A new united front of universities

The University of Divinity signs with the Independent Higher Education Australia

This means all four independent universities are on board IHEA. UoD joins Bond U, Torrens U and the newly elevated Avondale U.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Rachel Sheffield and Dale Pinto (Curtin U) on the need for university teachers to be part of a community and how their university works to create one. Commissioning Editor Sally Kift’s new selection for her celebrated series, Needed now in teaching and learning.

plus, the Research and Development Tax Incentive is indestructible. Kirsty Abbott (CQU) considers what it does and ways it could be better.

withMerlin Crossley (UNSW) on relationships between academics and professional staff  (M*A*S*H is a good model).

Uni Sydney staff owed $12.75m in unpaid wages

Management says it’s all due to people making mistakes

Vice Chancellor Mark Scott has announced 12,894, almost entirely professional staff, most casually employed, were underpaid $12.75m between January 20214 and last December.

Most of it was due to “incorrect gathering and reporting of information rather than automated system errors.”

“I apologise that these errors have occurred and want to assure you that immediate and swift action is being taken to amend our processes and repay monies owed, including superannuation and interest,” the VC said.

Underpayments mainly occurred when staff were not paid the three-hour minimum for work, for overtime on weekends and for work outside span of hours, all required under the university’s enterprise agreement.

Over half the people involved are owed under $500, 73 per cent less than $1000 but 5 per cent were short-changed $5000 plus.

Former VC Michael Spence announced underpayment was being investigated last August (CMM 14 2020) and his successor Stephen Garton reported what is now confirmed in April (CMM April 30).

This seems a stuff-up of an admin variety, perhaps along the lines of superannuation underpayments which multiple universities have made. If so, it is different to cases where staff, generally academic casuals, are paid a lower rate than enterprise agreements specify for all their work across a contract.

Vietnam research wins for Uni Wollongong

“A grant here, funding there and pretty soon you’re talking about real dong”

Uni Wollongong reports $500 000 in two DFAT grants for research project with universities in Vietnam. One is to study using drones and AI to improve sugarcane productivity. The other is $250 000 for digital analytics of the environment in a national park.

The funding is from DFAT’s Aus4Innvation programme, (“to deepen research linkages and private sector connections, utilising the benefits of new technology to build the economy of the future”).

Colin Simpson’s ed tech reads of the week

Helpful tips for Hybrid teaching from Dr Jenae Cohn (Twitter)

Hybrid or hyflex is one of those new modes of teaching that have seemingly materialised fully-formed in the last 18 months. It involves concurrently teaching face-to-face and on-line students, creating opportunities for them to learn and work together synchronously. This short thread from Dr Jenae Cohn on Twitter offers some useful practical tips for teachers newly working in this space, including not referring to on-line participants as “people who are not here”.

Australian Educational Podcasting Conference – October 6th and 7th

Audio offers an accessible and oftentimes more intimate way to connect with information. With lower technical barriers to entry for podcast creators than video, educators are embracing this format as a way to share and discuss ideas in a range of disciplines. The free Australian Educational Podcasting Conference returns on October 6th and 7th, with discussions about how people are using podcasts in teaching and practical workshops.

CAUDIT Higher Education Reference Models from CAUDIT

CAUDIT is the Council of Australasian University Directors of Information Technology. If you work at a member university, you can login to access a number of standard models that show how IT departments understand the many business and data aspects of a university ecosystem. At first glance this may seem a little niche, but for anyone with an interest in truly understanding how all the pieces fit together in a university, this is an invaluable resource.

The edX Aftermath from eLiterate

A couple of months ago, the open Harvard/MIT led MOOC platform edX announced that it was merging with the giant OPM (on-line programme management) business 2U. This represented a fairly significant swing to a more commercial orientation for a platform with lofty aims. Michael Feldstein from eLiterate has some strong feelings about this, in this informative article taking us through what has happened in the MOOC space since the MOOC hype cycle of the early 2010s, and discussing what the next moves could and should be.

Is your smart fridge judging you? From Dan Hon (Twitter)

Finally, this amusing thread from @hondanhon on Twitter details some strange feedback he recently received from his Internet connected smart fridge.

Colin Simpson has worked in education technology in the tertiary sector since 2003 and is employed by Monash University’s Education Innovation team. For more from Colin, follow him on Twitter @gamerlearner

Where the numbers come from when counting casuals

Uni Sydney is offering continuing jobs to 69 casuals out of the 4173 total staff assessed for continuing positions (universities are obliged to by changes to the Fair Work Act)

This seems less a pool than an ocean of casually employed people when compared to the numbers in the university’s report to the national Charities Commission for 2019. This states the university employed 1841 casuals, that’s individuals not EFTS which universities and the Commonwealth prefer for reports.  The figure was down, presumably due to COVID-19 cuts, to 1014 in 2020.

CMM asked about the difference and Uni Sydney replied that the Charities Commission requires numbers on people who “claimed hours” during the final pay period of a year.

However, for the casual conversion process the university used payroll and timesheet data for all casual staff employed “immediately prior” to the specified date, March 27.

“The different figures highlight the seasonal nature of our workforce, and help to explain why the majority of staff were not considered eligible under the FWA amendments,” the university explains.

So, how many people at Uni Sydney are casuals who rely on that employment for their primary income, as distinct to others who work intermittently and/or not much? Ditto for every other university.

Call to regulate international student local recruiters

Independent Tertiary Education Council of Australia calls on the Commonwealth to register on-shore international education agents  

“There is a small number of actors in the sector that appear more focussed individual short-term gains that do not benefit either students or providers and act to the long-term detriment of the sector,” ITECA’s Troy Williams says.

ITECA calls for,

* on-shore agents to be companies and subject to Commonwealth law, to exclude partnerships and sole traders

* amending the code of practice governing providers to international students so it applies to on-shore agents and establishing a complaint process

*  requiring on-shore agents and providers to be “transparent” about commissions the latter pays the former

* agents should pay the cost of the registration scheme

The proposal follows ITECA and TAFE Directors Australia warning that some VET providers  are offering on-shore internationals courses with “excessively low few and low study expectations” as cover for people on student visas working more hours than allowed (CMM September 7).


Way more managers in Aus unis

The proportion of professional staff numbers at Australian universities stayed much the same over 20 years – but there are fewer people employed to support academics

Peter Woelert and Gwilym Croucher (both Uni Melbourne) crunched HE employment data to find that across the system middle management numbers grew by 122 per cent between 1997 and 2018. Senior management positions were up 110 per cent. In contrast, staff in support roles declined from 44 per cent to 13 per cent.

They suggest the change in the mix could be due to universities responding to government reporting requirements, pressure to perform on rankings and “stagnation” in public funding for student places which has led institutions to pursue “entrepreneurial agendas.” Automation and outsourcing also account for a decline in support staff.

The authors point to “important implications” from staffing trends.

*  despite stable numbers, the cost of the non-academic workforce has progressively increased

*  the adoption of corporate “techniques and solutions” 

* the increased administration burden of managerial reporting systems

The Australian university experience, they suggest, “seems to trouble” the policy narrative that “increases in organisational competition and in managerial and financial autonomy for universities will automatically translate into greater organisational efficiency and effectiveness.”

* Gwilym Croucher and Peter Woelert, “Administrative transformation and managerial growth: a longitudinal analysis of changes in the non-academic workforce at Australian universities,” Higher Education (published on-line September 11)

Appointments, achievements

Gursel Alici is confirmed as executive dean, Engineering and Information Sciences at Uni Wollongong. He has acted in the role since June.

The (Australasian Council of) Deans of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities announce their inaugural awards. Education, innovation, employability:  Karen Sutherland (Uni Sunshine Coast). Engagement and public comms: Grant Duncan (Massey U). Indigenous: Maggie Walter (Uni Tasmania). International: Deborah Lupton (UNSW). Research partnership and social impact: Nick Thieberger (Uni Melbourne)

Christopher Lawrence becomes dean, Indigenous Engagement in Curtin U’s Science and Engineering Faculty.  He joins from UTS.

Ronika Power (Macquarie U) joins the board of the Australian Institute of Policy and Science.