Campus Morning Mail Summer Edition

Uni SA all secret squirrel in Sydney

(Sorry about that). On Tuesday I reported the University of South Australia is leasing office space in flash North Sydney but I did not know for what. I still don’t.  Yesterday the university said it will not be ready to reveal what is going on for a couple of weeks. Anybody keen to know earlier should stake out 140 Walker Street North Sydney, noting the harbour views.

From the Institute for Analysing the Obvious

University of Queensland and UWS researchers  report a study of 26 individuals who texted while walking. They found, and you might want to message your loved ones (but stand still mind) their warning, “altered gait parameters may have an impact on the safety of pedestrians who type or read text on a mobile phone while walking.” This is serious work, with formulas and everything, which the Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences will undoubtedly welcome because it will get government MPs who like to laugh at irrelevant research off its members’ backs.

When you’ve got ’em flaunt ’em

After a week when academics from universities accepting students with low ATARs explained, loudly and at length why tertiary entry scores are irrelevant Swinburne demonstrates why they are not going away, “the minimum Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) required to gain a place in many popular degrees has risen at Swinburne University of Technology in 2014.”

Nearly there

Ever so slowly the University of Western Sydney and the two unions with members there are inching towards an enterprise agreement. At the end of last year management offered a $1500 bonus if a deal was done during December – it wasn’t but presumably on the principle that near-enough is good enough the university decided to pay up anyway. The parties met last week and are scheduled to meet again on February 7 to hammer out outstanding clauses, notably on academic workloads and money. According to Angelo Kourtis, acting head of strategy and services, “the university is hopeful that agreement in relation to its pay offer will be reached during this meeting.” So, I suspect are CPSU members, some of whom are said to be irritated with the National Tertiary Education Union’s more aggressive approach.

And arrived

While nothing much is occurring at Flinders and management and staff representatives at the University of Adelaide are arguing over how many senior lecturers can teach on a pinhead the University of South Australia has the makings of an industrial deal. I hear the pay rise works out at a bit over 3.3 per cent per annum through to 2018, which is a solid result for the NTEU. However management has extracted the right to reform academic work practices, including teaching only career paths. This is a big win for Vice Chancellor David Lloyd.

MacAulay  moves on

QUT’s veteran HR director Graham MacAulay has announced his retirement in August. Some bloke called Hawke was PM when Mr MacAulay  started and he was already a veteran when Peter Coaldrake joined in 1994. The loss of 26 years of corporate memory dating from an age when the university was not yet a university will be hard, very hard, to replace.

Stars are born

The British Council is bringing its FameLab competition to Australia. Oh good, anybody who still finds self-promotion distasteful may think, another social media opportunity for people to tell us how clever they are and what they think about everything. But no, FameLab is for young STEM researchers who are keen to explain their work to general audiences. Even better, it offers coaching to contestants. This is good stuff, while it is embarrassing that we need the Brits to help, Australian science is woefully undersold. I sometimes suspect nobody told the many, many members of the science communication industry here that they are not just supposed to talk to each other.

What makes MOOCs

Harvard and MIT reported on the first year of their X open online course projects this week and while they are at pains to point out that it is too early to understand what is going on the numbers quoted are considerable. For example of the 597,000 unique users some 43,000 stuck it our to earn certificates in 17 courses. Sure this is a cap A attrition rate but given students invest nothing more than time and curiosity it strikes me as a big success. As to what happens next, there is no universal answer; “open online courses are neither useless nor the salvation of higher-education. Large-scale, ‘low-touch’ learning platforms will have sectors and niches where they are very useful and others where they are less so. Our understanding of trade-offs and our ability to identify new opportunities will improve with continued research.” How long till somebody offers online courses in managing, let alone designing courses for open access platforms?

Eternal but obsolete

The University of Melbourne is organising a conference on “the future for the humanities and social sciences in a global era” on March 18-19. Details are here. Cynics suggest that the meeting is premised on an optimistic assumption that there is a future, but that’s what you get from cynics.
I’m guessing that universally esteemed literary scholar Denis Donoghue is not invited, or would not attend if he were. Writing in the new issue of Daedalus (thanks to Colin Steele for the reference) Professor Donoghue questions the connection between the two disciplines groups and unhappily acknowledges that the humanities are required to account for themselves. “We are obliged to show not only cause but consequence. The humanities are vulnerable because they do not cure a disease or build a bomb.” “What then do humanists do?,” he asks. “The simplest account of their work is that it does their pupils good.” True but a way to keep enrolments, and funding, flowing this is not.

Clever kiwis

Across the ditch teacher quality is also an issue but instead of (a) suggesting entry scores are irrelevant and/or (b) politicians are being mean, education academics are trying a cunning ploy – they are agreeing with ministers. According to the University of Canterbury, College of Education PVC Gail Gillon, “has endorsed the government’s focus on quality teaching and strong school leadership.” Her colleague Letitia Fickel adds, “preparing high quality teaching graduates for the school and early childhood sector needs to be in partnership with the school communities. ” Smart thinking – agreeing with ministers is a sovereign way to ensure they leave universities alone.