Masky McMascot Face

Charles Sturt U is in the market for a mascot. Staff, student and alumni can enter a design, with the winner receiving an ipadPro “and endless glory.” Getting this right will be harder than it looks – as CQU’s new Birdy McBird Face, demonstrates.

Business Council chief slams universities but calls for a unity ticket on education reform

Business Council of Australia chief Jennifer Westacott has accused some universities of immorality in their responses to the BCA’s Future Proof proposal for a single post-secondary education funding system.

“The view that came across was we’re fine, leave us alone, and focus on improving the VET sector, but make sure there is no impact on us.  I consider it immoral to make yourself better off at someone else’s expense, “she said in a UNSW speech, Monday.

“I was so disheartened by the response from some in the university sector that the Business Council had no right to venture into this debate, nor expertise in policy.  That as a representative of business we should focus on collaboration with universities. But ‘collaboration’ when it was unpicked really meant giving universities more money including for research, creating placements in companies for students, and paying universities to upskill workers.”

Ms Westacott repeated the BCA proposal for a lifelong skills account, which people could use in universities and vocational education and would remove distortions between the two systems.

“What we are trying to do is build an internationally envied post-secondary education sector in this country. And that means restoring the status and funding of VET, so both sectors get the recognition they deserve,” she said.

And she called for unity to force the government to end an unsustainable status quo. “When the experts in a sector divide, as the business community and universities are currently doing, we hand over the perfect justification to do nothing.  It’s a recipe for endless arguments and inertia.”

In its response to the Future Proof paper, Universities Australia began, “The paper contains some misconceptions about the higher education policy environment. These misconceptions influence the paper’s discussion of the issues and its recommendations in unhelpful ways.”

Vice chancellors speak up for university autonomy

Vice chancellors have united to assert their institutions’ independence. In a statement this morning the leaders of all 39 members of Universities Australia state;

‘Universities have a special role as institutions dedicated to free, open and critical expression across the full scope of human knowledge and endeavour. Central to this role is the freedom of staff and students to teach, research, debate and learn independent of external political circumstance and pressure.”

The statement follows Education Minister Dan Tehan announcing a “public interest test” for Australian Research Council funding and demands that university managements protect freedom of speech from campus activists.

UA President and Monash VC Margaret Gardner added;

“Every day on campuses across our country, students and academics debate ideas freely, with respect for evidence and academic expertise, and engage with a broad diversity of views. This lively culture of debate is alive and well in our nation’s university communities.”


Skip the slides

The problem with three minute theses competitions is that they leave no time for footnotes, which may be why the American Historical Association annual meeting has announced “lightening round” competitions at its next meeting, allowing presenters five slides in five minutes. But if that sound too-much like PowerPoint hell, the 11th annual  Dance Your PhD competition is accepting entries.

Mental health researchers leave UNSW for UniSydney

A major mental health research centre is moving from UNSW to the University of Sydney. Some 40 staff from the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Abuse will follow centre chief Maree Teesson.

The centre was established in 2012 by the National Health and Medical Research Council as, “a world first, bringing together the largest concentration of nationally and internationally recognised comorbidity researchers.” It is now a partnership of the universities of Sydney, NSW, Newcastle and Macquarie University, plus the University of Birmingham in the UK and Northwestern U and the Medical University of South Carolina in the US.

The University of Sydney will house an expanded team of 60, working on substance abuse and mental health disorders in young people, as CREMs did at  UNSW.

Working the phones

Voting starts Thursday at the University of Canberra on management’s enterprise agreement offer, which the National Tertiary Education Union adamantly opposes. So adamantly the union is asking members to each ring six staffers and ask them to vote no


What the next international education slump could look like

A disastrous drop in international demand for Australian universities can happen here, it already has. Gwilym Croucher and Kenneth Moore report on what happened when demand from India less declined than collapsed in 2009.

Between 2009 and 2011 the number of Indians enrolled at Australian universities halved, to 13 000, with annual fee revenue dropping by an estimated $225m. In a new report for the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education they estimate the slow recovery in numbers “likely meant” universities missed $1.3bn in fees between 2013-2016.

But what should continue a searing memory is now largely lost due to great good fortune. As Indians stopped coming increasing numbers of Chinese students did.

Australia may not be so lucky again. “While it is difficult to predict specifics and timing, it is highly plausible there will be a future shock to the international market. Australia might run afoul of another government such as China, or an Australian policy change may make us much less attractive, such as forcing students to study only in some locations. There might be a global economic downturn on such a scale that the whole international student industry around the globe is affected.”

There is a clear message here for universities that depend on big international enrolments especially if they are concentrated in specific faculties. Croucher and Moore report that between 2009 and 2012 some 25 universities saw a 60-90 per cent decline in Indian students enrolled in management and commerce.

“The 2009 downturn in Indian student enrolments is a good example of how quickly and deeply a decline can affect budgets. For several universities that suffered the largest declines in revenue (above $10 million per year) the reduction in Indian student fee revenue was a significant proportion of their total budget. This analysis suggests a spectrum of vulnerability across the sector, and while there is a general concern, some universities will be more vulnerable than others,” they write.

Appointments, achievements

 Mark Baker (Macquarie U) is the incoming chair of the Human Proteome Project, which is mapping the protein-based molecular architecture of the human body.

The Murray Darling Basin Authority has appointed seven scientists to an advisory committee; Robert Vertessy (chair), Uni Melbourne. Poh-Ling Tan, Griffith U. Michael Stewardson, Uni Melbourne. David James, Uni Sunshine Coast. Sue Jackson, Griffith U. Roger Stone, Uni Southern Queensland. Nick Bond, La Trobe U.