Blather of the morning

Monash U comms uplifts updates

“The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that now more than ever, communicating clearly and concisely is of paramount importance. In the spirit of clear and concise communication, we have once again uplifted our COVID-19 updates site,” news from the MU staff intranet.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Students don’t commute to campus for lectures – but there’s no substitute for in-person, “active-learning” projects. Peter Goodyear on  designing for learning. It’s a new essay in Commissioning Editor Sally Kift’s series on what we need now in teaching.

Merlin Crossley makes the case for eradicating the virus before opening the economy.

Four experts on building powerful on-line learning communities.

Travel may broaden the mind

Then again, so does staying at home to study

The Universitas 21 network of research universities  reports a new study of international education that finds; “students do not need to travel abroad to gain new perspectives and skills which can enhance their personal development and employability. As the global higher education sector faces a period of travel restrictions and financial uncertainty in the wake of Covid-19, the knowledge that local, community based activities can be equally beneficial will be critical to universities as they strive to continue offering well-rounded student experiences.”

And won’t this go down well at international student dependent and Universitas 21 members, Uni Melbourne, Uni Queensland, UNSW.

ATAR allies argue on

The ATAR is not especially sprightly just now, with opponents warning COVID-19 only adds to its unfitness for purpose

But its friends insist that it is still breathing and is not for the policy plague cart.

In NSW, the Universities Admission Centre regularly argues the ATAR will work this year. And federal education minister Dan Tehan says the Australian Curriculum and Assessment Authority has worked on a national-approach to using the ATAR, since the last education minco, a couple of weeks back. Mr Tehan says he expects to have a prop for state and territory ministers next month.

Unis barred from JobKeeper cash

Universities argued government grants should be excluded from their revenues, making them eligible for the JobKeeper wage subsidy. Nothing doing said the feds

La Trobe U, Murdoch U and Uni Sydney had all asked staff to apply for the programme which would have saved uni budgets the first $1500 of people’s fortnightly pay. They argued that the test for businesses to quality was a 30 per cent drop in GST attracting revenues (50 per cent for businesses over $1bn) – and as government funding does not attract GST …

To which Treasurer Josh Frydenberg replied Friday night, that this would apply to charities funded by government to provide services but, “the core Commonwealth Government financial assistance provided to universities will be included in the JobKeeper turnover tests.”  The change will attract opposition in the Senate cross-bench watchers suggest not enough to defeat the government.

La Trobe U VC John Dewar, the first VC to call on staff to apply for the allowance, was quick to condemn the government decision, saying he is; “extremely disappointed that the government has elected to change the rules again so as to exclude us from financial assistance … This support would have made a huge difference (via Twitter).

“By applying for JobKeeper, we acted in good faith by following the published ATO guidelines. We obtained independent legal advice which unequivocally confirmed our eligibility for JobKeeper. We sought assistance under the scheme because we care about our staff,” Professor Dewar added in a message to staff  yesterday.

So that’s that. Uni Sydney might attempt to argue-still, pointing to a drop in revenue above 50 per cent for a specific period, as international student fee income plummet. No harm in asking but the government has made it pretty plain that universities are not on its list for more money.

UNDA on-board with Tehan plan

Another uni announces national priority short courses

University of Notre Dame Australia announces on-line courses as part of the Commonwealth’s package for, “workers who have been displaced by COVID-19 and are looking to take their career in a new direction.”  Education Minister Dan Tehan announced the programme mid-month (CMM April 14).

UNDA is offering grad certificates in teaching, nursing and allied health. It joins Uni Canberra, Uni SA and Swinburne U.

The market was moving before COVID-19 cruelled it

International student commencement/enrolments for February were ok overall, but the headline figure disguises a change in demand, Dirk Mulder reports

Higher education in Victoria took a hit in February, with starts down 21 per cent, way worse than other markets. But it was not Chinese students, hit by the travel ban from February 1, who were the big no-shows. While they were down by 17 per cent in HE the comparable figure for Indians was more than twice that, 38 per cent.

It’s not that the Indian education market collapsed – people switched sectors. In Victoria VET starts by students from India were up 61 per cent. The national figure was 67 per cent.

What appears to be happening is Indian students responding to costs and immigration issues, independent of the virus crisis.

University course costs are much more expensive than VET, making securing permanent residency a big gamble. So, people are switching to college courses. The February year on year figures for Indian students starting study in Victoria are; vehicle mechanics (up 48 per cent), translating/interpreting (up 48 per cent), security services (up 50 per cent), business (up 81 per cent), commercial cookery (94 cent up) and hospitality (up 256 per cent).

There is an apparent trend for students to study lower-cost courses, make as much money as they can, and send it home.

It’s not a strategy that will work now but could reappear as the economy bounces back.

Dirk Mulder is CMM’s international education correspondent.

ANU warns on student numbers

Brian Schmidt urges ANU community to, “teach like our jobs depend on it – because they do”

“We need to give our students the best ANU experience in this time,” of absolute crisis because it is as hard on them as it as hard on us,” the vice chancellor told 400 plus staff at virtual meeting.

“How many students persevere depends on how well we do.”

The vice chancellor told that so far, this year, the university has done “extremely well” on student numbers, with 94 per cent of students at the beginning of the year “still engaged” with the university.  But he warns domestic students can withdraw up to census date, in May and internationals have until June to withdraw without penalty.

“While things are pretty good now there will be a diminution that is not insubstantial.”

Looking to semester two and especially next year, Professor Schmidt said, “a lot will depend” on how the government approaches visas and opening the borders.” And no one knows how students will respond to enrolling for the first-time in an on-line only university

The Vice Chancellor assured staff “zero international enrolments is not going to happen, we will do better than that, we have a huge number of students already on-shore.” But he warned there will likely be a revenue fall “in the hundreds of millions of dollars next year.”

However, he added the university’s strong balance sheet meant ANU was “looking at more graceful measures” than forced redundancies.

“The staff that we have here is the one we largely need in 2021-22.”

He added that if changes were needed they would be addressed in a “highly consultative manner.”

Student support

Uni Adelaide extends assistance for HDR students

Postgrad researchers who are COVID-19 prevented from doing any research can access up to 60 days leave. FT postgrads can receive 75 per cent of their RTPs stipend. The university will consider extensions case by case as people reach the six month to submission point.

QUT VC says preserving jobs “paramount”

With no new Commonwealth support and a drop in international demand QUT expects to be down $100m by final quarter, with losses compounding in 2021

In a message to staff  Friday Vice Chancellor Margaret Sheil outlined savings made and planned, including, “the possibility of a reduction in executive and senior staff remuneration.”

And she set out the university’s objectives; “preserving jobs and providing opportunities for redeployment and retraining will be paramount.”

“To that end we will also need to consult widely and seek individual and/or collective agreement on other possible measures in respect to leave, reduced working hours, loadings and increments with a view to achieving as fair as is possible distribution of the impact.”

She added that putting these issues on the agenda will, “raise questions for each of us as individuals for which we as yet cannot provide certainty.”

Professor Sheil announced on-line forums and meetings this week, “to explore together a range of options and ideas for how we can make our university stronger and more resilient.”