The Week That Was (November 2)

The new edition of Andrew Norton’s Mapping Australian Higher Education is out. Hundreds tuned in on Monday for the Future Campus webinar unpicking the secrets behind the numbers, with Professor Norton discussing what is in it and what it all means with Lisa Bolton (QILT), John Byron (QUT) and Gwilym Croucher  HERE

The University of Queensland announces it is concentrating resources in a Brisbane biotech precinct. The Dutton Park base of the School of Pharmacy will become the university’s fourth campus, “further complementing the State’s biotech aspirations.” 

There is $2.5m in Commonwealth Government grants on offer to fund technologies, (natural language processing, chatbots, data analytics and the like), “to make it easier for small business owners to navigate the modern Awards system.” That’s Awards as in employment terms and conditions. Cynics suggest AI is needed to explain a system beyond mortal ken.

The Australian Research Council held an induction Monday for new members of the College of Experts, “helping them understand their new roles in identifying research excellence.”  Perhaps there was advice on dealing with the challenge of way too little money for projects that make the consideration cut. Just 16 per cent of new Discovery Program applications are funded – an all-time low as far as Future Campus can tell.

Now universities must report student support programs to the Feds, work by Helen Christensen (UNSW) and Svetha Venkatesh (Deakin U) will be in demand.  They are trialling VibeUp, a smartphone app designed to help with distress, which uses AI to allocate people to one of three therapies, variously using mindfulness, physical activity and sleep hygiene.

They have just under $5m from the Medical Research Future Fund for the project.

Monash U also announces a mental health app for staff and students called Thrive. “Users can see trends in their mood, and access resources on many aspects of wellbeing,” is the pitch.

The Australian Education Research Organisation invites nominations to its 250 member First Nations education advisory group.

As the pandemic began to take us we knew not where, Vice-Chancellors argued universities met the fall of income test (30 per cent of GST attracting revenue) for the Commonwealth’s JobKeeper emergency wage payment.  La Trobe U, Swinburne U and Uni Sydney urged staff to apply.

The government said the system did not qualify – pointing to the government funding that kept flowing (Campus Morning Mail April 27 2020). Cue outrage – “we obtained independent legal advice which unequivocally confirmed our eligibility for JobKeeper. We sought assistance under the scheme because we care about our staff,” La Trobe U VC John Dewar said (Campus Morning Mail, April 27 2020).

But now an independent evaluation of JobKeeper for Treasury, by former official Nigel Ray finds, “exclusions of significantly funded government sectors, such as public schools and universities and many childcare providers, was appropriate. In principle, sector-focussed policies tailored to the specific challenges and needs of these organisations would have been more appropriate forms of support than JobKeeper. In many cases, sector-specific support was available. The appropriateness and effectiveness or otherwise of these packages is beyond the scope of the evaluation.”

The decision did Uni Sydney management a favour. Without wage subsidies, it still managed a modest $10m operating profit in 2020 and underlying surplus of $450m in ’21, a swag of which came from Commonwealth emergency funding for research, to replace lost international student income.

The Shanghai Rankings’ 2023 lists of the top universities in 55 subjects is out. The US leads with 30 top places. All up, universities in the US are listed 4,318 times, from China 3,390 and the UK 1,564.

Uni Melbourne is one of five universities on more than 50 subject lists, with Zhejiang U, National U of Singapore, Sun Yat-sen U and Uni British Columbia.  

Now the new requirements for universities to support students struggling with study have passed Parliament, Universities Australia is working through the operational issues.

UA reports meeting DoE, “to discuss the sector’s concerns around the guidelines underpinning the government’s support for students policy.”  UA’s Catriona Jackson says the department commits to a working group on the guidelines for the new policy “to ensure they are appropriate and implementable.” And she raises two particular issues. How university’s existing policies can meet requirements and the “potential conflict” between the guidelines as covered by the Higher Education Support Act and compliance with provider threshold standards, regulated by Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency.

“We are very focused on prevention through education and awareness-raising,” Fair Work Ombudsman Anna Booth told Senate Estimate last week, about universities not paying staff correctly. “It’s early days for me in stakeholder consultation, but I intend to meet with the Higher Education Industrial Association as well as the National Tertiary Education Union to discuss these matters further,” she said. Ye gods – with 23 “open active” FWO investigations involving universities, if managements are not across the problem now, it might be time for less discussing and more laying down the law.

After 21 years, the Swinburne U-based Analysis and Policy Observatory (Australian Policy On-Line as was) is set to close November 15. The University is ending funding and there is no new host prepared to support the $300,000 a year operation. It’s been a while coming. In June last year APO director Brigid van Wanrooy warned its “future is at risk.” 

Domestic graduates (70 per cent) have a 10 per cent lead on professional employment over internationals (on temporary entry visas) three years after completing courses, according to a new Jobs and Skills Australia analysis of existing data. 

But one in five of both groups was working part time.

JSA also reports the highest employment rates (94 per cent – 96 per cent) for international grads are in healthcare, medicine, psychology, health services and support, nursing and social work.

And there is no apparent over-supply, at least in terms of all levels of employment, for international graduates in business and STEM. While they make up a third of the total of each broad category, just over 90 per cent in both are working.

The Australian Research Council announces 421 Discovery Project Grants, with a 16 per cent success rate, marginally down on last November’s 18 per cent (but that was of a bigger pool). In 2020 the success rate was 23 per cent.

The Group of Eight picked up 268 in Monday’s announcement, in-line with what its members usually secure. The big five account for nearly half, (Monash U: 51, Uni Melbourne: 47, UNSW: 38, Uni Queensland: 39, Uni Sydney, 36).

The discipline mix is much as usual, engineering leads with 20, biology and biomedical have 24 between them and psychology eight. Economics  and Human Society have two each. But AI has arrived – with 16 projects involving it funded (see separate story).

ARC also announces funding for the Linkage (coop research) Programme’s infrastructure function, acronymed as LIEF. The success rate for this super-series science scheme is 34 per cent, with 35 projects picking up $28m of the $31m they asked for. Some 17 universities won funding, with neighbours Uni Sydney (six) and UNSW (eight) eating half the pie.

Summaries of successful projects is HERE.

Curtin U announces it is partnering with energy giant Chevron on a natural gas research facility that “could significantly shape future offshore projects.”  Apparently natural gas is vital to transition to clean energy. They do things differently in the west – there are universities in the east where such an announcement could generate campus protest.

There’s an aspiring private medical school that hopes, regulators permitting, to start teaching a graduate degree in 2026.

It’s New Medical Education Australia Pty Ltd, which has eight staff working on accreditation by TEQSA and the Australian Medical Council, in conjunction with Oceania University of Medicine, in Samoa and its agent, EMed Pty Ltd.

The company has been in the Fair Work Commission, in an unfair dismissal matter, which it won.



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