Unis to feds: butt-out

The Morrison Government has bills and committee inquiries over-sighting universities. Not everybody is happy (scroll-down)

“A number of Government departments and agencies are currently proposing legislation, or changes in oversight, or regulatory practices, in various aspects of national security and national interest. Combined, these potentially create unnecessarily overlapping regulatory and oversight regimes in the sector. This regulatory burden risks diverting increasing amounts of scarce resource from the core business of universities — namely, teaching and research,” Universities Australia politely suggests the feds get out of the way, in its submission to the critical infrastructure bill, (below) Friday.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Tim Pitman (Curtin U) on support for students with a disability. Good services are undermined, “by a single bad actor, process or learning design.”  It makes the case for making disability awareness training mandatory for all staff, he argues. It’s a new selection by Commissioning Editor Sally Kift for her series on what is needed now in teaching and learning.

Frank Larkins (Uni Melbourne) on the universities that need, really need, international students taking coursework masters and what their absence means for coffers and campus life.

Merlin Crossley argues thinking small is a strategy for success when building a research career.

Four ways to protect against cyber attack

The threat is only going to increase in terms of magnitude and impact

“As mass-connectivity and sensor driven digital campuses become a reality – enabled by next-generation technologies such as 5G – university leaders will need to take secure a much larger surface area,” Cisco and Optus warn.

In Features this morning, they propose four ways unis can respond.

Enough already on the integrity over-sight

The feds propose Commonwealth integrity over-sight, which will cover universities.  Just like the states’ corruption commissions do already

It’s a point institutions and associations make in submissions on the exposure draft of the government’s bill.

The Australian Technology Network (and steady-date) Uni Newcastle say they “respect the Government’s authority, exercised on behalf of all Australians, to ensure the proper use of Government funding.” However, “as organisations established by state legislation, universities are already within the jurisdiction of state integrity agencies.

“ATN appreciates that the Government has sought to learn from the experience of those agencies when designing the commission but notes that universities will still be subject to those state integrity agencies and would counsel against overlap across the jurisdictions.”

But if the Morrison Government must, ATN asks that the legislation require coordination with other agencies whose briefs cover corruption.  And it calls for clarity on exactly who in a university is covered, pointing out HE providers have “thousands of formal and informal relationships, which can range from informal relationships between individual academics at different institutions, to extensive multi-lateral partnerships (e.g. joint research centres or jointly accredited courses). From a risk-based and proportionate point-of-view, these relationships vary greatly in their potential for corruption and impact.”

The Innovative Research Universities does not muck-around, arguing that including universities is not necessary. Its analysis of relevant state and territory legislation reveals their agencies have the power to investigate broad issues of corruption and misconduct, with no restriction on “issues relating to the national interest, foreign interference or other federal issues.”

“There is no compelling reason for a blanket inclusion of universities in this legislation, which would impose yet another layer of bureaucracy onto universities with no discernible benefit to universities or the government,” IRU states.

Dirk Mulder: Beijing is Bù Gāoxìng Jan

“Not happy Jan”: China has another go at Aus universities


 statement  on the Chinese Ministry of Education website warns Australian universities partnering with Chinese institutions “have insufficient investment in high-quality education resource.”

The ministry’s Degree and Graduate Education Development Centre nominates, Uni Southern Queensland, RMIT, Griffith U and Swinburne U.

It follows Chinese state media referring to (but not specifying) “a series of vicious attacks on Chinese students that have happened recently in multiple places in Australia, (CMM February 8).

The ramifications of the Ministry’s statement are potentially huge.  Australian universities have 90 plus teaching-focused relationships with Chinese institutions, especially important now, given COVID-19’s enrolment impact.

And universities are already looking to transnational education partnerships with Chinese universities as a new market, post pandemic.

The ministry adds evaluation of Australian universities will start “at an appropriate time,” with institutions to be notified.

This leaves on-line learning the only Australian education product not on notice, for now. It’s not a preferred medium in China but the government eased up on approvals last year, to help Chinese students at home stick with their Australian courses.

That Beijing is not happy Jan is now clear – adding on-line to the list would make it even clearer education is a trade-war target.

Dirk Mulder is CMM’s international education correspondent

Unis warn against cyber bill over-kill

The government’s one-response-fits-all-threats is too expensive and expansive

Late last year the Department of Home Affairs circulated a draft bill, “to protect critical infrastructure,” including universities, from cyber-attack.  This included “mandatory risk management and incident reporting” and would place organisations covered under “enhanced cyber security obligations.”

And guess which organisation the Department of Home Affairs thought would be best placed to “regulate compliance” from “the education and research sector”? Jove, you are all quick, yes, the Department of Home Affairs.

Among many HE submissions on the bill, the ever-vigilant Innovative Research Universities responded that HE institutions are already doing what the bill wants from them and that, “the major challenge is the plethora of government agencies requiring action from universities with no coherence to these requirements,” (CMM December 1).

But the IRU’s hint was not taken – the circulating draft did not stay in circulation very long, with Home Affairs minister, Peter Dutton, commending the bill to the House in his second reading speech on December 10.

So that would have been that, except the Attorney General, (on December 18), referred the bill to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and National Security.

Which is now accepting submissions, and so universities are making the same points the drafters of the bill already appear to have ignored.

Griffith U submits the bill’s impact on universities is out of proportion and “it should be narrowed to allow risk-based targeting of critical capabilities and assets.”

Uni Sydney states, it understands and supports “the policy objectives” but “we are concerned about the likely additional compliance costs for public universities responsible for operating critical national research infrastructure.”

The Council of Australasian University Directors of IT points out that the bill applies a single model, which “risks implementing security obligations suited to those aimed at high-risk, research -intensive, defence-aligned institutions to all and hence applying too high an obligation on teaching-focused and dual-sector institutions.”

The submission from the Australian Technology Network (with its pal, Uni Newcastle) makes many similar points and ever-so politely suggests the Commonwealth should focus.

“A broad and un-targeted approach to designating critical infrastructure and entities (and the assets within them) risks diluting the effort and attention paid to aspects that are truly critical. Finite security resources should be directed to the areas of greatest risk and potential impact, such as defence research partnerships. … Applying the highest level of protection to all parts of universities because of the criticality of one part would not be proportionate.”

And the Group of Eight summed it up, suggesting, “the catch-all nature of the legislation as proposed for the higher education and research sector to be highly disproportionate to the likely degree and extent of criticality of the sector. “The Go8 asks the committee to consider why universities are in the bill at all.

“The Australian Government has in fact not yet identified any critical infrastructure assets in the higher education and research sector. … when to date no other Five Eye nation lists higher education and/or research among its critical infrastructure sectors.”

Meanwhile in the research real-world: Sino-Aus funding announced

But lest Chinese officials (or Australian senators) get upset this is not a deal to denounce

In fact, it’s entirely routine, and useful, research cooperation between the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The not-much funding (everybody gets $7000 each)  goes to:

Fang Lee Cooke (Monash University) and Tianyu Wang (CASS):  labour laws on digital employment in the two countries

Qian Fang (UNSW) and Chunguang Wang (CASS): migrant peer support groups

Enshen Li (Uni Queensland), Xupeng Jiao (CASS): security cooperation on cross-border crime

Peter Shi (Macquarie U), Deyong Zhang (CASS): fund managers providing aged care services (is CMM’s guess what this is about- the synopsis reads like Google found the original a struggle).

South Australian Science Awards

They were announced Friday

Scientist of the Year:  Sharad Kumar (Uni SA) and Colin Raston (Flinders U)

Industry Collaboration: Flinders U Medical Device Partnering Programme

STEMM educator: Kerry Wilkinson (Uni Adelaide)

STEMM educator (school): Kristie Talbot (Modbury School)

PhD Research: Erinn Fagan-Jeffries (Uni Adelaide)

Tall Poppy: Kylie Dunning (Uni Adelaide)

Unsung heroes: Graham Medlin (SA Museum), Robert Lawrence and Rosemary Lawrence (Native Orchid Society and Wild Orchid Watch)

Innovator: Micro-X Carbon Nano Tube team


Appointments, achievements

Halina Rubinsztein-Dunlop (Uni Queensland) wins the C. E. K. Mees Medal from the Optical Society of America.

The Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network establishes a scientific advisory committee. Pascal Perez (Uni Wollongong) is chair.

Michael Stuckey joins U Tas as dean of law. He moves from Victoria U, where he was dean of law (and justice).