It has the potential to shape the national tertiary agenda,” says VU VC Peter Dawkins but the union isn’t cheering 


Lobbies urge government to commit on research infrastructure strategy


plus the budget won’t bother enterprise bargainers


and preparing for performance funding

Budget losers

I’m confident banks will pass the 6 basis pt fee on to me – but feel for my students who got a 750 basis pt rise in fees. ANU VC Brian Schmidt on HELP increases via Twitter, Wednesday.

Victoria U rolls out new teaching model

Victoria University is rolling out its First-Year Model, designed to address problems with learning and attrition – VU ranks in the bottom ten for overall student satisfaction on the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching’s overall. The new model ( outlined by CMM on March 13) is a universal first year experience that VU said yesterday “offers students the ability and flexibility to study their chosen degree course in sequential ‘blocks; completing one unit and its assessment at a time, before moving to the next.” As a way of preparing students with not especially strong academic backgrounds its intent intent is to ensure students “immerse themselves in each unit, learning through discussion and group interaction” with close support from “a multidimensional team” of “educators,” some 65 of them, CMM hears.

The teaching model, and the need to address VU’s parlous finances (deficits in four of the last five years) also means changes for academic staff. Big changes. For a start, the university says it must shed 115 standard teaching and research positions, the word around VU yesterday was that 80 academics have already agreed to go voluntarily.

This is a very big deal for VU, as well as all universities with large numbers of students who struggle to adapt to university. As Vice Chancellor Peter Dawkins put it yesterday; it has the potential to shape the national tertiary agenda as (the) First Year Model navigates students around the expectations of university life and equips them with the knowledge and personal skills they need to become motivated and independent to succeed in the first year and beyond.”

The National Tertiary Education Union agrees the plan has national implications, just bad ones. According to VU branch president Paul AdamsCMM April 19), it is all about swapping senior staff for junior teachers to “cheapen the cost of education.”

“If this model is successful at VU, I have no doubt it will be rolled out more generally across the country as a strategy for the first-year teaching at universities which will fundamentally alter the notion of education we currently have at Australian universities and how first year university will be taught in the future,” Dr Adams says.”


Still standing

The irrepressible advocates of the Murray Darling Medical School say the failure of the feds to fund the proposal in the budget, yet again, is an excellent opportunity for them to do so soon. That, they hope, will be when the government’s review of medical student places is announced. “We expect a positive outcome later this year,” Charles Sturt U VC Andrew Vann says.

“We’re confident that this national review of the health workforce will show the merits of the Murray Darling Medical School in addressing the growing pressure on regional medical services caused by doctor shortages in regional Australia, especially Victoria and NSW,” John Dewar, La Trobe U VC, adds.

Not if universities which already have medical teaching centres in regions which the MDMS would cover have anything to do with it. They campaigned hard in the lead-up to the budget and they will start again at  any hint the MDMS has a hope.

 Swinburne law grads to qualify quicker

Swinburne Law School launched in 2014, to less than universal acclaim from other universities sensitive to charges they were pumping out too many graduates. But Swinburne saw a market the others had missed, in IP and innovation It added to its USP this week with a new arrangement to avoid the four to six months it takes new graduates to qualify to practise. In a new arrangement with the Leo Cussen Centre for Law, Swinburne students can complete requirements for admission during the last year of their degree.

 Adds up to education

UNSW Science associate dean, education, Chris Tisdell reports cracking 50 000 followers of his learn-maths site on YouTube. “Free videos + free ebooks = better education,” he says. Still think there is nothing in all this on-line self-paced learning stuff?

Prepare for performance funding

What’s the betting that one of the performance metrics that the government will use to decide if a university gets 7.5 per cent of its Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding, the one Minister Birmingham refers to as student “success,” will relate to graduate employment (CMM May 2)? Somewhere between sure and thing is CMM’s guess. So, university executives with grad outcomes in their portfolio might want to read a paper by Stuart Norton from the UK Higher Education Academy and Mark Dibben from the University of Tasmania. They set out a range of measures to assess employability and suggest pertinent questions to assess whether a university community is comprehensively committed to creating career-ready graduates.

“There is no panacea to improve employment scores. Any changes to curriculum and initiatives will invariably have a two or three-year cycle, particularly if initiatives are truly embedded within the curriculum through all levels. However, creating this approach will provide an improved offer for your students,” they write.

There is another reason making Norton and Dibben’s paper worth reading – you can bet somebody who talks to the minister will.

New dean for Wollongong

Theo Farrell is the incoming dean of law, humanities and the arts at the University of Wollongong. Professor Farrell is a securities studies scholar, with a particular-interest in recent conflicts in Afghanistan. He will join UoW in October, coming from City, University of London, where he is dean of arts and social sciences. Prior to his June 2016 appointment there he was at Kings College London for a decade.

Pointing the way

Peak lobbies want to know what the government has planned for research infrastructure. Perhaps because they fear ministers have no idea. The budget promises a plan based on last year’s infrastructure roadmap process (CMM December 6), which makes it sound like sticky notes attached to a policy Melways (readers under 50 Google ‘street directory’).

The IRU and ATN are both anxious at the government’s inaction. “The lack of a financial commitment to research infrastructure in the budget leads to greater uncertainty in a sector already faced with significant disruption,” the Australian Technology Network’s Renee Hindmarsh said yesterday.

The Innovative Research Universities’ Conor King agreed. “The chief scientist’s roadmap sets out what is needed next. “The government should endorse the roadmap and set out the funding mechanism to make it happen.”

The two groups also agree that the government should have included action on the Ferris, Finkel, Fraser review of the R&D tax Incentive (CMM September 29 2016 ), at least the bits they like.

The ATN wants the Three Fs proposals adopted to “establish a collaboration premium of up to 20% for the non-refundable tax offset “to provide additional support for the collaborative element of R&D expenditures undertaken with publicly funded research organisations.”

The IRU urges the government “to ensure the major research and development incentive for business pushes more businesses to use university researchers.  It has the report setting out how to revamp the Research and Development Tax Incentive. It needs to accept its conclusions and act.”


New at Navitas

David Robb has joined the board of private provider Navitas. Mr Robb stepped down last year after a decade leading miner Iluka Resources. He is chair of the dean’s council for engineering and mathematical sciences at the University of Western Australia.

Bargaining business as usual

Observers of enterprise bargaining now underway around the country do not expect the government’s cuts to have much impact on negotiations. The National Tertiary Education Union has already gone quiet-ish on its push for a 15 per cent pay rise across the lives of agreements, now focusing on the claim to extend the existing 17 per cent employer super contribution to casual and fixed term staff. Managements are variously said to be anxious not to be seen to set generous precedents or oblivious to what the government is going to do to funding. None are expected to reduce their offers now the budget is out, says an expert, if only because the pay rises already on offer are so thin, 3 per cent all up, in one case, they can’t be sliced any thinner. As for the union, a close watcher suggests it is a good thing that it is so intellectually flexible, what with the way it needs to denounce the cuts as cruel while ignoring their cost in bargaining.

Dolt of the day

Is CMM twice. (i) Yesterday’s email edition reported Santos was funding five two year University of South Australia research fellowships for women, which was wrong. It is two fellowships for five years each. (ii) In the story on how much money the university system could lose due to the government’s cuts CMM estimated it could be 6 per cent of Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding. In fact it could be that per centage of base funding – which would be a good deal worse.