Service culture

Michael Spence nominates student services as the University of Sydney’s top priority for 2014. The Vice Chancellor told a staff forum last week that he hoped new technology would end the days when staff told students, “Well I’d love to help you but sorry you’re at the wrong counter”. Dr Spence added that, as a matter of principle, academics should only undertake student administration tasks that are, well academic.

Hard hand in the velvet glover

The standoff at the University of Western Sydney over a new enterprise agreement continues but it looks like that management is winning the bloody-mindedness contest. The last meeting between union negotiators and university could not agree on a heads of agreement and while working conditions for professional staff are said to be settled there is nothing that even looks like the basis of a deal on academic workloads, especially for teaching only roles. Nor is there an agreement on pay. The word is that new vice chancellor Barney Glover has stayed out of negotiations up to now. Understandably so, it would not be wise for the VC to get into a fight that was a year old before he arrived. But the union has had enough and would welcome his intervention. It’s a great opportunity for Professor Glover to settle a blue that has gone on too long and stamp his authority on management and union both.

MOOCs as social service

The University of Tasmania has 10 000 starters for its MOOC on dementia which goes live today. This is a great idea – it builds the university brand and it extends the university’s expertise with a global audience. My guess is that it could also generate a new revenue stream for universities, providing courses in areas where there is a community demand for all sorts of information, especially in health and welfare. If there is a reason why government should not sponsor such community education programs I can’t see it. A MOOC on vaccination just now would also do some good.

Old argument at Newcastle

The NTEU at the University of Newcastle is also looking for an industrial circuit breaker. The campus branch is asking staff to vote for action in a Fair Work Australia ballot opening on Friday and running until April 23. According to the union it is time to give management a gee-up given not much is settled after a year of bargaining. Indeed, of the 36 issues the union lists barely ten are agreed. Most of the outstanding issues are not major, but some are hugely important. Like the union’s national campaign to create career paths for at least some casuals. As at universities across the country, this seems way short of creating the career paths for more sessional staff the national union wants. Nor is there an agreement on academic workloads – which is surely at the heart of any enterprise deal. And there isn’t a word about money. At this rate there will be no deal by the budget – which may give management a whole new bunch of excuses for not offering much.

Country practise

A James Cook University survey of its medical graduates finds that those who grew up outsides cities are more likely to work in rural and regional areas. According to JCU’s Director of Medical Education Tarun Sen Gupta, this will make a difference over time to doctor numbers. I give it to lunchtime today before advocates of the Charles Sturt and La Trobe universities proposed Murray Darling Medical School start quoting the survey. That southeast regional Australia needs a country medical school to increase doctors in the bush is a core argument used by MDMS advocates.

Cyrious subject

There is a Journal of Bruce Springsteen studies and all sorts of courses on his work, including one at Rutgers on his theology. But while there is plenty to study in the bible on the Boss, surely not Miley Cyrus. Well if you thought so you are wrong. Students at flash liberal arts college Skidmore can find out in Carolyn Chernoff’s unit, “the Sociology of Miley Cyrus: Race, Class, Gender, and Media,” which starts mid-year. And there I was thinking Hannah Montana is a place.

Not so desirable property

I would not be a normal week in the west without news of more people leaving Curtin University. The property programs in the business school are said to have taken a big hit, with senior staff going last Friday and the survivors being integrated with the economists.

But what did he really think?

“Been told I’m not allowed to append a 400 page tax record to an evidence exam question for some forensic accounting fun. This bites.” “ ‘This is why we don’t let you write exams blah, can’t fail everyone blah blah fairness blahdy blah the dean spewed blah…’ ”, a prominent citizen of the Republic of Twitter and faculty member at a well-regarded university tweeted on Friday. Names are withheld to protect the outraged.

Good sport award

For this Monday goes to Charles Sturt University VC Andy Vann. He posed for a picture with “Kieran the walking condom” at the CSU Wellness Expo on Friday.  (Kieran’ is the bloke with a green jumper over his head).