Excuses to avoid Easter entertaining

Submissions to the Universities Accord discussion paper are due Tuesday.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Michelle Whitford on the power of peer assisted study sessions. New in Commissioning Editor Sally Kift’s celebrated series, Need now in learning and teaching.

with Tim Cahill (Research Strategies Australia) on why the research strategies Australian universities create all look the same, and often aren’t strategies, HERE

plus Claire Macken (RMIT) on how Vietnam rates, really rates Australian HERE

and Merlin Crossley (UNSW) on why universities should shoot for the stars, HERE

Flinders U needs a new DVC R

VC Colin Stirling tells CMM why it’s a great job at a great uni, HERE


Sunshine at Moreton Bay

The first class at the new Uni Sunshine Coast campus there graduated yesterday

It’s the culmination of work by many people, notably former VC Greg Hill who campaigned with the local council from 2015, making the case that demographic demand established the for a new campus. And so he extracted bi-partisan support, including money for infrastructure and in 2018 convinced the Commonwealth to unfreeze student growth (CMM June 25 2018, February 19 2020).

Plan is to grow to 10 000 students by the end of the decade (CMM December 2021).

Which might be a touch tougher than thought back then – at least if the pipeline from all of university numbers in ’22 continues. Total USC EFTS last year were 11 374, well down on 2021’s 12 170. The university’s annual report suggests, “increases in labour market opportunities often correlate with a decrease in university enrolments. Harsh economic conditions including cost of living and rental affordability may have also contributed.”

What a difference no A makes

University of Virginia president, Jim Ryan reports a creative re-design to change UVA to UV – announced on April 1.

Another joke is there are Australian universities that have been sold sillier arguments for branding changes.

Monash U makes staff an offer

Monash U proposes a 13 per cent headline pay rise across the new enterprise agreement

VC Margaret Gardner tells staff, the university is, “committed to reaching a fair agreement” and acknowledges, “external economic factors, particularly inflation and interest rates, affecting many of our staff.”

The pay offer includes 3 per cent last December, with 4 per cent to come in June and 3 per cent in June ’24 and ’25.  The university will pay this year’s rise independent of the state of bargaining for the new agreement.

Professor Gardner adds that the offers does not apply to senior professional and academic staff, whose pay will be considered by university council this year.

The Monash U offer is not far off the National Tertiary Education Union’s current bargaining all-uni demand for 15 per cent (CMM April 21 2022) and similar to the headline 14.1 pay rise through to 2025 agreed at QUT (CMM December 8’22). Monash U advises that over the 30 months covered it compounds to 13.6 per cent.

However Monash U management was silent yesterday on other National Tertiary Education Union bargaining claims, such as improved protections against restructures and “80 per cent secure on-going employment” by next year.

Victoria U game to have an on-line go in India

The university announces “a suite of affordable, vocationally oriented” digital courses

VU nominates dips, associate and bachelor degrees in IT and business, with short courses to come.

It’s a partnership with AVENU Learning, “on a mission to expand access to high-quality, affordable on-line education, localized to the language of the learner,” which will deliver the courses. VU states that as per Australia’s Higher Education Standards Framework it is responsible for academic oversight, quality assurance, induction, and professional development for partner staff.

Courses start in July.

It’s all in-line with the dual-sector provider’s applied education approach at home and opens a new market for Australia – Indians studying at home on-line

“Earning an international degree on campus doesn’t work for everyone. We’ve adapted our award-winning courses to the 21st century, allowing you to earn a degree without all the costs that come with studying abroad,” is the pitch. (Although, students who complete an on-line dip and want to move into the second year of a bachelor degree can move to VU in Australia).

It’s a cluey move. As Peter Varghese’s 2018 report on trading with India suggested, while higher education on-line there can be a hard sell, the country was then the second largest market for e-learning, after the US.

“Traditional education suppliers will be forced to compete with low-cost online and virtual options, from both Indian and international players,” he predicted.

VU appears to be pitching on the status of an international university brand, the benefits of acquiring in-demand skills and prices appealing to families who cannot afford in-country international institution fees, let alone studying offshore.

Plus it is working with what it knows how to do.

As to partner Avenu, it claims US private provider Southern New Hampshire U and Monash U as partners.

VU acknowledges support from the Victorian Government’s $50m international education resilience fund.

Productivity Commission future-focus for higher ed


but not so much for VET

Recently the Productivity Commission published the final report of its latest five year Productivity Inquiry: Advancing Prosperity. Hats off to anyone who has read the entire nine volumes. I focussed on the education chapter and particularly higher education and VET.

One of the Commission’s observations is that “for vocational education and training (VET), and for universities and other higher education providers, the rise of non-routine work and the explosion of high-skill jobs has implications for the quantity and quality of education needed.”

This statement sets the scene for quite a wide-ranging suite of recommendations for higher education but, sadly, far fewer for VET.

In addition to recommending changes to higher education student funding (including reintroducing demand driven funding and aligning student contributions to the amount students earn in different careers), the Commission recommends a number of other changes, including:

* better data to support more informed student choice

* professionalise teaching, and

* nested qualifications (so students who drop out can still attain a qualification).

For VET there was much less in the Commission’s report so I looked at how its ideas compared with the recommendations in submissions to the House Standing Committee Inquiry into the Perceptions and Status of VET from key business, union and VET sector peak bodies, as well as the New South Wales, South Australian and Tasmanian governments and various Commonwealth government agencies.

Collectively there was support for:

* expanding VET student loans to more diplomas and advanced diplomas

* making the student loan administration fees the same across all Commonwealth loans

* support for new funding for lifelong learning (the PC makes a compelling argument to focus this support on lower-paid workers)

* extra funding for the professional development of VET trainers

* support for the Jobs and Skills Councils being able to pursue quicker updates to Training Packages and to implement changes to the design of VET qualifications, and

* more programmes which involve VET providers and industry and more pathways between VET and higher education.

Disappointingly neither the Productivity Commission nor government submissions to the Inquiry proposed increased investment in VET. By contrast unions, business and sector peak bodies argued persuasively for more VET funding.

Undoubtedly the Accord panel and officials advising Skills Ministers on the next National Skills Agreement will be reading these reports carefully. The sector awaits their decisions with interest.

Claire Field has summarised the report and submissions in more detail in the latest episode of the ‘What now? What next?’ podcast


Casuals took the pandemic jobs hit

“irrespective of student enrolments, some universities may have used the pandemic as an opportunity for restructures and academic renewal”

While they stress the data is not all in, Elizabeth Baré, Janet Beard and Teresa Tjia set out substantial pandemic job losses for casuals at the start of the pandemic*

Between June 2019 and June 2020, casual academic headcount at 37 public universities declined by 2407, 6 per cent of the 2019 workforce. In contrast, the continuing academic workforce grew, by 481, or just under 2.5 per cent.

For casual professional staff the hit was harder, with a headcount loss of 6578, 19 per cent of the 2019 total. Some 798 continuing workers also went, just 2 per cent of the 33 822 employed in ’19.

While reminding readers that the data is not yet complete and there are caveats for individual cases they also analyse movement by discipline groups and states to find overall;

* little difference between states, regardless of level of lockdown

* in almost all cases there were no university-wide management strategies for cutting casuals’ jobs

* “few universities appear to have adopted a staff retention policy irrespective of student numbers”

what this means: is no likely change to employment practise

“in some universities, patterns of casual academic employment are so engrained, which, coupled with the way that work is organised to support underlying academic reward systems, means that any changes to reduce casual employment (e.g. casual conversion clauses, limiting the incidence of repeated fixed term employment, or creation of a large number of small on-going jobs) will be difficult to effect and will probably fail.

*“What happened to casual academic staff in Australian public universities in 2020,” Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education,HERE

Appointments, achievements

The Australian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s 2023 medallists are,* Maurizio Costabile (Uni SA) * Stephanie Gras (La Trobe U) * Michael Ryan (Monash University * Pirooz Zareie (Monash U)

 The new NSW ministry includes, Jihad Dib (digital government) Tim Crakanthorp (skills, TAFE, tertiary education) and David Harris (medical research)