plus should VCs give a Gonski

attrition: improving over time

and Heads Up – news of the week in employment and achievement

Buyer needed

The prime minister was at Deakin University in Geelong yesterday. CMM wonders whether VC Jane den Hollander asked him if he knew anybody in the market for a nice regional campus, like the one at Warrnambool she wants to offload.

Friday June 24

Briefing book

It will not take long for whoever is minister after the election to scan the department’s brief (“everybody wants more money”). This will give him or her a chance to read something really useful, if scary, the new edition of QUT VC Peter Coaldrake and the university’s principal policy advisor Lawrence Stedman’s book, Raising the Stakes.  Gambling with the Future of Universities (2013)CMM hears it includes an assessment of the deregulation debate and an analysis of the financial future for higher education, which is said to be stark. It’s due just days after the election and the new content is extra contemporary, the authors were seen still writing on budget night.

Interest in UNE conflict

The National Tertiary Education Union is worried by “continuing assaults upon staff and student participation in university councils,” and is convening a session to “assist and support NTEU members of university councils.” Members like Margaret Sims at the University of New England who is president of the union branch there and an elected member of  university council. Professor Sims was elected to council by academic staff in 2010 and continues a member. However she was also elected NTEU branch president in February last year, which is the source of a dispute now in the federal court.

The university council has decided Professor Sims has a conflict of interest and should be excluded from meetings and receive board papers with sections redacted, when her conflicting interests apply. Professor Sims disputes this, saying the university had not demonstrated any such conflict. She is asking the court for an order allowing her to receive Council papers and participate in meetings except when she declares she has a material interest.

However university chancellor James Harris argues that being president of the union in itself is a material interest as “the matters considered by the university council almost always have an impact on the interests of NTEU members”. The university is asking the court to decide Professor Sim has breached her fiduciary duty to UNE and cannot participate in council when it deals with a wide range of issue relating to staff.

There are all sorts of specifics in university acts and the court’s decision in this case will not apply to campuses across the country. Even so, university managements, who like the idea of fewer, or no, union reps on council, are interested in the outcome. So is the NTEU.

SCAPA16246 CMM Vote v2a

Leonardo likes

Leonardo DiCaprio’s Instagram comment on UWA research in the Atlantic Ocean had a mere 218 000 likes yesterday so the university thought it should get the word out. Mr DiCaprio’s remarks are about work involving Professor Jessica Meeuwig from the Centre for Marine Futures.

Practical course

Curtin U’s motto is “look ever forward” and when managers do what they see is office blocks, residential accommodation and shopping centres, as well as the occasional classroom. The university is powering into property with a major building programme described here by development director Lisa Spiers. And all the desirable property is just stage one! But before anybody gets upset at universities losing sight of their mission, Curtin teaches property development – obviously this is a vast case study for the course.

Decline in drop-outs

The undergraduate attrition rate isn’t as bad as appears in new Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, (CMM yesterday) according to Universities Australia. UA’s analysis puts long-term non-completion rates for bachelor degrees at 19 per cent, which fits a Department of Education cohort analysis last year. This found that in 2014 73.6 per cent of 2005 commencers had completed and 4.2 per cent were still enrolled – leaving 22.2 per cent as drop-outs. But if this still does not look good it’s better than it was in the days before unmet demand. In the ‘50s the Murray Review of higher education estimated undergraduate completions at 65 per cent and the Williams Review, two decades on, estimated some 72 per cent of 1971 starters completed.

Quick look

The University of New England says the Voice staff survey management briefed workers on this week is superior to the NTEU’s report on staff opinion, which is (just a bit) more critical of UNE’s workplace cultures. The university states that its survey had a 64 per cent participation rate while “indications from the select data” in the union survey are that it was completed by less than 20 per cent of staff. There is also “ideological bias” in the union report. Even so, management says the university will consider any “meaningful information” in the union’s document. CMM suspects that won’t take long.


VCs would give a Gonski

Ben Etherington from Western Sydney U  is not a fan of a market in education or of the way the income contingent loan changed the relationship between university and society. “Previously the state funded the university who educated the student, and society received the benefits of their education, which included their economic productivity. Now the state loaned the student the money to invest in a university education which they wouldn’t have to repay should their ‘investment’ fail,” he writes.

The problem with this, Dr Etherington argues, is it turns education into a market transaction, which devalues people whose career choices mean they do not make enough to pay back the state’s investment in their education. Calling for a student who has not gained any meaningful financial advantage from their university education to repay their student debt “is the economic equivalent of handing a credit card terminal to someone fleeing a bushfire in an ambulance,” he writes.

But all is not lost, for Dr Etherington has ideas to “pull Australia’s universities back from the precipice.”

Notably, he wants to abolish funding bands for Commonwealth Supported Places. “It might be painful to see the fees for nursing and humanities set at the same level as those for law and medicine, but it would help to expel from the system any sense that a student’s contribution amount is determined by the calculation of future private benefit.” Universities that need more money would be funded “on a needs basis just as per the logic of Gonski model.” CMM wonders how VCs would respond to having to give a Gonski.


opportunities and achievements at work this week


Walter and Eliza Hall is looking for somebody with postgraduate qualifications in biomedical sciences and a diploma in animation, plus production skills to “visually communicate the discoveries and research of the WHI and other important science topics to the interested layperson.” Great job, shame about the pay, WEHI is offering $83 000 base.

QUT has conferred its distinguished professor accolade on indigenous researcher Aileen Morton-Robinson. She also becomes dean of indigenous research and engagement.

The Clunies Ross Awards, “Australia’s premier innovation commercialisation” honours are announced. Chosen by the Academy of Technology and Engineering recipients are “pre-eminent innovators who persisted with their ideas to provide broad economic, social or environmental benefits.” Businesswoman Elaine Saunders is entrepreneur of the year for her “world-leading, cost-saving hearing aid system.” Maree Smith from the University of Queensland wins for knowledge commercialisation. Professor Smith holds 11 pain relief drug patents with analgesics licensed to three companies. Peter Murphy is innovator of the year. The University of South Australia academic’s automated plastic vehicle rear-view mirror is manufactured in Adelaide and sold in the US.

Griffith U is recruiting a PVC for the sciences portfolioPhysicist and dean of learning and teaching Robert Strang is acting in the job.

James Cook U is recruiting four academics to teach a new bachelors degree in environmental practice with new, to JCU, majors in urban design and corporate environmental management. The four staff will work at either Cairns or Townsville campuses.

Dementia researcher Henry Brodaty has won the $250 000 Ryman Prize for his work on diagnosing and treating the diseaseProfessor Brodaty is co-chair of the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing at the University of New South Wales.

Dianne Jackson is leaving the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth to join Charles Sturt UDr Jackson will become deputy director of the Research Institute of Professional Practice, Learning and Education and build its networking, consulting and fund raising capacities.