plus UTS plan for NSW unis to invest ethically

IT deans plan to make grads employable

and Simon Birmingham on ways to end rorting of VET student loans

Close friends

Yesterday CMM reported the latest move in the turf war between CQU and James Cook U as they open competing campuses up and down the north Queensland coast. It prompted policy maven Gavin Moodie to suggest the pair “are inadvertently laying the foundations for their amalgamation.” CMM would pay money to watch VCs Scott Bowman (CQU) and Sandra Harding (JCU) discuss a deal.

Thurs Aug 25

UTS big plan for university investments

There is talk around UTS that the university has decided to sell out of fossil-fuel stocks now in its investment portfolio, following the lead of institutions including ANU and La Trobe.

Not quite – the story is much bigger than that. According to a UTS spokesperson, the university is working with financial consultants Mercer on a “responsible investment framework … to help ensure our financial investments are congruent with our values.” This means investments in products “which society views as unsustainable” are out, as are alcohol and tobacco producers. This appears to fit with work underway by the NSW Treasury (which manages university investments) on a “state risk management project.”

The next step is to “work with other tertiary education institutions to generate greater demand for NSW Treasury to introduce sustainable investment products.” There was uproar over ANU’s announcement a couple of year’s back that it would bail out of old-energy shares, the AFR wrote ten page one stories about it, according to then VC Ian “the gent” Young (CMM October 23 2014) and stock tippers were unsettled indeed. The bourse will go berserk if a NSW-wide university sustainable investment plan is established.

First shot

And so it begins, Murdoch University will likely be the site of the first protected industrial action in enterprise bargaining Round Seven. Union members voted to apply to Fair Work Australia for an order approving action yesterday.

Super-duper learning experience

Deakin U has adopted two digital education resources from Inspark. Biobeyond is, “an introductory biology course, “centred on the authentic, compelling question of how to find life in the universe. As they investigate the possibilities, students learn biology — a lot of biology.” Habworld is “a general education science course that asks ‘is there life in the universe?’ and teaches students how to explore the formation of stars, planets, Earth, life, intelligence, and civilisation.” Inspark promises 56 “active and adaptive lessons,” and “70 hours of learner engagement.

 Inspark, uses a courseware platform from Sydney based Smart Sparrow, a developer founded by UNSW graduate Dror Ben-Naim.

Deakin DVC E Beverley Oliver says the Inspark guides will be used in on-campus subjects taught by Deakin staff. “The design will be based on students working thorough the digital materials and this will be enhanced and supplemented by flipped classroom activities for students,” she says. “It won’t be a self-paced ‘do the best you can’ without a teacher experience…it will be a super-duper digitally-enabled human learning experience, Professor Oliver adds.


Outraged by analogue

Students occupying the Sydney College of Arts in protest at plans to move it to UniSyd’s main campus say management cut the wifi yesterday. Does the university not realise the UN has declared Internet access to be fundamental to people exercising their human rights? y

Heads to go at UWA

There was disquiet at the University of Western Australia late yesterday as staff digested detail of the proposed new administrative structure. Overall the document is much as Senior DVC Dawn Freshwater outlined to staff last month (CMM July 14). But what many staff were not expecting was a 230 cut to the professional staff FTE, reducing people employed from 1542 to 1312. The rank and file will have to wait until Wednesday to know where the jobs will sit. And not all were cheered up by the assurance in the document that; “the university leadership team is committed to minimising forced redundancies.”

The document also details a range of university-wide services to be variously amalgamated, abolished or (in the case of unspecified services) out-sourced. And there is a great deal of detail on the division of functions between different units. Perhaps too much detail. As the plan stands CMM gives it six months for the various baronies in brand, marketing, recruitment, development alumni, and business development to start skirmishing for territory.

But anybody who fears they will not be happy in the new service will not have much time to decide to go – VR applications close on September 2.

Learning on the job

The reason why beginning teachers may not to be flash in front of maths and sciences classes is less to do with their ability and training than management telling them to teach subjects they know nothing about. New research by Paul R Weldon for the Australian Council for Educational Research finds that over 40 per cent of teachers in front of junior secondary physics classes lack either tertiary education in the subject and/or training in how to teach it. In maths it is 38 per cent. It’s even worse in some HASS subjects with 60 per cent of teachers leading geography and media classes not fully trained for the task.

“In light of the recent work to improve the quality of initial teacher education, further work is required to better understand the demand for teachers across different subjects and the nature of the pressures on schools that cause out-of-field teaching,” Dr Weldon writes.

This should be easily fixed, just pay young teachers to pick up additional subject qualifications. But it isn’t thanks to the way salaries are set, “there are few incentives for teachers to gain an additional qualification in a subject they regularly teach out-of-field. Once they are qualified as a teacher the only point at which there may be incentive to gain formal recognition in another subject is when applying for a role at a different school,” Dr Weldon explains. So, with school enrolments set to grow the problem will get worse, unless of course teacher education faculties work out ways to attract people with the ability and interest to teach demanding disciplines – which is where we came in.

New at ANU

Fedor Iskhakov is joining ANU’s Research School of Economics where he will work on dynamic modelling of “employment, retirement, taxation and social welfare.” A graduate of St Petersburg University, Dr Iskhakov did his postgraduate work in Norway.


IT employment answers

In his recent Grattan Institute oversight of higher education Andrew Norton was scathing about the quality of Australian IT education (CMM August 8). A globalised labour force and “weaknesses in IT university education” mean graduates “do not easily find full-time work, he wrote. Back then CMM asked the deans of IT for a response, which arrived yesterday. According to UNSW’s Maurice Pagnucco, president of the Australian Council of Deans of IT, they agreed on a plan back in April. “Actions to improve graduates’ work readiness are based around improving their industry related skills during their university education. To do this universities and industry need to engage in meaningful dialogue so that both can adapt rapidly in a sector where continual change is the norm, and both universities and industry need to collaborate more to provide work-integrated learning requirements and opportunities to students,” Professor Pagnucco says.

Specific steps to be taken include: universities and industry reviewing emerging issues in the technology sector, establishing “a common understanding” of key graduate attributes and developing best practice guidelines for university industry advisory boards.

Birmingham raises regulating VET student funding

Simon Birmingham will not announce the government’s eagerly anticipated vocational student loan system this morning but he will switch on flashing neon signs illuminating the issues it will address.

Speaking at the Australian Council of Private Education and Training’s conference in Hobart, Senator Birmingham will acknowledge how much damage the VET FEE HELP disaster did to the reputation of legitimate private providers and he will accept the necessity of getting the replacement right; “in redesigning this scheme I am focused on introducing measures that will ensure a new scheme has integrity and restores confidence in the VET sector,” he will say.

But the essence of his address will focus on the kinds of criteria private providers will need to meet to access loans made to students. The minister will mention, (i) provider quality and repute, (ii) funding courses that generate jobs, (iii) practical caps on course numbers, (iv) setting costs per EFT in different categories of training.

If these measures are included in the new scheme, due to start next year it will be radically more regulated than VET FEE HELP, so badly designed and poorly policed that rorters ran riot. But the government has no choice, as Minister Birmingham will make clear; “we need to ensure we regain the trust of students and the community and do so quickly.  Too much is at stake not to.”