Making a case against Uni Canberra’s assistant professor scheme

It is not popular with the campus union, members of the professoriate, and some in the programme – one filed an occupational health complaint about the stress performance targets cause

The scheme gives people seven years, with three reviews, to produce sufficient research to qualify for continuing appointment.

Even though he likes the scheme as is VC Deep Saini commissioned a review, starting in April, (CMM April 1), which is getting towards the sharp-end of submissions.

The National Tertiary Education Union wants it abolished or failing that, changes including, “clear and transparent expectations for reviews and promotions.”

The union especially dislikes the performance review process which it says are “perhaps the most stressful parts” of the scheme; “each review has the potential for the university to decide that an assistant professor is unlikely to achieve promotion to assistant professor by the end of the continuing contingent period.”

More admin change at USQ

The university is all but ready to roll with a new campus services structure

While some existing jobs go and new ones appear, the overall head count stays pretty much the same. Overall this appears the standard USQ by the book restructure proposal.

Last year the University of Southern Queensland restructured its on-line learning and teaching office, the library, higher degree administration, travel office and changed the relationships of research centres to the university. There was also a long review of functions of and relations between the creative arts academic unit and service-provider Artsworks. They like a review at USQ.

Trimester tribulation as UNSW transforms

At UNSW, the union speaks up against the new trimester timetable

Back in March Vice Chancellor Ian Jacobs invited staff to comment on stage two of his 2025 timetable – which the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union has done, fully and frankly.

The union accepts the good-intentions of the plan but overall warns; “as a result of the strategy, existing staff have been subject to much needless pressure and disruption to work practices leading to constant stress and confusion.”

The NTEU points to a range of issues, including; professional staff restructures, “confusion and job insecurity are now the norm,” research benchmarks, “there is no recognition of potential bias that favours some sub-disciplines above others” and casualisation, “rampant under the 2025 strategy.”

And it is also upset with the new trimester system, warning;

* teachers and students cannot cope with the pace and volume of content in trimester subjects, which are, “a series of 10 week-to-week sprints”

* “the exam marking period is so short that exams have to be simplified”

* teaching in trimesters leaves no time for research

There is more but you get the idea.

Most of the staff concerns the union channels will diminish as the 2025 restructure beds down. But right now, the trimester controversy is very bad indeed for management – there is no way the university could can it but a great deal of damage is being done to the leadership’s standing  with staff and many students as they learn how to cope with, or endure, it.

Postgrads look to states to make things right

There is a Royal Commission into Victoria’s mental health system – the postgraduate student association has some ideas for it  

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations points to study-worries and financial strain as issues that psychologically burden postgrads and it accordingly proposes more federal and state, financial support.

But CAPA also points to counselling services provided by the state’s universities, “which are often under-funded or under-staffed and fail to meet the requirements of the student bodies they are designed to serve.”

CAPA accordingly calls for a cut to waiting times to see a counsellor at a university, to two weeks, and an increase to 12 sessions available. And to make it happen, CAPA proposes “that the Victorian Government, through legislative or regulatory measures, enforces minimum standards.”

And CAPA is keen on for postgrads to be treated as workers

The council backs the Queensland worker compensation agency in classing research postgrads as workers, which makes universities liable for insurance premiums. There will be a test case at CQU. (CMM yesterday).

WorkCover’s ruling is a recognition of the importance of postgraduate research students to the research sector, CAPA claims, adding;
“it is unjust that HDR students are often treated as salaried employees, often staying in their labs or offices far beyond standard working hours at the behest of their supervisors, but are paid below minimum wage.”

“We therefore call on Australian universities to raise the value of their stipends to at least minimum wage, and to offer stipends to all full time HDR students, in recognition that their contributions are a form of employment.”

Macquarie U department merger: now, never or later

There appear to be two schools of thought among those opposed or ambivalent to the long investigated and debated merger of Macquarie U’s departments of environmental sciences and earth and planetary sciences. But some share a conclusion

Some senior staff question what the merger is about, beyond laying the foundation for cutting academic jobs. There are suggestions that the science faculty-wide voluntary early retirement scheme (CMM April 3) has not produced the expected number of takers and savings are required.  And they wonder whether a merger will do much for improving research performance.

Other in the departments accept there is a research case for combining them and that a well-implemented merger could lift the university’s performance and prestige in disciplines involved. But they wonder whether if the intellectual infrastructure has been thought-through, including for postgraduates, who do not know if their supervisors will survive and what sort of support they will have for their work.

Overall, there is a sense that, despite it being long-planned a decision can now waitExecutive dean of the science and engineering faculty Barbara Messerle’s departure was announced a couple of weeks back and she is due to start in September as provost at the University of Sydney (CMM June 20). This does not leave much time for a merger to be made, one which might stick the new dean with a deal they do not like.

Griffith U awards lead achievements

Griffith U announced last night the vice chancellor’s research excellence awards 

research leadership: Hamish McCallum (Environmental Futures Research Institute)

early career: Lee Morgenbesser (Griffith Asia Institute and Centre for Governance and Public Policy)

mid-career:   Tara McGee, (Griffith Criminology Institute), Jun Zhou, Institute for (Integrated and Intelligent Systems)

research supervision: Seroja Selvanathan, (Griffith Asia Institute)

research group/team award: Claire Rickard, Marie Cooke, Andrew Bulmer, Amanda Ullman, Nicole Marsh, Tricia Kleidon, Josh Byrnes, Gillian Ray-Barruel, Jessica Schults, (Alliance for Vascular Access Teaching and Research team, Menzies Health Institute Queensland)

Engineers Australia announces its 2019 Innovative Engineers awards, including;

 research and academic: Andrew Zalesky – neural circuitry (Uni Melbourne), Xiao Jing Hao – photovoltaics (UNSW)

community: Jie Lu – fuzzy machine learning (UTS)

electronics: Mohammad Taha – building coatings to limit heat radiation (Uni Melbourne), Shruti Nirantar – air-metal nanoelectronics (RMIT)

general industry: Ha Pham – induction heating (UTS)

manufacturing and automation: Kate Fox – diamond implants (RMIT), Sina Naficy – flexible food censors (Uni Wollongong), Dilum Fernando – hybrid bridge ( Uni Queensland).

mining, oil, gas: Arman Siahvashi – cryosolids apparatus (UWA)