Victoria University is broke and students are unhappy but while management has a plan the union says there is much to negotiate

Quotas could be coming for women in medical research

As RMIT researcher awaits court sentence university promises review

Business as usual as Group of Eight collect bucket of block grant funding

Bond big on small school ranking

The Times Higher rates Bond U as one of the world’s top 20 small universities. The locals already thought so. Students voted Bond number one for overall education experience in December’s Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching national survey.

RMIT researcher awaits sentence as university promises review

The South Australian Independent Commissioner Against Corruption states Professor Dayang Wang pleaded guilty in December to a charge of “making a false declaration under the Oaths Act 1936.” At the time Professor Wang was a University of South Australia academic, with a big research reputation in bio-chemistry, notably for a technology to separate oil and water.

However, this did not sway UniSA. “As soon as concerns were raised by one of our students and assessed to be serious, the matter was referred to ICAC and Professor Wang was suspended without pay, while the internal investigation continued. Professor Wang tendered his resignation on the day he was advised of his suspension without pay. The university takes such matters extremely seriously,” a spokeswoman tells CMM.

But what does RMIT think? According to Professor Wang he joined it as a professor in July 2015, following his departure from UniSA in June. “RMIT is looking into whether Professor Wang disclosed the matter during his recruitment. RMIT will conduct a review of the issue in light of the court’s decision. RMIT expects all staff to adhere to the university’s code of conduct,” a spokesman told CMM late Friday. Professor Wang is yet to be sentenced but the offence has a penalty of imprisonment for up to four years.

Business as usual

The Group of Eight accounts for 62 per cent of this year’s research block grant funding from the feds. From the University of Melbourne, with $191m to the University of Adelaide with $94m, the Eight all up received just short of $1.2bn of the $1.89bn fund. QUT with $52m and the University of Tasmania with $46m follow. In contrast, the bottom eight institutions received a combined $21.8m.

Judged by peers

The Higher Education Standards Framework are now operating and woe betide any institution that regulator TEQSA decides is not working within them. The problem is that people who cannot find their English-educrat dictionary might struggle to follow everything after the title page, which is why the amiable experts at the Higher Education Compliance and Quality Network have created a peer review portal that provides “a very granular approach to reporting metrics across faculties and institutions as a whole.” Peer review is generally considered an important metric and the portal makes it possible to “benchmark assessment inputs and outputs against national and international comparators including the calibration of grades and results.” And that is just for starters! To learn how it works the HECQN is holding workshops across the country, starting in Melbourne on Wednesday. Details here.

On their bikes

Charles Sturt U VC Andrew Vann is riding with colleagues in the Royal Far West Children’s health care charity “ride for country kids” which started yesterday. It’s a 420km bike tour through rural NSW from Wagga Wagga to Orange and given Professor Vann is probably the fittest cycling VC in the country, not to mention he has campuses in both centres, it’s easy to see why he is on his bike. The ride sruns until tomorrow, so it is not too late to pump up his tyres by  donating.

Gender quotas considered in medical research

With the National Health and Medical Research Councils’ proposals for changes to the ways grants are allocated due soon any speech by chair Anne Kelso is big news. It certainly was on Friday when the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes  tweeted Professor Kelso as making points in her International Women’s’ Day Florey Oration that “quotas under consideration to overcome bottleneck of women from PhD through career. Need to accommodate Equal Opportunity Act.”

In her speech, Professor Kelso certainly suggested that in the future research facilities would have childcare and “children will want to be a scientist, just like their mom.” She also referred to “gender equity policy requirements for all NHMRC administering institutions,” and talked of “policies to take career disruption and ‘relative to opportunity’ considerations into account during peer review.” And she  set out NHMRC initiatives as detailed here.

But what about quotas and for precisely what? CMM asked the NHMRC whether the chair was stating what could become policy or just what would be good if it could happen. The council responded with a statement that did not answer the question, so CMM asked again without receiving a response. One way or another it looks likes quotas are on the agenda. The question is will they cover grant allocation.

The eyes have it

The winner of the two-minute video research pitch at the the Universities Australia conference is Kam Chun Ho, from UNSW, who created and piloted a review of eye care quality using optometry practice clinical records. He found it can be done, at least with experienced optometrists, making his point that “I care” delivers “eye care.”

Too much code

The feds are updating the National Code of Practice for Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students, but are leaving it much bigger than it need be, according to the Innovative Research Universities group. “This does not sit well against the government’s commitment to pare back regulation to clear, consistent requirements,” the IRU states.   The group also suggests the international code should only include specifics not covered by the higher and VET quality frameworks, which protect all students on most issues.  While the draft is shorter than the existing code the IRU points to provider assistance for ‘at risk’ students as creating “a level of uncertainty where previously certainty existed.” The intent is to ensure providers assist students whose progress and/or attendance could become unsatisfactory but the proposed requirements states they must have a plan to help, which the IRU warns has “significant resourcing implications.”

Dolt of the day

Is CMM who misnamed a member of the federal government’s working party on undergraduate admissions practises. It’s Sue Willis from Monash U who is a member.

Victoria U proposes a plan to transform undergraduate education

but the union worries about working conditions


VU is in unsustainable strife: Victoria University reports that it is in trouble, with deficits in the last four of five years and another expected this. It is also catering for academically marginal commencing students, with 60 per cent of starters having an ATAR under 50, “or are similarly less prepared for higher education.” The university is also one off the bottom nationally for student satisfaction with teaching.

But management has a plan: Vice Chancellor Peter Dawkins and Provost Kerri-Lee Krause, have a plan to improve performance, by creating a First Year College, designed to address VU students’ specific needs, by providing a core curriculum, plus academic and employment skills development. The college will be staffed by teaching-specialist academics, TAFE teachers and professional staff.

“Introducing a FYC involves marshalling available university resources to restructure the first year and redesign the curriculum in order to improve students’ education, increase their engagement and enhance their academic success.,” the management plan states.

“The FYC’s team based, design driven and personalised approach to education will ensure that high-achieving students extend themselves whilst ensuring greater support for those students who are less prepared. Students will benefit from access to academics with an education focus who have the right skills and abilities to support students’ needs best, within a strong, supportive university community. Students will start engaging with us earlier and spend more time interacting with their teachers and fellow students. “

The bad news is: The new structure will need fewer staff to run it, up to 115 full time equivalent positions fewer. “Our current academic workforce structure does not reflect the core needs of the university or its students,” VU states. VU is inviting academics from the existing academic units to apply for posts in the FYC and will offer voluntary separations but warns forced redundancies will follow if the target cut is not reached.

To which the union replies: The campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union was already upset with management change proposals and negotiating style. The university had tried to argue that a union letter to members constituted unauthorised industrial action but the Fair Work Commission rejected the claim. “The NTEU will never ever resile from giving advice to members about their workplace rights,” branch president Paul Adams says ( CMM March 7).

But the response to the First Year College announcement is carefully calibrated. The NTEU sees it as part of a “masterplan” to “‘transform’ the VU workforce by requiring staff to accept lower conditions of employment” based on employment conditions staff voted against last year.  And Dr Adams and NTEU general secretary Grahame McCulloch jointly warn that management’s plan breaches the enterprise agreement to such an extent a new one is needed (the existing deal expires at year’s end).

“If management is unwilling to find alternative approaches pending the negotiation of a new EBA, the union will be inviting all VU staff and students, as well as the western suburbs community, to participate in a major public campaign to defend high quality education at VU,” the write.

The union is also reminding staff of a protest already planned for tomorrow’s meeting of the university council.

But the union is not condemning the pedagogical approach of the FYC out of hand.