plus what MOOCs can do next: Marnie Hughes Warrington’s big idea

Torrens U’s new student-centred sell

Monash loses two vice provosts

and Joshua Gans sets out the options on open access

Don’t hold the front page

“I am pleased to open with the news there is no breaking news. History tells me that can only be a good thing,” private training lobby chief Rod Camm, yesterday.

Torrens smart sell

Laureate owned Torrens U has a new student recruitment campaign selling the practical experience in its programmes. “Real working hotels. Real guests. Get a year of industry placements in the best hotels in the world,” is one of the six that sell degrees from game design to health and wellbeing. “Do business for real. Real Madrid” promotes placements via Torrens partnership with the Real Madrid soccer club.  The adverts run in print, outdoor, online and social media.

It’s a smart strategy one that puts student benefit centre of the sell, where still common campaigns form elite universities sell on their status, with a message that they are doing students a favour by allowing them to enrol.

Panicers stand down

We can all relax, with news from the University of Sydney, that “sitting may not be deadly as previously thought.” Emmanuel Stamatakis from the university’s Charles Perkins Centre and colleagues from the University of Exeter and Victoria University analysed a long-term study of Londoners’ “sitting behaviours” and developing diabetes. They conclude there is “little evidence for associations between sitting and diabetes and these weak associations were limited to TV sitting time.” However, the researchers add that the survey sample was protected by the “large amounts of walking they did,” an average of 45 mins a day. Goes to show what everybody stuck in an office already knows – they need to get out more.

McMillan to RMIT

Mark McMillan is the inaugural deputy PVC for indigenous education and engagement at RMIT. Professor McMillan moves from the University of Melbourne law school.

Case for leaving academics alone

The union bid for improved conditions under the university employments industrial awards is with the the Fair Work Commission with management’s response to follows (CMM yesterday). The Australian Higher Education Industrial Association is expected to file before the Commission will hear from the parties in person at the end of March. But you can bet there will not be a lot common ground. AHEIA says it is not keen on what it says is the union proposal for an academic position reclassification system independent of peer-review promotion. And it is adamant that academics will not wear any codified overtime system. This “would inevitably lead to university management needing to monitor academics and impose restrictions on how they can spend their time,” AHEIA executive director Stuart Andrews says.

Local heroes

Niklas K Steffens from the University of Queensland is lead author of a paper based on an analysis of winners of Academy Awards and their UK equivalents, BAFTAS. “The creative performances of US artists are much more likely to be recognisd by US-based, than British-based, awards while those of British artists are much more likely to be recognised by British-based, than US-based, awards,” they write. Who would have thought?

Living death

The Australian Academy of Science is  spruiking a talk on increased life-spans entitled “Immortality in Adelaide”. Cynics ask how can one tell one is actually alive in Adelaide, but what can you expect from cynics.

Monash leaders leave

Monash University lost two vice provosts. Darrell Evans, VP learning and teaching is leaving to become a DVC at the University of Newcastle. Kim Langfield Smith, VP for academic performance, has also resigned, to go CMM knows not where. There was no mention of her plans in the formal announcement.

Welcome to Sydney

The University of Sydney has announced a $10m PhD package, with 40 scholarships for international students. The scholarships cover fees and provide a stipend and research allowance. Neighbouring UNSW is also keen to attract talent, having already announced 700 scholarships over ten years to local and international PhD students. The offer includes fees and a $40 000 per annum stipend for four years plus an expense allowance.

What MOOCs can do next

Last March ANU DVC Marnie Hughes Warrington caused conniptions among academic record keepers by making a case for a universal credit transfer system based on distributed ledger technology, better known as blockchains. She extends the idea today, pointing to their utility for students who live in disrupted worlds where student IDs and academic records are destroyed or distant but could be available online via mobile phone.

“Think of ways of verifying that a person who takes an exam, test or assessment task online is who they say they are, or that credit recognition can do without the slow generation of bespoke written legal contracts. Or simply a form that does not ask your full name again,” (apparently ‘Marnie Hughes Warrington’ bamboozles bureaucratic form designers).

“The pervasiveness and depth of our digital identity problems means that they are an everyday irritation of university life. You, like me, have probably had to fill out coloured layers of forms with the same information repeatedly, and been disappointed when moving forms online means a higher volume of repetitive action emails that still ask you to authenticate your identity over and over again,” she writes.

This is about more than efficient-for-institutions and easy-for-students’ record systems. It is a way “to ensure that women, and both adults and young people from different cultural backgrounds have a say in how their identity is defined and managed.”

And, Hughes Warrington suggests, the way education providers can do it are at hand – through MOOC provider networks, (ANU is a member of the Harvard/MIT edX consortium). “2017 will be the year where those of us in MOOC consortium leadership positions need to work on changing the world, again,” she writes.

Dolt of the day

Is CMM, twice. Yesterday the per cent age of women on CRC boards was put at 25 per cent in 2010 and 17 per cent last year, it was the reverse. Also the s slipped off UNSW VC Ian Jacobs surname.

Joshua Gans presents analysis instead of outrage in open access debate

The moral case for open access is pretty clear; commercial journal publishers make people pay for research funded by taxpayers that they get for free. This outrages the open access movement but is not generating sufficient support to challenge the existing socialise the costs privatise the profits approach that makes publishers profitable. The challenge, writes Joshua Gans, ex Melbourne Business School now University Toronto, is “to reorient our view of reform in scholarly publishing away from opening up access to journal content and toward ways in which the knowledge contained within them can be disseminated more broadly.” Like scholars publishing their own texts and marketing them via  Amazon – which is what Professor Gans has done with his new Scholarly Publishing and its Discontents: An economist’s perspective on dealing with market power and its consequences. You can buy it in for print ($US10) or Kindle ($5) formats.

Professor Gans discusses how the expansion of online information can corrupt scholarship – the days when a credibility creating footnote was forever are gone. He discusses the economics of publishing and who will pay publishers costs plus provide a profit.

This is an economist’s analysis not a campaigner’s case. And so he comes up with a bunch of alternatives, for example, a club where members, the people who value a journal the most pay for it, while less engaged readers access articles for free. This works as long as individuals, but mainly institutions, who need a journal, will actually cough up – like the newspaper subscribers who pay to read while the vast majority of readers don’t. Alternatively, he suggests, editors can create journal content and then hand articles onto an online archive – thus avoiding production costs.

Gans goes on to set out a range of publishing options that take the debate beyond the journal as collection of articles as we know it now.  “By simply reducing costs or, at the very least, unbundling tasks and cost structures, a more favourable basis for broadbased open access becomes possible,” he suggests. And in the end he makes the point that perhaps will ultimately mean the end for the now immensely wealthy for-profits*, “access to the publications themselves is simply not necessary for retrieving the knowledge and allowing others to access it.”

Anybody interested in the evolution of scholarly publishing needs to read this book but they also should do something else, buy it. Research is not free – the argument we need to have is who should get to cover their costs and make an honest profit for their work in making publicly funded research available to all.

* The biggest journal publisher Relx’s Elsevier has recorded revenues of 2bn and a 34 per cent operating margin.