Smile on the way out

“At ANU Physics, in labs where dangerous gasses are used, they are installing cameras, that will activate alarms if a person assumes a horizontal position,” tweets ANU physics professor Ilya Shadrivov.

Presumably the canaries have taken voluntary redundancy.

In Features this morning

There’s more in the Mail

 Garry Carnegie (RMIT) and James Guthrie (Macquarie U) call on vice chancellors to be transparent about financial management, especially when wanting to amend enterprise agreements.

Maree Meredith (Flinders U) argues it’s time to re-write the rules about the roles and operations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research centres. New in the CMM series from Indigenous academics and policy people.

 Tim Winkler went to 17 virtual open days. He found much not to love and three ways recruiters can make them better, way better.

Sally Varnham (UTS) makes the case for a dedicated body to deal with student-university disputes. It’s a new idea in Commissioning Editor Sally Kift’s series, “Need now in teaching and learning.”

Should the ayes have it? Rex Patrick asks the question on the Tehan Bill

The Senate committee reviewing the student-place funding legislation heard at length yesterday what is wrong with the legislation – it may not matter

Early in the day Uni Tasmania VC Rufus Black explained why the bill was good for his university and state – his reasons did not impress Labor senators Kim Carr and Deborah O’Neill or Mehreen Faruqi, from The Greens.

It set the tone for proceedings. Vice Chancellors who support the bill, albeit with qualifications, were critically questioned by Labor senators and Senator Faruqi. As were Deborah Terry and Catriona Jackson from Universities Australia who faced particularly critical questions from Senator Carr and Senator Faruqi.

Students and the National Tertiary Education Union however, had opportunities to explain the legislation’s inequities.

And policy experts who are across the detail of the legislation were asked to to explain its failings, at length.

Matt O’Sullivan (LP, WA) briefly up-ended the agree-a-thon, asking Uni Sydney VC Michael Spence, a fierce critic of the bill, about his university’s budgeting – which did not add anything to anybody’s understanding of the bill.

Kim Carr responded to this by asking Dr Spence what he thought of attacks on universities in general and his in particular.  “Australia has one of the best higher education systems in the world … for anybody in parliament our outside parliament to denigrate our universities is a great mistake,” he replied.

The only cross bencher participating, Rex Patrick (Independent-SA) asked witnesses for actual information about the bill and its context and put one of the two questions of the day to Universities Australia – if the bill is not amended should he vote for it or against it.

Ms Jackson replied passage will provide the certainty universities need. But how he voted was a matter for him. So, Senator Patrick asked the question again. To which Professor Terry responded UA had asked for amendments, some of which the government had adopted but while it wants more changes, “certainty for the sector into the future is critically important.”

The other question was not actually asked yesterday but it shaped everything that was said– does the government already have the numbers?

If Queensland senators Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts vote with the government the bill needs only more backer. There are three it could be, Senator Patrick, another South Australian, Stirling Griff or Tasmanian independent Jacqui Lambie.

This may be why Rufus Black got a hard time.

The Committee hears evidence again on Thursday with its report due Friday week.

Digital journals disappear

Now you see them, next you don’t, especially OA publications

Mikael Laakso (Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki) and colleagues  examined how many digitally published research journals disappear.

It’s not an especially big problem yet, but it will be if trends continue – vanished journals, to date, generally publish for seven years, remain visible for another one or two before disappearing into the on-line ether.

Journals from all geographic regions and disciplines disappear, although HASS leads the loss.

While all digital journals are subject to the same threats, OA journals face unique challenges, “current approaches to digital preservation are successful in archiving content from larger journals and established publishing houses but leave behind those that are more at risk,” they warn.

Claire Field warns: students deserve better on VET assessment  


Skills committee inertia risks sending tens of thousands of students into unemployment

 With a once in a century global pandemic, unemployment at a 20-year high, technology intensive jobs expected to lead Australia’s post-COVID recovery, and a manufacturing renaissance responding to fragilities in global supply chains VET has a key role to play.  But funding for extra training places is only part of the solution.

Federal Liberal backbencher, Dave Sharma, says “the challenge for government and for policymakers is to support this recovery, seek to make the transition as frictionless as possible, and lean into the change.”

In VET an emergency response sub-committee of the Australian Industry Skills Committee was established to “reduce the friction” and “lean into the change”, or as per the committee’s website “to enable short-term and urgent adjustments to qualifications and training package requirements to respond to areas of critical workforce and skills needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

However, almost six months after its formation the sub-committee has approved four skill sets and allowed adjustments to two units of competency, despite being presented with requests for adjustments to many more qualifications and units, because COVID-19 is preventing students undertaking mandatory work-placements or accessing specialist equipment.

The sub-committee’s response has variously been that it is “considering the issues”, “drawing together advice”, “undertaking analysis” or telling providers to contact the VET regulators. To be clear, it is the AISC and its sub-committee (not the regulators) with responsibility for approving the adjustments being sought.

The sub-committee’s inertia risks sending tens of thousands of students into unemployment because they cannot finish their qualifications this year without time in the workplace or access to equipment. Delayed graduation is not an option, as they will then be competing with thousands more students next year for the same work-placements and use of specialist equipment.

A solution must be found which is as ‘frictionless’ as possible. Students deserve better.

Claire is a consultant to the tertiary education sector. She was a member of the National Quality Council (a predecessor to the AISC) and has held senior roles in state and national VET regulatory agencies.

UNSW to end 256 FTE positions

The university intends to reduce staff costs by $39m

Management will release a change proposal today setting out savings it still needs.

UNSW states it has covered 80 per cent of the $370m shortfall it expects next year by finding $180m in savings, using $115m in reserves and a voluntary redundancy programme which will reduce staff costs by $36m.

This leaves 256 FTE positions still needed to go. Staff whose jobs are set to be abolished have already been contacted and there will be meetings in operating units today, setting out structural changes.

Positions targeted are likely to be occupied by full-time, continuing staff, what with many casuals already gone.