Plus Monash invests in education and Swinburne’s new course structure

Seen the light

Research by Horacio O de la Iglesia (University of Washington) and colleagues has found access to electric light “might have shifted the ancestral timing and duration of human sleep.” Who would have thought?

Mindhive 1

Comrades confer

The NTEU executive met over the weekend with officers having many positives to report. The union led the charge against deregulation, which seems beaten in the Senate. Despite defeats at Charles Sturt, Swinburne (depending on the Federal Court) and (perhaps) Southern Cross U where the union is urging a no vote in the ballot underway, the NTEU had big enterprise agreement wins across the country over the last year. So what’s next? CMM suspects the comrades are preparing for combative times to come, with university managements pushing to move many more academic staff to teaching only positions and perhaps following up with concerted attempts to sack people (see below). This is the downside of the pay deals – without deregulated students fees the money to fund them will have to come from improving productivity.

Money in CRC DNA

Labor higher education spokesman Kim Carr on Friday welcomed the government’s announcement of the CRC for Developing Northern Australian but pointed out the government had cut the CRC programme in the last two budgets and cancelled the 2014 funding round. All true, however a close counter of research cash says that the $75m for CRCDNA is definitely new money, which means the programme has recovered much of the cut. Senator Carr also criticised the government for creating the new CRC outside programme processes. Gosh I wonder if he means the way the bushfire and natural disaster CRC and the Antarctic research CRC survive long after the usual closure date, thanks to flexible rulings under governments of both persuasions.

Now the money is announced the  next question is where will the CRC DNA be based. The obvious answer, at least to Sandra Harding, is at her Cairns and Townsville based university, James Cook. CMM suspects CQU VC Scott Bowman might have a different opinion.

Clearing corridors of confusion

It looks like the Australian Research Council has won its last Franz, the award issued (by CMM) for government websites that are clunky, cumbersome, complex and confusing. CMM is often lost in the ARC’s cyber corridors looking for information. But it should be goodbye to Kafkaesque confusion, with ARC chair Aidan Byre announcing there will be a new site next month.

CEF June 15 3

Quality QILT

People who have seen the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching beta version say the proposed guide to university performance as assessed by students and courses is a triple A effort, which is close to ready. But apparently not all agree, with members of officialdom’s old guard arguing that universities oppose making it possible for people to directly compare institutions. CMM hears that this is not so, or at least not as so as once was, that there are DVC As around the traps who accept the reason for QILT is to make comparisons possible. They’re right – reports that don’t make it possible to directly compare university performance (CMM is looking at the My University for one)) are not worse than useless, but come close. It has never been possible for prospective students to directly compare universities quantifiable performance on attributes that matter to them. It’s time that it should be.

Accolade for UA

CMM is not the strongest admirer of Universities Australia’s “Keep it clever” research funding campaign. But others are – it won the services sector award for UA at a government relation conference in Canberra last week.

Top of the class

Monash University’s Faculty of Education is advertising 35 academic positions, on top of 18 hires last year. The new ones range from lecturer to associate professor in diverse disciplines, from curriculum to counselling and they will account for a fair swag of faculty strength; in 2014 there were 135 academic staff on the payroll. According to dean, John Loughran, the new positions will “extend a very successful strategy of strengthening the quality of our teaching and will also allow current staff to engage more in research.” CMM does not know whether this is a response to the criticism teacher education everywhere copped in the Craven Review or part of a plan to lift the faculty’s research ratings. Whatever the strategy, this is an expensive, ambitious initiative.

Accrediting expertise

The NTEU is worried universities are using the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency’s course accreditation rules to unjustly dismiss staff. TEQSA requires academics to have AQF qualifications at least one level above a course they teach but this is a problem in new disciplines where teaching veterans were present at the creation. That’s why TEQSA standards provide people with alternatives to formal qualifications to demonstrate expertise, such as professional leadership and a body of significant work. However the Authority also offers universities an out; “TEQSA would expect that where staff may not yet strongly meet all the criteria outlined in the policy, there would be an explicit and time limited professional development plan, or other strategies put in place such as mentoring or team teaching, to enable the individual to make the transition to academic teaching successfully.”

This can mean pretty much what a dean wants it to mean. So it seems that whether an academic qualifies can go either way, with what standards should apply being settled case by case. This, university IR experts suggest, is probably for the best. A big precedent setting case would mean either management or union living with a result they did not like in the series of disputes that are in the works.

Less cash up front

The Department of Education has released 2016 government contributions under the Commonwealth Grants Scheme. In line with the 2014 budget deregulation model they do not set student contributions but public funding per place is down on 2015. Thus, this year the government paid $1961 for cluster one places (law and business) up to $21385 for cluster eight (dentistry and medicine). But next year cluster one pays $1800 per place and cluster five (the old cluster eight) $18067. The problem is the legislation allowing universities to make up the public funding reduction did not pass last year and looks unlikely to get through the Senate this.

In 2014-15 the Commonwealth payed the universities the lower amounts in the budget and, because the relevant legislation did not pass the Senate is set to repay the deduction to universities next month. The same thing is now set to happen again this time next year.

This is giving university administrators conniptions; not only do they have to carry the additional expense for 12 months but they have to update their student systems in half the time some say they need.

ANU June 4

Work-life balance

The National Tertiary Education Union in Queensland is circulating template responses for academic members to use if supervisors try to increase teaching workloads. They include;

“I must decline the workload that you have proposed. As you know, the agreement provides for a ‘notional split of 40:40:20’ (teaching:research:engagment). The teaching load that you propose will make it impossible for me undertake the appropriate proportions of research and/or engagement.”

As well as;

“The agreement requires that we must ensure that my health and well-being are not imperilled. I believe to increase my workload from my current level would place me in a situation of unreasonable stress, potentially leading to injury.”


“The agreement requires that the workload must recognise my family responsibilities. I believe the increased workload that you propose will negatively and unreasonably affect my ability to address my family responsibilities.”

There are more but you get the idea.

New Swinburne study structure in the works

Swinburne University is proposing new course structures designed to make degrees on offer and subject combinations easier for students to understand and for them to adjust their programmes to suit changing interests. Degrees will include a core studies foundation and majors to meet Australian Qualification Framework requirements plus minors for depth. “These changes respond to what our students and prospective students have been telling us now for some time. Students want clarity of course requirements, flexibility to change course throughout the life of their degree and a minimum of bureaucracy when they wish to adjust the direction of their studies,” Swinburne management tells staff.

The new structure will consist of 50 degree but while there is an emphasis on common discipline skills the university makes it clear that there is no move to introduce a common first year. The new degrees will be sent to Academic Senate for consideration.

The university is also reforming its Work Integrated Learning programme with standardised offerings and study credits as part of the university’s focus on graduate employability.