From the bleeding obvious desk

The Association of MBAs reports a new study that “highlights how many recent graduates (48 per cent) are motivated to complete an MBA so they can trigger change in their careers.”


There’s more in the Mail

In Features today David Myton extends his world news rapid read by two-and-a-half minutes to bring you the latest ranking of totally made-up universities and to investigate why the famed Poppleton University missed out.

Teaching-only universities on policy agenda

Teaching-only universities are on the policy agenda with the release of a federal government discussion paper. It sets the context for submissions to the review of the Higher Education Provider Category Standards, to be undertaken by recently retired QUT vice chancellor Peter Coaldrake.

What this is about:  Professor Coaldrake is commissioned by Education Minister Dan Tehan who said in October, “ it is important the provider categories can accommodate changing practices in higher education and encourage choice of educational offerings to students, while continuing to provide the quality education the Australian community expects,” (CMM October 18 2018).

So, what’s on the agenda?: The Department of Education’s discussion paper suggests issues submissions should address, including whether existing standards that existing universities and other HE providers must meet are fit for purpose, what characteristics should define different categories of providers,” and most important, “Australia’s conceptualisation of a university”.

Teaching-only unis is what: “Australia has come to conceptualise universities as places for both teaching and research. These two fundamental features have become synonymous with the title ‘university’ and have contributed to the good reputation of Australia’s universities internationally for high quality teaching and research,” the DET paper states. It adds Australia is largely alone in defining what level of research is required – work in three broad fields and awarding higher degrees in them.

The review is set to consider alternatives to this.

“Should the requirement for universities to offer both undergraduate and postgraduate courses be relaxed, allowing freedom for a university to specialise in only undergraduate or only postgraduate courses, with or without research, as appropriate? Should specialised research institutes with a proven record become eligible to use the ‘university’ title and even offer postgraduate research-based qualifications? While this review presents an opportunity to explore all possible options, the implications of any change must be carefully weighed, particularly where change may have consequences for reputation and outcomes.”

What happens now: Is a bunch of work over the summer by elite universities who think they, plus their pals in the specialist institutes, should get all of a bigger national research budget and research-weak ones terrified of turning into teaching-colleges still badged as unis. As to the outcome, who knows what Professor Coaldrake will advise, or the Higher Education Standards Panel, which he reports to, will accept.

But don’t expect either side of politics to do anything about whatever Coaldrake recommends this side of the election. Submissions don’t close to March and we vote in May.


More wonder women

Science and Technology Australia will reveal 60 new women super stars of STEM tomorrow. “These 60 women will smash gender stereotypes by being public examples of the diverse range of people working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and help encourage girls to consider a career in STEM,” STA says. Super-scientists are becoming easier to find. There were only 30 in STA’s first batch of super-scientists named last year (CMM July 4 2017).

Union fury (that’s FURY!) at Flinders U

The union at Flinders U is rating a record-low on the Bob Cratchit Scale of Seasonal Goodwill, with news that management will roll-out its academic restructure over the summer.

Staff and students are at boiling point over the destructive and shambolic restructure process. Everyone is expressing no confidence in the VC and chancellor to deliver ethical governance or empowering leadership,” Andrew Miller, campus president of the National Tertiary Education Union tells CMM.

Dr Miller‘s remarks follow a recommendation from the Fair Work Commission that the union and management agree on a process for academics to apply for teaching or research positions, with no guarantee that all present staff will win a place (CMM Friday).

He is also upset with the university council, which was not swayed by academics who spoke against the restructure at a meeting on Thursday. “We saw a council structure captured by the wills of  the VC and Chancellor. We went from a collegial and socially-just university to a raw corporate abomination.Dr Miller had more to say, but you get the idea.

University management has been working on the restructure since 2016 and on Thursday the FWC recommended that “the organisational change process should continue with some urgency,” (CMM Friday).


Plibersek commits Labor to demand driven funding, again

Restoring demand driven funding of undergraduate places is not in the Labor Party’s proposed platform, to go to national conference on the weekend (“what do you want for Christmas comrade? Speeches, please comrade”). However, deputy leader and education shadow minister Tania Plibersek keeps allowing herself ever-less wiggle room by repeating and repeating that a Labor government will restore DDF, most recently, at Universities Australia’s Christmas Drinks last week. “Our commitments are significant and sincere. Under Labor, universities will benefit from an additional investment of more than $10 billion over the next decade,” she added.

Uni staff gender gap narrows

The gender gap in university employment is now just five per cent, with women accounting for 66 per cent of appointments between 2008 and 2017, Frank Larkins reports in new research for the L H Martin Institute at the University of Melbourne.

Over the period 1.4 women were recruited as academics for every man. And the number of women employed above senior lecturer level all but doubled, from 2574 in 2008 to 5 144, while male numbers grew by 25 per cent or so, to 10 525.

“The under-representation of females among the academic staff of Australian universities, especially at senior levels, has been a much-discussed policy issue for decades. There is now clear evidence that universities have collectively been proactive in recruiting more female academic staff over the past decade,” he writes.

The proportion of women on professional staff has grown to 66 per cent over the decade, due to females making up 74 per cent of staff increase.

However Professor Larkins warns staffing trends are not terrific for the student experience.  In 2008 for every new academic hired 23 students were enrolled, over the next decade this blew out to one to 31.

“There are now more female academic staff to act as mentors and role models for the growth in female student enrolments; however, the increased student-to-staff ratio does make the task of maintaining a quality educational experience more challenging,” he says.

Tax or no tax

In the week when the Senate supported the government’s bills to slug unis for admin costs of the student loan scheme Senator James McGrath (LNP-Queensland) gave notice of a bill to stop universities charging students mandatory service fees (Hansard, December 6).  As the learned Conor King from the Innovative Research Universities points out, it’s a charge that student unionists support and some conservatives in parliament oppose.

Appointments, achievements

Edith Cowan U has appointed a new head of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. David Shirley will join from the Manchester School of Theatre at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK.

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations has announced its 2019 officers. president – Natasha Abrahams, general secretary – Rachel Brisbane, policy and research advisor – Owen Myles, media officer – Zoë Tulip, women’s officer,  Romana-Rea Begicevic, international officer – Devendra Singh, disabilities officer Marguerite Biasatti, queer officer – Lauren Taylor.

UNSW Dean of Science Emma Johnston is the Royal Society of NSW’s Clark Medallist, for zoology, botany, geology, (CMM Friday). The University of Sydney wants it known that it also did well, winning five of the six RS medals; Elizabeth New (Edgeworth David medal for chemistry), Paul Griffiths (history and philosophy of science medal), Elizabeth Elliott (James Cook medal for science and human welfare in southern hemisphere), Robert Park (Poggendorff Lecture in plant biology-agriculture).  UniSydney’s Evelyn Todd won the RSNSW scholarship.

The staff honours of the day are from the University of Southern Queensland where 2018 excellence awards go to; Community engagement and service, Erin Byles, Anton La Vin, Liam Scott, (Secondary Schools Moot Competition). Learning and teaching, Syed Shams, (Commerce). Diversity and inclusion, Shahjahan Khan, (Ag, Computational and Environmental Sciences). Innovation and change, Mark Phythian, Melissa Bradey, Sean Davidson, Jessica Grills, Ashly Peterson, Gemma Wharton, (Health, Engineering and Sciences). Values-based leadership: Residential Life team. Research: Roger Stone, (Applied Climate Sciences). Early career research, Jayne Persian, (Arts and Comms). Research supervision, Peter McIlveen (Linguistics and education). Research Service, Danielle Joyce (Financial services).

Tehan’s two messages for teacher education academics

Education Minister Dan Tehan has two direct messages for universities in his speech today at ANU’s Beyond Year 12 conference.

In a wide-ranging address the minister will focus on the student experience in school education but he will also add to his message that he is a friend to classroom teachers, referring to the parliamentary inquiry he has commissioned into the status and working conditions of the profession (CMM November 16). And he will tell education faculties to give trainee teachers the experience they need. “Student teachers need more time in the classroom as part of their teacher training. It’s like learning a musical instrument or playing a sport: practice makes perfect,” Mr Tehan is expected to say.

The minister will also back Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s push for an emphasis on maths In school as a requirement for university STEM study.  “Universities must be leaders and clearly communicate to school students the reality of university degrees. For example, to be a successful engineer you need to have studied mathematics

“That is not to say there is not a role for developing skills like problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and teamwork, but those skills cannot be applied if someone doesn’t have the basic skills of literacy and numeracy.  Our Government will never support any change to our national curriculum that diverges from these priorities.”