at the University of Sydney the union thinks you should check in and never have to leave

Uni Adelaide’s med school achievement : anybody who wants one should pay attention

Plus policy special: the big issues nobody can ignore anymore

 Big issues on agenda

This morning Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education releases a guide to the issues involved in transforming higher education – CMM’s special coverage follows at the end of this issue (You can have a copy of your own if you are quick).*

 Balls in the air

La Trobe is now tertiary education partner of the Melbourne Rebels Rugby Union club, which means internship and research opportunities. The university also has deals with Carlton FC and the Melbourne City soccer team but it still lacks a rugby league partner.  Having a kick with other games must surely distress La Trobe’s round ball-loving vice chancellor John Dewar.

Big week for med schools

Last week Curtin University opened its medical school – a day after former monopolist of med ed in the west UWA announced new facilities for training doctors and dentist, which was undoubtedly a coincidence. On Friday the University of Adelaide opened its 14 level $246m teaching and research health and medical sciences complex, next door to the SA Health and Medical Research Institute and adjacent to the money pit (well tower) that is the nearly complete Royal Adelaide Hospital. The university project includes a public dental hospital, which the university funded, to be near the dentistry school, when the state government refused to stump up (CMM July 29 2014).

These are wins for Curtin and UniAdelaide, there is nothing that impresses Australians more than med schools and research. And VCs know it, witness the Charles Sturt U and La Trobe campaign that will never die for a Murray Darling Medical School. This has gone on so long that first news of the bid has reached the planets discovered last week in the constellation Aquarius. CSU VC Andy Vann continues to pitch the plan, mostly recently to assistant health minister David Gillespie, who is waiting on a report on the distribution of medical school places. Perhaps Professor Vann should follow the lead of UniAdelaide VC Warren Bebbington who kicked in $58m to fund the dental hospital.

Riled by ranking

A learned reader hops into CMM for “giving credence” to the university ranking, produced by Spain’s Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, which is based on volume and impact of institutions’ on-line content (CMM Friday). “My employer does poorly on this, because we have spent the last few years trying to tidy our website and remove thousands of pages of confusing, duplicate and old information. This sensible strategy ranks as a fail with these guys though.” Fair enough, although why the surveys used by commercial providers are preferable. Perhaps the strongest defence of the Spanish ranking is that its results are broadly the same as all the others.

Politely pushed

At UNSW management has announced the five core behaviours that “clarify how we develop staff, set performance goals, provide feedback and recognise people who make UNSW a great place to work.” The five are, “demonstrates excellence, drives innovation, builds collaboration, embraces diversity and displays respect.”  CMM is sure they will all be used by managers telling staff they are in roles no longer required in the new professional staff structure. “Workplace change” began last week for finance staff in central and devolved roles and some leadership positions in international and marketing comms functions and starts for central IT roles on March 13.

Expanding academy

The many achievements of the UK Higher Education Academy are not always easy to identify (the recent Australian study tour was very discrete) but this is likely to change given its plans for growth. There is a new Australia and New Zealand advisory group, presumably designed to assist its hundreds of ANZAC fellows and attract extras. And there is a new global  teaching awards JV with the Times Higher Education group. There are three categories and institution can have one entry, which costs £3000. CMM suspects with THE involved there will be much more marketing.

Tough talks to come at University of Sydney

At the University of Sydney, the local branch of the National Tertiary Education Union has called meetings this week and next for members to discuss its  log of claims for the new enterprise agreement. There is an emphasis on improving conditions for casual and fixed term staff but some overall clauses reflect the union’s intent to ensure nobody who wants to stay ever has to leave the university. For example, there is a demand that forced redundancies are real and that work done by anybody retrenched ceases after effected individuals go and “a right to renewal for all fixed term contract staff, and for long-term fixed term contract staff improved rights to conversion to continuing employment.”  The union also wants “improved rights to redeployment for long term contract research staff, to avoid non-renewal of contract” and an improved right to conversion to ongoing employment for all long-term casual staff, including recognition of length of service in lieu of competitive merit selection. There is also an emphasis on staff autonomy, with deans to be elected by their colleagues, processes to limit professional staff work intensification and elected committees in academic units to create binding workload policies. A maximum of 60 per cent of time in teaching-focused roles spent on teaching is also proposed. Don’t bet on anything the union wants being an ambit claim. The long dispute over the last agreement and the grinding fight over retrenchments a couple of years back are precedents for tough talks to come.

Call to ARMS

The Australasian Research Management Society is keen to get into the policy fray in ANZ and Singapore, establishing an advocacy comms panel whose members have “specialist knowledge and expertise”. They are Sarah Bascomb, UniTas, David Parrish, RMIT, Tim Payne UniSydney and Paul Wong from consultants ANDS/Squarcle.

Talking up innovation

When he wasn’t talking down Tony Abbott the prime minister was talking up innovation at a microphone manufacturing plant in Sydney. “Some people say I talk about innovation too much. Well let me tell you, this would not be a business without innovation. This is an innovation business, and to succeed, we are an innovation nation. This is where jobs are being created, here in manufacturing, in Australia, beating the world.” That Mr Turnbull believes it is manifest but if there was ever a case of the old adage that when ministers are sick of talking about a policy people are just starting to here, research driven innovation is it. And it lets him avoid leadership questions.

Dolt of the day

Is CMM twice. On Friday’s email he failed to attribute the ARC’s new Linkage Grant for a study of how people use parks to QUT and misspelt Ralph Slatyer’s surname.

Setting the change agenda 

the issues tertiary education cannot ignore


With the government’s new tertiary education policy imminent the University of Melbourne’s Centre for the Study of Higher Education has defined the issues facing the system in a collection of essays, Visions for Australian Tertiary Education, released today. The 13 papers go far beyond the standard focus on funding to set out challenges too long ducked. As Sarah French, Paula Kelly & Richard James write in their introduction; “Australian universities feature prominently in all major international ranking systems. Yet, despite this achievement, tertiary education in Australia is facing a dearth of

policy imagination … The imperative for leaders to make decisions that will ensure their institutions are responsive, agile and innovative for financial viability and relevance into the 21st century is in contrast with often bureaucratic and slow-moving governance arrangements.”

The collection focuses on national policy with Leo Goedegebuure, Vin Massaro, Lynn Meek and Alan Pettigrew making a case for an independent agency coordinating post-secondary education. “A differentiated tertiary system can only exist if an institutional policy environment is created that provides different incentives for different institutions and rewards different outcomes. Formula-driven policies by their very nature lead to one-size-fits-all environments. Australia’s short three-year political cycle effectively means that there is but one year per cycle of possible concerted policymaking. In contrast, an independent tertiary education authority is able to engage in consistent, continuous mid- to long-term strategy development,” they write.

Gwilym Croucher, Peter Noonan and Jonathan Chew similarly call for a national oversight agency to advise all tiers of government on post-secondary financing.

Other essays warn that courses and qualifications are changing. Geoff Sharrock suggests that, “once recognised by employers, MOOC-based credentials from well-established overseas institutions may yet disrupt parts of Australia’s international and domestic student markets. Campuses will not disappear, but ‘50 shades of blended learning’ will be the new normal.”

And Sandra Milligan and Gregor Kennedy point to an emerging market for micro-credentials, which, when supported by technology, “have a utility that degrees and transcripts do not. They provide more detailed, specific and easily communicated information about precisely what learners know and can do. Microcredentials are being put to a number of uses that are forcing tertiary educational institutions to think carefully about the value of the assessment and credentialing practice and, indeed, how they are enacting this practice.”

Kristine Elliott and Jason M Lodge consider the need for higher education teachers to have design skills so they are better prepared to systematically develop educational solutions that meet the changing needs of students. Gregor Kennedy, Linda Corrin and Paula de Barba acknowledge the potential of big data and analytics but warn, “many of the learning interactions between staff and students and much of our students’ learning experiences exist outside the administrative and learning systems of universities … A greater emphasis on ‘learning’ constructs and ‘learning’ questions is needed to harness the true value of big data and learning analytics to help students and teachers. While Pip Pattison suggests, “educational quality will come from the continuation of many strategies already in place, as well, potentially, from a heightened investment in academic leadership at program and discipline level.

However existing university structures are not well suited to deal with unknown futures. Elizabeth Baré and Emmaline Bexley propose; “legacy architecture may be limiting or directing the forms of work role envisaged in ways that artificially constrain the capacity of universities to meet present realities and work creatively to fill future needs.” And Douglas Proctor and Sophie Arkoudis point out that Australian education has not adopted a truly international culture, focusing on “institutional gain” rather “than to the achievement of more wide-reaching goals, such as the improvement of society or of the individual students and staff on each campus.”

The anthology also addresses the big picture on serving students. Matt Brett and Andrew Harvey make the equity case for access to education. “Not to participate in higher education increases the risk of consignment to an underclass excluded from the labour market. Similarly, to participate in higher education but not complete or progress to higher levels of qualification increases the risk of being excluded from more secure and higher paying work. Given that characteristics such as gender, race, ethnicity, indigeneity, disability and place of upbringing correlate strongly with levels of access to, and success in, higher education, there will be a continuing public interest in the social composition of higher education.”

Leo Goedegebuure and Ruth Schubert remind us that the innovation agenda relies on graduates, including those from the vocational education system.

“We need to move away from the traditional idea of innovation as being linear research and development resulting in commercialisation of publicly funded research towards a more open concept of innovation based on knowledge circulation, collaboration, and diversification of research definitions in the broader context of innovation ecosystems. As demonstrated by international practice and given the changing nature of our workforce, there is an explicit role for vocational education institutions which extends to specific forms of user-driven research. Such a change in role of VE and its contribution to innovation will not be achieved overnight. It requires capability development and most importantly cultural change. The onus is upon the sector itself to lead this change and transform itself from within.”

And Andrew Norton makes the case for giving students what they need to make the market work for them.

“Australia’s previous system of distributing student places to universities, which was based largely on historical allocations, led to avoidable skills shortages. The demand driven system phased in during the years to 2012 gave universities more capacity and stronger incentives to focus on skills shortages and graduate employability. In its early years, the demand driven system has successfully met most skills shortages and universities are paying more attention to general graduate attributes that contribute to employability. But a surge in student numbers has produced more graduates than the labour force needs in high-skill occupations. … Helping students make better choices rather than limiting their choices is the better way to respond to recent problems in graduate employment.”

* But don’t take CMM’s word for. There are four print copies to give away to people in eastern and central time zones and one for WA. They go to the first emails including name and address received by [email protected].