Perhaps even your own spell-check

“A postgraudate (sic) qualification from Southern Cross University can give you a career edge, leading to quicker promotions, bigger salaries and bonuses – like your own office or parking space.” (SCU advertisement via Facebook (Feb 24 5.07).

Finally, a deal at Murdoch

Murdoch University management and the National Tertiary Education Union have reached in-principle terms of an enterprise agreement. However, provisions will not be announced until details are determined, with a proposal expected to be ready for staff “within two weeks.”

This deal is many months in coming and follows a long stand-off between the union and university, which chose to get out in front of all others and push for simpler, and it assumed, more efficient industrial conditions. MU stuck to its position long after other universities, including the other three public institutions in Perth, reached agreements with the union.

While both sides recognised the conflict had gone on too long last month, that agreement was reached so quickly is due in part to the efforts of external advisers. Union general secretary Graham McCulloch was in Perth for much of last week with the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association assisting management with expert advice.

Case closed on open book UTS exams

Back in November UTS adopted open-book exams as policy for this academic year, “wherever appropriate” (CMM November 30). It now seems they are appropriate for every exam, with Engineering and IT telling staff; “Where there are exams, these have been defaulted to ‘open book’. “

RUN stands up for low-paid graduates

On February15 the Senate referred the government’s student loan legislation to a committee inquiry. The bill reduces the threshold for repaying HELP debts to $45 000 and puts a life-time cap on student borrowings. Submissions close today and as of lunchtime yesterday there were as many as one, from the Regional Universities Network.

RUN kept it brief, suggesting the new threshold would, “negatively impact on low-income households” and suggesting increasing repayment rates for student debtors with higher incomes. The lobby also argued a limit on student borrowing “is a disincentive for life-long learning,” instead suggesting a cap on total debt at any time. “If someone has paid off all or part of their loan they can borrow again. That way, if an older worker needs to re-skill, they are able to do so.” RUN also proposes ministerial discretion to vary the $104 000 limit on loans, for example to $150 000 for aviation courses.

Thinking up a sweat

“Building on forty years of existing research, UQ neuroscientists are now conducting clinical trials to prove that exercise can prevent and reverse cognitive decline, such as dementia,” the University of Queensland promotes research, yesterday. CMM can attest to this, he often remembers that he left his runners in the fridge.

New Linkage Grants announced

Lead investigators and projects are:

Michael Morrison (Flinders U): historical Indigenous foodways on Cape York

Julie Ratcliffe (UniSA): incorporating people’s values in quality of life measurements in aged-care

Kimbal Marriott (Monash U): 3D printing information for people with print disabilities

Xuchuan Jiang (Monash U): composition of advanced paints with multiple industry uses

Elizabeth Webster (Swinburne U): neural-network, machine-learning algorithms, “to understand how knowledge travels and accumulates”

Stephen Powles (UWA): herbicide resistance impeding grain production and soil conservation

Uni Canberra sends an email about everybody’s pay

Some 24 University of Canberra staff interested in a voluntary separation payout got more financial information than they anticipated when management replied on Friday – they got their figure plus full employment data, including pay, for all UoC staff. That’s “all” as in everybody. With admirable understatement Vice Chancellor Deep Saini advised all staff yesterday the data “should not have been sent to the employees that received it.” “The data breach has been remedied and that there is unlikely to be any significant risk of harm caused to employees,” he added.

Predicting innovation: you need to know how to look

Beth Webster (PVC Res Policy, Swinburne U) and colleagues have an ARC Linkage Grant to use data to estimate how inventive is a new idea and to estimate the directions of technological change.

They will do it with, “a neural-network machine-learning algorithm” that can read and classify, “the natural language of each patent description and claim and scientific article available in IP Australia, European Patent Register, United States Patent Office, and the Clarivate Web of Science journal articles databases.”

“Many existing classifications for ideas are based on tree-hierarchies or catalogues that have limited meaning for users. Natural language processing can avoid the reliance on such mechanical classification as it allows for large-scale text inferences in the way human derive meanings from the text,” her funding bid stated.

This will be a big deal indeed for policy makers helping “to identify technology trajectories and make reasoned estimates of the directions of technological change.” It will improve triaging patent applications, which can take six years in Australia, by identifying knowledge frontiers. And it will reveal the global flow of ideas which existing citation conventions and patent filings do not identify. “Ideas fly over borders and communities in ways that are not necessarily detectable by formal citation and do not fit neatly within hierarchical classifications. Ideas metamorphose from one technology or use to others in ways we only recognise anecdotally,” Professor Webster writes.


Bull run for UNSW

UNSW has won a Golden Bull award from the UK Plain English campaign. The award cites copy from the UNSW 2025 Strategy, begins; “the Strategic Matrix is intended to facilitate the cross-cutting interactions our staff and students are seeking in order to secure the benefits of linking across faculties, schools, divisions, disciplines and other organisational boundaries,” and goes on, and on, with details on the matrix’s horizontal and vertical matrices.

RMIT goes big on blockchain benefits

RMIT economists are big on investing in teaching and research on the transformative power of the blockchain. As Sinclair Davidson told a CSIRO conference last week; “The blockchain is not just a tech upgrade nor just another general-purpose technology. It is a new institutional technology that will both complement current organisational forms and economic activity and substitute for current organisation forms and economic activity.”

The people CMM suspects it can help most are the dispossessed of the developing world. Professor Davidson mentions Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto who has argued for 30 years that people stay poor when they have no recognised title to what they own or way of recording transactions – both of which blockchains can do. Mr de Soto is now developing a blockchain system to record property rights. There is, as RMIT is demonstrating, far more to the blockchain than crypto-currency.

Private providers say don’t blame them for TAFE troubles

Labor Party people use TAFE as a synonym for trainingTanya Plibersek certainly did last week when she announced her much applauded proposal for comprehensive post-secondary review. This leaves the for-profit VET sector up competency creek without an accredited training paddle. But few other than private providers care, all of the private sector is still unfairly smeared by the VET FEE fiasco. As Rod Camm from the Australian Council for Private Education and Training put it yesterday;

“Outside of the failures of government administration and regulation and the ethics of less than 20 providers, the evidence shows that the majority of public and private providers are delivering what is required. Private providers continue to enjoy student and employer satisfaction levels on par with TAFEs and yet are consigned to the bin as restricting student choice is now the main game.

If TAFE is losing funding, it is because students make choices and that states and territories are pulling funding as fast as they can – that is what needs to be fixed.”