The weight of things to come

“As Australians head into the holiday season …” Uni SA with what is surely the first seasonal over-indulgence research story – um, it’s early October.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning, Erica Southgate (Uni Newcastle) on the coming assessment challenge from AI that can produce credit-level original essays. It’s a new essay in contributing editor Sally Kift’s series on what is needed now in teaching and learning.

RUN for research support

The feds have commissioned a review into research at regional unis. The Regional Universities Network suggests more money would help

RUN’s submission to the Australian Council of Learned Academies review points to problems with perceptions, “that regionally-based universities are almost exclusively focussed on teaching” and warns of a paucity of programmes that fund research into “regionally-based” issues.

Some of the solutions RUN suggests focuses on more research money, including “a dedicated per centage” of research agency funds for research projects, research fellows and infrastructure at regional universities, a stand-alone programme to encourage collaboration to build research, Research Training Programme funds to attract research students to regional campuses to work on national priorities and travel-support for students to access city-located National Collaborative Research Infrastructure.

“Additional new resourcing for research would assist in terms of the breadth of research undertaken at regionally-headquartered universities and in attracting excellent researchers. Developing breadth of research would also assist regional communities e.g. in the arts and social sciences,” RUN states.

Education al fresco

U Tas delivers on its “our whole island is your campus” student recruitment message

The university is promoting a masters in tourism, environmental and cultural heritage, which, “leaves behind traditional classrooms and puts students in situ at some of Australia’s most iconic tourism destinations.” Port Arthur, Cradle Mountain and some place called Sydney are nominated. Tasmania’s UNESCO world heritage sites will be case studies of “sustainable tourism.”

Bio-manufacturing at Macquarie U

The university will host a $96m research centre in synthetic biology

Ian Paulsen from Macquarie U will lead the new Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology.  The intent is to create biofuels, plastics and biochemical using genetically engineered microbes. According to Macquarie U, there will be a $1.1 trillion market in five years for synthetic biology products.

The centre has $35 from the federal government, with $61m in cash and kind from six other Australian universities and 25 ANZ, Asia and American partners.

Yet more evidence uni study generates job

The excellent Social Research Centre (crafters of QILT) have crunched survey data to report on graduate employment. The overall evidence is degrees deliver close to the max

The news is good: Overall, employment outcome surveys show graduates do well in the job market over time. Three months after graduating 72.6 per cent of 2016 UG completers were employed full time, with 90.1 per cent of them working FT now. The ’16 starters earned $58 000 a year back then and 24 per cent more, nearly $73 000 now. Good numbers, the employment figures are the best since 2012, but as to why, the SCR (data and nothing but) does not speculate.

If not great:  Admittedly, one does not have to venture deep into the weeds to find employment outcomes that are not quite as fab. For example, the learned Andrew Norton points out, the per centage of grads in FT employment, of those wanting it in 2018 and ‘19, was/is stable at 90 per cent. This a touch up on 2015 but a bit down on 2011.

The survey also shows, the per centage employed in professional/managerial jobs is around 4 per cent lower. Critics of the mass higher education system as creating graduates no-one needs, will also seize on the survey finding that, three years on 27 per cent of 2016 graduates working full-time reported their skills-qualifications are not fully utilised, 19 per cent of them said it was because there were no suitable jobs.

But ok for unis: The spread of 2016 UG completers now in FT work is, University of Sydney at 93.2 per cent, down to Victoria U at 81.2 per cent. For course postgrad completers Uni Wollongong has the highest participation rate, extraordinary 96.8 per participation rate and Edith Cowan U the lowest, 85.9 per cent.

Hard to do better: Last week Education Minister Dan Tehan announced that 40 per cent of new growth funding for Commonwealth Supported Places will be based on graduate outcomes. According to the Wellings’ Panel, which recommended performance measures, this will encourage universities to ensure, “course offerings align with economic needs, working with employers to address key technical and soft skills needs in higher education qualifications and to respond to their evolution over time, and to identify opportunities for work experience to support learning and transition to employment.” Good-o, but given there is no accounting for the employment-impact of peoples’ life circumstances it is hard to see many unis being able to improve graduate outcomes by much.

Another trimester debate set to start

Uni Newcastle is considering moving to trimesters. Campus critics say it is a bad idea

The university has put the possibility of an extended academic year on the agenda for the new strategic plan. (Interim) DVC A Liz Burd says the university uses a trimester for some courses now but extending the system will let undergraduates use the summer for credit-earning activities, such as work placements and international exchanges.

Opponents of the idea warn students seeking work-based learning would flood already over-supplied markets. And, as at UNSW, which has moved to a trimester system there are complaints, that it will mean no appropriate break for academics from teaching, and increase pressure on staff administering admissions, enrolments and exam results.

If university leaders are to be swayed from the idea the time to sway them is now. UNSW’s refusal to budge in the face of student protests over its new trimester system demonstrates that once in place, they stay.

Creating offshore opportunities

Swinburne U has top visa clearance for the international students it recruits to Melbourne but it is still expanding internationally   

The university has established a partnership with a Hanoi-based private provider, teaching Swinburne business IT and media coms degrees.  Small, but smart move. As UNSW VC Ian Jacobs argues, “there is a mismatch between where the need and demand for higher education is globally, and where the expertise resides,” (CMM June 18).

Swinburne U has no problem attracting quality-international students – it’s on the government’s Simplified Student Visa Framework list of universities least at risk of recruiting international students who breach visa conditions. But there is big growth in taking courses to where new markets are.

Uni New England has funding from the feds for an on-line course for Indian hospital administrators

The university will use the $62 000 to develop training for managers, in conjunction with Indian social-enterprise Beyond Borders Learning Programmes. A small start but the potential market is vast – there are 37 000 hospitals in India.

CRCs are supposed to come and go, but some stay and stay

The Cooperative Research Centre working on bushfires runs out of money in a couple of years. The case for it continuing is already on the agenda

In one form or another the centre has been around for a while. The Bushfire CRC closed in 2014 after two terms, 2003-2010 and 2010-2014. It was replaced (from 2013) by the Bushfire and Natural Hazard Cooperative Research Centre, which has eight-year funding.

There is already interest in ensuring it gets more.  “One organisation trying to understand how we can better respond to unprecedented fires is the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre. … But ten years on from Black Saturday, Richard Thornton, CEO of the organisation, confirmed the Federal Government had not guaranteed its funding past 2021.” ABC Radio’s Background Briefing reports.

There’s a reason for an end-date for CRCs. The Cooperative Research Centre Programme is time-limited (CRCs ten-year max, project-focused CRC Ps, three years). “Limiting the duration of funding, and not allowing extensions, will make it clear that the focus should be on delivering tangible outcomes from the CRC or CRC-P within the funding period,” David Miles’ 2015 review of the programme explained.

But in the past Labor and coalition governments have been flexible about closing CRCs with broad popular appeal and/or strong local support.

The Hobart-based Antarctic research CRC is getting on for 30 years old, being established in 1991 as the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Environment CRC.  Funding was continued in 1997 for the CRC for Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, and in 2003 and 2010 as the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC.

And a CRC for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, had four-terms, under different names from 1996 until this year, the last being the Lowitja Institute (2014-19). While it is no longer a CRC, the Institute is now funded by the Department of Health.

The case for continuing bushfire research is obvious – the need is enduring, the challenge eternal, but CRCs are designed to achieve defined goals and then close, with other organisations applying their research. Even so, it will be a brave minister indeed who denies another term to a bushfire research centre.


Caroline Duell joins MTP Connect (the federally-funded medtech and pharma growth centre). She is the new comms-events director.

Southern Cross U announces coral reef researcher Dr Daniel Harrison joins its National Marine Science Centre in Coffs Harbour. That’s, Daniel, not Peter, Harrison. Professor Peter is a coral reef researcher at SCU’s Lismore campus. No, they are not related, yes, they plan to collaborate.

Liz Johnson is confirmed as DVC E at Deakin U – she has been acting in the role for 12 months. “During this time, Liz has continued to lead Deakin’s ambitious Student Learning and Experience strategy, developed her vision for teaching and learning, including a new strategy for student success and retention,” VC Iain Martin says