and uncertainty for staff involved.”

This must have cheered people no end who are receiving bad news, especially the bit that sounds like they are losing out for the greater good.

“The steps we are taking will establish services that are fit for the challenge we face in delivering our aspirations in a highly competitive higher education sector. Importantly, they will also allow us to increase by 9% the number of professional and academic staff positions at UNSW during the implementation of Strategy 2025, have well defined career pathways, and create new employment opportunities for our community,” Professor Jacobs wrote.

Business as usual

There is some good news in apprentice and trainee starts in the September quarter announced yesterday – they’re up 2.9 per cent on third quarter ’16. This ends a decline over six consecutive quarters.  But only some good news, year on year they were down 3.8 per cent and attrition was up by 25 per cent.

No details is the devil

The terms of engagement are set for the coming bout between University of Melbourne management and the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union for the heavy-weight enterprise bargaining belt. The university set out what it wants in the agreement, to which the union has replied with a commentary that the people who wrote Amazon’s 73 000 word conditions (thanks Choice) could condense.

The rules of the IR game ensure this, rules the university wants to change and the union wants to keep. The university appears to agree with its industry-group, the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association in wanting shorter and simpler agreements which provide management with more flexibility in managing staff. The union wants to keep a mass of details setting out terms and conditions, which can be very useful in making cases before the Fair Work Commission. This difference is fundamental to the stalled talks at Murdoch U.

The dispute over details at UniMelb will be especially important during the life of the next agreement as management rolls-out the new teaching model (CMM February 24 2016), now being developed for over a year. Thus, the NTEU claims management has taken consulting the union on changes out of its proposals. There are other major issues in disputemanagement wants separate academic and professional staff agreements, the union wants one, the union is worried by what it sees as risks to academic freedom but the big deal is in the detail – or the lack of it.

Finally, at 50!

To celebrate its 50th anniversary La Trobe U has launched its first (yes, really) fund raising campaign with a $50m target. It starts strongly with two $1m commitments from La Trobe graduates Andrew Abercrombie and Radek Sali. Vice Chancellor John Dewar and Chancellor Richard Larkins have also kicked in $100k each. Adjunct professor Ahmed Fahour (yes the ex Australia Post CEO) will fund two scholarships for women, “over the next few years.” Professor Dewar says all up the university has commitments of $20m.

Applied research shapes agenda

The Group of Eight publishes Les Rymer’s closely argued case why a decline in public investment in basic research is very bad indeed; “this decreased emphasis on basic research within universities suggests that universities are changing their role within the innovation system – and the question has to be whether this is deliberate, the intended outcome of explicit policies or strategies.”

Good questions –just ones that needed to be made two years ago when then industry minister Ian Macfarlane made it plain applied research was at the heart of government policy (CMM May 27 2015). It still is, witness the prime minister’s innovation agenda and the engagement and impact metrics that will be fundamental to the next iteration of the Australian Research Council’s research assessment exercise next year. As Education Minister Simon Birmingham said in November, research assessment is “to ensure that taxpayer funds (are) being targeted at research and initiatives that would ultimately pay dividends for Australian young people, old people, mums and dads,” and about “testing how we can measure the value of research against things that mean something, rather than only allocating funding to researchers who spend their time trying to get published in journals.” (CMM November 22).

This not necessarily bad for high science, as government support for quantum computing demonstrates, but for the time being research funding comes with pragmatic, if not populist strings attached.


the week’s winners at work


The American Educational Research Association has named University of Melbourne laureate professor in education John Hattie an “outstanding reviewer” for its journal, Education Researcher, in 2016. Professor Hattie chairs the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership.

 Linda Trenberth is to be Vice Provost (Academic and Equity) at Victoria University of Wellington. She moves from Griffith U where she is the business school’s academic dean.

Rodney Scott is named a laureate professor at the University of Newcastle for his “remarkable research career and outstanding contributions in the field of genetics in medicine.”

Stephen Gerlach will continue as chancellor of Flinders U for a third four-year term, taking him through until 2022. Mr Gerlach is a lawyer and prominent member of major business boards.

The University of Sydney has a rush of senior starts, including Tanya Rhodes-Taylor who joins as vice principal for external relations and Stephen Phillips, v-p operations.

Griffith University VC Ian O’Connor is the new chair of the Queensland Art Gallery Board of Trustees. He replaces QUT’Sue Street.

Joanne Tompkins is the Australian Research Council’s new executive director for the humanities and creative arts. She joins from the University of Queensland where she is now associate dean research in the humanities and social science faculty.