A Ferris Bueller for La Trobe U staff

Monday August 31 will be a staff “wellness day”

VC John Dewar says the day is an acknowledgement that, “many of you have gone above and beyond to keep teaching our students and to continue our research and outreach.”

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Margaret Bearman (Deakin U) on why more money for research into HE is what is needed now in teaching and learning. It’s contributing editor Sally Kift’s new selection in her series, “needed now in teaching and learning.

Merlin Crossley (UNSW) on teachers learning. “Many enthusiastic and inspiring teachers are already reaching out and forming their own communities. With just a little effort it is possible for universities to establish stable frameworks and opportunities that will enhance and sustain these collaborative networks.”

Bachelor degrees don’t deliver like they used to

“Young people aged 25-34 with bachelor degrees are substantially worse off in 2018 than in 2001, particularly in their likelihood of securing a high-scored occupation.”

A Productivity Commission analysis demonstrates that education does not necessarily deliver the work people study for.

Catherine de Fontenay, Bryn Lampe, Jessica Nugent and Patrick Jomini are authors of a PC staff “working paper” (signifying it is even more pointy-headed than PC inquiries) on where young people entering the workforce between 2008 and 2018 ended up.

Insofar as what happens next accords with what happened then, their findings are not great for policies assuming education is an engine of social mobility.

Using PT/FT “as a crude measures of job quality” they find a decline in the quality of jobs for 20-34 year olds 2008-2018.

And new grads who entered the workforce in a lower-scored job in the weak labour market after the GFC are likely to stay in the category.

“The growth in the number of jobs in higher-scored occupations was not large enough to absorb the increased supply of highly educated workers. A person looking for a high-scored occupation in 2018 may have faced a more competitive labour market, and therefore was more likely to end up in a lower-scored occupation than they would have in 2001,” the authors state.

It’s not bad for older graduates, “35-54 year olds in high-scored occupations appear to have been shielded from competition, maybe by virtue of incumbency: there is no noticeable decline in their occupational scores.”

But overall, “the labour demand did not adjust to the mix of skills in the market,” they suggest.

Rain stopped play

It was bucketing down at UTS yesterday and the proposed first day of spring session BBQ for students was cancelled (CMM July 20). This was a bit of luck for staff nervous about the event, despite the rigorous social distancing requirements to be enforced.

Griffith U going it alone on savings proposal

Talks to establish a joint management-unions savings plan to put to staff appear to have failed

What’s happened: The university is now expected to go it alone, asking the workforce to endorse enterprise agreement variations to make COVID-19 savings.

Observers suggest there are significant outstanding issues between the university and National Tertiary Education Union, including a guarantee of no retrenchments during the period covered and an independent panel over-sighting management savings, both of which the union wants and management does not. Concessions on conditions and wage increases staff would make if a deal was done are estimated to be worth around $10m.

Where this comes from: Back in May Griffith U said no to the Job Protection Framework, designed by four VCs and the federal leadership of the National Tertiary Education Union in response to the COVID-10 caused cash crisis across the system. This accord requires universities making as many non-staff savings as possible and employees agreeing to temporary cuts in employment conditions. The shared objective is to reduce the number of involuntary redundancies.

In May VC, Carolyn Evans said the deal was not for Griffith U for a range of reasons, one of which was it included an independent committee, with a union member, to check if managements had made all possible savings. This Professor Evans, said, “would be incongruent with the role of council,” (CMM May 22).

The VC said Griffith U would come up with its own savings plan and work with the campus unions to reach agreement on required variations to the enterprise agreement.

Which does not look like happening now.

What happens next: If management asks staff to back a condition-cuts for jobs-saved proposal without the support of either, or both, the two unions, it could well lose the vote.

This has already occurred at the University of Melbourne, Southern Cross U and, in a local variation, Uni Wollongong.  At all three the NTEU campaigned hard against the management plan. Staff at ANU backed management against the union, but by a slim margin.

For talks to start again at Griffith U would require management to agree to the independent oversight committee or the NTEU to give it up.

UNDA announces first provost

On Friday University of Notre Dame announced two PVC roles where being abolished and the position of provost being created

And yesterday VC Francis Campbell announced it is filled.

UNDA’s inaugural provost is Pauline Nugent. Professor Nugent was also first provost at Australian Catholic University.

She announced her departure from ACU at the beginning of the year, planning to leave this month, however she later brought that forward to April, (CMM April 22).

Leaving on a low-note at Uni Queensland

In his last week, Uni Queensland VC Peter Høj has not good news to announce

While Professor Høj points to an increase in domestic demand (below) his message to staff was dominated by the impact of the pandemic.

Given the absence of international students, the Institute of Continuing and TESOL Education is 70 per cent down on enrolments and income and there are discussions with staff and unions to, “disestablish a number of positions.”

The vice chancellor also warned that, “with continued outbreaks abroad and at home”, pilots to bring international students back, “are now unlikely to happen for a number of months.” And without “a positive development,” “the financial consequence of this pandemic on the sector and Uni Queensland is expected to be felt over the next few years.”

While the university has absorbed revenue reductions to date “with minimal impact on staff, teaching and research,” Professor Høj added, “we will work with staff and unions over the coming months to explore further measures to offset the anticipated reduction in revenue.”

“In my last week as vice chancellor, I continue to be inspired by the many important projects at UQ that epitomise our vision of providing knowledge leadership for a better world.” he wrote.

“… I admit to feeling very sad about writing to you in such mixed terms; however, I am immensely proud of the ongoing efforts of Uni Queensland staff to create change in such unprecedented times.”

Welding for past times

The welding industry lobby is unhappy with the new Manufacturing and Engineering training package, which it warns “differs very little” from the 1998 and 2005 editions

“It ignores the huge technological advancements and changes that will continue to occur in Australia’s engineering and manufacturing industries,” Weld Australia’s Geoff Crittenden says.

WA warns apprentices start work, “without the requisite skills or knowledge” and wants the federal government “to undertake an in-depth review of the TAFE welding curriculum.”

It would be a first. Strange to relate, among the vast number of VOCED inquires and assessment and reviews, policies and pilots recorded on the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research database welding is not mentioned.

Domestic demand up in Queensland

James Cook U is pleased indeed that domestic enrolments are up 37 per cent YTD

The “sharpest increase” is on-line, including the Tehan short-courses, designed for people to up-skill while they wait out the pandemic. JCU offers 13 undergraduate certificates in the programme.

The university also cites an “increased share” in QTAC applications from Cairns and Townsville.

CQU, the only other university teaching in those cities.

It also reports an overall increase in UG offers for term two via the Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre, up 18 per cent, (CMM July 6)

Demand is also up at Uni Queensland is also up.

VC Peter Høj told staff yesterday that semester two offers to domestic undergraduates are up 18 per cent.

Unis now but maybe not for long

“The despondency and existential fear induced by the COVID-19 pandemic has probably overshadowed another challenge that will face post-pandemic universities.  Will they have to pass a new test to retain their title?”

Vin Massaro puts the question on the agenda in a new paper for the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education.

Professor Massaro points to the Coaldrake review of provider category standards, adopted by the Commonwealth, which requires universities to achieve world-standard research in a minimum three fields in which they teach (CMM October 16, December 11 2019).

But how it came to pass that to be a university in Australian a HE provider must research as well as teach has more to do with time and circumstances than carefully constructed policy.

Professor Massaro explains that when the unified national system was established in 1989 the previous teaching colleges did not have to meet any test of their research performance, with funding provided so they could improve over time. But now the nexus appears immutable, universities teach and research.

It need not be so he suggests, pointing out that research is uneven in research-intensive universities and that, “teaching excellence across a broad range of academic areas should be sufficient to qualify as a university.” He also argues universities should choose research specialities where they win competitive funding.

As to the new standards, “they are unduly restrictive in light of what has occurred since the end of the binary system of higher education, and risk creating a group of apparently ‘failing’ universities which have operated successfully as de facto teaching intensive universities for some thirty years.”

There’s another reason why the new research requirement may not be such a great idea for government. “As some existing or aspirant universities inevitably fail the test and lose or fail to gain the title some will seek recourse to the courts to test the validity of the measure.”

Whatever the policy basis this would be terrible politics.