Restructure stops

Last week John Hattie from the University of Melbourne Graduate School of Education told CMM that the school staff restructure would roll on when the consultation period ended Friday last. It won’t. Professor Hattie advised staff yesterday that the University of Melbourne branch of the National Tertiary Education Union had lodged a dispute over the consultation process, and “it could be some days before this is resolved.”


Voters oppose uni funding cut

Universities Australia claims a big majority of voters oppose the government’s proposed cuts, especially in South Australia

With the government’s university funding cuts and lower threshold for student debt repayments expected in parliament today UA reveals electors adamantly oppose both.

An opinion poll commissioned by the peak universities body has found 61 per cent of voters across the country oppose the plan. The poll, released last night, asked respondents “do you support or oppose $2.8 billion of cuts to universities and students over the next four years?”

Some 64 per cent of voters in South Australia were opposed. The three Nick Xenophon team senators from SA are crucial swing votes in determining the bill’s fate and independent SA senator Lucy Gichuhi is yet to declare her intentions.

Strongest support for the proposal was in Queensland (19 per cent) and NSW (18 per cent).

The poll was taken 18-21 July, before Education Minister Simon Birmingham, made his strongest claims about the strength of university finances and information on university spending on marketing and salary increases appeared in the media.

Another Flinders appointment

Flinders U has filled the leadership role at another of the colleges created in its new structure. Vanessa Lemm will become executive dean of the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences in January. She will move from UNSW where she heads the school of humanities and languages. Professor Lemm is a philosopher.

UoQ MOOC helps half a million students

The UoQ MOOC helps half a million students’s MOOC on how to prepare for the IELTS course, via edX, has cracked half a million enrolments. That is more than double where it was in July 2016 when it reached 200 000 users within its first year (CMM July 4 2016). The MOOC has global enrolments with people in Egypt, India and Vietnam making the majority. This, as UoQ suggests, is a great way of building the university’s brand among completers, “for those who then apply to study on campus, they will find a welcoming and supportive environment as UQ continues to implement initiatives that improve the student experience.” But it is also an extraordinary demonstration of the MOOC as community service, or in this case, international aid to people in skill-poor countries looking to lift their English language literacy.

Good move for good bloke

At Monash U Zlatko Skrbis’s title is changed from pro vice-chancellor (graduate education) to senior pro vice-chancellor (academic). This VC Margaret Gardener says is to reflect Professor Skrbis’s evolving portfolio, which include, course development, student experience and “professions of the future.” This is a popular move at Monash U where learned readers say Professor Skrbis is well-regarded.

Government projects an extra $2.2bn in uni package savings

An analysis by the Department of Education and Training shows the government’s proposal to reduce the student loan repayment threshold to $42 000 per annum income and index it to the CPI will reduce debt not repaid to 18 per cent of the total. The existing projected rate for debt not repaid is 23 per cent.

The officials’ projection is that this move will reduce debt not expected to be repaid under the Higher Education Loan Programme from $11.3bn to $9.1bn over 2016-17 to 2021-22.

This projected saving is on-top of the $2.8bn savings previously identified in the government’s bill.

“The HELP scheme was designed with the expectation that a small proportion of students would not be able to repay their loans but with $50 billion of outstanding debt and around a quarter not expected to be repaid at the moment, it’s clear the current situation cannot continue,” Education Minister Simon Birmingham said last night.

Andrew Wilkie moves to protect uni wages

Andrew Wilkie (Independent – Denison) introduced a bill in the House of Representatives yesterday to amend the Fair Work Act so that the FW Commission cannot cancel the effect of expired enterprise agreements. Mr Wilkie pointed to mining companies using the commission’s present power to reduce wages and conditions. But he also spoke at length on last month’s FWC ruling that empowered Murdoch University to use “the nuclear option” and the concerns of University of Tasmania staff, in his electorate, who are “under the shadow of an expired agreement,” and the resulting “terrible power imbalance”.

The bill was seconded by Greens MP Adam Bandt, who with Mr Wilkie is well-regarded by the National Tertiary Education Union who has called for changes to the FW Act to prevent the Commission cancelling conditions under expired agreements.

Getting the proposal through parliament will require Labor support, which should not be impossible. Opposition employment and workplace relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor says Labor in government will, “limit capacity to terminate agreements, in order to redress the imbalance in bargaining power between workers, their unions.” But why wait for an election? Unless of course it is not such a high priority. It was Mr Wilkie’s turn to ask the Independents’ question in Reps QT yesterday but he used it to ask about welfare payments.

The research pitch always takes spin

Whatever the pitch, some biomedical researchers spin results, University of Sydney researchers warn

A new review of the research literature on spinning research results identifies styles and circumstances of spin and points to studies estimating 30 per cent of article abstracts and 22 per cent of body copy reporting trials with nonsignificant results that had “ ‘high’ ” levels of spin.

Kellia Chiu, Quinn Grundy and Lisa Bero from the university’s Charles Perkins Centre report on means and reasons for researchers to present their findings favourably and point to the damage that can be done.

“Examples of spin include misinterpreting statistically nonsignificant results as ‘showing an effect’ or the selective interpretation of results to emphasise significant secondary outcomes and minimising nonsignificant primary outcomes. These tactics could lead to subsequent research on clinical interventions for which there is a lack of supporting evidence. This, in turn, could lead to skewed systematic reviews and misinformed clinical practice guidelines or health policies. In addition, ‘promising’ scientific discoveries that are based upon conclusions with spin rather than data could stimulate financial investments in medical interventions that are later found to be ineffective or even harmful,” they write.

But in a finding that will shock all who assume they know about the research world of warnies the UniSyd team found; “industry sponsorship, which was the most common factor examined, was also not significantly associated with spin.”

Charman continues

Monash pharmacy dean Bill Charman is reappointed chair of the International Pharmaceutical Federation. His term runs to 2021. Professor Charman’s Monash colleague Kirsti Gailbraith is appointed a fellow.


James Cook U expands online

An existing James Cook University masters of nursing and a masters of data science will launch online on October 30. They will be followed by a “growing portfolio of online programs over the next several years.”

The programmes will be presented in partnership with US company Keypath Education, which will provide market research, funding, course design, student recruitment, marketing, and student retention services.

Keypath has recently signed a similar strategy for business courses with Exeter and Ashton universities in the UK (CMM April 11 and July 21)

Swinburne wants to cut staff to improve performance

Swinburne University proposes restructuring library and student service functions to address what it calls; “a disjointed and inconsistent service to our students. According to a brief for staff, the changes are needed because of “our underperformance on key industry measures.”

“Currently the support model that exists has the library, studentHQ, curriculum implementation, enrolments and contact centre teams operating separately, with different processes making service improvements difficult, resulting in a disjointed and inconsistent service to our students,” Swinburne states.

The changes will vary the staff profile of a number of units with 25 positions declared surplus in library services, 18 in HEW four, five and six bands. However the staff hit is heaviest in customer service and relations functions. While 33 new jobs are created, staff in the 26 existing positions that are declared surplus may have to apply for posts below their existing paygrade. Some 17 HEW four, five HEW five and 14 HEW six posts are announced as surplus with 20 HEW four posts created, seven HEW five just three HEW six. There are 54 customer service and relations staff unaffected under the plan and three new HEW seven to nine posts.

Staff must respond to the proposal by September 22, with launch of a new structure scheduled for November.

Last night Swinburne U director of administration and library services Michelle Gillespie, said the proposed changes are intended to ensure “students get the service they need when and where they need it.”

“Many of the positions that are no longer required are currently vacant. A number of other roles will change, as we adjust our workflows to provide students with the services they need,” she said.