Big job, done quick

The Senate committee inquiry into the government’s bill to change funding rates for undergraduate places was commissioned on September 3 and reported Friday

The secretariat organised two days of hearings, published 280 submissions, plus transcripts of evidence over two long days as well as the committee report and dissents.

It was a bunch of work in a short period – well-done officers for getting it done.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Dawn Bennett (Curtin U) on why STEM isn’t the solution to everything in HE funding – new this week in Contributing Editor Sally Kift‘s series on what is needed now in teaching and learning.

Frank Larkins and Ian Marshman (Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education) propose nine ways needed to save research.

And the winner is, everybody! Merlin Crossley (UNSW) on how prizes serve society

The funding bill: all over bar the voting

The Senate committee report on the bill to change funding rates for undergraduate places was published Friday with just one obscure but important change proposed

No amendments but one suggestion:  The government controlled committee is not for turning on the bill, rejecting all amendments. But there is one concession in the report, a recommendation that the legislation be reviewed in two years.

This is especially relevant given warnings that the new funding rates for teaching in the bill are based on inadequate analysis. As Vin Massaro points out, the changed funding levels for teaching appear to assume the average spend is representative of the actual cost, “despite the fact that the proportion of costs attributable to teaching range from 39 per cent to 73 per cent,” (CMM July 15).

What now: That the government is going with the bill as-is may mean it accepts the legislation is sunk in the Senate, or it thinks it has the numbers. Labor, the Greens and Rex Patrick (Independent-SA) are opposed. Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts (Pauline Hanson’s One Nation-Queensland) are expected to back the government. If so, Education Minister Dan Tehan needs one vote. It could come from Jacqui Lambie (Independent-Tasmania) or Stirling Griff (Centre Alliance-SA).  If Senator Lambie takes advice from the University of Tasmania she will back the bill. As for Senator Griff, if he is convinced by evidence to the committee from the vice chancellors of SA’s three public universities, he won’t.

Uni SA to honour “one of its greatest champions”

The university’s Cancer Research Institute premises are to be named for former VC, the late Denise Bradley

VC David Lloyd tell staff Professor Bradley was one of Uni SA’s “greatest champions” whose death in March was not appropriately recognised due to the “national health emergency.”

There will be a re-dedication of the building early next year, as “Uni SA marks its 30th anniversary and we reflect on the legacy and incredible contribution Denise made to higher education in South Australia and beyond.”

UWA VC tells staff: more problems than the pandemic

UWA staff have accepted COVID-19 caused cuts in conditions to provide savings that protect jobs. Now management points to more problems

New Vice Chancellor Amit Chakma tells staff, “while not discounting the consequences of the pandemic, the university also has a deeper structural budget deficit — in the order of $70 million — which must be addressed quickly and decisively to ensure our future strength. Things must change — we must learn to live within our means.” (Scroll down for what he wants to do about it).

Professor Chakma adds, “I need your support to redesign how we work to improve our effectiveness, become more efficient and eliminate duplication.”

Good-o, but if this means job losses, the timing will be tricky. Professor Chakma’s predecessor Jane den Hollander negotiated a COVID-19 savings enterprise agreement variation with the union, that traded delaying a pay rise and temporary cuts to conditions in return for protecting 250 jobs from any retrenchment, (CMM June 9).

That agreement was based on the national Job Protection Framework negotiated by four VCs (including den Hollander) and the National Tertiary Education Union and there is nothing in it that explicitly rules out non COVID-19 related redundancies.

But it is hard to imagine a job-shedding restructure across the university being well-received by staff while the EVA sacrifices they accepted are in place.

Uni Newcastle proposes to cut not-many degrees but a heap of subjects, plus people

The university announces it wants to align teaching to student demand

Two double-degrees are set for suspension, although the constituent programmes, in science, engineering and business will continue. The Bachelor of Creative Industries, will also go, although it was already announced as a non-starter for 2021. Some 19 masters are also proposed for suspension.

This does not seem especially savage given the university offers 100 plus UG degrees and 90 PG degrees. But then again, 500 of 2200 subjects are also for the chop.

And the, there’s a sting in the tail” the university will continue curriculum mapping, transition planning and undertaking further staff and stakeholder consultation. It will also undertake workforce planning, recognising that a reduction in overall course load will result in less staff required to deliver it.”

Uni Melbourne staff cuts: volunteers invited

VC Duncan Maskell tells staff higher than expected second semester enrolments and research income mean the university is in better financial shape than anticipated

Revenue is expected to be down $177m this year, leading to an operating loss after savings of $60m. This is way better than the $500m first estimate of the 2020 impact of COVID-19, (CMM April 14), although the university is standing by its warning of a pandemic-related $1bn total revenue decline.

But while the university warns there are significant challenges in the years ahead, for now it seems staff savings will come from voluntary departures.

On Friday Professor Maskell proposed VRs and early retirements. Back in May the university linked voluntary separations to staff voting for an enterprise agreement variation which included cancelling a pay rise (CMM May 27). Staff voted no.

There is no mention now of numbers needed to go but last month the university stated it will need to lose an estimated 450 FTE positions (CMM August 6). Some of the job savings will possibly come from a support services redesign (August 28).

Work-study options expand (a bit) for international students

Education Minister Dan Tehan is “cutting red tape” so they can take short-courses separate to their primary studies  

It’s intended to improve “employability while in Australia.” The minister nominates first-aid, responsible service of alcohol and barrista courses as examples.

Mr Tehan adds the change will also create “new opportunities” for education providers. “to expand their business delivery to international students.”  The new study-stream will require amendments to the Education Services for Overseas Students Act, on which the minister says the government will consult.

It’s another move by Mr Tehan to expand market supply of short courses, of which the minister is a fan saying last week, he wants them to be a “permanent fixture of the Australian education system.”

However, there are limits to his enthusiasm in the international education context, warning such courses will not be the basis of student visas.

It may not help much now but it sends a needed signal 


Under normal market settings this would be sensible – increasing flexibility for international students and allowing them to hone their foci increases their ability to be job ready. It also sends a strong signal that Australia is leading the way in supporting career outcomes that industry wants.

However, and it is a big however, the current market climate in no way speaks to these changes being effective, most of all for the education providers the minister seeks to help.

The number of international students holding a visa is expected to decrease further over coming months. There is also a large cohort studying offshore – just under 20 per cent of visa holders.

And then there is the deferment cohort – in-country but deferring without penalty, this group is up four-fold on 2019.

People engaged in international education say those who remain in the country and studying are just getting by financially so it is hard to see what additional study they would be willing to stump up for, which makes it difficult to see who the minister’s move will help, for now.

But it is important that all levels of government continue to practically support international students who are in Australia now.

We need to continually remind ourselves these students hail from parts of the world that haven’t been as fortunate as Australia and whose parents and family members continue with the reality of a far worse COVID-19 situation than we are experiencing.

Dirk Mulder is CMM’s international education correspondent

Chakma sets out UWA change agenda

VC Amit Chakma points to problems that needs fixing, and why – “unless we address them, UWA will continue to lurch from one crisis to the next”

Professor Chakma warns UWA has an underlying structural deficit of $70m a year due policies including;

* the UWA model: (general undergrad degree plus professional practise masters) “has led to a situation where we were being out-competed by other universities with more straightforward offerings, even in our traditional strength areas. We lost a considerable share of the state’s post-secondary students – a situation that we are only now turning around”

* not enough internationals: “our institutional reluctance to admit international students in higher numbers. Over two decades, UWA failed to capitalise on opportunities to augment our research and infrastructure budgets with international student fees at a level commensurate with other Australian universities of our size”

* or investment: UWA has, “underinvested in core digital and physical infrastructure

* as well as the big one: “Our institutional decision-making processes have become moribund and the constituent parts of our university have become misaligned. Decision-making processes are unworkable, slow-moving, and detached from consequences and impact. Schools and professional service areas have become disconnected, and policy and processes are no longer fit for purpose, effective or efficient.

What’s next: Professor Chakma reports changes staff tell him they want include; “streamlining” administration, ditto decisions on academic programmes. And it would not be a restructure plan without, “eliminating layers which do not add value

The VC will take a proposal to Senate in October for “the first tranche of structural reform”.


James Cook U management waits on umpire’s decision

VC Sandra Harding says staff savings agreement depends on Fair Work Commission

James Cook U workers have backed a management proposed, union opposed deal to defer a pay rise and temporarily cut conditions. It was near run thing, with the enterprise agreement variation supported by just 51 per cent of staff turning out. Still a win is a win, as long, that is, as it stays that way.

Last week it appeared a deal was done because the Fair Work Commission would approve both ballot and the EAV itself. From the start of the COVID-19 crisis, the FWC encouraged “industrial parties” to negotiate award variations, adding, it “is available to assist in facilitating those discussions on request,” (CMM April 7).

But on Friday VC Sandra Harding was back-peddling away from a yellow jersey in the Tour d’EAV.

“The role of the Fair Work Commission is an important one and the process needs to follow its intended course.  When Fair Work makes its determination, we will then know what the next steps are and how, together, we may need to proceed,” she told staff Friday.

So, what happened? Perhaps it was the warning from the National Tertiary Education Union that the drafting of the agreement left ambiguity as to whether the deferred payrise needs be paid (CMM September 25).

The union suggests management withdraws the present prop and puts another EAV to a staff vote to clear up the alleged ambiguity.

Whatever comes next is, as Professor Harding acknowledges, now up to the FWC.


Adam Boyton is confirmed as the federal government’s National Skills Commissioner. Mr Boyton has acted since October last year and now has a five-year appointment. He is a former MD of Deutsche Bank, chief economist of the Business Council of Australia and staffer to former NSW state Liberal Party leader John Brogden.

Philip Brown starts next week as CEO of the Institute of Health and Management, which provides “quality postgraduate higher education courses for nurses.”