And that’s a wrap
FOI laws should assist academics: they aren’t helping
What the Accord must provide for student success
There’s more in the Mail
In Features this morning
Pru Mitchell (ACER) on the great Australian open access resource for leaning and teaching and how to make it greater. New this week in Commissioning Editor Sally Kift’s CMM series, “Needed now in teaching and learning.”
Plus, Merlin Crossley (UNSW) on the place for micro-credentials (it isn’t at university). “Many introductory micro-credentials can be delivered by teaching-only private providers that have lower costs than universities and better systems for gathering short, repeat bookings. I have a micro-credential – my driving licence – but I did not go to Harvard and pay their fees to get it.”
Desirable (digital) real estate
There are four things universities need to digitise campuses for “COVID-normal” life. Cisco and Optus set them out in CMM this morning
“The priority given to digital does not mean that physical campuses will drift into the background, but campus design will almost certainly change. For example, the campus will increasingly become a place for collaboration and peer-to-peer learning. This will drastically reduce demand for traditional spaces such as lecture theatres and create more demand for technology-enabled hybrid learning spaces,” they suggest.
End not that nigh for Swinburne U Japanese and Chinese language courses
The Commonwealth says existing students will be “taught out”
Swinburne U wants to close Japanese and Chinese language courses and says it has told the feds, ““in accordance with requirements under our funding agreement.”
But the feds are slowing Swinburne U down.
The university announced the cuts at the beginning of December and concluded enterprise agreement consultations before Christmas, (a proposal for tech-degree related Japanese and Chinese units did not change management minds).
But now it seems closing courses will take time. In a letter dated Friday the Department of Education, Skills and Employment states that the university needs Commonwealth approval to close courses in priority areas, which includes languages and that Swinburne U advises “current students will be taught out.”
University colleges and undergraduate certificates: here to stay
And lo, there was rejoicing in the tribe of the NUHEPS
Non-university higher education providers are said to be pleased indeed with Commonwealth legislation, passed late Thursday that establishes a path for them to become “university colleges” (university lobbies loathe the title) if they meet TEQSA assessed standards.
But this is not all NUHEPs have to be happy about. One of the other measures in the Provider Category Standards (and Other Measures) Act is the inclusion of “undergraduate certificates” in the definition of a “higher education award.”
Independent Higher Education Australia told a Senate Committee inquiry that such certificates are a splendid idea, allowing people to quickly re-skill.
Which was then education minister Dan Tehan’s idea when he announced what were originally called “diploma certificates” at the height of pandemic-panic – short on-line courses for people, “who have lost their jobs or are looking to retrain in national priority areas.”
Universities piled into providing the federally funded certs last year, and they will now be a new permanent product for both public and private HE providers. The latter of which alarms the National Tertiary Education Union, which told the Senate’s scrutiny of bills committee, UG, “will open up Commonwealth Supported Place funding to providers other than universities including private for-profit providers.”
But there is also anxiety from deep in the policy weeds about the ad hoc arrival of a new qualification, originally planned for the pandemic, but now permanent, subject to state ministers agreeing, expected at the end of the year.
The Commonwealth agreed to all the recommendations in the Australian Qualifications Framework review in December 2019 but there is not much evidence of anything being implemented. Which is a problem, “the AQF Review was seen as critical to both higher education and VET, being foundational to national qualifications and training products, funding and financing, HE/VET boundaries and institutional positioning,” an adept in the (very) dark art of cross-sector qualifications told CMM in December (CMM December 8).
IHEA suggests the arrival of undergraduate certificates creates “a structural opportunity for the recognition of micro-credentials,” – which rather relies on governments acting on the AQF review.
The M in RMIT was for mysterious
On Friday, the university advised students that Canvas, the timetable and work integrated learning InPlace system were all down
There was media speculation that the university had closed the cyber gates to defend against a phishing attack. But management did not identify the issue, telling students IT was on to it, “working to resolve some issues that have impacted access.” On-campus classes for the not-many students meant to attend (semester has not started) were cancelled as well.
The university also wanted it known that “from the analysis undertaken to date, which has been independently validated, there is currently no evidence to suggest any data breaches as a result of these issues.”
“So, what was the problem?” CMM asked. “Not telling,” was CMM’s interpretation of RMIT’s reply, which consisted of a link to the university’s statement that there was no security breach.
Friday afternoon all appeared was well, with students reporting systems were back up. “If it all doesn’t work, leave it and try again in a couple hours. That’s standard advice for anything at RMIT,” as one student put it on chat-site. But not everything was ok, Saturday afternoon RMIT was apologising to students for the enrolment-server for first semester being down.
Academic casual pay at UNSW: management is checking the books
But there’s $49m put aside in case anybody was underpaid
When a NSW parliamentary inquiry in September asked Ian Jacobs how many casuals UNSW employed the VC knew exactly, 5846 people who collectively accounted for 741 EFT.
But for all Professor Jacobs admirable accuracy the university has had a struggle working what to pay which casual academic staff.
In the 2019 annual report (p 111) UNSW reported provisions of $23.7m for 2018 and $25.6m for ’19 which include “an estimated potential liability to the casual academic workforce.” This was an extrapolation of what was owed to underpaid staff “in one area of the university’s activities.”
It was the business school. Last June the university reported it had paid back casual academic staff who had not received the correct rate for work done. Management also called in consultants, notably Deloitte, to check records back to 2014, (sorry no idea what happened then). And management promised when that was done it would look at other faculties and “fully address any issues that are identified.” This was expected to take 12 months.
The university also expects the Contingent Workforce Project, established in 2019 to improve things, with new tech, “to better integrate casual and permanent staff employment and payroll system” revised operating systems and “additional training and education for managers and other staff.”
It’s the last one that might make the difference that matters most. There are universities around the country which have found casual academic staff being paid a lower rate than enterprise agreements specified for the work they were doing, presumably because managers did not understand complex work definitions.
“So, how’s it going at UNSW,” CMM asked Friday. “The review of potential underpayments to casual academics covering the whole university continues,” a UNSW representative responded.
“Remediation payments will be made to affected staff as soon as possible and will continue as the review progresses.”
So, for people who believe they are owed money dating back years the cheque is in the (what might seem like) snail mail.
Campus is open but Uni Melbourne continues its “pandemic reset”
Last year management responded to the pandemic with savings measures, including job cuts- there are more to come
In November, 209 voluntary redundancies were announced, ahead of a “professional services redesign” for staff in finance, data & reporting, occupational health and safety, facilities management, research outputs and post-award finance support, (CMM November 24). Some people to lose their jobs finally heard this month (CMM February 10).
But it’s not over yet. Last year’s “pandemic reset” of “transactional and advisory services” to see if they could be better delivered by shared functions than separate division (CMM August 28) now looks like a unit by unit retrenchment programme. And what happens can sometimes depend on the strength and volume, of the case supporters of existing units can make in consultations over proposed cuts.
Staff and supporters of the vet school’s teaching hospital at Werribee are cross about staff losses last year and the new services restructure in-place. “The university’s Pandemic Reset Programme proposals do not recognise the correlation between skilled professional staff and teaching in a hospital that provides a high standard of care,” they argue in a letter to Vet and Ag Science dean John Fazakerley.
And there’s a meeting today to protest a management proposal to outsource grounds maintenance, “to save a negligible amount of money.”
But the training and engagement team in Research Computing Services, which was for the chop, apparently now isn’t. The team manages research computing infrastructure and “helps researchers find the best options for creating, analysing, collecting and managing their data.”
“We are concerned that this training will be replaced by the outsourcing of services and a move to user-pays models,” the team stated in a pitch to continue.
Which appears was heard. The team will now move to the Melbourne Data Analytics Programme.
The pain COVID-19 created at Uni Melbourne is not over yet.
Jane Gunn becomes interim dean of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences at Uni Melbourne. She steps up from the deputy role in the faculty.
Clare Pollock leaves Flinders U where she is Senior DVC and DVC Students for Western Sydney U where she will become Senior DVC and Provost. She replaces Scott Bowman (ex VC CQU), who was hired last August to act in the job until March (CMM August 25). He becomes VC of Charles Darwin U in May.