All lit up

“Extraordinary scenes at Uni Sydney,” VC Mark Scott captions a photo of the campus, via Twitter yesterday. The sun is shining

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Merlin Crossley (UNSW) makes a case for his university publishing students’ course evaluations.

plus Simon Bedford (Western Sydney U) on the university’s new teaching and learning Badugulang Centre. This week’s selection by Commissioning Editor Sally Kift for her celebrated series, Needed now in teaching and learning.

with James Guthrie and John Dumay (Macquarie U) examine how their research performance is analysed in rankings and issues it points to.

Bill to block ministers rejecting research grants  “not politically viable”

In a Senate Committee hearing yesterday Labor’s Kim Carr invited witnesses to consider,

“the theoretical possibility that ministers, being responsible to parliament, under our system of government be obliged to act on information that is not known to the agency, despite the best intentions of the expert panel and the peer review processes or even the administration of the Australian Research Council … there might be grounds on security or criminal intelligence that requires the minister to intervene.”

As a way of protecting researchers, “this bill is not politically viable” he said.

It was “theoretical,” he repeated, adding he knew of no grant that had been rejected on security grounds but his point will resonate with the next minister, whoever that is.

Supporting students in the next disaster

The pandemic provides lessons for how universities can help during disasters to come

Lucy Mercer-Mapstone (Uni Sydney) and colleagues examined how ten Australian universities, plus one in the US and one in the UK, supported students during the pandemic. They report their findings in a new paper from the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education.

They found the move to on-line learning helped face-to-face students from “minoritised” backgrounds, by allowing, “a level of flexibility which made learning more accessible . This accessibility and flexibility prompted ripple benefits which enhanced students’ wellbeing and financial situations.”

But only if they had the resources and support to make the switch.

“Students’ responses overwhelmingly described a deepening inequity divide that applied across most categories. For students from minoritised backgrounds, they experienced a deepening of the equity divide and additional challenges accessing the technology required to access learning, loss of income, and the challenges such as caring responsibilities that further inhibited their study and contributed to declining mental health.”

For the present pandemic and the next crisis (and the authors argue climate change means there will be) universities face two challenges. First,  to “maintain provisions and accommodations” to support students. Second, “to realign our policies, services, and support for educators to create a more agile, responsive, and inclusive education experience for our students with particular attention to students from minoritised backgrounds as we aspire for educational equity.”

NHMRC explains grant approvals

How medical research grants are allocated attracted attention in yesterday’s Senate committee hearing on the Greens bill to stop ministers vetoing Australian Research Council recommended for funding

The National Health and Medical Research Council was quick to set out processes on its patch. The NHMRC issued a statement that there is nothing in its Act that prevents a minister from vetoing a grant but the council “has no record” of a minister not approving a grant recommended its CEO.
Unless the chief executive recommends the minister cannot recommend an allocation of funding.

Good for Gerd!

Murdoch U has promoted mathematician Gerd Schröder -Turk to full professor

What, you ask, the Gerd Schröder-Turk Murdoch U management wanted off the university council after he publicly criticised its international student admissions, on ABC TV in May 2019? The G S-T who Murdoch U then sued for loss of reputation and income? That’s the one.

There was ample local and international outrage when that happened, which may have been one reason why the university had dropped both matters by June 2020, saying Aspro Schröder -Turk “remains a valued member of both the Murdoch University academy and of the Murdoch University Senate,” (CMM June 15 2020).

Understandably so, during the dispute he won an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant.

And now he is a full professor.

The damage student evaluations do

Troy Heffernan (La Trobe U) SURVEYED academics on abuse from students in anonymous evaluations of their courses and teaching

He found  “every teaching period where SETs and student comments are collected, is another teaching period where the sector is effectively condoning the abuse of its marginalised academics.”

Dr Heffernan found 59 per cent of participants in his global survey reported abusive comments in student evals, most directed to “marginalised groups within the sector based on gender, sexual identity, ethnicity, language, appearance, or disability.”

Early career academics are the least abused (51 per cent) compared to 67-68 per cent for people in mid and late careers. And there is no discipline divide, all are above 60 per cent, except for health which is 25 per cent.

Dr Heffernan argues institutions, “clearly prioritise the perceived value of data gained from SETs above their academics’ wellbeing and their right to work in an abuse-free environment.”

However this cannot continue, “the university sector’s women academics and those academics from the most underrepresented groups are those subjected to the most abuse, and are also those most negatively impacted by the prejudice nature of student evaluations when it comes to employment and promotion.”

more on SETS: Katharine Gelber (Uni Queensland) and colleagues argue students bring gender based-expectations of behaviour to their evaluations of academics (CMM March 2).

Deakin U and WSU stand-up for Ukraine

Western Sydney U (via Twitter) states, :”we stand with Ukraine” and has “suspended all ties with Russian universities and institutions.”

A Deakin U statement condemns Russia’s invasion, “a needless war which has already caused immense suffering.” While “the principles of academic freedom” prevent it directing staff to withdraw links with Russian academics/universities, DU will not enter contracts/ agreements with them, it has none now.

There are a mix of responses across the sector. Last week Uni Sydney announced “support (for) the continuity of Ukrainian sovereignty” and expressed it by playing Ukrainian songs on its carillon, part of an international expression by  universities so equipped. (CMM March 7).

Appointments achievements

The Australian Academy of Science announces its 2022 awards.

 Macfarlane Burnett Medal: Steve Simpson (Uni Sydney)

Ruby Payne-Scott Medal: Liz Dennis (CSIRO)

Career awards: * Kathy Ehrig (BHP Billiton) * Richard Henley (ANU) Christopher Barner-Kowollik (QUT) * Andrew Roberts (ANU) * Timothy Senden (ANU)  * Georgia Chenevix-Trench (QMIR Berghofer)

Mid-career:  * Rebecca Guy (Fellow, Academy of Health and Medical Sciences) * Vanessa Peterson (ANSTO)

Early-career: * Keith Bannister (CSIRO) * Jenny Fisher (Uni Wollongong) * Alisa Glukhova (Uni Melbourne)  * Chris Greening (Monash U) * Yuning Hong (La Trobe) * Francis Hui (ANU) * Samintha Perera (Uni Melbourne) * Kerrylee Rogers (Uni Wollongong) * Loic Yengo (Uni Queensland) * Annan Zhou (RMIT)


Karen Francis becomes dean of Nursing and Midwifery at Charles Darwin U.

Mark Hatwell joins regulator TEQSA as director of registration and courses. He was previously at Monash U.

The NSW 2022 Women of the Year include,  Anna Barwick (PhD student, Uni New England) and Julie Redfern (Uni Sydney).