Plus Uni Adelaide to increase teaching-only academics

Economic answer

“University fee deregulation mainly benefits top university administrators,” write economists Gigi Foster (UNSW) and Paul Frijters (UoQ). So what’s to be done? “Capping the salaries of top university administrators, rather than using government debt to finance exorbitant payrolls for these bureaucrats, would help a bit,” they suggest in The Conversation. Gosh, I wonder what they really think.

ANU new 4

In ACU the U is for Uganda

Just weeks before the end of first semester Australian Catholic University students warn that some in second year nursing courses have not undertaken their mandatory first year full-time placement month. Others, including working nurses in the second year of postgraduate courses, are still waiting a placement allocation for this semester. “The university is happy to accept Commonwealth supported students despite the inadequate number of clinical placements available,” one ACU student says.

Last night the university advised CMM that it; “has alerted students who are studying a bachelor of midwifery that there has been a delay in confirmation of some of the clinical placements for first semester. These placements will proceed as soon as possible. It is anticipated that every student will be notified in the next two weeks of their placement.

But how did this happen? “The lateness in providing information to students is due to changes in the availability of placements with traditional providers. This has created the need for a refined approach to clinical placements for students.”

Which is where this turns from bureaucratic to bizarre; “this has provided an opportunity for new and exciting placement for students internationally, in locations such as Vanuatu and Uganda. ACU will support the costs for these international placements and provides supervision and support for students involved.”

CMM does not know anything about nursing education but does wonder whether Ugandan hospitals are relevant to the conditions nurses work in here. However this does not bother students, an ACU spokesperson says; “students submit an expression of interest for international experience and these opportunities are usually extremely popular. No one is told they must go. They will travel in either one or two groups of eight. ACU considers student safety when providing placements. ”  No doubt it is bags of fun as well, but the fact the university has to send nursing students to Uganda for placements in an Australian degree programme surely raises questions about the numbers ACU is enrolling.

Uni Adelaide to expand teaching-only workforce

The University of Adelaide will move up to 100 academics to teaching-only positions in a move to end the conventional model, where academic staff split their time between the classroom and research. “Adelaide has less than 1 per cent who could be considered as education specialists. We now want to see staff depart from standard workload allocations to move into such roles, Vice Chancellor Warren Bebbington told the university community last night.

Speaking to CMM, Professor Bebbington added the university’s enterprise agreement provided for academics with a 90 per cent teaching workload “but not much has happened since (it was adopted) and this is an attempt to get things moving.”

The university will also develop new performance metrics, “to define staff expectations in research and teaching.” “We’re fortunate that the overwhelming majority of our staff perform well—but we will not be lulled into complacency.  The new statements defining what it is to be an ‘Adelaide Academic’, with specific teaching and research expectations, will ensure everyone contributes to the full,” he said.

“Those who are not pulling their weight will be compared against the statements,” the VC added.

Professor Bebbington also said the move was “not about cuts” or revenue raising but a reallocation of resources to support the university’s strategy. “Two years ago we drew a line in the sand, turning away from enrolment growth to focus on student learning quality. Today, we do the same with academic staff expectations so we will be far better placed to reach our strategic goals.” With more full time staff teaching the university will need fewer casuals, helping generate $14m pa for additional research support by 2019.

The university is implementing a new teaching strategy, which is moving lectures on-line while focusing resources on small classes. “Alunni often remember great teachers not great researchers, Professor Bebbington said. He added he “would not be dismayed” if more than 100 staff chose teaching only roles.


Applied research easily encouraged (but still no bonanza)

The Innovative Research Universities group puts the case for new measures to track applied research performance (CMM yesterday) on top of the agenda and month’s after receipt the Department of Education and Training has quietly released submissions to the government’s discussion paper on increasing “commercial returns from research.”

The generality of submissions make the case for more money, however the Cooperative Research Centres Association injected a note of economic reality into the debate. “Commercialisation of research does not make significant returns to research organisations anywhere in the world,” it is industry that benefits from applied research the CRCA argues.

But while government can not hope for universities to be much more self-supporting from selling their research, the CRCA renews its oft-made case for a reorganisation of block grant funding, which would lift industry engagement without increasing overall outlay. “If the Australian government wants universities to work more with businesses, then a simple adjustment of the categories of the Higher Education Block Grant scheme would have an immediate and substantial impact.”

“The distribution of the Block Grants has a massive impact on the behaviour of researchers. … In general terms, under the current system, returns are based on categories that favour nationally competitive research schemes over industrial schemes. The returns from the scheme are highly valued by university management because they are untied and therefore can be used in a discretionary fashion.

Good point but not now

Perhaps research community support for Chief Scientist Ian Chubb’s plan for a national research strategy is not as solid as it seems. The Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering discretely distanced itself from the plan in its response to the commercial returns paper (above).

“Australia has a poor history of using research priorities effectively to improve our research translation. For industry and other end users of research, national priorities are almost irrelevant. Their criteria will always be dominated by their perceived need for the outcomes of research, and their commitment to invest time and money in commercialising and adopting these outcomes. Care should be taken when emphasising the importance of a set of national research priorities.”

With the nine national research priority areas agreed to the by Commonwealth Science Council and debate focusing on how to measure industry-linked work ATSE’s argument looks, for now, like a good point for a lost cause.

Improving advice

Completion rates for apprentices and trainees are woeful, less than half for trades and just 56 per cent for other occupations. There are all sorts of reasons, but a big part of the problem is unfulfilled expectations, which information and guidance can fix. “Often this comes down to prospective apprentices being given better advice so they select the right training and employment,” the Department of Industry declared last year. So Training Minister Simon Birmingham has established the $200m pa Apprenticeship Support Network, to advise people considering an apprentice or traineeship, connect them with potential employers, plus providing “targeted mentoring to assist apprentices or employers facing difficulty.” The network replaces the Australian Apprentices Centres, which had an administrative emphasis on recording student progress rather than working to ensure completions. According to Senator Birmingham there was also too much of a focus on starts instead of completions.

The government has appointed 11 providers for the new system after a competitive tender. Of the 11 the Sarina Russo group did well, with contracts in NSW, Victoria and the ACT but the MEGT organisation came close to scooping the pool, winning the right to compete everywhere bar the Northern Territory. Both providers also participated in the old centre system. Senator Birmingham declined yesterday to set a completion target for apprentices and trainees under the new system, saying he hoped for a “a steady upward trend.”

Discrete distance

Former Indonesian president Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will not speak in Perth on Friday as planned. “Due to the sensitivity of the timing of his visit, Dr Yudhoyono has decided to postpone his trip,” VC Paul Johnston announced yesterday. Sensitivity understates it. Dr Yudhoyono will deliver his speech by video link.