A big  jorn

The University of New South Wales is hosting a March symposium, “What would Utzon do now?”. Probably bust the budget, resign and go home is my guess.

Clueless in classrooms

Good news for Minister Pyne’s teacher education inquiry – whatever follows from their findings will not matter much, because nobody really knows what lifts classroom standards. At least that is what Brookings Institute researcher Tom Loveless concludes for professional development courses.

“When I hear people say that we know what good PD is, or that we know how to improve teaching but lack the will to do so, my initial reaction is that people who say such things are engaged in wishful thinking.  We are flying by the seat of our pants.  Teachers who seek to improve their own practice are primarily guided by common sense, intuition, word of mouth, personal experience, ideologically laden ideas about progressive or traditional instruction, the guidance of mentors, and folk wisdom—not a body of knowledge and practice that has been rigorously tested for its efficacy.”

Forlorn hope of the day

Dr Lee Skerratt from James Cool University warns that a $15m research program is needed to save seven threatened frog species from extinction (and there you were waiting for me to make a predictably bad joke about their croaking). “With a one trillion dollar annual economy, Australians should be able to afford spending this relatively small amount of cash to save our frogs,” he says. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the funding announcement.

No chance ever missed

For 15 years, at least, people on both sides of the push for a big airport in western Sydney have looked to the local university for support. The pro-case certainly has got it from Barney Glover the new VC at the University of Western Sydney, who sees an airport as a big boost for the region, and UWS. “As western Sydney’s leading research and teaching institution, the university will be pivotal in providing the career-ready graduates and the world-class research expertise,” he says. Um, the university’s bachelor of aviation studies is listed as “inactive”. But not to worry, UWS had some more good news yesterday with Minister Pyne opening its new pathways college campus at the Bankstown campus, which is not (as far as I can tell) under the flight paths for the proposed airport.

Signals from Swinburne

Management and union officials at campuses across the country are watching Swinburne, where a contested vote on the university’s proposed enterprise agreement looks ever more likely. Interested institutions, where reaching an agreement could be hard, include Adelaide, UWA, La Trobe and UWS. There is not much good news for their managements in the Swinburne situation – astute observers are not queuing up to put money on management winning a contested ballot. They suggest a win for VC Linda Kristjanson would need the  support from at least one campus union. This occurred last year at Charles Sturt, where the unions split over a management proposed deal.  But it will not happen at Swinburne where the National Tertiary Education Union has many militant members. It would also have helped to have Professor Kristjanson out selling the deal rather than leaving it to staffers. VC Stephen Parker at Uni Canberra and DVC Robyn McGuiggan at JCU led charges that got deals done, experts say. Above all there is a great deal of bitterness at Swinburne, born of the way the Lilydale campus closure was handled and previous wages negotiations in university subsidiaries.

Followed by a coup de main

Just about all university managements will certainly watch last night’s development at Swinburne with enormous interest.  To convince staff the proposed academic workload model is fair and reasonable Provost  Jennelle Kyd and DVC Research George Collins have released to staff a very long and immensely detailed memo on how it will work. And they announced that Dean of Business Bernardine van Gramberg will lead a staff consultation process to implement it, if the enterprise agreement is adopted. Professor van Gramberg is a public sector dispute resolution specialist and as such has the track record to do the job. This is an excellent move, one which the university has done well to enact now, but then again, would have done even better to put in place six months ago. Whatever, if this does not woo undecided staff nothing will – now there’s a scarey thought.

Brother of the more famous Helen

No, it’s not a new Barbara Trapido novel but the announcement of Dr Matthew Trinca’s appointment as director of the National Museum of Australia. Trinca is a University of Sydney history PhD and a ten-year NMA veteran. Sister Helen is managing editor of The Australian and author of the recent biography of novelist Madeleine St John.

Paying out on wage deals  

Anybody notice the story in The Australian (Thursday) about wages growth being below inflation and the lowest on record? The education and training sectors were the best of a bad lot recording 2.9 per cent growth in the December quarter. With wages flat across the economy the 3 per cent (give or take) per annum for four years the NTEU has negotiated for university staff suddenly looks pretty good. But how will the feds feel about funding it, given minister have sung many songs and danced many dances about what car industry and SPC workers are paid? Not many system insiders are paying attention to this but some who are worry that as the budget approaches ministers may point to university wage settlements and come over all artificially outraged to disguise changes to the indexation arrangements, which will make the out years of present pay deals much harder to fund.