The precariat: enormous and exposed

The precariat is where the big uni job losses will come from but there is no headline number on how many people, are employed casually

Higher education statistics generally report full-time equivalent positions, which inevitably understates the actual number of individuals who work for universities.

So, James Guthrie and Tom Smith (Macquarie U) worked it out by digging into universities 2018 annual statements and examining a source which records the number of people, as in actual individuals. universities employ, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission report, which records the numbers of people, not EFTS.

They found that at end 2018 universities employed 80 000 casual staff, 39 per cent of their total workforce (CMM May 17).

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Fernando Padró, Megan Yih Chyn A. Kek and Henk Huijser  on supporting students as consumers and learners. It’s this week’s selection by Commissioning Editor Sally Kift, in her series, needed on what we need now in teaching and learning.

Merlin Crossley explains why researchers should stick to their knitting. “The grand challenges facing our world today are so complex that they will only be solved if academics work with people across society to translate new knowledge and implement solutions!”

Vin Massaro critically considers the report underpinning the new UG funding rates. “That such major and far-reaching decisions should have been made on such a narrow information base raises serious concerns about their sustainability.”

Recruiting not marketing at Uni Melbourne

“When we start to describe students in terms of a market, then the marketisation of universities has reached its apotheosis,” Uni Melbourne VC Duncan Maskell said in a speech last week (CMM Friday).  A learned reader points out Uni Melbourne has ten managers, responsible for recruiting students offshore and 160 or so agents in China.

Needed: a circuit-breaker at Uni Queensland

Last night’s 60 Minutes report on Uni Queensland’s treatment of Drew Pavlou, could have been worse for the university, but it’s hard to see how 

Where this came from: Mr Pavlou is a Uni Queensland undergraduate who is a passionate advocate of human rights in China and a fierce critic of the university’s links with the PRC state.

A university committee found he had committed acts of serious misconduct, which he denies, claiming the allegations are related to his advocacy, although the university rejects this. However, a committee of the university senate over-ruled almost all of the misconduct findings  dropping all but two of the nine original charges and reducing the length of the penalty suspension from his course.

Mr Pavlou is now asking the Supreme Court to overturn the university’s decision.

Uni Queensland’s perception problem:  Whatever the court decides, the university is now being tried in the court of public opinion over issues which are now inextricably linked to Mr Pavlou’s case – it’s record on protecting free speech, its relations with the government of the People’s Republic of China and its dependence on the fees Chinese students pay.

The university’s response: Vice Chancellor Peter Høj addressed these, among other, issues in a Friday statement.

On free speech at the university: “we all have an obligation to actively defend respectful and lawful freedom of speech, even on matters that we may not agree on.   Bullying and intimidating behaviour, including hate speech, will not be tolerated at UQ”

On Uni Queensland and China: Professor Høj said the university has “long-standing and productive relations with China” but this does not mean, “we are influenced in our decisions or what we teach.”  He offered examples of the university’s independence including, the campus Confucius Institute agreement which “now provides that the CI has no involvement in credit-bearing courses” and UQ’s Confucius Institute staff “are subject to Australian laws and UQ policies.” And he said the university has a strategy to “diversify our international income to ensure a sustainable financial position.”

Enough said?: Perhaps these assurances will calm community concerns that Uni Queensland, with other universities, is too dependent on China.

Or perhaps not. As Professor Høj acknowledged, “our engagements with China, which were once encouraged by government, are now seen by a growing number of people through a different lens.”  And that will include many, many, people who saw 60 Minutes last night.

Needed, a fresh start: This is a problem the VCs statement alone will not solve – it will take time and a great deal of effort. In the first instance perhaps Professor Høj’s departure at the end of the month will be a circuit-breaker.

His resignation has nothing to do with this matter – in May 2019 he announced his decision to leave in a year. And Chancellor Peter Varghese says Professor Høj had no role in the misconduct process against Mr Pavlou. But the VC is now associated with everything related to the university’s connections with China.

Right person for the job: In-coming VC, Deborah Terry is arriving from Curtin U and has no skin in the game. But she has helped Uni Queensland out of a reputational hole before.

Professor Terry was at Uni Queensland  when Vice Chancellor Paul Greenfield left in 2011. The university had enrolled a member of Mr Greenfield’s family in medicine, who the state’s Crime and Corruption Commission concluded, “did not satisfy the entrance requirements for the course.”

Professor Terry had nothing to do with the scandal  and became acting VC after Professor Greenfield’s departure, calming campus disquiet, working to focus attention on the university’s research and education achievements.

Now she gets to do it again.

Creating self-managed student communities

Swinburne U’s student union is piloting an interactive platform


The union is partnering with peer-to-peer provider, Jumbea, which says it, “replaces emails and notice boards with an intuitive platform designed to encourage interaction and student engagement.”

The pilot’s goal is to create a private community for Swinburne students to meet on-line and make the most of their university experience, in the absence of in-person campus contacts. With Melbourne locked-down again the timing is terrific to provide students with their own interface to make and keep friends.

Jumbea and the union are looking to the pilot to also identify student needs during the COVID crisis and suggest solutions that can be delivered on-line.

This is smart stuff. Peer to peer contact is not high on the student support agenda at most Australia universities and colleges but it meets more needs than UG community creating.

For example, it can create a channel for prospective students to check-out what existing undergraduates think about a campus.  And it allows alumni to network.

Dirk Mulder is CMM’s international correspondent


Uni Wollongong gets go-ahead for vote on savings

Staff will vote on a cuts for jobs plan

Uni Wollongong staff will vote on the joint unions-management proposal trading temporary cuts in benefits for a reduction in job losses (CMM Friday), although there is no word on how many jobs will be saved.

 National Tertiary Education Union branch members approved the deal on Friday. As it requires a variation of the university’s enterprise agreement it must be approved by an all-staff ballot.

To date, all agreement variations, to address financial losses caused by COVID-19, jointly proposed by management and unions at universities have passed.

Campus life (but not as we knew it)

Sydney universities are preparing for staff and students to return

Macquarie U staff are back this week: “It’s a significant step forward,” says VC S Bruce Dowton, ahead of students returning for second session, next week. While lectures will continue on-line, “many tutorials, seminars and small group learning activities will be face-to-face.”

Not all staff are happy about this, with questions common about class sizes, teaching-room cleaning and how to deal with students who show signs of sickness.

Professor Dowton acknowledges that if the situation in Sydney changes so may the university’s plans.

UTS is keen to see life on campus: It’s hosting a BBQ next Monday, for “all first-year students and any students missing the campus vibe.”

“Most importantly, this BBQ is an opportunity to meet your fellow students face-to-face,” UTS says.

Could be big, which would be a problem –  on Friday the NSW Government reduced group bookings in cafes and club, pubs and bars. But DVC Education and Students Shirley Alexander tells CMM people have to register, to manage numbers and for contract tracing, they get to stay for an hour, with tables and seats 1.5m apart, among a bunch of precautions.

Might be more fun to send everybody a sausage sanger and a ZOOM meeting ID.


More of the same on SA uni merger

There’s talk, yet again, of a Uni Adelaide – Uni SA combining

Good-o, but Uni A has more immediate issues to address, like its leadership. And Uni SA is in good-shape re COVID-19 finances and comfortable in its own skin, bedding down a new teaching structure. The cases for and against the merger have not changed since talks failed in 2018 (CMM October 24 2018). Perhaps the state government could intervene – it certainly would unite the pro and anti-merger camps, but only in opposing ministers getting involved.


Appointments, achievements

There are two new appointments to the University of Canberra’s council; lawyer Alice Tay, radio and TV presenter Dan Bourchier. Business woman Chris Faulks is reappointed.

The ANZ Society of Nephrology have awarded the T J Neale Award (for a significant contribution) to two researchers, Meg Jardine (George Institute) and Angela Webster (Uni Sydney).