IDP chief warns: 12-months max to revive international education appeal

In CMM Features this morning IDP Education’s Andrew Barkla calls for urgent action to stop international students choosing the UK or Canada over Australia

Mr Barkla points to research with prospective international students showing Australia is “well behind” Canada and New Zealand in their perceptions of how we care for the welfare of international students.

“Students are tuned into domestic conversations. Nationalist rhetoric is heard by students and their parents around the world. While we commend how our nation has protected its people, we need to be careful this does not come at the cost of a hard-won – and long-held – image as a welcoming and cohesive community,” he writes.

He sets out three steps to save the industry which need to be taken – urgently. The story is here.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Sonal Singh (UTS)  on the digital skills divide between regional/low SES students and the rest. This week’s contribution to Contributing Editor Sally Kift’s series on what is needed now in teaching and learning.

How Flinders U uses Microsoft platforms to keep its community informed on COVID-19.

Merlin Crossley (UNSW)  on the leaderless life of the lab boss.

Union condemns vice chancellors

The NTEU says the “worst crisis in the history of Australian universities demanded a collective solution”. It isn’t happening

what’s occurred: Last night the National Tertiary Education Union advised members that the proposal for short-term cuts to staff wages and conditions in return for job protections at universities across the country will not go to a national ballot. This was a necessary pre-condition for all-staff votes on proposals designed for individual universities.

The Job Protection Framework was negotiated by the NTEU’s federal leadership, with four VCs, John Dewar (La Trobe U), Margaret Gardner (Monash U) Jane den Hollander (UWA) and Andrew Vann (Charles Sturt U). The Australian Higher Education Industrial Association was also party to the talks.

how so: While the framework was strongly opposed by rank and file NTEU members at some universities, the NTEU leadership blames VCs for rejecting the plan. In particular, the union points to widespread opposition to the framework’s inclusion of oversight of proposed university savings plans by a committee including union representatives.

why now: The numbers were against the deal. The union’s announcement came as Uni Wollongong joined the close to 20 universities where managements have rejected the proposal and following Deakin U, University of Melbourne and CQU announcing their own savings strategies.

The NTEU is angry with: The Australian Higher Education Industrial Association.

“It’s now clear the AHEIA was either not representing a broad coalition of vice chancellors, or negotiated an agreement that gives employees more rights and protections than some vice chancellors were willing to tolerate. It is up to AHEIA to explain why at least 17 of its members have abandoned the solution it negotiated on behalf of the universities.”

However, the union focuses blame on VCs. “The worst crisis in the history of Australian universities demanded a collective solution to save careers and livelihoods. Too many vice chancellors are now baulking at the strong oversight provisions in the jobs framework that guarantee transparency and ensure that any contribution our members make will be dedicated to saving jobs. Vice chancellors appear to have abandoned their industrial association.”

What happens now:  The proposal is still expected to be put to union members, and if successful to all staff, at La Trobe U, Monash U and UWA as a variation of enterprise agreements there. Last night Professor Gardner made a strong call for Monash U staff to approve it;

“The federal government has been clear that it will not provide more than the current funding for domestic students. We cannot wait indefinitely for assistance which may or may not come. If we know we cannot meet our bills, we are required to take action – good governance and regulation requires us to do so. If we cannot make up the cash deficit in front of us by these temporary cost-saving measures, we will have to cut a substantial number of jobs through redundancies. And let me reiterate – this is what we are trying our best to avoid.”

As to Charles Sturt U, Council will make a decision in the next seven days.

CMM understands some as yet undeclared universities are interested in modified versions of the framework but the union is not expected to budge on job protections or oversight mechanisms.

The NTEU re-groups: The union leadership tells members, “the NTEU will vigorously oppose any non-union ballot to vary enterprise agreements and we will now escalate our industrial and campaign activities to fight for every job.  Now is the time for members to come together as never before to protect the sector and the livelihoods of thousands of higher education workers.”

And the winner is: Dan Tehan. Mr Tehan now has a politically saleable response to demands for emergency funding – why could universities not agree to a national approach to savings? Of course, the policy is not that simple. But the politics is.

Internationals arrivals aren’t imminent says PM

“Our borders aren’t opening up any time soon,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a journalist at the National Press Club yesterday

“Sure, we will be working with the higher education sector, but I note 80 per cent of the international students that come to Australia are here. They are here. The way it is talked about, you would think they were not. But about 80 per cent are here,” Mr Morrison said.

He’s right. The Department of Education, Skills and Employment reports 606 000, that’s 80 per cent, of international student visa holders, “who may be effected by COVID-19 travel restrictions” were in the country as of May 10. The figure for HE is 78 per cent and 82 per cent for PG research.

Problem is what the PM means by “any time soon.” Second semester this year and 2021 will be when providers take the big revenue hits if there are no arrivals.

Cuts are underway at UNSW, child-care is up early

The university tells parents that deficits at its childcare centres are no longer sustainable

The losses pre-date the pandemic and UNSW expects a $560 000 deficit this year and projects $600 000 next.

The 99-kid capacity Kanga’s House long-day centre is set to close, after 40 years. The other three facilities are put to tender.

UNSW assures staff with children at Kanga’s House that they will be able to “transition” to other centres this year as “vacancies arise” at the other centres, Tigger’s Honeypot, Owl’s House and the House at Pooh Corner. Kanga kids off to school in ’21 will see-out the year there.

If the university decides no tenderer is suitable then it will continue to run the centres. “In this scenario, UNSW will need to pursue alternative structural changes within our centres to ensure they are operating as efficiently as possible, HR VP David Ward says.

Uni Melbourne to staff: hand back your pay-rise

Vice Chancellor Duncan Maskell sets out his savings strategy

the good news for now: Is that the bad news is not as awful as expected. Professor Maskell tells staff that the expected 2020 revenue shortfall of $400m is now estimated to be between $260m-$320m. The estimate for 2021 is $335-$385m.  The university will cover the loss in earnings this year, by deferring $330m in capex, drawing down on debt and using borrowings.

but next year, not so much: With all the one-offs used in ’20 operating expenditure will have to but cut – and that means, “it is inevitable that some jobs will be lost.”

“My priority now is for the university to minimise these job losses … a high priority is to avoid involuntary redundancies to the maximum extent possible,” Professor Maskell says.

here’s one way how: The vice chancellor proposes staff give up the 2.2 per cent pay-rise that kicked-in this month. Casuals would be exempt and the pay rise due May next year “is guaranteed,” although the per centage increase then would be based on pay levels before this year’s rise.

“If you agree to this proposal, it will deliver savings of $30 million to our base operating costs in 2021, reducing the need to cut jobs. In effect, I am asking you to put jobs before pay rises,” he says. The VC also reminds staff the university executive has accepted a 20 per cent pay cut.

in return: the university will offer; voluntary separations before redundancies, commit to no standowns and establish a “joint working group” with the National Tertiary Education Union, “on the implementation of changes arising from this crisis.”

what’s next: The VC says discussions are underway with the union. A vote to vary the university’s enterprise agreement is scheduled for June 9.

reaction: The campus branch of the NTEU calls for a no vote against changes to the enterprise agreement alleging . The union sets-out objections, including the absence of “enforceable protections” against stand-downs or increased workloads, “unfettered use of forced redundancies” and VRs “enabling individuals to be targeted.”

The union is angry that management wants a vote on changes, “that have not been negotiated with, nor agreed upon by the union.”

Best on offer

South Australian universities asked for a 12-month payroll tax waiver but the state government said nothing-doing

However, they do qualify for a six-month deferral, same as every other big business. Tom Richardson in the excellent INDaily has the yarn.

Claire Field calls for governments to pick up the pace on training reform


 Our VET system is beset by complexity and change is urgently needed

It was good to hear the prime minister speaking about skills in his National Press Club speech yesterday. I support greater national consistency in VET funding, as recommended by Stephen Joyce, and in the Commonwealth and states and territories investing more in VET.

The other area where Joyce’s reform proposals are crucially important (and which the government is pursuing) is in a new approach to qualification development. The excessive complexity of our current arrangements has been evident during the pandemic.

The OECD published a guide for VET in the COVID-19 crisis. They note that lockdowns and social distancing have created challenges where training includes a workplace-based component. They cite various initiatives other countries have put in place to tackle these challenges including:

* flexible skills assessment and awarding of qualifications

* fast-track licenses

* short-duration certificates, and

* emergency standards for work-placements once businesses re-open.

By contrast, aside from a change mandated by Safe Work Australia and the state/territory regulators (on training for the construction industry white card) the sub-committee of the Australian Industry and Skills Committee, established to enable similar temporary flexibility in our VET system, has in seven weeks of operation agreed on:

* two skill sets

* advice on the use of manikins in first aid training, and

* a revision to an interpretation guide for one training and assessment unit.

The remainder of their work (such as it is) is pending … . Thankfully it is less likely to be needed as we move out of lockdown and back to more normal training arrangements.

My comments should not be interpreted as an attack on the AISC sub-committee members or others involved in the current arrangements. They are good people who are working hard.

The reality though is that our VET system is beset by complexity and change is urgently needed.

Claire Field advises on VET, international education and private higher education.

Another no to the wages-conditions accord

The University of Wollongong rejects the proposed national accord that would reduce wages and conditions in return for protecting jobs

Just hours before the deal was pulled by the union, Vice Chancellor Paul Wellings told staff yesterday that the national framework, “does not offer the best pathway… to prepare Uni Wollongong for a sustainable future.”

Professor Wellings said the framework’s short-term reductions in pay and conditions to offset COVID-19 caused losses, do not fit the university’s need to “plan for a longer period.” UoW anticipates a $90m budget shortfall this year, “which is expected to compound in future years.”

“COVID-19 has brought permanent, far-reaching changes to our world and to higher education globally. International relationships have changed; course delivery has changed; and the expectations of students, communities and governments have changed,” he said.

“We will be considering alternative approaches that allow us to protect jobs while positioning our organisation for the future.”