Plus the new Monash corporate campaign  and stopping the presses at La Trobe

Not a plot

Given the mayhem being wrought by the Parliamentary Budget Office report on FEE HELP, CMM wondered whether the data is necessary for a cunning plan to undo demand driven funding, and if so whose is it. Sadly the PBO advises that doing the report was all it’s own idea. This is regrettable – entertaining conspiracy theories are rare in education policy.

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Piecework PhDs

Casual staff don’t only endure the insecurities of impermanent employment, they have to commute to the 18th century to do their work. There is a blue in the Faculty of Arts at Monash University where times allowed for marking each piece of student work are in dispute.

Last year Dean of Arts Rae Frances told staff that the university’s Enterprise Agreement empowers her to determine what times will be paid for, which she did. There are 17 types of work ranging from an hour per 5000 words of a major essay through four papers per hour for a three hour exam to ten minutes per paper for a one-hour language test.

However CMM hears that the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education is kicking up, calling many of the times allowed for this superior piecework “nonsensical” and warning they mean sessional staff working without pay.

To which casuals across the country inquire, “what else is new?” and not having time to check get straight back to their hand looms. The union wants a committee of faculty staff to hammer out how much real time tasks take.


Done but delayed

A reader asks where is the Australian Council of Learned Academies report on research training. Good question, ACOLA was commissioned by then education minister Chris Pyne to advise on how research can assist industry (the terms of reference are heavy on engagement) last year,  CMM May 21 2015. The report was presented to the Department of Education, as required in March, from where it is yet to emerge.

Workforce predictions: “more entertaining than accurate”

While CMM is undoubtedly the last to know, in February Education Minister Simon Birmingham asked the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment to inquire “how Australia’s tertiary system can meet the needs of a future labour force focused on innovation and creativity.” With a brief like that you can imagine responses along the lines of “give us more money for teaching and research and everything will be fine and if it isn’t it will because you did not give us more money.”

But not the indefatigable Innovative Research Universities, which responded to arguments that students should be educated to meet the needs of the existing economy.

“The predictions for major changes in job roles combined with past evidence that predicting workforce needs beyond a short time horizon is usually more entertaining than accurate argues against a strong workforce planning approach to higher education course decisions. … In the context of developing the knowledge based industries that thrive on innovation, it is the unexpected that causes the greater impact. Workforce planning tends to be limited by extrapolating from the current, with little capability to guess the future.”


Stopping the presses

La Trobe University is closing its print shop following staff consultation, as required by the Enterprise Agreement. The university will put its work to tender. Management says decreasing numbers of staff used the service, which also subbed out work it could not manage. However the Victorian branch of the National Tertiary Education Union calls the decision “clearly ideological.”

“A private company is not going to have an interest in minimising the amount of money staff and students have to pay- in fact, those charges will go up – and the university knows this,” state secretary Colin Long says.

The university says ten jobs will go, the union 15. The NTEU says 1600 people have signed a petition calling on the university to keep the printers.

Bad news worth repeating

Paddy Manning‘s ABC radio documentary on the shambles that is VET FEE HELP includes nothing new for close observers but for everybody else it is a clear narrative of this great policy disgrace. The government will be grateful that it went to air on Radio National, so nobody much heard it but it deserves a broader audience. It is found here.

Monash goes for no-gloss campaign

Monash U is releasing an new national multi-channel corporate campaign, “Question the answers”. Anchored by David Wenham, it “aims to communicate the challenge and curiosity that fuels higher education and what Monash University represents an institution that values innovation, persistence and impact,” says Vice Chancellor Margaret Gardner.

The 60-second TVC features Mr Wenham thanking all supporters of the status quo “without you we would have nothing to question.” It is supported by a series of spots in which he presents examples of paradigm shifters.

The launch spot creative is strong, tightly written, shot in black and white with Mr Wenham walking Winston Smith style among people who look like they are working a shift at the Ministry of Truth. There are no smiling students or gleaming labs and the usual unsubstantiated corporate campaign guff about how a university’s degree qualifies graduates to run the UN is admirably absent. Instead Monash offers students the opportunity to work hard, take chances and piss people off.

Engineers off the hook

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel addressed a deans of engineering dinner the other day, telling them what a splendid thing engineering is and why they should enthuse students. But as to entry standards, “it’s a dinner speech, so instead of challenging you to reinstate mathematics as a prerequisite for enrolment in your engineering degrees, my challenge to you is to spread the engineering way,” Dr Finkel said. Was that a hint?

Worthy but ignored

U-MultiRank released its excellent “multi-dimensional global university ranking,” last week and did its best to promote the product in a worthy-EU-committee-on social media kind of way. But it was overwhelmed, at least in Australia, by the Times Higher150 under 50” a global ranking of universities under that age. For a student in Europe wanting to know where to study a specific subject U-MR is useful indeed, but people prefer pecking orders. THE, for example has 192 000 followers on Twitter, while U-MR is a bit behind with 2390.

It isn’t  hard to see why. On Friday U-MR released results of a student survey of satisfaction in science subjects. Of the top 20 only the Durban University of Technology isn’t in Europe – those that are range from Spain to Siberia. This demonstrates what a hard sell the U-MR approach is – while the world aspires to Harvard and Oxford CMM suspects not many Spaniards want to study on the steppes.

There is a considerable critical literature on rankings but for a short and sensible guide have a look at one by the learned Richard Holmeshere.