What a surprise

Late last month Education Minister Dan Tehan announced $12m for a special research initiative to, “recognise the importance of research into Australian society, history and culture,” (CMM January 28). Yesterday in the Senate, Kim Carr asked if this was new money, adding it should be. It’s not. Simon Birmingham, representing Mr Tehan said it would come from the Linkage Programme.

Union warning: staff carry burden of virus response

University jobs are at risk and staff under “acute pressure” as managements scramble to deal with the student-absence impact of the corona virus

The National Tertiary Education Union is in contact with vice chancellors, calling on them to protect staff as the crisis continues.

“A number of universities have sought to prioritise on-line delivery as a way of coping with students’ inability to arrive on campus at the normal start of semester. The tight timelines have placed relevant staff and NTEU members under acute pressure and stress, with ballooning workloads and hours,” national president Alison Barnes warns VCs.

Dr Barnes also speak-up for casual staff who fear a decline in student numbers may mean, “losing hours and pay in the event of changes to semester timetables, deferments, and disruptions to normal university operations.”

She asks universities to, “consider arrangements to ensure casual staff who would normally expect to return to work at the beginning of semester are not deprived of income and/or hours of paid work.”

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning, Rebecca Eaton, (La Trobe U) on winning the student transition trifecta. It’s a  new essay in Commissioning Editor Sally Kift’s series on what we need HE needs now.

And Merlin Crossley (UNSW) on the conference poster – how it sells research.

“Here’s to the ladies who lunch”

“Women aged 50–70 are more likely than younger women to consume alcohol at levels that exceed low risk drinking guidelines – and most think that’s just perfectly fine,” Edith Cowan U reports new research. No, it’s not from work at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts on Stephen Sondheim lyrics – it’s by Julie Dare from ECU’s School of Medical and Health Sciences.

Carr warns of a “new cold war’ against researchers

Kim Carr speaks up for scientists working with China

The long-serving research minister in Labor Governments spoke out in the Senate yesterday, criticising “hawks intent on fighting a new cold war” who are critical of academic cooperation with China, and “their eager acolytes in sections of the Australian media.”

Senator Carr singled out The Australian newspaper for coverage of Chinese-Australian university research connections in particular, of a CSIRO-Chinese university ocean research centre.

CSIRO chair Larry Marshall also defends that project, saying the Centre for Southern Hemisphere Oceans Research, is, “governed by independent science leaders and is contributing to Australian, Chinese and global efforts to effectively anticipate and adapt to climate change.”

Senator Carr added that there had been no breaches of the Defence Trade Controls Act since it was adopted in 2012 and no evidence of researchers, “have actually acted as cats paws of a foreign power.”

Minister not for moving

The ban on students still in China stays

At yesterday’s virus briefing a journalist asked Health Minister Greg Hunt whether students now excluded from Australia might be allowed in, as the start of classes approaches.

The minister was not for moving; “The government principle is to protect Australians, first and foremost, which is why we have taken the very difficult decision with regards to the quarantine. And that was not lightly taken.”

Jennifer Milam moves to Uni Newcastle

The year-long court case between Jennifer Milam and the University of Melbourne is over

In February 2019 Professor Milam, then head of the university’s School of Culture and Communication, took the university to court, in part over it banning her from campus, except to prepare for and teach classes. The university was conducting an investigation into “matters concerning the interaction between certain senior academic staff of the faculty.”

In the Federal Court Justice Anastassiou said nothing-doing, prior to the dispute between the university and Professor Milam going to trial. “It is very likely to suffer significant harm to her reputation if her suspension is continued. In my view, such harm is not readily compensable by an award of damages,” (CMM February 22 2019).

The dispute proceeded through court processes last year with no apparent sign of a settlement. But at the end of January the case was “dismissed by consent” with no order on costs. Uni Melbourne declined to comment yesterday and Professor Milam did not respond to a written request.

Professor Milam’s Facebook page reports she started this week as PVC Academic Excellence at the University of Newcastle.

English languages students absent

Elicos peak body English Australia reports members can access a list of its Chinese students who were out of Australia when the ban on entry kicked in on February 3 

It’s available via the feds’ international student management system.

CMM’s international education correspondent Dirk Mulder estimates that if the ban continues for all of first semester the ELICOS sector would lose $25m in fee income, (CMM February 3).

VET regulation – we’re not there yet


In the last six months, I have written four times on VET regulatory reform in this column, hosted two podcast episodes which interviewed experts on ASQA’s regulatory approach, and in each of my subscription updates on the sector I include a separate regulatory section.

As one subscriber commented recently “you know the regulation section is often larger than the other sections in your updates – what does that say?”

Many would say “that’s enough, move on” … and I would be pleased to if the issues had been fixed. Sadly, for everyone in the sector, not least students and employers, we are not there yet.

Social media has been running hot with concerns about how the Australian Skills Quality Authority will exercise its new powers (contained in legislation currently before the parliament). Some of the concerns are legitimate and the changes will need external scrutiny as they are implemented.

Other aspects of the legislation, such as the publication of ASQA audit reports and allowing government to publish provider-level data, merely move VET into the 21st century. These changes will bring the same level of transparency to VET as currently applies in the higher education sector, with Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency’s audit findings being reported publicly and higher education provider-level data being widely available.

I note the call from the CEO of Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia this week for changes to ASQA’s governance, to separate out the role of CEO from chief commissioner. With the coalition party room having just agreed to introduce another VET regulatory bill into the parliament, National VET Regulator Amendment (Governance and Other Matters) Bill, and peak bodies having been briefed on its contents – let’s hope the new legislation includes the change which is being signalled.

Appointing a group of commissioners to oversight the work of ASQA (as the government did with TEQSA some years ago) would be a good move, allowing for more scrutiny of ASQA and more accountability.

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

Study Group buys course creation capacity

Insendi started as an in-house course-creator for University College London and now nominates 12, mainly UK-European business schools, as clients, including the University of Melbourne’s. The organisation will operate separately to Study Group.

SG has partnerships with 40 plus universities, colleges and school in the UK, Europe, US and ANZ. Last October higher education regulator TEQSA placed three conditions covering corporate governance and academic oversight on Study Group’s registration.

MIT asks Elsevier for more open access ideas

Elsevier takes another step towards open access

The for-profit journal giant has agreed to keep talking to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology about an OA agreement. With the probability of renewed negotiations with University of California, (CMM January 29) Elsevier in the US is starting to look like Elsevier in Plan S-Europe.

MIT reports the publisher has agreed to provide access to journals through to June, “to provide ample time for Elsevier to develop a new proposal.”

MIT’s position is, society benefits when published scholarship is “freely and immediately available to the entire world to access, read, and use; without restriction and for any lawful purpose.”

Appointments, achievements

Medical informatics researcher Adam Dunn will move to Uni Sydney next month, from Macquarie U.

Flinders U’s Simone Ulalka Tur becomes PVC Indigenous there.