Government moves to protect universities from visa changes: Post docs and academics not intended targets and officials to brief unis next week


plus: union super claim will cost universities $700m says industry group


 Academy of Science says Australians don’t need to march for science tomorrow and why it’s missing the point


and: all the big job news over Easter

Come fly with them

The third Aviation Cultures (“airspaces, mobilities, identities”) takes off on Thursday at the University of Sydney. According to convenor Peter Hobbins, “it isn’t an ordinary academic conference,” (although there is a jumbo-load of cultural-studies.)  Strangely there is no paper on close quarter combat between passengers and United crew.

Government to protect universities from visa change impact

The government has assured the higher education community that it has no intention of targeting new post doc researchers and academics with its visa changes. After a long day of complex discussions the government has committed to ensuring the talent flowing to universities from overseas is not blocked. CMM understand immigration officials will hold briefings next Wednesday and Thursday and that the new visa requirement of two years of work experience will not apply to postdoctoral researcher from overseas and that university lecturers and tutors will qualify for the four year visa. International university students will not lose time-limited working rights in Australia after gradation.

Last night close observers of  international education were cautiously optimistic that the government will do enough and act fast enough to calm the rumours already running in the international student community. “Trump and Brexit are a great opportunity for Australia, it is important that they are not lost to a government own-goal,” one said last night.

The government has good form on fixing immigration issues, which put the international education industry at risk. Last year cabinet ministers Peter Dutton and Simon Birmingham intervened to speed up the then new streamlined student visa system which was turning out to be anything but (CMM September 5).


Sky-high Finkel can’t march

Alan Finkel will not be leading any of the marches for science on Saturday but unlike all the other peers of the scientific realm who have lawns to mow, there is an excellent reason for his absence – he will be en-route to Europe. The Chief Scientist is scheduled to speak at an Australian innovation forum in Berlin on Monday and is then on to talk technology in Geneva and Lyon. His party includes a dozen or so officials, representatives from industry growth centres and the CRC umbrella body plus people from learned academies.

It could happen here

So what’s wrong with a bunch of mainly young scientists shouting out for their passion tomorrow? Professor Les Field, secretary for policy at the Australian Academy of Science explains that there is a case for marches in the US, “to mobilise public and political support for research in a transitional and evolving policy environment.” But not here, “science in Australia is in a different situation and while it is good to show solidarity with our US colleagues, it’s unclear what the Australian marches will achieve,” he writes. Um, well demonstrating the capacity of the science lobby to put lab coated legions on the street is a great way to ensure the policy environment does not “evolve.”  Back in 2011 a rumour of budget cuts for medical research brought so many scientists out protesting that cuts were never heard of again.

Super expensive

The union proposal for universities to pay their casual staff the 17 per cent employer contribution to superannuation permanent employees enjoy would cost more than $700m over four years according to the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association. The demand is one  of the enterprise bargaining claims the National Tertiary Education Union has presented to universities around the country.

According to AHEIA, its modelling is based on low salary growth and below trend casual staff growth and it does not include fixed term contract staff, who are also covered by the National Tertiary Education Union’s demand. However AHEIA says that even without them the proposal would quickly add $200m a year to the university systems super spend, which would then increase annually.

“This week we’ve seen renewed speculation that universities will suffer a 2-3% budget cut in the upcoming federal budget. At a time when universities are facing increasing budget pressure, the NTEU’s claim for all university staff to receive 17% super is simply out of touch,’ says AHEIA executive director Stuart Andrews.

For what the union is up to see, “First super step”, (below).

Deakin merges skills providers

Deakin U has merged subsidiaries Deakin Prime and Deakin Digital. The former provides courses “aligned with an organisation’s learning needs and workplace priorities.” The latter assesses workplace skills and provides successful applicants with a professional practice credential. “Qualifications measure technical skill benchmarked against educational standards. Credentials measure both the individual’s skill and the ability to apply it in the workplace, benchmarked against academic and industry standards,” D Digital explains.

A Stawell gift

With every galah in the pet shop (P Keating, proprietor) explaining engagement the Productivity Commission shows how it’s done in a new report, Transitioning Regional Economies. When the gold mine at Stawell (an actual not a metaphoric one) announced it would close local government got going to find new employment for the town. “A chance contact with an astrophysicist at the Swinburne University of Technology — through professional networks — yielded a novel proposal: a physics laboratory for dark matter detection experiments,” the PC reports. The underground facility is now under construction.”  CMM (May 14 2015) wondered how Stawell came to get the project and now we know it was due to the two rules of escaping silos. First, researchers and people in the market for their services should talk to everybody. Second, always give and get a business card. In the engagement game you make your own luck.

First super step

If, as seems likely, the government plans a 2 per cent or so cut in some university funding programmes ministers will be hoping institutions give in before the budget to the union’s demand for an increase in super for casual staff. It would be a great distraction from cuts, with the government arguing that they would be manageable if universities were not increasing the number of staff who receive an employer contribution to super far greater than the rest of the community. The National Tertiary Education Union will also be hoping for an enterprise agreement with at least one university, any will do, that includes the super slug. “The history of university bargaining suggests that if one or two universities move on this, the rest will eventually follow,” higher education IR advisor Andrew Dempster says.

Nor will the NTEU mind if they can only secure 2.5 per cent instead of the 7.5 per cent it wants  – even a small increases establishes a precedent and is a first step towards securing 17 per cent over the next one, or two agreements. “Superannuation will continue to be a contested issue until there is parity between continuing, fixed-term and casual staff – whether it’s at 17% or some other figure,” Mr Dempster says.

“TAFE,” it’s Labor for training

Another day another demonstration that Labor reckons the VET FEE HELP debacle has made private training providers politically negligible. Leader Bill Shorten regularly talks up TAFE, which he uses as a synonym for training and yesterday his Tasmanian senate colleague Helen Polley was doing the same; “A Labor Government will work with the states to revitalise TAFEs as high-quality job centres for our cities, regions and suburbs.”



Winners at work over Easter


Biotechnology entrepreneur Peter Riddles has a second term on the CSIRO board.

The UK Higher Education Academy has made Karen Nelson from the University of the Sunshine Coast a principal fellow. Professor Nelson is PVC for students at USC.

Arthur Grimes is the inaugural chair of wellbeing and public policy in Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Government. Professor Grimes is a former chief economist of the Reserve Bank and director of VU’s Institute of Policy Studies.

Shining star of the twitterverse AstroKatie is off to the old north stateUniversity of Melbourne astrophysicist Katherine Mack, will join the physics department of North Carolina State in January.

Mark Brimble and Stephen Somogyi are board members of the federal government’s new financial advisers standards and ethics authorityProfessor Brimble is a finance academic at Griffith U and chair of the Financial Planning Education CouncilMr Somogyi is a former COO at RMIT, where he is now billed as an executive advisor to the VC. He is also a director of UniSuper.

ANU’s Tom Griffiths has won the 2017 Ernest Scott history prize, for The Art of Time Travel: historians and their craft (Black Inc). Shortlisted authors were Barbara Brookes, A History of New Zealand WomenPenelope EdmondsSettler Colonialism and (re) Conciliation and Hannah RobertPaved with Good Intentions: Terra Nullius, Aboriginal Land Rights and Settler-Colonial Law. (CMM March 24).

Founding head of the University of Tasmania’s Underwood CentreElaine Stratford, is standing down to return to research. The centre was established in 2015 to research increasing education participation in the state (CMM April 15 2015). UTas advises that in the short-term DVC Students and Education David Sadler will oversight the centre. 

 Amy Conley Wright is the inaugural director of the University of Sydney’s Institute of Open Adoption StudiesAssociate Professor Wright “will direct the institute in its mission to investigate evidence-based pathways to a safe home for life for children who have been permanently removed from their parents by order of the Children’s Court in New South Wales.”

Maureen Dougherty and Greg Medcraft have joined the board of the US Studies Centre at the University of SydneyMs Dougherty is president of Boeing for ANZ and the Pacific. Mr Medcraft chairs the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

In February Macquarie U research ecologist Mark Westoby was named the inaugural Ralph Slatyer medallist (CMM February 24). Last week Professor Westoby was named one of the 44 new foreign honorary members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.