MOOC of the morning

Yvonne Breyer and colleagues have won a Macquarie U teaching award (below) for their MOOC, Excel Skills for Business (via Coursera). The course started in February ( CMM February 5) and the university reports it has had 60 000 starters. Coursera gave the course its outstanding educator award for transformation in June (CMM June 4).

Flinders to split academics into research or teaching roles

The academic restructure at Flinders University now seems unstoppable, with a  recommendation by Fair Work Commissioner Christopher Platt that, “the organisational change process should continue with some urgency.”

The restructure involves identified academics across the whole university variously being appointed to, competing for, research or teaching-specialist roles, or leaving.

The campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union has vigorously opposed the process, arguing it undervalues the work of teaching-research staff but management has won the industrial arguments it needed to roll-out the restructure (CMM October 2).

Yesterday Commissioner Platt recommended that union and management agree to the restructure process, saying “the operational change being embarked upon by the university appears genuine,” and that staff should know what the restructure means for substantive positions today week, with job outcomes settled by the middle of January.

The commissioner directed both sides to confirm acceptance of his recommendation yesterday, which CMM understands occurred.

There is no word on how many positions are involved as there are staff who have yet to express a preference for what jobs they want, or don’t. “We won’t prejudge how many people may transition into new positions, because that’s still being worked out with their input, “ Vice Chancellor Colin Stirling said last night.

But whatever occurs this is a big deal for Flinders. In 2016 Vice Chancellor Colin Stirling announced he wanted a new academic structure where, “new specialist academic roles will enhance our capacity to deliver exceptional educational programs and provide a career path for the finest educators. These new roles will enable us to increase our investment in outstanding research, building critical mass, and developing research leaders of the future (CMM May 23 2016).”

It looks like he is about to get it.

An uber for international education

The first choice aspiring international students often make isn’t an institution it’s an agent with an agenda. Which is where new on-line education counsellor Sofiri says it offers an alternative, providing independent peer-to-peer advice for students from people who work in education but aren’t obliged by an employer to pitch particular providers.  Advisers don’t get paid unless a student enrols with an institution they choose with a counsellor.

Sofiri launched in Australia in March and is now setting-up in China. It has 800 counsellors and 11 000 students registered and direct agreements with 42 institutions plus access to 300 further providers.

“We are a disruptor, doing to the old agent model what uber does to taxis,” Sofiri CEO George Hernandez says.

Labor’s plan for universities: independence and “national objectives”

While demand driven funding is not in the Labor Party platform for national conference next week – another ALP fave, “mission-based compacts”, are.  The platform includes regulatory ideas that will engage government with university planning “Labor supports mission-based compacts to encourage universities to pursue diverse missions, based on their strengths. Labor will invest in smaller and regional universities to develop their research capacity in areas of strategic capability,” the platform states.

And as for national interest, “Labor will ensure future funding for Australia’s public universities is driven by national objectives, while reflecting broader student demand and recognising the importance of meeting public good and labour market needs. Labor will ensure research activity is linked more deliberately to social impact and university engagement with community and industry.”

Not that this means telling researchers what to do, heavens no, “Labor will always defend our researchers’ integrity and independence. Science and research must be free of commercial influence and political interference. Previous Labor Governments restored the independence of the Australian Research Council, ensured the independence and autonomy of researchers working in our publicly funded research agencies and our universities. Labor will build on this record to develop a Science Integrity Charter across the Federal public sector.”

So, public funding will be driven by national objectives, but there will be no political interference in research – everybody clear on that?

For and against red tape

A Senate select committee inquiry into the effects of red tape on private education has found the reasons for differences in regulation of public and private providers “are not always clear.”

A report released, but largely un-noticed, from an inquiry chaired by Senator David Leyonhjelm, found “there is inequity in the provision of FEE-HELP to VET and higher education students who choose to enrol in courses offered by private providers.”

“The committee considers that the policy rationale underpinning the 25 per cent loan fee may not be justified. The committee has not received any statistical information regarding the Commonwealth’s lending costs to confirm that higher costs are indeed associated with managing debts incurred by students who enrol with private providers.”

But Labor senators on the committee are not all that bothered, pointing to the VET FEE HELP catastrophe as a reason for rigorously regulating private trainers.

“Experience has repeatedly shown that rent-seeking, and access to government funding in VET with limited regulation, has led to extreme outbreaks of malfeasance by unscrupulous private, profit seeking providers.”

Awards of the day

Marine ecologist Emma Johnston is the Royal Society of NSW’s 2018 Clarke medallist, “for outstanding research in the fields of zoology, botany, and geology.” Professor Johnston is dean of science at UNSW. UNSW botanist David Keith won the Clarke Medal last year.

Rowena Barrett (QUT) is awarded life membership of the ANZ Academy of Management.

The University of Queensland has awarded its Gatton Medal to agriculture and soil scientist Glen Simpson, “for improving the welfare of communities around the world.”

Matthew Roughan (University of Adelaide math sciences), is named a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery for contributions to Internet measurement and analysis.

Dolt of the day

Is CMM. Yesterday’s story on a speech by ANU chancellor Gareth Evans was headlined but did not appear in the email edition. The technical term for the problem is “404 stupid”. The story appeared on the website site.

Appointments, awards of the week

Director of the Australian Synchrotron, Andrew Peele, and RMIT research fellow, Victor Del Rio are on a panel of six scientists to advise on the development of a synchrotron in Mexico, which will have an, “order of magnitude in power improvements.”

 Greg Craven will continue as vice chancellor of the Australian Catholic University until 2022. Professor Craven became VC in 2008, joining from the University of Notre Dame.

Veteran Fairfax (remember Fairfax?) politics journalist Mark Kenny is joining ANU where he will be senior fellow at the Australia Studies Institute.

 Brian Castro (University of Adelaide) has won the poetry prize in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. John Edwards (Curtin U, adjunct professor) won the history category for the first volume of his John Curtin’s War.

Geordie Williamson from the University of Sydney is the Australian Mathematical Society medalist. Peter Taylor from the University of Melbourne receives the George Szekeres Medal for research. The Gavin Brown best paper prize goes to Nicholas BeatonJan de GierAnthony Guttmann ( Uni of Melbourne), Mireille Bousquet-Melou (Uni Bourdeaux) and Hugo Duminil-Copin (University of Geneva).

Maree O’Keefe,  Uni Adelaide, health and medical sciences, is the (UK based) Higher Education Academy’s 1000th principal fellowPrincipal fellows have, “wide-ranging academic or academic-related strategic leadership responsibilities in connection with key aspects of teaching and supporting learning.”

The University of Newcastle has announced its 2018 staff awards. The major category winners are: Teaching excellenceDenise Higgins (Health and Medicine). Professional staffJodie HerdenLyniece KeoghParis KnoxKathryn Sutherland (all Health and Medicine).  Early career researchersElise Kalokeronis (Science), Jordan Smith (Education and Arts). Research supervisorAnna Giacomini (Engineering and Built Environment).

La Trobe U’s (many) staff awards are also released. Winners in some of the notable categories are: VC awards for teaching excellenceBrian Grills (pathophysiology curriculum) and Professional writing team – Catherine PadmoreHester Joyce, and Tonya StebbinsResearch excellenceJosephine Barbaro from the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre and the 15 member Rural Medical Model Training TeamVC award for living La Trobe’s cultural qualitiesAntonia Lamanna.

Awards season rolls on, with Macquarie University announcing the vice chancellor’s Learning and Teaching awards. Major hons go to; Teaching ExcellencePenny Van Bergen (Human Sciences), Enhance Learning, Human Anatomy Program – Goran Strkalj,  Anneliese HulmeRichard AppleyardMirjana Strkalj and Michael RampeExcel Skills for Business – Yvonne BreyerNicole Bull, Phil GoodyPrashan KarunaratneTim Keighley and Nathan Sollars.