Learning from HECS heroes

The super policy powers that changed education

While it may not look like it lately, there are manyLearning from HECS heroes in Australia, some collected by ANU Press in a new collection of essays on successful public policy in Australia and New Zealand, edited by Johanna Lutjens, Michael Mintrom and Paul ‘t Hart.

One really worth a read is the learned Tim Higgin’s piece on the policy and politics of creating HECs – with Labor talking about a generational review of post-school education, it is worth discovering how the last transformative changes were designed and implemented.

Saga-wise, Mr Higgins isn’t especially Icelandic but he describes the work of policy heroes and heroines, right when we need bold deeds and big ideas.

Uni SA on track to transform teaching teams

David Lloyd wondered how Uni SA staff would change the university if they could so he asked a few of them, quite a few

The university has just completed a round of consultations on a new teaching-focused structure, involving 700 staff. This brings to 900 the number of UniSAians involved in thinking about transforming how the university organises teaching and support services for it.

They were considering how to create “curriculum communities,” “academic programs (that) will draw on expertise from across the institution for their delivery – the best input contributing to the best offerings.” First-thoughts started 18 months or so ago and Vice Chancellor Lloyd took the basic idea to the senior staff conference in February ( CMM January 21 and  CMM February 7).

What came up there went to the committee of 700, where Professor Lloyd says; “by and large everyone was on the same page.”

“Across more than 100 iterations, our staff have conclusively shown that it is possible to put ‘as is’ to one side and to openly contemplate multiple iterations of ‘to be’. … With an eye on future careers and what makes UniSA stand out from its peers … With an eye on delivering something that has the minimum impact on the maximum number of people, but which affects a meaningful reduction in the number of silos in our organisation and which will ultimately inform and re-shape the professional services that support the academic enterprise,” he tells the university community.

The outcomes of all the work, will now be finessed by the university leadership and go to council in June.

Putting the humanities on the policy stage

The Australian Academy of Humanities has an eight-point election plan for “ensuring a humanised future for Australia”

The Academy’s election manifesto calls for government to stop ignoring the humanities and social sciences while lavishing attention on STEM. “The HASS sector has been neglected. There is no map of areas of strategic need or capacity and no plan for addressing capability gaps or areas requiring investment in the national interest.”

The Academy’s proposals for the next government include;

* “ethical, historical and cultural expertise informs all government agendas”

* “abandon the siloed approach to policy-making” that separates HASS and STEM

* “expedite” infrastructure investment for technology innovation in HASS, and;

* “develop clearer national policy settings to guide investment in a culturally confident Australia

But academy president Joy Damousi laments; “we are at the half-way point of the campaign and there has been little to no discussion of the importance of the arts, culture, music, history, language and literature to our national life.”

Griffith postgrads going great

Instead of just claiming great outcomes in advertising Griffith U asked generations of people with PG degrees how they are going

A survey of people with Griffith U graduate qualifications found the 1400 who responded (35 per cent of the total) are doing well.  The vast majority across all age groups are working, and were in appropriate employment soon after graduating. The survey also breaks-down earnings by discipline, gender and time in employment – to give prospective students at least an indication of the rate of return PG study has paid in the past. Which CMM suspects might be the purpose of the exercise – that and the accompanying profiles of what previous PGs are doing now. Quality marketing.

Research top-scores: excellently unexplained   

University science-related research just keeps getting better on ERA. Frank Larkins wonders why

 Excellent ERA: more apparent than real?: “Informed discussion as to whether research excellence in Australian universities is really improving is curtailed because the benchmarks are not available for independent appraisal,” Professor Larkins argues in a  new paper for the L H Martin Institute at the University of Melbourne.

Science stars: He points to prodigious improvements in the Australian Research Council’s Excellence in Research for Australia  rankings across the sciences with the number of universities rating above or well-above world standard increasing between ERA 2012 and ERA 2015 and again in 2018. In environmental sciences, the number of high-performing institutions went from 13 in 2012 to 30 in 2018. In biological sciences the increase was 13 in 2012 to 29 last year.  So how come, he asks, replying who knows?

No information is provided to the general research community as to what are the quantitative or qualitative world standard benchmarks and how they have changed with time. This lack of disclosure is a serious limitation on the capacity for informed debate and an assessment of the real changes in research ‘excellence’ over time.”

While HASS is humble: Also puzzling is the comparative performance of HASS disciplines. Education is up, from five universities above/well above world standard in 2013 to ten in 2018, built environment improved, from three in 2012 and 2105 to six in 2018. Psychology went higher in a leap and then in a bound, seven universities rated ERA four or five in 2012, 13 did in 2015 and 23 were above/well above the rest of the world in 2018.

But that is it, most of the eleven broad fields stayed much the same, while creative writing is down on its 2011 score and just 13 universities were top-performers in history and archaeology last year, compared to 17 in 2015.

“The assessments raise an issue as to why the science-related and humanities and social sciences trends are so different,” suggests Professor Larkins.

More methodology please: “The lack of transparency as to what are the world standards for each of the disciplines and how they have changed over time limits informed appraisal as to whether the reported improvements are real and credible. … The Australian Research Council has a responsibility to release more metric data so that independent assessment of the outcomes of this expensive and time-consuming process can be undertaken, Professor Larkins adds.

But there’s no rush: Professor Larkins adds overall ERA has worked, that, “universities have used the outcomes to make strategic research decisions to realign their research priorities, including staffing profiles and recruitment of the more productive overseas research students.” But gains made mean there is no need for another ERA for five years, at least.

If at all, in its present form. He calls for a “simplified” data collection methodology and including the future of ERA “in any review of the Australian higher education research system.” What a bit of luck that Labor’s Kim Carr wants Ian Chubb to do just that if the government changes.

A wait for CRCs to do public good

Process for the next round is ready to roll

Guidelines for Round 21 Cooperative Research Centre grants are out, with first round bids due July 1. This could delay a switch back to public-good CRCs  expected if Kim Carr is minister after the election until Round 22, next year. Senator Carr likes public-good projects but David Miles’ 2015 CRC review didn’t.

Wellings of Wollongong digs in to defend western civ

Paul Wellings is not budging on UoW’s decision to accept $50m over eight years from the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation

The University of Wollongong’s VC wrote to staff yesterday, assuring them that academic processes are in intact and there was nothing to fear, and much to welcome in the Ramsay arrangement.

“I understand and respect that recent actions of protest may have been motivated by deeply held personal convictions and genuine desires for what individuals consider to be in the best interests of the institution.  However, I reassure you that the new degree is framed around many significant 21st century issues, in particular, the development of multicultural understanding, and will demonstrably strengthen the work of our university,” Professor Wellings says.

He added that the university will defend the new degree against the legal challenge brought by the National Tertiary Education Union and that he expects the course to commence in Autumn 2020.

Professor Wellings also said he expects “up to threeuniversities to receive Ramsay Centre funding. Despite opposition from its HASS faculty board of studies, the University of Queensland could well be a second – but which is the third? Management at the University of Sydney is keen but opponents in the arts  and social sciences faculty are adamant.

Monash Commission to set an education agenda

Great timing by Margaret Gardner

The Monash University Commission report on post-compulsory education launches next Wednesday. The commission, chaired by Elizabeth Proust, was created by VC Margaret Gardner to, “to design policy options that make a substantive contribution to addressing key challenges for Australia and our region and to shape a vision for the future … Systemic change will come only by presenting compelling evidence, as well as ideas, to government and community,”, (CMM May 1 2018).

If Labor wins the election, Professor Gardner’s timing will be brilliant – the Monash report would make for a substantial submission to the new government’s promised post-secondary review.

Appointments, achievements

Reading researcher and education-policy maven Jennifer Buckingham leaves the Centre for Independent Studies for MULTILIT, “a research-based initiative of Macquarie University, assisting children with reading difficulties since 1995.”

Monash U confirms Sarah Newton as PVC (Enterprise) confirming her interim appointment to the role in September 2017. No, not 2018 – ’17, which seems rather a while to make a decision. She continues as deputy dean for external relations in the medicine, nursing and health science faculty.

Clive Barstow is the new president of the Australian Council of Deans and Directors of Creative Arts. Professor Barstow was the council’s founding VP and steps up to replace inaugural president, Su Baker. Professor Barstow is executive dean, arts and humanities at Edith Cowan U.