Macquarie, Swinburne and UWS prepare for deregulation

Even before the fate of the Pyne package is decided universities are getting ready for tougher competition.

Occasion for excellence

Read Andrew Forrest’s occasional address, delivered at a University of Western Australia graduation this week. It’s a model of wisdom and humility in a genre where aphorisms and self-importance are the norm.

Smart Swinburne

If stupidity is doing something the same way multiple times and expecting different results Swinburne University is very smart indeed, taking plans for a change in VET strategy direct to staff.

This is a complete change in approach from the surprise closure of the Lilydale campus in 2012, which was a catastrophe for the university. The Federal Court found Swinburne breached requirements to consult and ordered it to fund community projects in compensation. It also contributed to a poisonous relationship with the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union that still continues. Despite a small majority of staff voting for management’s proposed enterprise bargain at the beginning of the year the NTEU is still contesting the result in Fair Work Australia.

But this time Swinburne management has briefed staff on a collapse in VET revenue (down from $123m in 2012 to an expected $70m this year) and the prospect of increased competition. The paper sets out nine areas where Swinburne must improve and invites staff to respond. “We want you to tell us what you think of the ideas and models described …. We want you to let us know where you see opportunities that we can better exploit, and where there are risks that we can better manage. We want you to tell us which of the models will work better than others.”

Sensible stuff. For a start, staff know their business and will own decisions down the track they helped make. And by going direct to workers management has ensured the union will not be the only voice in the process.

Short and to the point

Entries are open for the 2014 Trans-Tasman Three Minute Thesis, this year at the University of Western Australia on November 3. UWA is hosting because its Kelsey Kennedy won last year, taking 180 seconds to explain her thesis on an imaging tool for breast cancer surgery. The competition will include competitors from Australia and New Zealand, plus – demonstrating an expansive definition of “trans Tasman” – Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore. The 3MT is a great homegrown idea, founded by the University of Queensland. I wonder if the originators can explain in three minutes how they came up with it.


On Q&A the other night none of the great and good from the science establishment took the bait and complained that there is no science minister. Perhaps they were acting on the prime minister’s suggestion; “judge us by our performance, not by our titles.” But science insiders remind us Mr Abbott said this at the 2013 PM’s Science Awards and this year’s are on next month. They add the insatiable science lobby is looking for a big policy announcement before or on the night, preferably both. This is not entirely fair to the feds. It is hardly the government’s fault that the Senate is blocking the Medicare co-payment to fund the $20bn Medical Research Future Fund. And Education Minister Chis Pyne has re-established the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy, which Labor had decided to wind down. But what science is looking for is a government plan and funding for it. Chief Scientist Ian Chubb is said to be increasingly irritated that his STEM strategy is not yet policy and I’m guessing that the PM’s science bunfight will see either an announcement or the celebration of one, incorporating science into Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane’s innovation plan. Unless of course there is nothing doing. In that case the PM will probably be elsewhere and Mr Macfarlane will host – and rightly so, he is constantly telling us he has portfolio responsibility for science.

Applied research

“Like humans, wolves are prone to contagious yawning,” CSIRO tweets, for no apparent reason, yesterday. Perhaps it’s a helpful hint for people who might be pursued by the wolves from Frozen.

UWS ambitions

UWS VC Barney Glover has issued a discussion paper to inform the university’s next five-year plan. “A successful future for UWS is inextricably linked to a step change in the university’s performance in key areas, such as the scale of fee-paying postgraduate courses, the strength of international student programs and the ability to attract researchers to Greater Western Sydney, whilst diversifying funding sources to support research,” it states. Good-oh, but surely these are the goals of every other university in the Sydney region, apart from the GWS bit. Professor Glover also calls for a university market focus, “creating and responding to student demand and actively positioning itself to anticipate changing sector dynamics and stronger competitive forces.” And in a specific the marketers will mull over he requires, “a comprehensive but targeted university-wide marketing strategy that integrates with the core objectives of the university and ensures that the community and key stakeholders are well-informed and engaged with the university.” I’m guessing a bunch of staff rather thought they had developed this already. Professional staff worrying what the Nous Group review of staffing means for their jobs may not be all that comfortable with the stated intention to “intensify engagement with staff in the ongoing processes of sector reform and institutional change, not only through imagining innovative developments, but also understanding and enabling discussions of what the priorities must be in a new environment.”

The discussion paper is out for consultation until the end of October with a draft plan to the university’s Board of Trustees at the start of December.

Lazarus learning curve

PUP Queensland senator Glenn Lazarus is going out of his way to learn what higher education wants – or at least some parts of it. Last week he met with University of Queensland staff and student unionists. Yesterday he went up to Toowoomba to meet University of Southern Queensland staff and VC Jan Thomas. “USQ is a very impressive Queensland university,” the senator said. But what did the USQers say to him and will it influence his crucial vote?

Unseen stats

Graduate Careers Australia is selective about who it briefs, which maybe why its new figures, showing a declining jobs market for new postgraduates course completers were not covered all that widely yesterday. This is unfortunate as a mass of useful data is lost underneath the disastrous headline figure, that close to 20 per of postgraduate completers available for work were not employed full time when surveyed. But the really interesting statistics the GCA never releases are the unemployment rates by field and institution. Surely these are stats that prospective students need to see.

It got worse for him

Thanks to Kate Fitch for recording yesterday as the 4oth anniversary of the inauguration of Murdoch University – by Sir John Kerr! (People under 50 ask a lecturer in political history, if there any left on your campus.) He looks quite relaxed in the film footage .

Macquarie builds a brand

In its 50th year Macquarie University has a major new corporate identity, which went to staff this week. People are said to be very pleased that the university is reclaiming the lighthouse named for colonial hero Governor Lachlan Macquarie as the central element of its livery and is rebuilding the brand on its original foundations. “Created to challenge the educational establishment Macquarie is the training ground of new generations of audacious world citizens and community leaders.” Substantiating the strategy, as opposed to stating it will not be easy but the university rightly recognises it has to have a go. Macquarie now sits with universities like Wollongong, growing stronger on research but outside the elite eight. However being based in affluent northwestern Sydney suburbs it lacks UoW’s regional identity and certainly cannot appeal to the needs of relatively under-privileged communities as UWS does. With the possibility of deregulation creating a need for universities to sell to students on values as well as academic attributes Macquarie has to do something. It will take years, quite a few years, to build a brand based on the university as iconoclast and innovator, but this is a start.