The Week That Was (22 March)

The NSW Parliament passes a bill banning force swim and smoke inhalation in research using rodents, which sound horrible. The National Health and Medical Research Council apparently saw it coming, advising  against using either with its money just before Christmas.


Wearing his Universities Australia hat, David Lloyd (Uni SA VC) has questions about how the all-but announced Australian Tertiary Education Commission will work. He also wants his members to be involved in designing it. In the released text of a speech yesterday he asked.

  • How big will it be?
  • How far will its powers extend?
  • Will it add value or just add another layer of red tape?
  • How will it differ to the functions already within the Department of Education?
  • Does it make sense for the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency and the Australian Research Council to sit within the ATEC structure?
  • Is it a permanent body or does it have a finite life span?

“I urge the Government to include the sector in any design process around such significant structural reform,” he said.

If the government adopts the O’Kane Accord’s recommendations for the commission as is, some of Professor Lloyd’s questions are already answered, including the extent of its authority – to infinity and beyond is the short answer.

(In Future Campus, Monday – what the TEC will be; “too powerful for any HE lobby to take on and too much trouble for any conservative minister to fight.”)


Western Sydney U announces the second cohort of teaching academics appointed under a program to create careers for casuals caught in the precariat. There were 30 appointments last year and 60 this; with the ’24 group teaching in disciplines including nursing, education and social sciences. All up, the university plans to appoint 150 FTE positions. It is the outcome of a precedent-setting enterprise agreement deal negotiated by now outgoing Vice-Chancellor Barney Glover and National Tertiary Education Union branch president David Burchell (Campus Morning Mail July 26 2022).

The news was followed by University of Sydney announcing 250 “education focused” positions by 2026 – starting with 55 internal appointments and 150 being advertised. This appears to follow last year’s enterprise agreement, which committed the university to reducing casual academic work and expanding continuing academic staff (Campus Morning Mail June 9 2023). University management has long been keen to grow teaching staff who do not have the once-standard 40 per cent time allocation for research – an attribute still fiercely defended by the National Tertiary Education Union. VC Mark Scott made management’s position plain on this when he started.

“I suspect some flexibility here is valuable, to allow some to be specialist teachers, others to be specialist researchers, and for us to be able to ensure that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach across an industrial agreement may not be the best outcome for our researchers, our teachers and the university as a whole,” (CMM August 10 2021).


Ryan Winn is incoming CEO of lobby Science and Technology Australia, starting in  May. He moves from the Australian Council of Learned Academies.

Sceptics suggest the Accord’s vision for “a more seamless tertiary education system” may join the less-bunch-than-inflorescence of ideas for voced reform that have bloomed and/or withered across the decades. Now where do you suppose they would get that idea? Maybe from contemplating the update to the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research’s timeline of VET policy initiatives, 1998-2023. You can’t fault a generation of officials for being game to have a go – even if much of their well-intended effort went nowhere.


Microsoft announces an agreement that will help Uni Sydney “harness the power of AI for good.”  But just not yet. There’s a memorandum of understanding to increase their understanding of the other’s AI capabilities, using this information as the basis for ongoing collaboration. Which puts Uni Sydney behind Monash U College, which has a partnership with Microsoft that “will not only elevate the standard of AI education but also offer an extensive suite of Microsoft certifications and badges.”


The Senate Committee inquiring into the Defence Trade Controls Amendment Bill has recommended its passage ahead of schedule, creating an opportunity to shut critics out by passing the bill this month. Other than the Budget sitting, the Upper House is not back until June.

The Bill creates two tiers of defence research partners; AUKUS and all others. Defence content can be shared with organisations in the US and UK but permission from DoD is needed for anybody anywhere else, (Future Campus February 14).

The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee’s report sums up opposition to the bill; “whether it strikes the optimal balance between national security and international trade and research collaboration. Viewed in this light, concerns voiced by stakeholders are largely centred on perceived unintended consequences, such as low-risk research and industry disciplines being captured by the proposed measures.”

The committee deals with concerns in recommendations that do not change the bill’s purpose including,

  • a definition of fundamental research, “whatever that might be” in the bill itself
  • for the Department of Defence to allay concerns held by people who fear being caught by the bill’s requirements.

To which Greens Senator David Shoebridge responded that the bill “is dangerously undercooked … it is almost as though whenever the words ‘national security’ are uttered by a government the Parliament ceases critical thought.” 


In the US, Jill Barshay reports on US Government investment in school education innovation, which mainly does not work. The analysis by the federal DoE that Barshay cites states that 39 of 101 grants had one or more statistically significant positive effects for students and no negative ones.  No harm in trying, budget impact aside.

Susan Templeman (Labor NSW) spoke in the Reps the other day about “placement poverty,”- which slugs students who have to give up job while they do work pracs as part of a course, like her son Harry who is studying to be a primary school teacher. “This is one

of the things we need to do to help students with the cost of living and to help people from poorer backgrounds get through uni and not quit simply because they can’t afford to do their compulsory placement,” she said. Gosh, Future Campus wonders,  could there be something about this in the budget?


The bill enacting most of the recommendations in the Sheil Review of the Australian Research Council Act has passed the Senate, where there was more of the same from the Greens and coalition – which will suit the government just fine. 

Opposition Senators fulminated that there would not be enough  Ministerial oversight of research funding. The Greens complained that there would be too much. Both sets were playing to their respective bases while the government got what it surely wanted.

The  debate made the Coalition look hostile to any ideas which will not improve combine harvester technology. The Greens wanting more independence for the ARC’s new Board makes them look like they oppose the idea of researchers having to answer to anybody actually elected.

The Government comes out looking balanced and moderate, plus the Bill actually leaves the Minister in charge. The Bill allows vetoes of research funding, “when the Minister has concerns related to the research program’s impact on security, defence, or international relations,” which could mean whatever a Minister with an imaginative research advisor wants. More important, the Bill also gives the Minister the power to pick projects from three design applied research Linkage Programmes as long as they meet process requirements.

The overall result is that the Government will have applied research to promote, thus stealing the Coalition’s thunder, while appearing to respect researchers, starving the Greens (the real opposition on HE issues) of oxygen.


Ever since the WA Government announced a universities merger inquiry, Murdoch U has assiduously announced achievements. Like the exhibition from its art collection, now on at Parliament House, which may demonstrate what a splendid job it is doing un-merged. Given MPs would have to vote on legislation to merge MU with another uni, (Curtin is widely mentioned) this might help. Just not with Parliamentarians who wonder why a university that ran a $37m loss on $365m continuing income in 2022 has an art collection at all.


Charles Darwin U continues its long march to a med school with news that the university is working to develop Western Sydney U’s medicine curriculum for the Northern Territory. It is the outcome of work by the pair that started in August 2022. The process is taking longer than CDU’s Scott Bowman hoped – he originally wanted med students enrolled by 2023. But it is starting to look like a certainty. In March the national Department of Health granted CDU $2.8m for “preliminary work to explore the establishment” of an NT med school.



Sign Up for Our Newsletter

Subscribe to us to always stay in touch with us and get latest news, insights, jobs and events!