Untoward in Adelaide

If you want to come clean about those Swiss bank accounts, here’s your chance

At least if you are in South Australia. Submissions to the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption’s inquiry into the state’s public universities close Friday.  It’s a “integrity inquiry,” looking at process, rather than an investigation into anything specific, so a secret money trail might excite ICAC .

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Jack Goodman (Studiosity) sets out what the crisis will change, “COVID will refocus university efforts on students as the top priority”.

Vitomir Kovanovic, (Uni SA) and Maren Scheffel, (Open Universiteit, The Netherlands) explain how to prevent COVID-19 killing your conference @  – a new contribution to Contributing Editor Sally Kift’s series, Needed now in teaching and learning.

Tim Winkler education and training. It’s bad news for local heroes.

A Corona Bot with no lime, but lots of AI

Uni Sydney wanted a bot double-quick, to answer student questions on COVID-19. So, they asked Microsoft

The company created Corona Bot in a week. It answers two or three questions from 300-400 students a day. How it happened and why it works are explained by Microsoft, here.

NTEU to VCs: join us to protect jobs

The National Tertiary Education Union proposes a deal  

The union has been talking with a small group of VCs (CMM April 2) but now goes national with a proposal to avoid what it warns could be “tens of thousands” of jobs lost, and staff being stood-down without pay or hope of re-employment.

NTEU General Secretary Matt McGowan asks university managements to “agree to a higher education Jobs Protection Framework.”

The union calls on managements to agree to:

* no new external appointments

* forced redundancies only where work is permanently gone

* protection of casual and low-paid staff “from direct financial measures” with senior managements, “bearing a larger financial burden”

* “union oversight of management actions” for fair management of job protections

* NTEU right to organise and represent staff

The union offers: temporary changes to staff conditions, where an institution faces financial hardship and savings are already made. These could be; “short-term deferring pay rises, pauses on promotions, workload reductions and compulsory leave.

Uni Melbourne “welcomes” Government commitment to existing funding

VC Maskell says it supports “continuing viability of universities

Despite no additional funding from the feds the University of Melbourne has “welcomed” Education Minister Tehan’s guarantee of Commonwealth Grant Scheme and HELP monies (CMM yesterday) as “supporting the continuing viability of universities across Australia.”

“This support will bring confidence to the higher education sector and allow universities to play a major role in helping the nation recover from COVID-19,” Vice Chancellor Duncan Maskell says.

Professor Maskell adds the university faces “some significant challenges” but wants; “to work with the federal government to ensure the ongoing viability of our university and to maximise the learning opportunities for our students.” This was a calm response for the vice chancellor of a university which is likely to be down $500m this year.

Nothing in writing

 “COVID-19 Service updates: due to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have made the decision to stop printing journals from 10 April until further notice,” US for-profit publisher Taylor and Francis. Could “further notice” mean “the end of time”?

New short courses: more permanent than the pandemic

The government’s short-course skill plan is politically astute, putting policy into practise will take some thought   

People suffering COVID-19 job-losses learning in-demand skills in quick time at low cost (HECS-able $1250-$2500) suits the national circumstances.

But universities will need to want to participate: Learned readers wise in the ways of funding models suggest payments under the new scheme could be a third to a fifth less than the EFTSL discipline-amount for Commonwealth Supported Places for six months. And enrolments will have to take a university above funded-load for a course-area. So, it will be up to individual institutions to decide whether participating is worthwhile.

Open Universities Australia think some willLast night OUA announced it will waive fees for partner universities listing courses in health, nursing, education, IT and the sciences.

And the government has a bigger objective:There’s more to this than relief for institutions that need the money. It is a test-run (albeit a run on the run) for a substantial restructure of skills delivery to come. “The government will work with universities to give them more flexibility to adjust between bachelor places and sub bachelor and postgraduate places, pending legislative reform to lock in this more flexible model for the future,” according to a briefing note yesterday. And numbers appear uncapped!

Of course, there is a plenty to ponder on how the now unaccredited “higher-education certificates” will be credited to Australian Qualification Framework courses. Curriculum experts were in diplomas of delight as they pondered how the certificates would fit into the AQF. They will have to be quick to work it out. The programme only lasts for six months. But if it works it could create a new foundation for micro-skills training which would have taken years for state and federal officials to argue out.

What could possibly go wrong

Dan Tehan on Sydney radio 2GB yesterday, explaining where people can find out about the coming short-courses

“We’re going to set up a central line where people will be able to ring in, and find out what courses are available and where they go.” And won’t officials who slap “cabinet in confidence” on what day it is be good at overseeing that.

Murdoch U moves to cut staff costs

Management announces it has found $21m in savings, which is good 

But not enough and pay is now on the agenda. “Like in all universities across the country, salaries are our biggest expense. Therefore, this is an area we cannot ignore,” Vice Chancellor Eeva Leinonen told staff yesterday.

Professor Leinonen announced a freeze on “fixed annual” senior staff salaries, and on “non-critical” recruitment.” Staff can also temporarily reduce their working hours and pay for six months.  Plus, they can take accrued leave which will be compulsory in “excessive” cases.

There will also be a “reallocation of academic workload for teaching and research staff where appropriate.”

“Staff will be allocated up to 80 per cent of their time for teaching, with arrangements made to safeguard those performing essential service roles and priority research areas.”

And in case anybody is not happy the VC adds; “if we are to emerge from the current crisis in a position of strength, the university needs your support. Doing so will not only help us all manage this sudden and unforeseen shock, but go a long way to help protect jobs.”

However maybe not far enough, Professor Leinonen concludes; “it is also likely that further significant measures and decisions will be required.”

Claire Field on making more with on-line learning

How long will students be satisfied with webinars, pdfs and PowerPoint?


At last month’s Reinventing VET for the Digital Age conference, I was struck by a question from a senior figure in a dual-sector university.

He asked how long students will put up with the on-line delivery being offered by most providers in the first few weeks of the COVID-19 crisis. That is, how long will students be satisfied with webinars, pdfs and PowerPoint?

Having been fortunate to visit Microsoft’s Beijing office in late 2018 I have seen first-hand how doctors can refresh their surgical skills in a fully virtual environment. And in visits to other edtech companies I have seen similar examples of just how good on-line learning can be.

But that kind of offering is beyond where most universities, TAFEs and private providers are today.

With that in mind Cherie Diaz, the Australian CEO of OpenLearning, joined me on the podcast to discuss the key issues providers need to keep in mind as they move on-line.

Cherie has previously headed up private VET and higher education providers and shares her insights on:

* creating a holistic learning experience

* the importance of fostering peer-to-peer connections

* how to engage and support students who may be deferring study because they prefer an on-campus experience

* why your measures of success are important in choosing your on-line tools and platform

* the need to identify student ambassadors who can champion your efforts

* why you should not look for a one-size fits all approach

* why you can and should adapt what you offer for your different learner cohorts

* how your students can demonstrate mastery in an online context, and

* why an audit of your communications is worth doing.

OpenLearning has also developed Australia’s first framework for micro-credentials. Details are here .

Claire is the host of the “What now? What next? Insights into Australia’s tertiary education sector” podcast.

Six on-line learning and teaching ideas in engineering, tech and science

Today’s is number two in a series by Steve Mackay and Edwina Ross (Engineering Institute of Technology) 

Inflexible is better: web-conferencing (synchronous) on-line learning creates a ‘classroom’ in which students and the teacher gather in real-time. As a model of on-line learning it is a less flexible, but the benefits outweigh this limitation. It ensures students remain engaged in the learning process, it facilitates interaction and questions, it connects remote learners with each other, and it reduces the notorious rates of attrition evident in asynchronous online courses.”


The Australian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology announces medals and awards, which go to;

* Trevor Lithgow (Monash U), Lemburg Medal. * Colin Jackson (ANU), Shimadzu Medal. * Nirma Samarawickrema (Monash U), Scientific Education Award. * Si Ming Man (ANU), Eppendorf Edman ECR Award. * Matthew Doyle (US National Institutes of Health), Boomerang Award.