The way they work now

“The nature of our often highly devolved and locally idiosyncratic ways of delivering these services is not efficient,” Macquarie U VC S Bruce Dowton on the need to change admin working practises, staff message yesterday (scroll down for news on job losses).

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Garry Carnegie and Lee Parker (RMIT) respond to Merlin Crossley on performance metrics and the way universities use them.

Tom Smith and James Guthrie (Macquarie U) on how universities report staff numbers – the case of UNSW.

Mollie Dollinger (La Trobe U) makes the case for student partnerships, at a same distance. It’s Commissioning Editor Sally Kift’s new selection for her series on what’s needed now in teaching and learning.

Ways of the day to improve ERA

The Australian Research Council is reviewing its two research metric schemes, Excellence for Research in Australia, and Engagement and Impact. James Cook U has ideas

JCU’s submission to the review argues, “ERA, in its current form, is past its use-by date.”  And there are “several refinements and developments” that “should be considered.”

Recommendations in a policy-rich submission include;


* expand the comparison base for Australian research performance, for example by including, Netherlands, Canada, UK, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden and New Zealand. “This would provide a ‘reality check’ to validate where Australian research sits.”

* switching peer-reviewed FORs to citation analysis, where “fair and robust”

* establish a separate report for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research, using data from ERA, EI, NHMRC and ARC grant outcomes. The use of “world standard” measures for ATSI research is problematic; “the appropriate measure here is less academic quality per se (although sound scholarship is expected) but rather, quality in terms of fit-for-purpose to inform policy, implementation, and practice, including dynamic, generative cultural practice.”


* provide for “external verification” of claims by including URLs for evidence

* use two-digit socio-economic objective codes as “the organising principle”

* as for the engagement indicators, “the fundamental driver of engagement is the quality, calibre, sustainability, and nature of the relationships between the end-users and the researchers/research groups. There are no simple or adequate metrics to quantify the nuances of such relationships particularly in a robust fashion consistent across institutions.”

Overall, if methodological flaws are addressed both exercises could usefully occur every three years, JCU suggests.

Get the word out

The ARC plans to release submissions to the research metrics review after it is out, which seems a bit late for a debate. So, CMM will report and/or link to, as many submissions as it can – send them in people.

ReMaking Higher Education

Our conference starts Monday

And it wraps next Friday with Iain Martin (VC Deakin U) and Adam Shoemaker (incoming VC, Victoria U) on the way forward in 2021. How to be part of it here.

Staff to go at Macquarie U – more will follow

The university has approved 269 people for voluntary redundancy

 Vice Chancellor S Bruce Dowton announced the VR round in August, warning that if “insufficient staff” were accepted for VRs, “we would then move to consider a range of workplace change processes,” (CMM August 19).

Which he has begun to announce.

Academic staff: no workplace change proposals this year but “likely redundancies, in all four faculties in the first quarter of 2021

Professional staff: change proposals mid-month for IT, Finance, and PVC (Learning and Teaching) portfolio. Proposals “will be informed by the outcomes of the voluntary redundancy scheme.”

More redundancies: Including the savings from VRs the university is still short $88.5m. “It is inevitable that further reductions in staff costs are needed,” Professor Dowton says. They will come from “continuing staff, fixed-term staff, casuals, and contractors.”

Change for administrators:  The Professional Services Transformation project rolls-on. “The nature of our often highly devolved and locally idiosyncratic ways of delivering these services is not efficient. Neither does it deliver these services at a level of sustainable quality that our students, colleagues and our external partners need.  This is not a reflection on our professional staff – we have talented, committed, and highly capable professional staff. Rather, it is about how we work, including our processes, systems, and structures.”

Change for academics: The VC points to “internal support in the research enterprise,” and “re-inventing some of the fundamental approaches to pedagogy to meet the changing needs and aspirations of our students.”

Avoiding double bookings

Universities and research agencies that receive Commonwealth funding would be subject to the federal government’s proposed integrity commission 

The bill proposes that an inquiry into corruption in universities or the integrity of staff members must be held in private. Presumably the commission will check with state anti-corruption agencies so nobody is ever double booked.

Claire Field sees hope for international education


Bright spots are emerging in the doom and gloom that COVID-19 has brought to international education – although some may warrant a closer look

Firstly it is a credit to institutions, like Uni Sydney, which has, so far, done better than they expected (CMM October 28) when the pandemic hit. While institutional reputation may be a partial explanation, other relevant factors include: the extent of online delivery offered by different institutions and/or their ability to quickly scale up quality online delivery, and their international student demographics.

The decision by the Chinese government to recognise overseas qualifications where students studied fully online due to COVID-19, has been a bonus for Chinese international students and the providers who educate them. Many existing students have continued with their studies and new students have mostly commenced as planned.In India, by contrast the government has not yet recognised fully on-line delivery by overseas institutions, despite extensive efforts to move domestic education online during COVID. This has created significant challenges for Australian universities with a high proportion of Indian students.

Overall international VET commencements also continue to impress in the circumstances – up a modest 4.5% nationally at August 2020 compared with August 2019 (CMM October 21).

However, the national picture hides some unusual trends: international VET commencements are up 22.8 per cent in South Australia and 65.7 p er cent in the NT. While international student numbers are relatively modest in both of these jurisdictions and international higher education commencements were also better in SA and the NT than they were nationally, the VET figures nonetheless appear anomalous.

Given the lack of provider-level data in VET it is difficult to determine if the SA and NT figures should be celebrated or investigated. It is something the sector and ASQA need to focus on.

Claire is an advisor to the tertiary education sector and has been engaged by ASQA to facilitate consultations as part of the development of its new self-assurance regulatory model.

Appointments, achievements

ABC TV’s Catalyst wins the American Institute of Physics broadcast and new media award for Tamara Davis’s (Uni Queensland) programme on black holes, screened in February.

Nelson Tansu is the new head of Uni Adelaide’s School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. He joins from Lehigh U in Pennsylvania.

The 2020 edX prize for on-line teaching and learning has a short-list. The team that created Curtin U’s micromasters on the Internet of Things is one of the global ten.  Members are, Iain Murray, Nazanin Mohammadi, Cesar Ortega-Sanchez, Johannes Herrmann and Valerie Maxville.

Melissa de Zwart (Uni Adelaide) is elected chair of the Council of Australian Law Deans.

Where the new Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards are

Some 200 early career researchers share $84m in ARC funding – they are just 17 per cent of those that applied

The big six account for 126 of the Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards, with the two Group of Eight outliers bringing the Go8’s total share to 67 per cent. The split by institution is; Uni Melbourne 24, Uni Sydney 24, UNSW 22, Uni Queensland 21, ANU 18, Monash U 17, Uni Adelaide four, UWA four.

Other universities with more than five or more awards are; UTS seven, James Cook U six, QUT six,  Uni Wollongong six, Deakin U five and Western Sydney U five.

Projects that intrigue CMM include, (it’s a field limited by his not having a clue what many of them are about).

Wei Lin (UTS): antennae technology for battery free internet of things

Yanjun Zhou (Uni Southern Queensland): origins of exo-planets in our galaxy

Aaron McFadyen (QUT): drones for urban transport

Hilary Howes (ANU): 19th century Russian collections of ANZ and Pacific Indigenous human remains

Mingkal Jiang (WSU): eucalypt response to climate change

Yevgeny Stadnik (Uni Sydney): new tools to search for dark matter

Sarah Clement (UWA): governance in bushfire management

Anna Hogan: (Uni Queensland): philanthropy in public schooling

Linda Armbrecht:(Uni Adelaide): ancient DNA to uncover climate change in Antarctica

Erin O’Brien (QUT): ethical consumerism to combat modern slavery

Qing Wu (CQU): supercomputing to assess rail-track safety

Discovery Indigenous awards

There are nine new projects funded by the ARC

They share $7.1m with a success rate of 38 per cent. All but one projects are multi-researcher with lead investigators and administering universities being;

Marnee Shay (Uni Queensland): co-designing Indigenous education policy

Michael-Shawn Fletcher (Uni Melbourne): changes in bushfire behaviour from Indigenous to “British” management

Bep Uink (Murdoch U): covert racism faced by Indigenous youth

Naomi Sunderland (Griffith U): First Nations’ music as determinant of health

Dale Chapman (Uni Queensland): towards an Indigenous-led bush food industry

Kevin Lowe (UNSW): Indigenous content in curriculum

Maggie Walter (solo researcher-Uni Tasmania): initiating an Indigenous lifecourse research agenda

Chelsea Bond (Uni Queensland): Indigenist Health Humanities. “Advancing new knowledge, advancing research careers and advancing health outcomes for Indigenous people.”

B J Newton (UNSW): lived experiences and outcomes of Aboriginal parents whose children are restored from care.

What the new industry linkage fund should do

The government intends to create a National Priorities and Industry Linkage Fund which will reward universities for improving graduate employability and connecting with business. Problem is the proposed way it will work is lost in a thicket of metrics

Fortunately, the Innovative Research Universities group is never daunted by policy weeds and presents eight recommendations on how the fund can work, in a submission to the discussion paper.

But while these are complex IRU’s overall message isn’t; “behind the general metrics and the specific programmes and projects sits the general activity of the universities to ensure a good education for students that leads to good graduate employment outcomes.  It is important that NPILF does not overwhelm that core activity.”

Dolt of the day


On October 30 CMM mentioned a Radio New Zealand story (October 15) that the Auditor General has asked Uni Auckland about its purchasing a house for VC Dawn Freshwater  (ex UWA).

This bothers Todd Somerville (Uni Auckland’s associate director comms) who wants it known the university bought the house, which Professor Freshwater rents.

According to the RNZ story, the Auditor General’s interest was in regard to the purchase as a use of university resources.