When deans conspire

Elanor Huntington is thrilled Nick Birbilis is joining her as deputy dean (below). “Our band of co-conspirators to reimagine engineering and computing grows,” the ANU dean of those disciplines tweets. Good-oh, but isn’t secrecy core to a good conspiracy and who is Professor Huntington conspiring against?

Labor’s pick of training experts

Labor has announced the panel tasked with preparing the terms of reference for the party’s promised “once in a generationinquiry into post-secondary education. The panel will meet on June 19, which just happens to be National TAFE day, which institution the Opposition uses as a synonym for training. As Labor shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek put it yesterday, “Labor wants prospective students to see TAFE and uni as equally attractive study options.”

The panel of notables includes astute choices. Student-funding policy expert Mark Warburton is there.  As is Jennifer Westacott from the Business Council of Australia who wants a clear role for TAFE. The indefatigably optimistic Rod Camm from the Australian Council for Private Education and Training is a member. But given the backgrounds of many members it seems overall terms of reference from the group will start with the inquiry asking why TAFE is a good thing and escalating the positives from there.

Full membership is: Jennifer Westacott, Catriona Jackson, in-coming chief executive of Universities Australia, Ross Milbourne, former VC of UTS,  Mark Warbuton, Sally McManus, ACTU secretary, Rod Camm, Jeannie Rae, national president of the National Tertiary Education Union, James Pearson, CEO Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Pat Forward, Australian Education Union TAFE secretary, Craig Robertson, TAFE Directors Australia, Mary Faraone, CEO Holmesglen TAFE, Don Zoellner, TAFE policy expert from Charles Darwin U, Shelley Mallett, policy researcher at the Brotherhood of St Laurence and Brian Howe, Hawke and Keating governments cabinet minister.

Makes a change from submarines

Simon Birmingham was wearing his education minister hat with his SA senator jersey yesterday, announcing the snappily named Australian Research Council Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Innovative Wine Production. The University of Adelaide based centre will work with Charles Sturt U and partner organisations on “industry challenges” “plus cutting production costs and improving quality.

For a $4m investment it’s a cost-effective announcement compared to the huge amounts of defence production money going into SA Chris Pyne announces (below).


QUT sells on what it does

QUT has built its brand on the applied technology it teaches – which makes marketing so much easier than it is for universities who are not much different from their competitors and rely on slogan led strategies. The new QUT recruitment spot has a simple and all there more credible for it, message about what studying there delivers. “As technology evolves you can too.”

UniSydney to consider Ramsay Civ Centre plan

UniSydney steps up: With ANU out the University of Sydney is talking to the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation about picking up a degree programme and presumably the bucket of money Ramsay has to pay for it. Vice Chancellor Michael Spence has briefed Academic Board on “the possibility of financial support for teaching at the university” adding “any program attracting such support would need to go through the usual processes for course development and approval and the university cannot do anything that threatens its academic freedom or integrity.”  Word is that the board discussed the possibility “at length”.

Opportunities for opponents: If university management did decide to negotiate an arrangement with Ramsay it would not just be Academic Board that would need convincing. UniSyd has one of the most politically engaged  communities in the country and many of them do not like conservatives on campus. There was a professorial-protest in September 2016 when the university awarded an hon doc to former prime minister John Howard. “To confer a doctorate on him is an insult to Indigenous people, refugees, and anyone committed to multiculturalism, peace and social progress in this country and in the world,” a protest stated.

If ANU is any indication there will be staff who would now oppose engaging with the Ramsay Centre, which Mr Howard chairs.

Process may provide them with an opportunity:  The University of Sydney’s new enterprise agreement (clauses 320-325) requires workload allocation policies, “developed by a collegiate committee involving members of the academic staff including a representative of casual academic staff. They will then be put to a specially convened meeting of academic staff in the academic work unit for approval (including casual representation).”

It is hard to see how staff teaching Ramsay Centre courses for University of Sydney degrees could sit outside this requirement and it is easy to imagine how imaginative staffers could use the process to criticise the Ramsay programme.

If the fate of the Lomborg research centre proposal at UWA is any indication ways this could create big problems for management. When the possibility of a staff vote in the UWA business school, where the Lomborg centre was to sit, was canvassed, the deal was dropped the following day. (CMM May 11 2015).

A big challenge for Spence: There is no faulting Michael Spence for being game to have a go at what is now a high-risk proposal. If the university looks like going ahead there may well be uproar on campus – which is what occurred at UWA when the Lomborg prop was in play.

If the university considers the Ramsay Centre but decides not to proceed, conservatives will claim the VC buckled under staff pressure and look at other sources of funding it does accept. ANU VC Brian Schmidt was out yesterday again explaining the decision not to proceed with Ramsay and defending the funding the university accepts for the Centre for Arabic and Islamic Studies. This is not good for ANU. However unfair, credibility that needs defending, is credibility compromised.

McKay back to Melbourne

Lara McKay is moving back to the University of Melbourne. Ms McKay rebuilt the university brand with brilliant briefs for the Collision and Made Possible by Melbourne campaigns. She left last year to run marketing comms for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games but will return to UniMelb in August to become master of Ormond College. Her predecessor there was Rufus Black, now VC of the University of Tasmania.

Appointments, achievements

Nick Birbilis is moving from Monash to ANU where he will be deputy dean of engineering and computer science.

Simon Wilkie will be the next dean of business and economics at Monash U. He joins from the University of Southern California. It will not be his first experience of a Group of Eight institution, having done an undergraduate degree at UNSW. Professor Wilkie was chief economic policy strategist at Microsoft from 2014 until this year. He starts at Monash in January.

Isabelle Skinner from James Cook U is the new CEO of the International Council of Nurses, the global umbrella body for 130 national associations. Dr Skinner is now a research fellow at JCU’s Mount Isa Centre for Rural and Remote Health.

Mike Daube was made WA Australian of the Year last week and this week Curtin U awarded him a professorship emeritus, along with Gwidon Stachowiak and adjunct professor John Stephens. PVC Andris Stelbovics becomes a John Curtin distinguished professor.

Military-educational complex

Defence industry minister Christopher Pyne enthusiastically promotes defence industry-university research partnerships in his home state of South Australia, providing opponents of them with a convenient list of hard targets.

Yesterday the National Union of Students hopped into one of them, attacking Flinders U management for partnering with British defence company BAE Systems , which Con Karavias from NUS says “sells arms to despotic war criminals,” citing Saudi Arabia. With the other two SA universities also engaging with defence providers there are ample more examples for the NUS “books not bombs campaigns.”


Better news for training than when what’s his/her name was minister

Officials from the Department of Education and Training had a terrible time in Senate Estimates yesterday as Labor senator Doug Cameron asked difficult questions about their failed apprenticeship management system -including having to take on notice who the training minister was when there were first problems. But there was some good VET news yesterday, and it is while since CMM could write that.

The estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research reports that while 2016-17 full-year apprentice and trainee numbers were down 2.8 per cent, starts in the ’17 December quarter were up 7.6 per cent on the previous year.

UMultirank is out

The new UMultirank is out featuring comparable data on hundreds of universities, including 29 Australian ones. Want to know why people look at the commercial top to bottom league tables? Spending some time comparing institutions on UMR