Plus journal empire strikes back

Up his alley

SBS Manager Director Michael Ebeid will address a UWS forum tomorrow night, that’s UWS – as in University of Western Sydney. The official subject is SBS and multiculturalism but CMM suspects Struggle Street, last month’s controversial SBS documentary on life in western Sydney might come up.

ANU new 4

Trend to teaching

CSU VC Andy Vann predicts a new debate on what universities stand for, but if he is right it will not be navel gazing. The ever astute Professor Vann says there was a mood among university leaders at the recent Universities Australia conference that, “universities may have begun to lose sight of their purpose and I suspect that we will see a lot more debate about if not a ‘new Australian university’, at least a renewed idea of the Australian university.”

And for many that would mean more emphasis on teaching and less obsession with research and the league tables, which report annual institutional ups and down. In particular Professor Vann is unhappy with the Times Higher and says CSU will not participate in the next issue. Why? Because of the way THE scores teaching, using staff-student ratios. “This is a meaningless and unhelpful measure of teaching quality in my view”, he says. As a distance provider where thousands of students rarely sit in a physical classroom you can see the Charles Sturt case.

There are already examples of university strategists starting to look at the student experience and graduate outcomes.

The University of Adelaide has announced performance metrics for all teaching, research, and those who do both, staff. The performance measures are precisely graded but one is blunt, and mandatory – all staff who teach must have an 80 per cent rating in student surveys.

Macquarie University is also preparing to invest heavily in reconfiguring undergraduate teaching, with ‘enquiry-driven’ learning, where students are active researchers and employment skills are embedded in all subjects. The university also wants to offer all students internships with employers within a decade. According to DVC Academic, John Simons employment outcomes are why students chose a university. (CMM April 7) And the University of Sydney intends to focus on undergraduate education, with VC Michael Spence signalling a transformation of the student experience (CMM May 26).

On the basis of this year’s applications it looks like the big growth in undergraduate demand is done, so the challenge for universities will be to increase market share and reduce their own attrition. After all, they need to keep the numbers up to cross-subsidise research.

No profiting for-profits

Another spot-fire for the private training lobby. There’s a training inquiry with TAFE-friendly terms of reference underway in Victoria. In South Australia state minister Gail Gago has given TAFE a guaranteed 90 per cent share of training places for a year, apparently to give the system time to sort itself out. Now NSW Labor is pushing for an open house inquiry into TAFE’s contribution to the state economy and communities plus “course cuts, fee hikes, increasing use of for-profit providers and recent IT failures.” I’m guessing the for-profits will be blamed for most things if cross-bench support gets the inquiry up.

AITSL leaders

The Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership has a new board, sort-of. John Hattie continues in the chair of the agency, which will be crucial to the government’s plan to implement Greg Craven’s teacher education reform plan. The old board largely continues with a few new members. One is Tania Aspland, dean of education and arts at Professor Craven’s Australian Catholic University. Federal official Tony Cook is another. Trevor Fletcher, a South Australian school principal and a member of the Craven inquiry also joins the committee. As does Dr Jennifer Buckingham, long-time school education analyst at the Centre for Independent Studies and a former schools editor of The Australian.

Empire strikes back

There’s a flare-up in the border war between the research open access coalition and the Reed Elsevier empire, the largest of the commercial journal publishers. OA advocates argue publicly funded research should be freely available to, well the public, while the publishers defend the existing model, where their great majority of their journals are behind pay walls.

Open access advocates have made progress in the last few years; funding agencies around the world now require research they fund to be universally available (green open access). And publishers have responded by offering scholars the chance to publish in free to read journals, of course researchers, more commonly their institutions have to pay a publication fee (gold open access) – well it’s a start. But the empires strike back when they can and at the end of April Reed Elsevier released a new policy on access, which requires institutional archives to honour embargoes on articles for journal-specific periods, which Elsevier set at 12-24 months. This seems to be the result of too many papers that Reed Elsevier wants to publish for profit being easily available early in institutional repositories. The Confederation of Open Access Repositories has responded to RE’s move by pointing out, “any delay in the open availability of research articles curtails scientific progress and places unnecessary constraints on delivering the benefits of research back to the public.” There is no way the publishers are ever going to accept universal open access, certainly not without long delays between their publishing papers and the research being open to all. If that ever became the norm they would have no business.

Allan’s important appointments

Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane announced the board of the Food and Agribusiness Growth Centre yesterday. It’s part of the government’s strategy to increase productivity in growth areas where Australia has a competitive edge. One notable board member is Michele Allan, something of go-to person at the interface of agriculture business and research. Last year she became Charles Sturt U chancellor and last month she was appointed to the new Cooperative Research Centre oversight committee recommended by the Miles Review. (CMM May 20)

Jane’s dolce vita

ANU‘s media management maven Jane “wizard of the lobby” O’Dwyer has been uncharacteristically quite for quite a while so CMM tracked her down to find out what she is up to. (Well checking her out on Twitter is sort-of research). Turns out acclaimed Jane is on long-service leave, finishing off a management masters in Rome. It is, she reflects, a tough life.

Not all is vanity

While STEM and medical journals are the big battleground in open access publishing the publication of free to read monographs is increasing, albeit slowly. According to publishing consultants PCG a survey of libraries that pay for open access monographs split their gold access funding three to one in favour of journals. However they use the standard selection criteria in deciding on the open access monographs they do support, relevance to curriculum and academics’ requests and so on. Good-oh, but when it comes to books gold open access looks like vanity publishing, yes I know it is no different to a faculty budget paying for a journal article but pay for publication books have baggage. Surely the solution are university e-presses that just pick up the low cost of paperless publishing and put their lists on-line. ANU Press is one great example.