Chains of gold

Monash U’s Blockchain Technology Centre and partner Alogrand announce a hackathon

The theme is blockchains for social good and the centre suggests fertile fields for developers, including in education; digital certification records, digital transcripts and digital tuition fee payment receipts. First prize for each of the four categories (education, digital health, energy and construction) is A$3000 equivalent paid in Algos, Algorand’s own crypto currency.

A blockchain for education records will be worth way more than $3000, in any fungible form

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

James Guthrie (Macquarie U) on the corporatisation of public universities – it should stop.

Plus, Les Kirkup (UTS) makes a (strong) case for the textbook. “A good textbook represents a coherent, lucid and authoritative distillation of years of consideration by the author(s) of – let’s not shy away from the phrase – discipline-focussed content.” This week’s addition to Commissioning Editor Sally Kift’s celebrated series, Needed now in Teaching and Learning.

And, Merlin Crossley (UNSW) on education-focused academics    “As I have watched the initiatives unfold in my institution I have been delighted again and again by the intended and unintended consequences.”

Consumer watchdog interested in Turnitin takeover plan

Contract cheating catcher Turnitin LLC wants to acquire another anti-plagiarism software provider

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is taken an interest in the proposed purchase of Sweden headquartered Ouriginal Group and wants to hear from consumers and competitors on issues including;

* the supply of anti-plagiarism software “and how it interacts with learning management systems”

* products on the market that meet needs

* the ease/difficulty of switching suppliers of anti-plagiarism software

* barriers to entry/expansion in the supply of anti-plagiarism software

* the impact on “prices, quality or service levels” if the acquisition occurred.

Details from the ACCC are here .

Ouriginal has some Australian clients but is big in northern Europe (perhaps kept busy checking German politicians’ doctoral dissertations). However, the ACCC concern is in-line with its interest in education providers and suppliers.

At Christmas 2019, it announced an inquiry into a proposed merger of textbook publishers Cengage and McGraw Hill. The commission suggested, education publishing in Australia was highly concentrated with “high barriers” to entry and expansion and that “the proposed merger would substantially lessen competition.”

The publishers called off the global deal in May 2020.

Always out of office at Southern Cross U

A union proposal calls for people to do their jobs wherever they want

Academics at Southern Cross U would have to be on campus only for work that “cannot be performed anywhere else” if management agrees to an enterprise bargaining claim by the National Tertiary Education Union. And professional staff would have “enhanced rights” to do the same.

‘Twas ever thus for many academics over-time, but it occasionally caused conniptions among managers. Back in 2018 La Trobe U management told academics they were “expected to be on campus at all time, unless otherwise arranged” and those arrangements had to be in writing. Cue outrage and management backed down (CMM July 6 2018).

It is hard to see anybody arguing that in plague times, given campuses have been deserted off and on for a year. And when staff have a taste for working more from home. Last year 68 per cent of UNSW staff reported they wanted to spend two or three days a week on campus, which a management planning paper stated should be accommodated (CMM July 22 2020).

The challenge for negotiators at SCU, and maybe at a bunch of other universities, will be deciding what “cannot be performed anywhere else” covers.

Women in STEM: pathways less travelled

“Self-concept” of maths capacity is part of the problem

While fewer disadvantaged people enrol in university than from the overall population, the proportion of those that do who study STEM is the same as for the general population. Which isn’t bad. But what isn’t good is that just 23 per cent of women who study STEM disciplines defined as non-traditional areas for them (which qualifies them as an equity group) are employed in a course-related field by age 25.

This, and a mass of other data is in a new report for the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education by people at the Australian Council for Educational Research.*

The study uses LSAY and PISA data to look at STEM engagement by people from low SES, non-metro, first in family in HE and women in designated “non-traditional” areas of study.

The report also finds that “self-concept” of maths capacity at age 15 is a “significant predictor of STEM participation in HE for women, first in family and low SES people.

Which could be a problem for increasing women studying STEM – a recent Commonwealth report found that the number of girls who don’t think they are smart enough to study maths doubles (to 41 per cent) between 12-13 years old and 18-21s (CMM May 4).

* Julie McMillan, Sheldon Rothman, Sarah Buckley and Daniel Edwards, STEM Pathways: The impact of equity, motivation and prior achievement 

Claire Field on the price of more VET funding


The states don’t want to pay it

Negotiations on the next National Skills Agreement are not going well according to recent comments from senior officials in the Department of Education, Skills and Employment.

The Heads of Agreement for Skills Reform (signed by the Prime Minister, premiers and chief ministers) stated confidently that “the new National Skills Agreement will be finalised by August 2021”.

At this stage that seems unlikely.

Appearing at Budget Estimates in early June, Deputy Secretary Nadine Williams indicated that negotiations on the new Agreement were “due to conclude in around August this year” and that DESE would need “quite a number of additional meetings … to continue those negotiations.”

At last week’s National ACE Summit, Assistant Secretary Jason Coutts indicated the timeline was potentially slipping further when he discussed the Foundation Skills Framework, saying it was “really closely integrated with the work we are doing in terms of the National Skills Agreement with states and territories, and that’s under very active negotiation at the moment. I think the view is that at least the core components of that, we are hoping to have settled in the second half of this year…”

Why the delay…?

In a nutshell, the Commonwealth is offering more money in return for more transparency (including in how funding is allocated to TAFE), more consistency in government subsidies for different courses, and more efficient pricing. And states and territories want the extra funding but not the degree of Commonwealth intrusion into their VET funding decisions.

Until a new Agreement is finalised, the VET sector carries on within current parameters – but there will be no additional extra funding when the JobTrainer boost runs out.

NAIDOC Week reminds us of one area where additional funding in a new Agreement should be prioritised… in implementing the recommendations of the Joyce Review for more Indigenous-owned RTOs “to provide more Indigenous learners with the option of foundation and vocational training in an Indigenous cultural setting” and better outcomes by focussing on “levels of enrolment, progress and outcomes for Indigenous learners”.

 Claire Field is an adviser to the tertiary education sector

UNSW VC responds to Human Rights Watch report

Ian Jacobs says there are  policies in-place and a review underway

In his regular message yesterday VC Ian Jacobs assured staff that the university iscommitted to upholding the highest levels of academic freedom and freedom of speech,” and “take(s) the safety and security of our students and staff extremely seriously.” The reason what surely should not need saying does is last week’s Human Rights Watch report on harassment of students from China on Australian campuses (CMM June 30 and July 1) – in which UNSW is critically mentioned.  Ditto in a hearing of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security which is inquiring into foreign interference in Australian universities.

But Professor Jacobs says the university has conduct codes in-place and ways for staff/students to complain anonymously if “a person has caused them to fear for their safety.”

Plus, a “review of policies and practices “was underway” before the HRW report.

“Our review will include consulting with our students and staff to make sure their voice is an important part of this process,” Professor Jacobs said.

Perhaps this will convince critics that UNSW has not been anxious to avoid upsetting China’s government and its supporters at the university.

Or perhaps it won’t.

Appointments, achievements

Duncan Lewis joins ANU’s National Security College. Major General Lewis was DG of ASIO, 2014-19. Heather Smith also joins the NSC. Dr Smith was secretary of what was the Commonwealth Department of Industry, Innovation and Science.

CAUDIT (as in the Council of Australasian university directors of IT) announces the short-lists for its (generally teams) awards. Nominees in the emerging leader category are, Mark Brodsky and Louren David (both Australian Catholic U),  Fadi Alja’fari (Deakin U) and  Irene Pridham, (Western Sydney U)

At Murdoch U Romy Lawson will move from provost to interim VC at the end of the month. She will replace Eeva Leinonen who is leaving to become president of National Uni of Ireland Maynooth.

Uni Wollongong announces David Currow will become inaugural DVC Health and Sustainable Futures, starting November. He joins from UTS. Eileen McLaughlin moves from Western Sydney U to become ED, Science, Medicine and Health, starting September.