No one is safe

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel did not send a file to people on his email list yesterday. It was a phishing scam, using his email address. “Our technicians are fixing the problem”, Dr Finkel assured his contacts, after the problem became a problem for some who thought the message was genuine

Some ado about not enough

Tasmanian theatre people are upset that the state’s university is cutting its theatre degree, which is warned will mean aspiring performers will have to study on the mainland, (Emily Baker broke the yarn in The Mercury). But the University of Tasmania tells CMM the play is still the thing, that theatre, now taught “as a stream” in the Bachelor of Contemporary Arts will be a “flagship major,” in the Bachelor of Arts. “We have been working to improve the program that we offer, to grow our student numbers and to open up theatre to many more people. We’ve considered the best theatre offerings around the country and consulted with stakeholders as we developed what is a strong, contemporary program,” the university responds.

Good-o, but a learned reader suggests a major is “nothing compared to the immersive commitment required of a student a proper arts degree.”

Another ATAR disaster for teacher education faculties

Deans of education were uncharacteristically quick to respond to yesterday’s ABC story that NSW universities were admitting students to initial teacher education courses who have ludicrously low ATARs. But the damage was done.

What happened: Natasha Robinson reported a study by University of Sydney academics of 2015 university admissions, which found half of teacher ed students had ATARs in the bottom half. The university was said to have wanted the report destroyed.

Deploring deans: The teacher education establishment, which sometimes takes cover during ATAR appallathons responded to the story quickly.

According to Australian Catholic University’s Tania Aspland (president of the Australian Council of Deans of Education) “it’s vital to move beyond this, singular focus on the low ATAR scores. That negative focus is being used to denigrate all teaching students and the teaching profession when, in fact, the numbers refer to a minute cohort of teaching students and do not reflect the specifics of each case.”

John Fischetti (Newcastle University and president of the NSW deans) said he would not comment on a report he had not seen but rejected “the mistaken notion that universities are admitting ‘anyone’ to teacher education.”

Professor Fischetti pointed to four state and federal measures introduced since 2015 to ensure teacher education students have the ability to learn how to teach;

* a floor on entry scores

* literacy and numeracy exist tests which students must complete at the end of their degrees to qualify to teach

* “classroom ready” assessments before graduating

* assessing the “skills and personal attributes” of people applying for teacher education courses.

Impact: This is another blow to the credibility of teacher education courses. State education ministers and teacher union officials use the ATAR as a proxy of teacher education student capacity. Yesterday Labor shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek, said there was a declining trend in teaching entry scores and while “there are individual exceptions to the rule … universities do have to, I think, tighten entry criteria to make sure that we are attracting and retaining the best and brightest, that it’s a first choice for students who passionately want to be teachers not the course that they do because they couldn’t get into anything else.”

This piles on the pressure on universities to justify their teacher-education low ATAR enrolments and it adds to the perception pushed by critics that institutions see initial teacher education as a low-cost income source. Earlier this month NSW education minister Rob Stokes extended the attack when he announced that students who complete a teaching degree on-line, “will not be preferenced for employment,” (CMM September 5).

Macquarie staff to vote

As expected, union members at Macquarie University have signed-off on the proposed enterprise agreement recommended by the National Tertiary Education Union and MU management (CMM September 14). The deal will go to a staff vote a Wednesday-Friday next week.

 UniSydney makes a perception problem worse

The University of Sydney responded to the leak of the report on entry scores to teacher education courses, yesterday by stating;

“We are very disappointed that a report using Universities Admission Centre data authored by University of Sydney researchers has been provided to selected media, without obtaining required approvals and against UAC’s protocols. … We are currently considering whether the release of this report now constitutes a breach of our policies and processes and will take appropriate action if it does.”

That hammering sounds is stocks being built in the UniSydney Quadrangle lawns. As a way of making the university look like it does not want the public to know about academic entry standards this is hard to beat.

Irish awards for Aus undergrads

Six Australians have won in the Undergraduate Awards, which honour the Irish organisers’ pick of the best research papers by students across the world, in 21 discipline groups. The programme is “a labour of love,” under the patronage of Ireland’s president Michael Higgins.

Michaela Taylor-Williams (UWA) wins in engineering. Matthew Barton from ANU takes the history prize for a study of lifesavers between the world wars. Melany Toombs, also from ANU is the law winner for her paper on “legal spaces in Al-Andalus” (Muslim Spain in the middle ages). And another ANU-ite, Rosalind Moran is honoured in the music, film and theatre category. Pascale Wehr (University of Queensland) picks up the life sciences award and James Monaghan from the University of Sydney is the philosophy winner.

Last year Australians won for four awards.

Keeping free speech safe

Former chief justice of the High Court, Robert French,  spoke Monday at Charles Darwin U the other day on “free speech and the law on campus. Do we need a charter of rights for universities?” He previously addressed the issue last month as chancellor of the University of Western Australia in a message to the university community. Jointly written with Vice Chancellor Dawn Freshwater, it set out why a speaker who claims transgender people are delusional was being allowed to speak on campus. ““There is an ongoing task to be undertaken within the university about the development of workable principles which strike a balance between the values of respect for human dignity on the one hand and freedom of opinion and expression on the other,” they wrote.

But a couple of days later Professor Freshwater announced the event was cancelled because organisers, had not submitted “a risk assessment and detailed event management plan,” (CMM August 20). As Voltaire did not say “I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it, subject to submitting a safety plan.”

Appointments, achievements

Kerry Wilkinson from the University of Adelaide is the new deputy editor of the Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology‘s journal. Associate Professor Wilson, with colleagues, created UniAdelaide’s edX MOOC, World of Wine (CMM November 11 2015)

The International Federation of French Teachers has announced winners of the first Asia-Pacific Francophone song competition, for university students. The winner is Veruschka Pestano, who studies at Macquarie U, for her performance of ballad, “Encore un Soir”. Runner-up is Emily McCormick from UoQ.

Justin Beilby, VC of Torrens University has joined the board of the Council of Private Higher Education.

The University of South Australia is awarding hon docs to:

Peter Gago (Penfolds chief winemaker) for his “enduring commitment and significant contribution to Australian winemaking.”

Fiona Stanley (Founding Director of the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research), “a champion of children’s health

Greg Combet (former federal minister and ACTU secretary): “a complex problem solver, strategist and leader”