Small step, giant leap: University of Melbourne to pilot block chain based micro-credentialing


Enrolment study shows demand driven funding working well

How to encourage academics into teaching-only roles: give them research targets they can’t meet

Plus: VU cops the old one-two from NTEU

Not the essential issue

Charles Sturt and LaTrobe universities launched another salvo in their case for a Murray Darling Medical School yesterday, which universities that have regional training places in their meds schools vehemently oppose. Yesterday the Australian Medical Association also returned fire, suggesting the argument missed the issue. AMA president Dr Michael Gannon told the ABC’s World Today, that while 3500 med students graduate a year there are only 1200 advanced training places for them in medical specialities. This is the problem that needs addressing, he said, “rather than just focusing on the universities and what they want to achieve.”

Freshwater officially takes over

Dawn Freshwater was installed as the University of Western Australia’s 18th vice chancellor (the second woman among them) last night.

And so it begins  

The University of Melbourne will pilot blockchain based micro-credentialing in cooperation with MIT collaborator Learning Machine. The university’s Centre for the Study of Higher Education will use the staff-only Melbourne Teaching Certificate starting in July for its test run.  CSHE head Gregor Kennedy announced the initiative at Melbourne conference on portable qualification records yesterday.

Though small in scale, this is a big move in the development of a new post-secondary education market exploring two challenges to institutional control of credentialing.  From MOOC providers, such as UniMelb’s partner Coursera to universities, such as Deakin’s credentialing subsidiary there is an emerging industry in providing and badging micro-quals. Systems are also appearing that provide people with a secure statement of all their codified education and training, which they can provide to whoever they choose independent of institutions.

That UniMelb is a first mover amuses veteran observers of the border wars between competencies and traditional higher education assessment who remember how a generation back the university’s then VC David Pennington criticised introducing competencies as measures of higher education achievement. Time and technology, it seems have blurred the divide. While CSHE director Gregor Kennedy says micro-credentialing “complements” the  “understanding and experience gained from a university education,” he also acknowledges that the market wants more of the former.

“In a future where career ‘churn’ and constant technical and organisational innovation are the norm, employers are looking for ways to verify the know-how and skills of employees at a very granular level.”

“Similarly, students are increasingly interested in showing the specific skills and abilities they have acquired and developed.”

The university’s Learning Machine partner, defines its business as “a bridge to conveniently take advantage of blockchain infrastructure, regardless of the content type. Notarising official records on the blockchain is most appropriate when your organisation wants to provide recipients with records of achievement or membership important enough that third parties may later want to verify those claims.” Recipients like graduates and third parties like people interested in employing them.

What UniMelb is beginning to build will be big. That the university announced the pilot at the conference where the ANZ MyEquals system, which allows graduates to digitally access their academic qualifications makes the point.


UniSA accredited

Management education agency EFMD has renewed the University of South Australia business school’s EQUIS accreditation keeping it among the 24 accredited institutions in Australia.

VU cops the old one-two from NTEU

The campaign against 115 academic job losses and the creation of a new first-year undergraduate college at Victoria U rolls on. There is a strong local media campaign, “Uni to wallop the workforce’” the Maribrynong Leader thunders, and a public meeting in Footscray tonight. But to be on the safe side the National Tertiary Education Union has also started the dispute process in the Fair Work Commission.

Encouraging teaching’s appeal

Moving Griffith University academics into teaching-only positions may not be a first-order issue for management in the present enterprise bargaining round but it certainly seems to be on the agenda.

The campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union is worried by a university move to increase thresholds for external research income to qualify as research output.  According to union correspondence with DVC Academic Debra Henly, the research income threshold for Level C staff will increase from $10k to $25k, from $20k to $50k for Level D academics and from $30k to $75k at Level E.

“Many academic staff are also still coming to grips with achieving the last increase in research requirements, which were only brought in a couple of years ago. These proposed changes meant a demand that academic staff achieve results that are often not possible no matter how hard they work at this (i.e. external grant applications are notoriously difficult to secure, with high rejection rates).  In short, this proposal places extra pressure and stress on often already over stressed staff, with no justification given for these proposed changes,” the union claims.

A case of scaring staff to work ever-harder? Perhaps, then again management might have another objective.

“There is a strong view that the university is creating an impossible performance situation for staff that will result in a significant number of staff not achieving the required research outcome units. It has been expressed to a number of staff in a number of elements that this will allow elements to reach their goals of 80% of academic staff teaching intensive,” the union suggests to Professor Henly.

Adelaide honours its own

The University of Adelaide is carefully neutral in awarding hon docs to politicians this graduation season. Amanda Vanstone (is it long enough ago to have to her identify her as a Howard Government minister?) and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop represent the Liberal Party. Frontbencher Penny Wong and sometime SA education minister and chair of the Base Funding Review Jane Lomax Smith are Labor Party people honoured. Other awards go to burns expert Fiona Wood, diabetes researcher Paul Zimmet and the university’s VC before last James McWha.

While politically balanced UniAdelaide is pointedly partisan in endorsing its own, with seven of the nine awards going to graduates and Professor McWha.

Dalton joins USC

Sometime ABC TV head and Australian Film Commission CEO, Kim Dalton joins the University of the Sunshine Coast as adjunct professor of (surprisingly) film and television.

Demand drivers delivering

Five years on and the demand driven system is performing like, well a system driven by informed consumer demand, according to the latest continuing analysis by the Innovative Research Universities. “The data continues to show the positive benefits of a model steered by student agency and university commitment to access,” the IRU asserts.

“The system is not imbalanced and is not creating perverse outcomes. There is growth in STEM as a discipline choice with more students completing those degrees. It undermines the constant assumption that demand driven funding has or will favour expansion only in low cost high charge courses such as law and business.”

In fact, the IRU reports, that while overall undergraduate numbers were up 19 per cent between 2010-15 health enrolments grew 31 per cent, natural and physical science students increased by 25 per cent, with engineering increasing by 22 per cent. In contrast, disciplines which critics claim attract student numbers beyond the economy’s needs had below average growth, with education up 16 per cent, law 15 per cent and management 10 per cent.

Given wide, if not universal support, for demand driven funding across the higher education community any change in the budget seems unlikely. Still it is certainly worth making the point that the system is working as intended.