Math and way more math

The MATRIX partnership announces a week-long residential programme for women in maths to talk about research, including “quasiconcavity for elliptic equations on manifolds”

It’s an invitation only-event, presumably because the organisers already know everybody who will have a clue what the topics are about.

MATRIX is a partnership of ANU, Uni Melbourne, Monash U, plus Uni Queensland and an ARC centre for maths and stat frontiers. And no, it’s not being held in a corridor of code, unless there’s one down the back of the venue, in Creswick Vic.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning 

Ian Marshman and Frank Larkins on how Victorian universities have managed pandemic finances – largely by cutting casual and fixed-term staff.

Plus Chris Walsh and Michael Ratcliff (Victoria U Online) the four fundamentals that “make or break” the on-line experience for higher education students. They are this week’s authors in Contributing Editor Sally Kift’s series Needed Now in Teaching and Learning.

Professor Walsh is also speaking at the Needed Now … conference (Wednesday May 26, 2.30 AEST). Details here.

AndMerlin Crossley (UNSW)  likes podcasts that roll out weekly and create a sense of community  – maybe they could work for lectures.

Now for the hard part

For all the budget-talk announcements about creating jobs its HE and VET teachers who will do the work

Which makes the case for hearing Marnie Hughes-Warrington (Uni SA) Mark McKenzie (Council of Small Business Organisations) Pascale Quester (VC Swinburne U) and Franziska Trede (Australian Collaborative Education Network) talk about work-integrated learning at the Needed Now in Learning and Teaching conference.  Details here .

Needed Now is sponsored by Online Education Services.

Four ways China can empty Aus unis

Stopping Chinese students studying here would not be easy, but the PRC could give it a red-hot go

Dirk van der Kley and Benjamin Herscovitch (both ANU) suggest how the Chinese Government could do it in a briefing note for the university’s National Security College.

* direct education agents in “first-tier cities” to “push students away from Australian universities”
* consular warnings and negatives about Aus unis in state-media

* stop the Ministry of Education recognising Australian qualifications

* a ban on government and state-owned organisations hiring graduates with Australia degrees

“Under any scenario, the number of students is unlikely to trend to zero but a precipitous drop is possible,” they warn.

This all assumes that Chinese students will remember Australia is, when they are finally allowed to come here.

(Scroll down for what van der Kley and Herscovitch think Australia should do to reduce dependence on the China market)

Universities ignored in Budget

No money and not much hope

The government will provide $26.1m for 5000 more short course places. Plus there are $150 000 grants for ELICOS providers to transform their operating models.

And that is the upside.

The downside is a decline in HE expenditure from $10.628bn this financial year to $10.2 bn in 23-24, before rising to $10.339bn in ’24-25.

It’s a bit better for VET. Direct expenditure is a straight-line down , from $2.022bn now to $1.644bn in ’24-25 but there is $506m over two years for the Job Trainer programme and $2.7bn over four years for more apprentices.

And don’t expect many international students this year, “small phased programmes for international students will commence in late 2021 and gradually increase from 2022.”

As for science, there’s $117m over for years for an “Artificial Intelligence Action Plan,”  $66m for cyber-security workforce skills and a “science and technology diplomacy fund” (without specified funding).

And last year’s emergency injection of $1bn research funding, to compensate for the loss of international student fees is not continued.

What about translational research?  The winners are in labs working on digital games, which  might qualify for the 30 per cent Digital Games Tax Offset.

But, and it is a very feint but, the Treasurer did talk-up industry-university collaboration on ABC TV, which may mean more money in the research translation strategy expected at year end. And there is a hint of hope in the $30 000 increase for PhD completion funding when undertaken as an industry placement.

But it’s just a hint.

Scroll down for reaction

What the higher education union is bargaining for

The National Tertiary Education Union leadership is briefing branches on enterprise agreement negotiations

Centrally specified enterprise bargaining asks include,

* a 12 per cent pay rise over three years

* subjecting staff to only one restructure proposal in a three-year agreement

* fixed term contract staff to become continuing after three years continuous service

* casual staff to be paid at the specified rate for all hours worked, not just the time management specifies for a task

Officials are emphasising that “insecure work” is to be a key issue.

Bargaining is late starting around the country – perhaps because union and managements are still not sure what next year will look like. Although, CQU management has come out hard with a no-pay proposal. At Western Sydney U observers speculate management might be willing to contemplate improved job security for some long-term casual staff.

Claire Field on the need for more transparent regulation


As a former VET regulator – the staff at TEQSA and ASQA have my sympathies

The tertiary education sector is currently undergoing enormous change, given;

*  no clear timeframe on the re-opening of Australia’s borders to international students

* the removal of work limits on international students working in tourism and hospitality

* changes to the 408 COVID-19 Pandemic Event visa potentially enabling a “gap year” for some international students

* $26m in funding being provided for 5,000 non-university higher education short courses , and

* expectations of an additional $1bn in government VET funding via an extension of the JobTrainer scheme.

In this environment, some providers are drastically cutting costs and struggling to retain international students, while others are trying to quickly ramp up capacity to deliver new programmes.

It is therefore crucial the regulators have their fingers on the pulse.

Both the Australian Skills Quality Authority and the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency are committed to transparent decision making and want the providers they regulate to have confidence in their decision making.

TEQSA publishes summaries of most of its audit findings. These reports provide a valuable insight into its decision making on what constitutes a problem and expectations for how providers should address them.

In TEQSA’s most recent re-registration report the details reported differ from those for previous audits, see for example this re-registration summary from February or this earlier one. It is to be hoped that more detailed advice continues to be provided in future TEQSA audit summaries.

Meanwhile, the sector is still waiting for ASQA to start publishing provider audit reports/summaries.

More transparency in regulatory decision making is vital as VET and higher education providers work through this period of significant change and uncertainty.

Finally – a quick note on last week’s column on the government’s $53m package for independent tertiary education providers. A gremlin crept into the publishing process and deleted my introductory sentence. While I have real concerns that the funding will not go far enough, my column started by commending the government for the investment they are making.

 Claire Field is the host of the ‘What now? What next?’ podcast. She’ll unpack the Budget measures in the next episode, out on Friday. Listen for free in your favourite podcast app oonline.

What to do in case China stops students coming

In a new paper for ANU’s National Security College Dirk van der Kley and Benjamin Herscovitch propose three preparations in case the PRC decides to make Australia a no-go education zone

* an all of government resource, with an ambassador for education leading an office charged with expanding other markets. “A key focus should be emerging markets across the Indo-Pacific and Africa”

* $20m to Austrade for “a cohesive Australian education brand akin to Tourism Australia.” Austrade should also expand in Africa and the Indo-Pacific by reducing its presence in Eastern Europe and Latin America

* replace federal oversight of universities’ overseas agreements with an international research register, managed by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment.

Dr van der Kley and Dr Herscovitch suggest making their props part of the 2030 international education strategy.

Budget response: appalled to optimistic

While peak bodies expected a bad outcome some usually vocal spokespeople were stunned into silence

“The Treasurer can talk about ‘skills,’ ‘jobs’ and ‘innovation’ all he likes  – in the background is a higher education sector burning; what should be the engine room of all these things burning,” Alison Barnes from the National Tertiary Education Union tweeted.

“With borders shut until mid-2022 the picture for universities will get worse – with significant flow-on effects for the nation’s research capacity and jobs, inside and outside universities. … Australia’s university sector cannot sustain these losses without serious damage to national productivity and the country’s knowledge base,” Catriona Jackson, Universities Australia wasn’t happy.

Nor was Nick Klomp (VC, CQU), chair of the Regional Universities Network, who lamented the lack of infrastructure funding for his members.

But the permanent pragmatists worked with what they had got. “The Australian Technology Network acknowledges the record investment in university research in last year’s Budget. We look forward to further announcements from the Government on research sustainability (and) research commercialisation later this year,” Executive Director Luke Sheehy said.

While Vicki Thomson from the Group of Eight warned, “there is growing uncertainty in the university sector about financial challenges ahead,”  she called on the government to develop a, “long-term sustainable funding model for universities and a clear pathway for the higher education sector going forward.”

And Science and Technology Australia came close to appearing pleased, detailing a bunch of positives. “This future-focused Budget charts a path to develop the workforce Australia will need to seize opportunities in next-generation technologies,” said STA president Jeremy Brownlie.


Powering-up at Uni Melbourne

NTEU elections at the University of Melbourne are being contested by a 24-person “union power” ticket

The candidates on it are running for most of the 28 National Tertiary Education Union branch positions up for election.

Annette Herrera is on the ticket for re-election as branch president, with David Gonsalez standing for secretary.

The ticket is 60 per cent casual or fixed term staff – which is said to reflect Uni Melbourne’s workforce. Whether candidates get up the campaign message will appeal to union members and perhaps staff beyond, “We have the power to change the structure of workloads and overtime payment, the terms of casual employment, and the culture of our workplaces.”

Last year NTEU members at Uni Melbourne voted down a management proposal to cancel a scheduled payrise as a COVID-19 savings. The union kept campaigning when the university put the prop to an all-staff vote where 64 per cent of people voting knocked it back (CMM June12).


Sarah Pearce (CSIRO) becomes director of the Square Kilometre Array’s Australian telescope.