Every person for themselves

At Macquarie U business school management convened a meeting of academics, many of whom have to make a case for keeping their jobs in a competitive assessment process. (CMM Tuesday)

There were overheads of the HR-homily kind for academics facing possible redundancy, including “manage your energy” and “support each other.”

And then there was one that people in the audience thought was unfortunate, given what the briefing was about, “put your oxygen mask on yourself first.”

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

In the rush to on-line teaching it was easy to over-look research postgrads, many being even more isolated than usual.  Trina Myers, Wasana Bandara, Sharon Altena (all QUT)  and Rebecca Evans (JCU) suggest ways to help them. This week’s contribution to Commissioning Editor Sally Kift’s long-running series, Needed now in teaching and learning.

Amanda-Jane George (CQU) and Julie-Ann Tarr (QUT) on the big issues  in uni-industry collaboration. There’s way more to it than demand- and supply-push incentives or commercial returns.

 Marnie Hughes-Warrington (Uni SA) and Andrew Klenke (Swanbury Penglase Associates) on what 19th century Adelaide  shows us about innovation.

Counting the real cost of teaching   

Last year the feds announced average costs of teaching university subjects, based on research by consultants Deloitte. Reviews weren’t mixed – some experts were outright appalled

As Vin Massaro from the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education, put it, “whether the Deloitte report is an accurate reflection of reality is contestable,” (CMM July 15 2020).

And now the MCSHE is going to have a look, partnering with those wonkiest of university cost wonks the Pilbara Group, “to provide a stronger evidence base” for when the Commonwealth again looks at the costs they pay universities to teach specific subjects.

The project team will use anonymised data from 11 universities “to determine the full costs of teaching” sub-disciplines in engineering and allied health. There will be a bit of work in this to do more than Deloitte. As Professor Massaro pointed out in CMM, “a single national average graph for engineering cannot take into account distinctions between sub-specialisation costs, and between those universities that teach most engineering specialisations, and therefore have a higher cumulative cost, and those that might teach only less expensive versions.”


All politics is local in western Sydney

There’s an alliance of nearly all the uni talents

Apparently, Parramatta, in western Sydney, “is set to become a global destination for educational excellence.”

And there’s a new alliance, assembled by the city council to make it happen. Members are, Western Sydney U, Uni Sydney, UNSW, UNE, Swinburne U and the Western Sydney Local Health District – all of which have a teaching presence in the city, or the big medical research hub at adjacent Westmead.

But where is Australian Catholic U, which has a big base in Greater Western Sydney? It’s in splendid isolation, with a brand-new campus in the nearby local LGA of Blacktown.

The innovation puzzle: unis won’t solve it on their own

The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering is broadly supportive of the government’s research commercialisation plan but it has specific suggestions

It’s not all about unis: The academy warns universities cannot do it by themselves, arguing “they are only one piece of Australia’s innovation puzzle, and they are not always well-equipped to judge the relative likelihood of commercial success for a particular piece of research.”

Nor start-ups: And it warns translating research into products will take more than start-ups, given less venture capital and risk appetite in Australia, than in comparable countries, such as Sweden and Israel. “Research commercialisation is an international endeavour and international collaborators, particularly large companies, play a key role in the commercialisation of Australia’s research.”

“To be successful the scheme must include industry, and it must provide incentives for industry to invest in, and benefit from, Australian research.”  The academy suggests using, (and don’t tell CMM you did not see this coming), the Research and Development Tax Incentive.

So, who picks, which winners?: While most of the policy discussion around the government’s proposal focuses on funding, the academy raises a key question, how to pick the research missions to be favoured with funding.

It suggests Industry, Innovation and Science Australia “may be the most appropriate entity,” – which could add a new dimension to what projects are funded. Amanda-Jane George (CQU) points out an ISSA report in 2020 suggested there is more to “innovation” than R&D, including industry adopting new operating methods, (CMM March 17).

And where to do the work: ATSE also suggests a selection and management role for the Industry Growth Centres and using an “enhanced Cooperative Research Centres programme.” “A CRC has clearly focused outcomes and involves research with the best talent and usually at the right scale.”

Dirk Mulder warns of bad business in international recruitment

Incentivising agents is back


What universities can do to about lower on-shore international student numbers has been a point of discussion since the borders closed (CMM 21 Jan 21). Discounting and scholarships appear to be the new normal, however bonus commissions campaigns for agents are back, if they ever left.

CMM has seen the terms of a bonus scheme a university is offering to Indian and Nepalese agents. The sliding-scale scheme is structured to reward agents who up their student numbers for the university. The university provides a table which outlines top-line commission aggregates. If the agent recruits 70 students, they can make a possible commission of $427,500. Not bad for years a work.

This is not illegal and commercially astute for the university involved. But CMM wonders what behaviour these campaigns, outside incentivised contracts, drive

Agent networks are an important feature in the recruitment cycle – that is for international students discovering, understanding and preparing for Australian study. However, many in the sector believe this sort of bonus scheme is one step too far. A Learned Reader tells CMM it shines a bright-light on ethics in the industry – with agents enticed to send students where they earn the best commission rather than on what is the best avenue of study for the student.

Australian universities already have a highly-commercialised reputation and an increase in bonus schemes of this sort would push it to a new level. The questions are, is this an over-step by an institution desperate to plug the hole caused by international student starts being down, down, down due to COVID-19 border-closures? Or is it an example of what will become standard recruiting procedure?

Whichever, it is not sustainable

Dirk Mulder is CMM’s international education correspondent


How China managed 2020 and what it means for Australia

There was an intriguing launch of an important book yesterday

China Story Yearbook 2020: Crisis is edited by Jane Golley, (ANU) and Linda Jaivin (ANU), with Sharon Strange and published (open-access, on-line) by the excellent ANU Press.

The fascination is in the content. The book presents comprehensive assessments by 29 experts of China’s politics and society, diplomacy and economy and the lived-experience of China’s people in the first year of COVID-19. And it does not duck the year’s crises in Australia-China relations.

The chapters CMM read are the work of obvious experts, rich in information and analysis and measured in-tone. There is a great deal that may not amuse Chinese Government officials but this is a work of scholarship, not rhetoric.

The intrigue is in the launch, at the National Press Club yesterday. Wang Xining, Deputy Head of Mission at the PRC embassy in Canberra spoke. He hopped into the Turnbull Government for banning telco Huawei from the 5G network – but turning up for a significant book including well-argued criticism of his government is way better than not.

Aus unis: great forces for good

Australian universities dominate the global top ten in the new Times Higher social impact ranking

The measure scores university performances on the 17 UN sustainable development goals. Uni Sydney is the world number two (behind Uni Manchester) with RMIT third, La Trobe U fourth and Uni Wollongong equal sixth, with Aalborg U in Denmark. The University of Auckland is equal ninth, with the Tempe campus of Arizona State U.

The sustainable development goals address a range of goals, including an end to poverty and inequality, improving natural environments, sustainability and gender equity.

Another 13 Australian institutions are in the top 100.

Uni Sydney is first in the world for SDG Six (clean water), Uni Canberra for SDG ten (reducing inequalities), La Trobe U for 15 (life on land) and Uni Newcastle is number one for the 17th (partnerships for all goals).

Tomorrow in CMM Angel Calderon (RMIT) crunches all the numbers


Tamara Martin becomes director of education and training at the Naval Shipbuilding College. She moves from UNSW where she was industry and innovation manager