Uni Adelaide in crisis

University of Adelaide chancellor, Kevin Scarce resigned, effective immediately, Monday and yesterday Vice Chancellor Peter Rathjen went on “special leave” indefinitely.

Deputy chancellor Catherine Branson and DVC Mike Brooks have both stepped up to act.

Beyond confirmation of the two departures and pro-forma praise, the university is not commenting.

Analysis below.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features;

Kevin Ashford-Rowe (QUT) on the digital transformation of education. Ignore it and become Kodak. It’s this week’s essay in Commissioning Editor Sally Kift’s series on what is needed now in teaching and learning.

In CMM Features for Tuesday Suneeti Rekhari (RMIT) on creating learning experiences in crisis-time.

In CMM Features for Tuesday Aidre Grant (SCU) 3/4 says the best on-line teaching tool (it’s kindness).

In CMM Features for Tuesday Microsoft presents experts building on-line learning communities.

Uni Adelaide loses leaders, again

The uni is in the third leadership crisis of a generation

In 2001 reforming vice chancellor Mary O’Kane resigned over entrenched opposition to her plans. In 2018 Warren Bebbington, also facing internal opposition, left earlier than planned. And now Peter Rathjen is on indefinite leave. But this time it is way worse. This time Chancellor Kevin Scarce has gone too.

In the absence of hard information speculation has run riot – but the context of rumours is that Uni Adelaide has fragile finances and that repair plans are painful, that the transition to COVID-19 caused on-line teaching was fraught, that the university lags Flinders U and Uni SA for a sense of purpose and plan to achieve it.

Whatever the reason, if the situation is such that the Chancellor, VC and Council are not working together then Uni Adelaide is in deep trouble.

There was talk last night that a merger with the University of South Australia could now be back on. Perhaps, although why solvent, successfully restructuring Uni SA would want this is unclear.

The Uni Adelaide branch of the National Tertiary Education Union spoke for the university community, yesterday;

“This has come as a shock to staff and the lack of explanation is adding to anxiety levels already heightened by the COVID-19 crisis. Staff desperately need clarity from the university council and the remaining senior management on why the chancellor has resigned and why the vice-chancellor is taking indefinite leave.”

National safety manual

ANU’s National Security College announces free access to a professional development programme

The on-line platform, “will enable national security policy makers and thinkers to meaningfully grow – and actively maintain – their professional knowledge.”

“Registrations are essential and places are limited,” probably to people who can spot a Thucydides Trap, know Runescape did not write the X article and who work for public agencies with training budgets.

NHMRC awards: known but not announced

Winners of National Health and Medical Research Council Investigator Grants were advised over a week ago, but they are under strict orders to say nowt

The NHMRC renewed the order Monday. Perhaps this is until busy-indeed Health Minister Greg Hunt, can schedule an announcement. But whatever the reason, people aren’t grumbling, at least publicly. Different to the outrage that occurred when Education Minister Dan Tehan wanted grant-winners to stay shtum until coalition members and senators were ready to announce ARC awards on their patch.

More class time at Murdoch U

Academic staff will now have to teach up to 80 per cent of their time

“This revised workload is based upon an initial assessment of how your discipline can best achieve its key goals in the most effective and efficient way possible,” a message to staff states.

However individual loads for teaching, research and service will vary and the university intends to “safeguard,” “critical course development” and “strategically aligned research activity.”

Discipline heads will advise individual academics of their new workloads but, “everyone is expected to make a significant contribution.” In October, the university released proposed research income and publication objectives for staff at all academic levels, which may now be impossible to reach (CMM October 2 2019).

Staff are told in messages from college PVCs and discipline leaders that the new workloads are necessary due to “the significant financial pressure” the university faces.

Murdoch U watchers suggest the new allocation could add the equivalent of an extra day a week to some academics’ workloads, on top of the time taken by conversion to on-line teaching.

But, watchers warn, if the new model means more work for continuing staff it surely means less for casual academics.

Cengage, McGraw Hill merger off

It looks like it just got too hard for the education publishers

US regulators would have wanted the combined company to shed subsidiaries to reduce market power. UK authorities were having a look and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission was holding an inquiry (CMM December 13 2019).

A way forward for international education


 It can’t happen quickly, but it can happen

International education advocates are talking up reactivating the industry, with fee-paying students fronting up in tens of thousands for the start of second semester.

This isn’t going to happen like last year, the politics of the pandemic will prevent it.

But a slow three-step process is possible.

Step One – for a start, campuses could open, sort-of. Education Minister Dan Tehan was adamant on ABC TV’s Insiders programme this is required. Not with a fully-fledged face-to-face teaching model but with an HE version of what is happening in schools, where students are attending and being supervised on-site to learn the remote syllabus. This would work for universities – libraries and learning precincts open to allow students to access superior Internet and other learning resources on campus.

Step Two – opening the borders to students from everywhere is politically impossible, but welcoming students from countries with low-infection rates might be electorally saleable, especially if there is a quarantine process of the kind Australians accept as appropriate for returning locals.

Step Three – letting the states make a call. National cabinet could set the rules and then allow premiers of states where COVID-19 is now low-risk to decide to accept students from countries where the virus is not a crisis. What would not work in NSW or Victoria may appeal in South Australia and Tasmania.

When could it occur? July seems too soon. But universities starting a trimester in September-October might have enough time to put together a pitch that their premiers could sell to Canberra and the other states, and more important, their own electors.

It’s an idea awash with difficulties – but it may be enough of a way forward to appeal to governments who need to kick-start economies, without putting people at big risks.


Dirk Mulder is CMM’s international education correspondent

Claire Field backs a way to bring ASQA up to speed


The new Rapid Review is “an excellent piece of work”

When the  Rapid Review of ASQA was announced, I was sceptical of “yet another review”.

This was especially so, after the excellent Braithwaite  and Joyce reviews identified consistent problems in the Australian Skills Quality Agency’s approach. I thought action was needed to implement their recommendations, not another review.

I was wrong.

This review is an excellent piece of work which puts flesh on the bones of Braithwaite’s and Joyce’s recommendations. It is a “how to” for ASQA to address their earlier recommendations.

And it is going to be a huge challenge.

There are 24 recommendations in the Rapid Review (all have been accepted by the government). They span the following aspects of ASQA’s work:

* moving from input and compliance controls to a focus on self-assurance and excellence in training outcomes

* clarifying and modernising ASQA’s role and regulatory culture

* aligning governance arrangements with ASQA’s renewed focus

* strengthening engagement and education

* using intelligence to effectively monitor strategic risk and provider performance

* aligning audit practice to focus on self-assurance

* appropriate and proportionate regulatory action where non-compliance is identified

* meaningful reporting on provider performance

* supporting ASQA staff to deliver the outcomes

The most noticeable differences for providers are likely to come in three areas:

(i) more education being offered by ASQA

(ii) better and more consistent audits, and

(iii) more proportionate actions being taken off the back of much more informative audit reports.

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority is mentioned a number of times in the Rapid Review. The NZQA’s regulatory approach exemplifies a number of the changes ASQA will need to make.

There’s a summary of the Rapid Review available on my website, including an explanation of key aspects of the NZQA’s approach if you want to gain some sense of what ASQA’s new approach might entail.

Claire Field advises on VET, international education and private higher education.

Short courses for the crisis

Curtin U announces UG and graduate certificate courses for the government’s discounted study programme

They are intended for people keen to use COVID-19 down-time to pick-up a new qualification. Courses are in teaching, engineering and psychology.

They are among the 99 courses listed on the fed’s site yesterday, up from 77 on Monday.