Headline of the month

The award goes to the Uni Tasmania sub who created; “Scientists get the bottom of wombat poo mystery,” (yesterday).

Apparently, wombats excrete in geometrical shapes formed in their intestines, not as Uni Tas delicately puts it, “the point of exit.”

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Merlin Crossley (UNSW) on working out what is best for students


Tom Smith and James Guthrie (both Macquarie U) on the way casual staff are lost in university statistics and why we need to count people not accounting abstracts

Marnie Hughes Warrington (Uni SA) on the Night Train, where industry-university partnerships grow and change together. “The best universities shape-shift with their communities,” she writes.

Rola Ajjawi (Deakin U) argues feedback to students should be about learning, not justifying a grade – a new addition to contributing editor Sally Kift’s series on what we need now in teaching and learning.

No Greek tragedy at La Trobe U

Last year the university announced teaching Greek was a goner, because of “consistently low” student enrolments (CMM November 23).

No longer, Lt U advises that Greek language learning is now a goer, “for at least the next three years” following a community commitment to provide funding and “assistance with increasing enrolments.”

The Victorian Government is also kicking in $40 000 for ten one-year scholarships as part of its celebration of the 200th anniversary of Greek independence this year.

As to Indonesian and Hindi, also announced for the chop last year, LT U says there fate will be decided “soon”.

Five ways to create a modern university workforce

The structure of the HE workforce is now decades old and unfit for purpose – the pandemic creates the opportunity for change

“Many of the perceived constraints on nimbleness and flexibility have not been imposed on the sector but have been created or accepted as immutable by people within the sector. The shock and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic provides a unique circuit-breaker for Australian universities, both individually and more generally,” Elizabeth Baré, Janet Beard, Teresa Tjia (L H Martin Institute) and Ian Marshman (Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education) argue in a new paper for the CSHE.

Building on previous proposals for structural change (CMM September 29) they set out five areas of university employment that need updating.

* employment conditions: the base dates from the ‘90’s, with complexities added to institutions’ agreements as management and unions sought to resolve specific issues. “What were once solutions are now impediments to future responsiveness,” they suggest.

* improvements for casual academic staff: create fixed-term contracts with reward and career structures and update pay structures designed for work in the 1980s. “It is possible that some of the recently reported underpayments to casual staff in universities result not from a deliberate decision to defraud but from the difficulty of aligning outdated payment rates to the work that is required in the contemporary university”

* refine academic career structures: the focus on a PhD and university experience to qualify for jobs, “may limit capacity to understand the broader world of work and evolving developments in commerce, industry and the public and not-for-profit sectors.” There is also a case for formal accreditation of teaching

* career paths for professional staff: structured career programmes, as occur in health administration

* recognise third-space professionals: roles such as education designers, researchers, librarians, student learning support staff and people working in academic partnerships and commercialising research, “face terms of employment that provide limited scope to formally reward them for innovation and creativity.”

MOOC of the morning

CQU has four short courses on educational neuroscience for teachers, “graduating without a scientific understanding of how brains work,” via FutureLearn. 50 000 people have signed up so far.

Lights-out for lectures at 17 ANZ unis

There will be no live, in-person lectures at 17 Australian and New Zealand universities first semester, compared to 14 which will host them. And 13 universities are either not considering live lectures in the longer term, or are yet to decide.

The findings are from a survey of 43 ANZ universities by the Australasian Council on Open, Distance and e-Learning, which found while COVID-19 restrictions are the main reason, the pandemic “has only accelerated a general shift away from face-to-face lectures.

“It is clear that there is a definite swing away from offering as many lectures as has been the case in the past, with institutions indicating, in their qualitative responses, that their preferences are moving towards more blended models of delivery, to provide more flexibility for students,” ACODE president Michael Sankey (Griffith U) states in a survey report, released yesterday.

Alternatives to in-person lectures being/to be used include,

* video/podcast content followed by F2F or on-line classes

* interactive classes (as distinct from presentations)

* recorded/live-streamed sessions running at a scheduled time

However the “in the room where it happens” lecture still has supporters. Professor Sankey reports, “five institutions nominated that lectures would be maintained for the foreseeable future in most cases. Reasons for this included, ‘the lecture is so cheap’, ‘many of our academics are very old fashioned’, ‘size of the cohorts,’ ‘the physical environment of the lecture theatre engages students’.”

VC Jacobs to leave UNSW

Ian Jacobs will leave the university in 12 months and return to the UK

“After careful reflection, I have concluded that I cannot reconcile the leadership needs of UNSW in Sydney with the level of support I want and need to provide to my mother in London at this stage in her life,” he told staff yesterday.

Professor Jacobs says he “will start to explore opportunities for the next phase in my career in a charity, NGO or public service role.” His contract was extended in 2018, to 2025.

Joining UNSW in February 2015, Professor Jacobs set ambitious objectives, notably for it to be become one of the world’s top 50 research universities.

However, the context of his ambitious $3.5bn 2025 Plan for research, teaching, community and construction (CMM March 20 2018) changed with COVID-19, which had a major impact on university revenue from international students. In September management estimated a $370m budget shortfall for 2021 (CMM September 16).

With Professor Jacob’s announcement, the leadership of Sydney’s two leading research universities are in-play. Uni Sydney’s former VC, Michael Spence, has left to return to the UK, his permanent successor is not announced.

Appointments, achievements

Of the day

 Carolyn Evans (VC, Griffith U) is the new chair of Innovative Research Universities. She succeeds Eeva Leinonen (Murdoch U).

Live-music engineer Jon Lemon is appointed artist in residence at Uni Adelaide’s Sia Furler Institute.

Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles picked up skills as part of an employment-focused portfolio in Anthony Albanese’ reshuffle yesterday. Mr Marles moves from defence. Senator Louise Pratt is assistant shadow for employment and skills. Tanya Plibersek, who continues to be assisted by Graham Perrett, keeps education.

Of the week

 Angela Carbone moves from Swinburne to RMIT, where she is now Associate DVC Learning, Teaching and Quality for the STEM College.

Cheryl Praeger (UWA) is a new Companion in the Order of Australia

Andy Tomkins (Monash U) wins the Society of Economic Geologists 2021 silver medal. Margaux Le Valliant (CSIRO) wins the Waldemer Lindgren award for published research by an author under 37, (sorry no idea why that birthday).