Early mark for Notre Dame’s Hammond

Celia Hammond’s resignation as University of Notre Dame Australia VC to run for Liberal pre-selection in Julie Bishop’s seat is not such a high-risk career move as may seem. Professor Hammond had already decided to leave UNDA long before Ms Bishop decided she had enough of the Liberal Party pie-fight.

Professor Hammond announced last April back she would leave the university at the end of 2019 (CMM April 6 2018).

Equity experts set the education challenge: “the best chance for all”

Wonder what is the point of all the policy palaver and politicking? Nadine Zacharias and Matthew Brett nail it in their new  statement on equity in education access for Australians in 2030.

Australia’s future depends on all its people, whoever and wherever they are, being enabled to successfully engage in beneficial learning.”

And if that’s too long, you can use the title of their report, “the best chance for all”.

They set out what this should look like and how we can get there in a new report for the Curtin U based National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education. The outcome of research and fora with equity practitioners, the document is as detailed on objectives and achieving them as its foundation statement is stark.

But there is one par that sets it all out;

“The goal should be for all Australians to be able to step in and out of tertiary education throughout their lives and to have the capability and confidence to navigate the ever-changing world of work. … It is now imperative to genuinely engage with students as partners to find out about their needs, preferences and challenges.”

Uni accountability on agenda

The federal government proposal for performance metrics to award undergraduate growth places does not appeal to the National Tertiary Education Union. Instead, it has another idea which could find favour, if Labor wins the election.

what’s not on: The union’s submission to the Wellings Review (as in Uni Wollongong VC Paul Wellings) flat out rejects government suggestions for performance based funding. For a start, national president Alison Barnes and policy coordinator Paul Kniest argue universities operate efficiently and that talk of “growth funding” obscures $10bn “slashed” since 2011.

They also warn making funding dependent on improved student outcomes can have unintended but anticipated outcomes. For example, universities could improve student pass-rates by reducing standards or restricting undergraduate entry. Dr Barnes and Mr Kniest also suggest universal metrics do not make for fair competition if they apply to institutions with different resources and catchment communities.

what would workThe union proposes Professor Wellings and his colleagues replace metrics with accountability models, under which “each university would be judged in terms of its own goals and objectives, not those determined by a group of Canberra bureaucrats.”  Models could include, changes to student enrolments, student progression, support services, academic staff profiles and the mix of FT/PT staff.

Such agreements would be negotiated by each university with a regulating and funding tertiary education commission.

we have been here before: The union’s accountability model (albeit ex the commission) is a bit like a 2010 Labor plan for compacts, intended to accompany demand driven funding and; “relate the unique mission of each university to the government’s goals for the sector, and for the first time draw together information about the public funding received by each institution. Compacts will also be the mechanism by which new teaching and learning performance funding is delivered to universities across Australia. Performance funding will increase the focus on quality and accountability and give incentives for universities to improve outcomes for students,” (CMM February 20 2018).

and could be again: Last week Labor shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek  outlined plans for government, including; funding agreements between government and universities. “As publicly funded organisations Australians rightly expect that universities to contribute to our social, cultural and economic development. … if I am the minister, I want to work with you to ensure those funding agreements clarify how universities are meeting community expectations.”
Ms Plibersek cited entry standards for teaching degrees and sexual assault and harassment on campuses and in residential colleges as issues to include in agreements adding;

“I expect that funding agreements might address other national and local priorities such as meeting local labour market need, boosting diversity and participation, community engagement, and driving research excellence.”

Granted there are no mentions of teaching performance and student outcomes, but they could be easily added to government agreements.

ACU expands in Sydney’s west

The expected announcement of a new university campus for Blacktown, in Sydney’s west occurred yesterday. But it was Australian Catholic University rather than the usual suspects gazing west, the universities of Sydney, NSW and U Wollongong which is expanding into the south-west at Liverpool.

ACU, in cooperation with the Blacktown City Council will open a campus in 2020, using a city-owned building until 2024, when custom-built facilities are complete. ACU will start with pathway and executive education programmes with UG and PG degrees to follow from 2021.

ACU’s existing Sydney campuses are at North Sydney and Strathfield, both distant from the fast-growing outer west.

Couldn’t happen here: Trump ties research funding to campus free speech

The free-speech-at risk-on-campus community have a new ally – Donald Trump. The US president promises to link federal research funds to universities supporting free speech on campus. It’s unlikely to happen here – there is said to be nothing like it in Justice Robert French’s proposed code for universities to protect debate. Then again, Education Minister Dan Tehan did not rule out linking funding to enforcing a free-speech code when asked by RN’s Fran Kelly (CMM November 16 2018).

As to where the French Review is, Mr Tehan’s office says CMM (yesterday) is wrong and that it is not with the minister yet. Perhaps this means the final, formal document, but if his office does not have a copy of the comment draft, there are plenty floating around.

International student boom: without it uni profits bust

The public higher education system grew income faster than expenses in 2017 according to new federal government figures. Revenue was up 6.2 per cent on 2016, to $32bn, with expenses growing by 5.1 per cent to $30bn.

However, seven higher education providers had net operating deficits.

Universities in the red were Southern Cross U ($3.76m), Federation U ($4.35m), Victoria U ($29.89m) James Cook U ($7.73m), Uni Southern Queensland ($0.59m), Charles Darwin U ($14.28m). The Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education also had a loss ($0.209m).

The slowing in expense growth varies the five-year trend, which saw earnings grow by 21 per cent between 2013 and 2017 with costs up by 23 per cent, driven by a $3bn increase in wages. While the report is silent on the cause this is likely due to staff growth and wage increases in previous rounds of enterprise agreements.

The system is also dependent on international student fees. Federal government payments dropped from 56 per cent of income in 2016 to 53 per cent in ’17. In contrast, international student fees increased from 20 per cent to 23 per cent, and were up from 16 per cent in 2013. The universities of Sydney and Melbourne collected $750m each from internationals in 2017.

The truth is out there – you just have to Google it right

ANU’s Marnie Hughes Warrington has abandoned administration for research (CMM February 4). Just now she is thinking now about the history-space where online search creates an intersection between what happened and what happened because enough people asked Google about versions of it. She writes about this in the new entry to her blog as  research notebook.

Even in the Gutenburg Galaxy twas ever thus, “Publishing something in a book does not make it right, and it takes human intelligence to determine whether some things are right and whether we can even be certain about some things in the past,” as she puts it.

But now history can be customised to suit an unsuspecting reader and this can be subject for study.

“In the world of personalised searches, it is highly feasible for two people to search on the same historical topic and to get two different results. A savvy promulgator of error will know that, and know how to optimise results for people I teach, and people who don’t study history at school or university. And I will wonder, over and over again, how those folks can be so naïve or misled. The view from my window on the past is fine, but I hadn’t realised there was more than one window all along, she suggests.

While Professor H-W would never suggest such a thing it’s enough create (ahem) hysteriaography.

Appointments, achievements

Elizabeth Finkel is the Australian Society of Medical Research’s 2019 medallist. A biochemist by training, she co-founded science magazine Cosmos, which she edited 2013-18. ASMR states, science communication “is the most important bridge between scientists, the community and policy makers,” and “recognises Dr Finkel’s work and highlights her position as “a pioneer and leader of this field.”

Katherine Woodthorpe is the new chair of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre. She replaces founding chair, the late Laurie Hammond. Dr Woodthorpe is present chair of the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC and the HEARing CRC, both appointments end in June.

At the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Neal Peres Da Costa is promoted to associate dean, research. He joined the Con in 2006.