Hire academics based on qualifications, not birthplace, says president of Hong Kong university




Universities should hire academics based on their expertise without regard to their nationality or birthplace, the head of a tertiary education institution in Hong Kong has suggested in the wake of the controversial appointment of two mainland Chinese professors at the city’s top university.Knowledge and leadership skills were among the main criteria in deciding whether to recruit teachers, said the president of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Professor Wei Shyy, on Thursday…



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Kylie Moore-Gilbert moved from Iran’s Qarchak prison, but Australian academic’s current location unknown


Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert has reportedly been moved from Iran’s notorious Qarchak prison to an unknown location.

Friends of Dr Moore-Gilbert said contacts in Iran told them she had been taken somewhere else with all her belongings over the weekend.

Similar reports had been issued by the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) in Iran.

Jessie Moritz, who is a friend of Dr Moore-Gilbert’s, said they were worried about what has happened to her.

“It is very concerning not to know where she is,” she told the ABC.

“We are probably not going to know for another couple of days which is going to be a stressful period of just waiting and hoping.”

Dr Moore-Gilbert, who was a lecturer at the University of Melbourne, was arrested in Tehran in September 2018.

She was sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage, charges she and the Australian Government reject.

Location unknown

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) will not confirm if the reports are correct.

The ABC put specific questions about Dr Moore-Gilbert’s whereabouts to DFAT but a spokeswoman instead issued a generic statement.

“The Government’s continuing efforts to secure Dr Moore-Gilbert’s release are an absolute priority,” the statement said.

“Our Ambassador in Tehran has regular consular access to Dr Moore-Gilbert.”

Ms Moritz has urged DFAT to shed some light on the situation.

“Regular consular access can mean once every couple of months, it does not mean every day or every week, it is not particularly specific,” she said.

“I understand there is a need for secrecy around these types of cases to an extent but I would really call on the Australian Government to ensure that she is safe and that they do have access to her at this time.”

The Australian Director of Human Rights Watch Elaine Pearson said there are too many unknowns.

“One hopes that the move from that prison is good news but we don’t know where she has been moved to and we don’t know why,” Ms Pearson said.

“We know from her letters that she has suffered and endured quite a lot in prison.

“We know that the conditions with COVID are very bad in Iran.”

Iran is in the grip of its third coronavirus outbreak and Qarchak prison has battled to contain an outbreak among inmates and guards at the prison.

More than two years behind bars

A satellite image of a complex surrounded by desert.
Qarchak Prison has been described by some as one of the most dangerous in Iran due to inhumane conditions.(Supplied: Google Earth)

Foreign Minister Marise Payne has previously stated that securing Dr Moore-Gilbert’s release was an “absolute priority.”

“We don’t accept the charges upon which she is detained and we continue to make that case,” she said earlier this year.

Dr Moore-Gilbert has spent most of her time since her 2018 arrest in solitary confinement in Evin Prison and was transferred to Qarchak Women’s Prison a few months ago.

The prison has been described by some as one of the most dangerous in Iran due to its inhumane medical and psychological conditions.

Australia’s Ambassador to Iran, Lyndall Sachs, visited Dr Moore-Gilbert in August and DFAT issued a statement shortly after that stated she was doing OK.

“Dr Moore-Gilbert is well and has access to food, medical facilities and books,” the statement said.

However, details about the Australian academic have since been sparse.



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Australia’s historic French connections revealed through Flinders University academic’s research


Scientific historians at Flinders University have revealed little-known facts about France’s unwavering commitment to research and discovery in Australia throughout the turbulent 18th and early 19th century.

Biologist, scientific historian and author Danielle Clode said new research, in collaboration with French academic Dr Christele Maizonniaux, shared at the South Australian Maritime Museum this week, detailed France’s professional approach to scientific discoveries in Australia.

“They took specimens back to French museums where they provided an important foundation for Australian biology and conservation, particularly in botany and marine biology.”

Dr Clode said during the colonisation period the French were not quite as interested in colonisation as the English turned out to be.

Dr Clode says unlike the British, France saw Australia as something new and interesting.(Supplied: Danielle Clode)

“Because they didn’t colonise Australia, they also looked at Australia in a different way,” she said.

Josephine’s exotic garden

Dr Clode said many French expeditions led to explorers taking a lot of species back to France, rather than settling in Australia.

An old styled painting of an affluent woman sitting on a couch in front of a luscious garden.
Josephine de Beauharnais was a keen plant collector.(Supplied: Danielle Clode)

“Josephine was the wife of Napoleon and she’s well known as the one that was divorced because she couldn’t have a son for him.”

Josephine de Beauharnais, as she was also known, was a keen plant collector and transformed the Chateau de Malmaison’s garden, where she lived with Napoleon, to exhibit exotic plants and animals.

The garden included a heated greenhouse where she was able to cultivate plants that wouldn’t have otherwise survived in European weather.

Chateau de Malmaison with a luscious garden in the foreground.
Josephine de Beauharnais transformed the Chateau de Malmaison’s garden which housed many Australian plant species.(Flickr)

“She was a really interesting person in her own right. She survived the revolution,” Dr Clode said.

An old sketch or a painting of a family of emus with chicks.
Nicolas Baudin provided many Australian species to Josephine’s garden and the Natural History Museum, Paris.(Supplied: Danielle Clode)

Explorer Nicolas Baudin, who completed the final piece of Australian coastline mapping from Wilsons Promontory in Victoria to Adelaide, also supplied thousands of plant species to the Natural History Museum in Paris.

“He was employed to do his journey, because he was a specialist at bringing back live specimens,” Dr Clode said,”

“The French had a very particular approach to science, they were very organised.

Baudin expedition samples of species collected
Some of the remaining18,000 species taken to France during Nicolas Baudin’s 1800-1804 scientific expedition of Australia, file photo.(ABC News: Briana Shepherd)

Coastal inspiration

Dr Clode said her own academic work was inspired by her upbringing on the Eyre Peninsula, while living on a boat in Port Lincoln.

An old photograph of a young blonde girl smiling with her school uniform on a the deck of a boat.
Dr Clode grew up on the Eyre Peninsula.(Supplied: Danielle Clode)

“I was always really fascinated by the idea that the Eyre Peninsula and Kangaroo Island also had this French history,” she said.



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‘Picking winners’ will not solve skills shortages: academics


Peter Hurley, the institute’s education policy fellow, said the clearest link between education and employment was getting a TAFE or university qualification in any subject.

“What is more important is the level of your qualification,” he said. “People with post-secondary qualifications have much lower levels of unemployment than those who do not.

“Rather than trying to funnel people into certain degrees or areas of study, Australia would be better making lots of viable post-secondary options available and then let people make the choice that is best for them,” he said.

Mr Hurley said employment growth in business, health and social science disciplines was greater than in the STEM-related occupations the government was targeting.

“You are better off increasing the capacity across the whole tertiary sector rather than trying to pick winners,” he said.

Richard Holden, a professor of economics at the University of NSW, said the key to filling skills shortages including in nursing was to improve wages and conditions.

“If you want to get more people into a certain occupation, you should make the pay and conditions better in that occupation,” he said. “It’s no more complicated than that.

“Doing it through what people pay on a deferred loan basis through HECS through their education is a very roundabout way to do it.”

Professor Holden said universities would find students in lower fee-paying courses in STEM disciplines “less attractive” because they would get about $4500 per student per year less than they do now.

“This idea that people with arts degrees don’t have good employment outcomes is not supported by the evidence,” he said.

“I think that government winner-picking has been a failure when it comes to industry policy.”

UNSW economist Richard Holden says improving wages and conditions is a better way to address skills shortages.

Federal Labor MP Andrew Leigh, a former economics professor at the Australian National University, said research by Harvard University professor of public policy David Deming had suggested people who develop a very narrow set of skills at university earn more in the short term but less in the longer term.

“Conversely, if you have a broad set of skills like life/physical sciences or social sciences, then the wage returns are smaller in your 20s but higher in your 40s and 50s,” he said.

Dr Leigh said the government’s decision to discourage people studying social science and humanities subjects was based on their earnings in the early years after graduation. He said that in the long term, people who could adapt to a new role when technology closed down their existing occupation would earn more than people too specialised to find new work.

He said technology could also quickly render narrow skills redundant.

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“The best way of being nimble when the labour market changes is to have a broad base of skills,” he said.

Dr Leigh has also published research showing that higher salaries attract more people into occupations such as teaching.

Professor John Buchanan, head of business analytics at the University of Sydney Business School, said nurse shortages were related to low retention rates which could be addressed through better wages and conditions.

“It is that we don’t keep them,” he said. “If you really want to do something about that particular profession, do something about paying them properly and giving them decent working conditions and having decent staffing levels.”

Annie Butler, federal secretary of the Australian Nurses and Midwifery Association, said she welcomed reduced course fees for students but said there was no shortage of graduates. She said more job places for graduates were needed.

“We don’t have any problem with people wanting to get into the courses,” she said. “We continue to see an increase in graduates every year. The big issue that is we need to get them into secure, meaningful employment.

“There’s little point putting public investment at the front end if we are not reaping the rewards of that investment and making sure we have a secure workforce for the future.”

Minister for Education Dan Tehan said Australia was facing the biggest jobs crisis since the Great Depression and the federal government would increase university places for domestic students by 39,000 in 2023 and 100,000 in 10 years.

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“That means more Australian students will get a university degree, which is a good thing,” he said.

“When the student contribution for maths and sciences was reduced in 2009, the number of students applying to study science grew from 13,795 to 26,272 in 2012.

“Based on university data provided by the sector to Deloitte, the government has better aligned the cost to students and the taxpayer of teaching a degree with the revenue a university receives to teach that degree.

“Students studying arts can reduce their total student contribution by choosing electives in subjects such as mathematics, English, science and IT within their degree.”

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Academics in talks to take pay cuts to save thousands of university jobs during coronavirus pandemic


Secret negotiations are underway involving dozens of Australian universities, with the nation’s most senior academics among thousands volunteering for pay cuts in a bid to save the sector.

In backroom talks, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and 38 Australian universities are proposing a salary cut of between 5 and 15 per cent to all full-time ongoing staff in the hope it will shore up 12,000 jobs.

“Higher education in this country is facing the biggest crisis it’s ever faced,” NTEU president Alison Barnes said.

Universities Australia, which represents Australia’s 39 public universities, has estimated coronavirus revenue losses for the year at $3 to $4.6 billion.

With only a modest relief package offered by the Federal Government, the universities and the union initiated the historic negotiations.

“Our union intervened to prevent the collapse of tertiary education in Australia and secure the livelihoods of 12,000 university workers,” Dr Barnes said.

Vice-chancellor of Charles Sturt University and president of Australian Higher Education Industrial Association, Andrew Vann, has been representing the 38 universities, in concert with three other vice-chancellors from the group.

“It hasn’t been done before, so in that sense it is [historic],” Professor Vann said.

“It’s a reflection of the times we find ourselves in. Plainly the impact of coronavirus has been enormous across the whole world. Universities are not immune from that.”

Professor Vann is hopeful the negotiations are close to concluding.

In return for the pay cuts, vice-chancellors will need to agree that no university employee will be involuntarily stood down without pay, superannuation will not be affected and redundancies will only occur under strict conditions.

The unions will only agree to the temporary pay cuts for staff if management also agrees to take a haircut.

Universities must also reveal their financial accounts to the union if they wish to be part of the agreement.

Universities Australia declined to comment.

Union members and universities yet to agree

To change enterprise agreements, individual universities will have to agree to the changes, as will NTEU members in a vote.

“Firstly universities are going to have to go through this carefully and make sure that it fits with their circumstances,” Professor Vann said.

“Most universities have been fairly heavily impacted by COVID but there are some that have been less affected and they may think it’s not worth actually doing it.”

Professor Vann would not be drawn on how many or which of Australia’s universities would be interested in signing on to the changes.

The NTEU also conceded it was unclear what the outcome would be in a vote of its members.

If negotiations continue to progress, the vote is likely to take place in the coming weeks.

Charles Sturt University Vice Chancellor, Professor Andrew Vann, standing near a poster of the new CSU logo, launched in 2019.
Professor Andrew Vann is leading the negotiations on behalf of 38 universities.(ABC Riverina: Melinda Hayter)

The NTEU is also demanding the Federal Government provide an extra $4.5 billion in funding to guarantee the other 18,000 jobs in the 30,000-strong sector.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan has previously said the package he announced on Easter Sunday is the entirety of the COVID-19 relief the Government plans to offer.

The Federal Government has moved three times to ensure universities are unable to access its $130 billion JobKeeper program.

Mr Tehan has been sceptical of the need for a wider bailout in recent months, saying universities have good reserves as a result of both international student revenue and good governance.

“While they’ve taken in revenue from international students, and they get revenue from domestic students, these boards have invested very wisely, they’ve got reserves,” he said.

“So one of the things that gives me a great level of confidence is that this sector is very well managed.”

But the union said universities had been deserted.

“If universities close, in for example regional areas, who is going to produce the cures for diseases like COVID-19? Who is going to produce innovative and new technology? “We need our universities to be robust and viable,” Dr Barnes said.

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