Long read

The Fair Work Commission has approved the University of Sydney enterprise agreement, signed by management and unions on December 12. Perhaps it took that long for Commissioner Johns to wade through all 117 pages.

Numeracy and literacy tick for teacher ed grads

Nearly all (92 per cent) of 2017 teacher education graduates have literacy and numeracy skills that put them in the top third of Australians. Education Minister Simon Birmingham released the results of the second year of tests yesterday. They are marginally down on 2016 scores and Senator Birmingham reminds course providers that it is “critical” that they “are doing everything possible to help teacher graduates succeed and become effective teachers.”

So how are institutions going? Check the results at the end of this morning’s issue.

What to do about bad reviews

Academics are not all always happy at being reviewed by students. A couple of months back union members at the University of South Australia kicked up at the MyCourseExperience questionnaire, which they say can include abusive remarks from students and includes an “arbitrary” weighting that management uses to score teaching performance.

Now the National Tertiary Education Union is surveying academics around the country to ascertain their experience of being assessed by students. The survey is calmly comprehensive, asking about methodology, student comments and how management uses the results. But perhaps the union knows what it wants to hear; on the list of 11 physical or psychological problems caused by inappropriate student comments staff are asked to complete, “none” is not an option. Respondents are also asked if they can opt out of student assessment.  This could be a major campaign, one which would be popular with members, once enterprise bargaining is done.

The who, why and how of student cheating at Australian unis

The growth of a market economy in education is repositioning academic work as a commodity, creating “a ‘perfect storm’ in which contract cheating can perhaps be seen as an unsurprising symptom of “an ecosystem under extreme stress.”

Except the symptom is not part of  pandemic. “Our data has demonstrated that a relatively small proportion of students are engaging in contract cheating,” Tracey Bretag, Rowena Harper (UniSA) and colleagues report in a major survey of contract cheating and course work sharing in Australian universities.

Last year the Bretag-Harper team reported findings  CMM June 16 ) and now they expand their analysis of 14 000 student responses at eight Australian universities in a major new paper.

Responding students reported sharing behaviour, with 15 per cent passing notes around and 27 per cent providing assignments to others. But outright cheating is not as common, ranging from exam substitution (0.5 per cent) through submitting assignments which are not their work (2.2 per cent) to providing exam assistance (3.1 per cent). Key findings include:

It’s not a big business: the survey finds students who “outsource” their work use people they know, rather than commercial providers.

But there is a sharing economy: “students more frequently provide others with completed assignments than they do with notes.”

The will to cheat: is “primarily influenced by dissatisfaction with the teaching and learning environment, and perceptions that there were lots of opportunities to cheat in subjects”

Where cheaters are: notably in engineering. “While the engineering discipline contains around one quarter of all the students in the cheating group, it is not engineering per se that influences cheating behaviour. It is rather that students who are languages other than English, and/or particularly dissatisfied with the teaching and learning environment, and perceive there to be ‘lots of opportunities to cheat’ are concentrated within the discipline of engineering.”

It happens all-over (even at the Group of Eight): The study found Group of Eight students were more likely to buy/sell/trade notes but they were no more/less likely to participate in other “outsourcing behaviours.” “This finding is at odds with a prevailing assumption that contract cheating is more likely to occur in higher education providers of ‘lower quality’,” the authors argue.

And no, they aren’t all internationals: While students’ “previous educational and learning experiences are relevant,” the survey results “contradict the simplistic view that international students cheat more due to culturally-based values and attitudes towards cheating. … Understanding what leads students to cheat requires the examination of a range of complex, and overlapping factors, but ‘culture’ alone does not explain the phenomenon.”

But keep an eye on students from LOTE backgrounds: “It is of particular concern that LOTE students continue to be over-represented in cheating surveys, and that despite two decades of research which has pointed to the need to direct resources toward more systematic approaches to students’ language and learning development, little progress appears to have been made.”

Who needs to act: “Outsourcing behaviours – including serious forms of cheating – are more commonly influenced by dissatisfaction with the teaching and learning environment, and a perception that there are lots of opportunities to cheat in subjects. This places responsibility squarely with universities, and should prompt serious considerations of approaches to curriculum and assessment design.”

The big takeout is that the way the world works is changed, and education has to adapt. “The ‘sharing economy’ is shaping students’ approaches to life and learning. Curriculum and pedagogy could better reflect the realities of working in a highly connected and networked world, in which sharing and collaboration are an increasing part of professional practice. Educators need to support students in learning to navigate this world, both as learners who must demonstrate their own individual capabilities through assessment, and as emerging professionals who need to learn to work ethically.”

Wild times

“The entrance to Arts Sydney faculty office has gone all nightclub. Living the fierce party life,” dean Annamarie Jagose, via Twitter. There is a picture of a velvet rope across a narrow door. They party hearty at UniSydney.

Count-down to skilled-labour crisis

As Australia ages economic growth will depend on higher skilled labour force participation, but this involves a level of investment in education and training which isn’t happening now, with the increase in higher education enrolments not offsetting the decline in VET study since 2012.

“If participation rates in higher education and VET in Australia fall as the population increases, there will be fewer people of prime working age who can effectively participate in the labour market in the future,” Peter Noonan and Sarah Pilcher from Victoria U’s Mitchell Institute warn.

They set out eight scenarios on participation in VET and higher education in a new report, released this morning.

 Scenario one:  enrolment growth held at 18-64 year population growth for2020-31, as per government policy. “It is difficult to see sustainable enrolment growth at marginal rates in the medium-to-longer term.”

Scenario two: growth continues at demand driven system levels. There are 235 000 more students by 2031, because, “the system is able to grow in response to ongoing demand, driven by a range of factors, not just 18 – 64 age population growth.

Scenario three: hard cap on enrolments at 2017 levels.  Participation will fall by 4.3 per cent to 2031, compared to a 6.1 per cent growth under scenario two.

Scenario four: decline in VET enrolments continues: VET enrolments are 243 000 in 2031, down from 841 000 in 2016. This would make VET “a residual sector”.

Scenario five: VET growth restored, adding 150 000 places in 2031.

Scenario six: both VET and higher education follow the total 2016-17 trend, but HE growth is not hard capped. VET decline drags the whole sector down, to 1.39m in 2031, down from the 2012 peak of 1.75m

Scenario seven: higher education is fixed at the population growth cap population and VET follows the 206-16 trend. There are 1.16m students in the post secondary system – well below the 2008 figure as higher education fails to compensate for declining VET participation.

Scenario eight: 2016 participation levels matched. This requires enrolling an extra 760 000 students in 2031.

“The most urgent priority is to address declining levels of public investment in VET and associated cost shifting to students, and other factors that appear to be contributing to the ongoing fall in VET student enrolments. This issue should be considered as a matter of priority by the heads of Australian governments if the real risk of declining participation in tertiary education in Australia, and declining levels of qualification attainment in the workforce, is to be averted,” Noonan and Pilcher warn.

A new look at UNSW restructure 

Restructure strain is causing pain at UNSW with participants in a recent engineering briefing being told professional staff are doing their best in “new jobs and new structures” as part of the 2025 strategy. It was management boilerplate, apart from the bit about mistakes in structures, resources and role allocations in the new Operational Excellence model, which is now being reviewed.

Say what? OpEx is the shared services model being rolled out across the university with accompanying job cuts as the university centralises functions. The chancellery line is that the restructure involves a “difficult time” for people whose jobs are “disestablished” but “to achieve our strategic goals, UNSW needs to change and future-proof the way it deploys its professional services,” ( CMM August 29 2017).

So what’s with talk of a review? Perhaps middle management are misunderstanding what the leadership wants. Certainly a close observer of the restructure says staff are generally just getting “usual guff” about managing change. So on Thursday CMM asked the university if there is a review of OpEx and a spokesperson promised to respond, but hasn’t.

Where teaching graduates are best taught literacy and numeracy

Education Minister Simon Birmingham has announced institution-level test results for education graduates’ literacy and numeracy.

Australian Capital Territory

Institution Literacy Component Numeracy Component
University of Canberra 88.2% 91.3%
Australian Catholic University – ACT 92.9% 93.8%

 New South Wales

Institution Literacy Component Numeracy Component
Alphacrucis College


75.0% 50.0%
Australian College of Physical


80.0% 90.0%
Avondale College 92.4% 92.6%
Charles Sturt University 92.5% 94.5%
Excelsia College 92.9% 100.0%
Macquarie University 94.0% 92.3%
Morling College 100.0% 100.0%
The University of New England 97.6% 96.4%
The University of New South Wales 97.6% 96.5%
The University of Newcastle 96.0% 96.4%
The University of Sydney 97.7% 98.2%
University of Technology Sydney 90.9% 96.4%
University of Wollongong 95.5% 98.3%
Western Sydney University 89.9% 89.3%
Australian Catholic University – NSW 86.2% 86.9%
Southern Cross University – NSW 90.2% 89.4%
The University of Notre Dame Australia – NSW 88.9% 86.7%

 Northern Territory

Institution Literacy Component Numeracy Component
Charles Darwin University 87.0% 85.5%


Institution Literacy Component Numeracy Component
Central Queensland University 95.9% 93.5%
Christian Heritage College 98.0% 97.0%
Griffith University 96.4% 94.9%
James Cook University 93.5% 95.2%
Queensland University of Technology 95.9% 95.6%
The University of Queensland 98.1% 97.6%
University of Southern Queensland 93.7% 93.9%
University of the Sunshine Coast 97.6% 96.1%
Australian Catholic University – QLD 92.3% 89.1%
Southern Cross University – QLD 84.9% 85.1%

 South Australia

Institution Literacy Component Numeracy Component
Flinders University 96.3% 87.1%
The University of Adelaide 88.5% 95.3%
University of South Australia 89.9% 94.4%


Institution Literacy Component Numeracy Component
University of Tasmania 97.0% 93.8%


Institution Literacy Component Numeracy Component
Deakin University 93.6% 92.7%
Eastern College Victoria 100.0% 100.0%
Federation University Australia 93.6% 93.0%
Holmesglen Tafe 80.0% 80.0%
La Trobe University 92.3% 90.6%
Melbourne Polytechnic 60.0% 60.0%
Monash University 89.9% 95.5%
RMIT University 83.5% 85.6%
Swinburne University of Technology 85.7% 84.6%
The University of Melbourne 98.1% 97.9%
Victoria University 73.4% 75.9%
Australian Catholic University – VIC 93.7% 95.8%

Western Australia

Institution Literacy Component Numeracy Component
Curtin University of Technology 94.2% 92.1%
Edith Cowan University 98.2% 95.7%
Montessori World Educational Institute 100.0% 100.0%
Murdoch University 96.3% 97.5%
The University of Western Australia 98.0% 99.0%
The University of Notre Dame Australia – WA 92.8% 96.4%