The Week That Was (October 26)

For the ambitious and time-short. “Change your life in days or weeks: enrol in a short course,” TAFE NSW promotes its products on social media.

As the government’s skills juggernaut rolls on, Universities Australia is keen to stay on stage. On Tuesday the Prime Minister announced a $5bn Microsoft investment in new data centres in Australia plus a training partnership with TAFE NSW. To which UA responded (on the platform formally known as Twitter) “our unis are here to help – equipping Australians with the skills and knowledge they need to enter the tech workforce and delivering the cutting-edge research and development that will lift productivity and drive economic growth.” Instructive that UA thinks it need be said.  Relevance Deprivation Syndrome is a terrible affliction.

Uni SA VC David Lloyd has a message for staff about what the new Adelaide U will look like.

The day after the state government announced the bill to create the succeeding university to Uni SA and Uni Adelaide is a happening thing, Professor Lloyd told his staff to look to their university’s act for a sense of purpose for the new alpha A institution.

The Uni SA Act is the announced basis for the merged uni foundation legislation and Professor Lloyd points out it includes specifics on serving Indigenous Australians, addressing educational disadvantage, working with industry, commerce and the professions and enhancing culture. 

“Those values and goals were not just something people chatted about fondly at the time – they were something they enshrined in the legislation of this university. Three decades later, you can see the profound positive impact that has had.”

Smart, very smart. While Premier Malinauska’s ambition for Adelaide U includes research growth he is a Labor leader and as such Lloyd’s statement of where the new uni will go will speak to his base.

The Australian Horticultural Exporters and Importers Association is changing its name – perhaps it wants to ensure it is not mistaken for that other AHEIA, the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association

The flower power is now named Australian Horticultural Trade.

The Federal Government’s Bill implementing first recommendations from Mary O’Kane and her Universities Accord colleagues is through the Senate. It will extend demand driven funding to Indigenous students from metro areas (now available to regionals), end the coalition’s 50 per cent pass rule for undergraduates and require universities to meet new and rigorous requirements to support students.

This is a big win for the Government at the expense of  university managements, the Coalition and the Greens. 

With the Bill, Education Minister Jason Clare presents the Government as a friend and supporter of students, which will leave university managements looking like they aren’t if they complain. The Coalition did not have much choice to defending its now past policy that students who fail half their subjects lose their Commonwealth supported place – but it did not help its standing with young people at university. Mr Clare has also occupied Greens ground – a government that helps students is way better than a party that talks a big game but has no chance of making anything happen.

Mr Clare is making university policy a plus for the government – without spending much money.                                                                                                            

The National Imaging Facility has $28m in new money to support it through to 2027 – on top of the $18m already announced for ’23-28. Funding is via the Commonwealth’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy. The announcement emphasises research on diseases, “with a high burden for Australia.” Admin HQ is at Uni Queensland with work distributed among it and 12 partners.

The Fair Work Ombudsman Annual Report states that in 2022-’23 it recovered $96m in underpayments for 26,526 university employees, and took “targeted enforcement action” against Charles Start U, Uni Melbourne, Uni Newcastle and UTS.

Perhaps for university managements which have not paid attention to FWO repeated warnings of problem areas it summarises sources of staff not being paid properly:

  • no centralised human resources function
  • lack of investment in payroll and time-recording systems
  • control over human resources and pay-related issues mainly devolved to individual faculties and dealt with by academic managers.

The Ombudsman adds that universities are improving, but, and it is quite a qualification indeed,  “we are still seeing ongoing non-compliance requiring considerable investment by the OFWO, given the scale and complexity of the matters.”

The FWO also sets out its two cases against Uni Melbourne which are filed in the Federal Court.

In one, “we alleged that the university threatened to not re-employ two academics after they complained they were required to work more hours than the ‘anticipated hours’ provided in their contracts and later that the university decided not to offer one of the academics any further teaching work after they made a further complaint or enquiry about working extra hours.”

And in the other the Ombudsman is “alleging the university underpaid 14 casual staff in the Arts Faculty around $154 000 and made false or misleading records. We alleged staff were paid according to benchmarks rather than actual hours worked.”

VET delivers for Indigenous Australians, according to the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research. A new analysis of 2016 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander VET starters found completers were 19 per cent more likely to achieve “sustainable employment” than people who did not commence. The figure was marginally better (21 per cent) for people who started, but did not complete, “suggesting that VET participation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is important in its own right.”

The study reports better sustainable outcomes for those enrolled at universities (30 per cent) or TAFEs (20 per cent) than at private providers.

At VET, certificate IV is the charm with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples enrolled having twice the sustainable employment outcome as Certificate III. However, just a third (9.2 per cent) were studying Cert IV, compared 36 per cent for Cert III and 23 per cent in Cert II.

The first seed grants from the Australia’s Economic Accelerator are announced (see story in Future Campus for October 26.)  It’s part of the  University Research Commercialisation Package.

Universities Australia is getting in ahead of the final report from the O’Kane Universities Accord team on Work Integrated Learning. In a Friday speech outgoing UA chief executive Catriona Jackson announced it will release a WIL strategy next month developed with “business and industry groups,” Ms Jackson named Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Australian Industry Group, Business Council of Australia and Australian Collaborative Education Network. 

“It will also keep all players accountable by providing measures to access and improve WIL progressively, and outlines steps to improve the WIL experience.”

As a foundation, “it will provide a common definition of WIL – something we do not currently have – that reflects the developmental stages of engagement between higher education providers, students and industry and community partners.”

Smart move by UA and industry. The Accord Interim Report warns, “there are numerous barriers preventing (WIL) uptake and broader implementation … Developing the necessary mutual understanding and meaningful relationships between universities and industry can require time, expertise and resources that are not always available.”

By getting in first UA and partners may hope they can stop the feds getting involved.

The universities of Newcastle and Wollongong are combining to talk to government and industry to talk about innovation and growth in their regions. Which makes Future Campus wonder whatever happened to the Uni Newcastle, UNSW and Uni Wollongong NUW alliance, launched with fanfare by then NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian in July 2017. A year later Bran Black (yes, the new head of the Business Council of Australia) was in charge of NUW but he moved to work for the premier in 2019.

NUW is still going – Western Sydney U joined in 2020 but U Newcastle and Wollongong appear to be looking local.



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