Plus Sara to leave UTS and Birmingham acts on childcare courses 

Impossible pedagogy

The Good Universities Guide gives the University of Western Australia a worst in state rating for teaching. It explains the university’s Pursue Impossible campaign, which features a young woman running all over the world – she’s looking for somebody to ask about an assignment. According to the local National Tertiary Education Union things will get worse as UWA moves more campus teaching online.

ANU June 1

What they voted for

The University of Western Sydney has stuffed up the Enterprise Agreement that staff approved at the end of last year. The agreement omits to mention that Level E professors move from pay step one to two by invitation only, which makes the increase automatic. This will cost the university six-figure sums over the life of the EA.

When the mistake was discovered the university went to the Fair Work Commission to ask for permission to insert the necessary words, which the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union did not oppose. But nothing doing said Fair Work Commissioner McKenna, although he took quite a few words to say it;

“while I am not unsympathetic to the matters raised by the university in seeking the order, given the estimated financial impost to the university and considering also what was put as a joint position of the university and the NTEU in concurring that in their view there was drafting error or omission in the agreement, I cannot with any confidence otherwise speculate on what matters in the agreement may have led the employees who voted in favour of it to cast their votes in the way they did or what may have been those employees’ understanding or (plain) reading of the agreement – separately, that is, from the understanding or intent of the university … and/or the NTEU.”

So it’s surely off to the full FW bench and if that does not work CMM suspects a trip to the Federal Court will follow. Not that UWS (or WSU as it will be in a couple of weeks) is giving anything away on just abut anything, “the university does not wish to comment on matters currently under consideration,” a spokesperson said.

Even the Potemkin colleges

Training Minister Simon Birmingham reports there are now three million unique student identifiers in the system. With around this many people in the training system this seems about everybody, but CMM wonders if it includes the front-colleges that don’t actually do much teaching.

Criterion Student-Retention

Sara leaves UTS

UTS chancellor Vicki Sara is giving it away, announcing she will retire from the university in February. This is the end of another stage in her remarkable career as a neuroscientist, an academic administrator at QUT and the inaugural chair of the Australian Research Council. Professor Sara was an exceptionally astute chancellor with a career that ensured she understood the pressures on young universities intent on competing for resources with older, richer neighbours. UTS is certainly a serious researcher player now, one of the 20 Australian universities on the 2015 Academic Ranking of Work Universities so perhaps she is happy to announce her departure on a high note. Or perhaps with a government announcing a new commitment to university-industry research links she has decided that the more things change the more they say the same. As she told ABC Radio back in 1999, a Coalition government move to increase competitive funding with more industry involvement was “a new strategy for Australian research.” Just like Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane’s statement this week.

What a surprise

CMM’s bleeding obvious reporter has filed a story about scientists in a sweat over research that finds exercise does not influence obesity. Amy Luke and Richard Cooper (Loyola U in Chicago) endorse physical activity for good health but suggest the way to keep the kilos down (and brace yourself for this) is to eat less. Who would have thought?

Endlessly innovative ideas

The Senate Economic References Committee interim report on innovation in Australian industry was tabled in the upper house last night. And a calm and consensual document it is too, at least compared to the work of Senate inquiries on deregulating higher education and private provider training. There is much in the innovation report the government could agree with. But there are some signs of an alternative to the government’s applied research and innovation encouragement strategy in the issues paper commissioned by the committee from Roy Green of UTS.

For a start Professor Green points to the importance of basic research “undertaken in large-scale (and expensive) research facilities.” Industry should invest in such work, lest the government’s emphasis on applied research in universities unbalance the system. “There is a risk that an over commitment to applied research in universities will come at the expense of ongoing investment to build, maintain, and renew foundational (basic) research, enabling technologies and leading edge teaching capability.”

He also suggests funding should be allocated to the government’s various industry growth centres by funding bodies, along the lines of the National Health and Medical Research Council and the rural development corporations.

All good ideas, but the problem with research policy is there are always more ideas in ways to spend money than there is money to spend, Professor Green points out there have been 60 government papers and policies on innovation systems in the past 15 years.


Selling Sydney

UNSW VC Ian Jacobs and his UWS colleague Barney Glover have become Ambassadors for Sydney, a programme that promotes the benefits of visiting and investing Port Jackson side. They join UTS’s Attila Brungs, but not Uni Sydney’s Michael Spence (who has his own Sydney-show to promote) and Macquarie U’s, very low profile S Bruce Dowton.

Different industry, same solution

Training Minister Simon Birmingham has responded to rorts in the for-profit training sector by acknowledging there are problems and detailing what he is doing to fix them, a strategy as sensible as it is unavoidable.

It looks like he is about to respond in the same way following this morning’s release of the Australian Skills Quality Authority report on childcare training that has found, “courses are often being delivered in too short a time to enable the development of sufficient skills and knowledge and for valid assessment decisions to be made and learning and assessment in a structured workplace environment is not being done well by many registered training organisations delivering early childhood education and care.”

If this sounds bad, that is because it is. ASQA found 70 per cent of childcare Certificate III courses take less than a year, half the time the duration it advocates. And 30 per cent of providers had not met the agency’s standards by the end of the audit.

Senator Birmingham doesn’t sound surprised, “child care providers have told me they have black-banned graduates of specific training organisations because they do not have confidence in the competency of their graduates, particularly where those courses are miraculously short, which leaves graduates of those courses with less chance of getting a job.”

And so he is instructing ASQA to work with state and federal regulators to address problems in the industry and is committing to a “preferred provider” scheme.

He can do little else – the problem did not start on Senator Birmingham’s watch, but the need to fix it has.


No high-heel sneakers

It’s a big news day on the obvious beat with news of a University of North Carolina research study that found high heels can change wearers’ gait, causing ankle damage. It’s why CMM never goes running in his Christian Louboutins.