Thursday, May 01, 2008


Lots of news from the education scene in Australia at the moment so I am concentrating on articles in that realm today


Two current articles belolw:

An incompetent but hungry university boss

A recent comment from "The Australian" below. Disclosure: I have personal knowledge that many who knew O'Connor as a mediocre but ambitious academic at the University of Queensland were amazed when he was appointed VC by Griffith. I am myself a graduate of the University of Queensland

Would Ian O'Connor pass an undergraduate course? Compare and contrast these two paragraphs: "The primary doctrine of Unitarianism is Tawhid, or the uniqueness and unity of God. Wahhab also preached against a perceived moral decline and political weakness in the Arabian peninsula and condemned idolatry, the popular cult of saints, and shrine and tomb visitation." And: "The primary doctrine of Wahhabism is Tawhid, or the uniqueness and unity of God ... He preached against a 'perceived moral decline and political weakness' in the Arabian peninsula and condemned idolatry, the popular cult of saints, and shrine and tomb visitation."

The first appeared in The Australian on Thursday under the byline of Professor Ian O'Connor, vice-chancellor of Griffith University. The second is from Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia blocked by some secondary schools to discourage students from sloppy research.

A former social worker who climbed the academic ladder rapidly, Professor O'Connor has admitted lifting the information and confusing strands of Islam. His stumbles came in attempting to defend his university's imprudent decision to ask for more than a million dollars from the repressive Saudi Arabian Government.

Professor O'Connor also appears to have breached his university's standards on plagiarism. If sprung, a student doing the same thing would surely be reprimanded. Many a career, including that of former Monash University vice-chancellor, Professor David Robinson, has been cut short through more serious allegations of the same behaviour. In 2002, Professor Robinson stood down after claims he plagiarised material for a book published 20 years earlier.

On the Griffith website, Professor O'Connor says the slip-up was not intentional and that his article "was not as a piece of academic scholarship" and "therefore did not follow normal citation methods used in academic publications". Not good enough for a vice-chancellor. The fully referenced version of the article also appears on the Griffith website. Three of the seven references are to Wikipedia, which in most institutions, including secondary schools, would earn a "D" for effort.

Professor O'Connor should heed the advice of his underling, Griffith University Council member Dr Dwight Zakus -- a senior lecturer in the Department of Tourism, Leisure, Hotel and Sports Management. He said he "strongly discouraged" his students from using Wikipedia because it is "a blog site, you can add and change (the information) and you're not sure of the veracity of the information there".

Professor O'Connor has yet to justify his taking the begging bowl to a repressive regime that punishes by stoning, beheading and amputation, and bars women from driving and most forms of normal life. Worse still, his university offered the Saudis a say in how the money would be spent then offered to keep it all secret. Academic freedom, like most basic freedoms, is anathema to the Saudis, who have no place influencing Islamic studies in Australia.


Saudi funds not a secret deal: Abdalla

The Griffith University academic at the heart of a funding controversy has defended the decision to accept $100,000 from the repressive Saudi Arabian Government to help finance Islamic studies. Mohamad Abdalla told the HES the money for the Griffith Islamic research unit he leads had come with no strings attached, had been acquired openly and without secrecy and there was nothing wrong with it. But he conceded the furore over a separate tranche of funding he sought - $1.37 million - had given him pause for thought. Were the Saudis to approve the money, he would recommend the university not accept it. "I would say no, don't take the money," Dr Abdalla said.

Dismissing as farcical the idea that accepting money from the Saudi Government could compromise the unit, he would not rule out accepting further funds from the same source at a later time, when the furore had died down. "If they offer it I will consider it," Dr Abdalla said.

Debate rose over the funding when The Australian's Richard Kerbaj revealed the Saudis had been offered some discretion in how the money would be spent and had also been offered anonymity over the donation. When vice-chancellor Ian O'Connor defended the university's pursuit of Saudi funding in an opinion article, he came under fire for using Wikipedia as a main source and for his confused interpretation of Islam.

Under fire for the propriety of his actions, Dr Abdalla was also forced to deny he was the Brisbane leader of the contentious Tablighi Jamaat movement, as had been reported. Although sympathetic to its ideals and acknowledging the group was represented at the Kuraby mosque, where he was a leader, he was not one of its leaders, he said.

Commentators who bought into the debate included Stephen Crittenden of the ABC's The Religion Report, who wrote: "What the Saudi Government really wants is the legitimacy that comes from being associated with a Western university. There is not a shred of evidence that it has any interest in progressive reform." The Australian Strategic Policy Institute's National Security Project director Carl Ungerer was also among those incredulous that any donation from Saudi Arabia would be considered acceptable. "It is naive to think that Saudi Arabian funding is not going to be problematic given we know the Saudi Government and its agencies have funded Wahhabist educational institutions around the world," Dr Ungerer said. "It's one of the major problems we have in the ongoing 'hearts and minds' campaign in the Muslim world."

Another Muslim academic, the University of Melbourne's Sultan of Oman professor of Arab and Islamic studies Abdullah Saeed, is an associate of Dr Abdalla through their joint involvement in the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies and agreed funding was a sensitive area. "In the current climate one has to be very careful," Professor Saeed, the centre's lead director, said.

The Australian also reported last week that the Higher Education Funding Council for England was concerned about Saudi funding and the US Congress was examining Saudi donations to colleges. MI5 had also reportedly warned Prime Minister Gordon Brown that funding from Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries had caused a "dangerous increase in the spread of extremism in leading university campuses". At the same time The Guardian newspaper reported that HEFCE was considering a virtual centre of excellence networking academics, faith and community Islamic groups to boost Islamic studies.

The controversy has also drawn out defenders of Dr Abdalla. The Queensland Forum for Christians, Jews and Muslims praised his "ability to build bridges between the Muslim community and people of other faiths" and said it was "greatly saddened to see Dr Abdalla's integrity questioned". Uniting Church of Queensland moderator David Pitman said DrAbdalla was "an outstanding scholar and a person of great integrity" making a significant contribution to the life of the nation.

Islamic Council of Queensland president Suliman Sabdia, on behalf of 13 other signatories,wrote a letter to The Australian warning a repercussion of the reporting of the issue "could be increasing Islamophobia and a consequent decline in thousands of Muslim students coming to Australia, not only to study but also to experience our way of life".


Political correctness betrays migrant students

Migrant graduates are failing to get jobs because they can't speak much English -- but they have enough English to get an Australian university degree! How come? Because it would be "discriminatory" for the university to notice how well they speak English! In one recent case my alma mater hired a Chinese lecturer to teach law despite the fact that the students he was allegedly teaching could not understand a word of his version of English! How stupid can you get?

Another problem is that an unofficial "affirmative action" policy prevails -- less is asked of students from Asia -- which, as always, just devalues their qualifications

Fewer than a quarter of young, degree-educated migrants are finding skilled or professional jobs in their areas of study, and graduates are leaving university with poor academic standards and minimal English. A study by Monash University academics Bob Birrell and Ernest Healy found the problem was particularly acute among students from non-English-speaking backgrounds who had studied at Australian universities. Only 22 per cent of Australian-trained graduates aged between 20 and 29 who were migrants from non-English speaking countries were in professional roles in 2006. The figure compared with 57 per cent for English-speaking migrants and 64 per cent for Australian-born graduates.

The study suggests skilled migrants are satisfying immigration and university officials about the usefulness of their qualifications, but are failing to convince employers.

Overall, 38 per cent of skilled migrants were in professional roles in 2006, Professor Birrell said. But just 29 per cent of migrants from non-English-speaking countries found professional work. This compared with 63 per cent of skilled migrants from English-speaking countries.

Professor Birrell said the figures, which are based on census data, showed the skilled migration program was failing in its fundamental objective of combating the skills crisis. He said the students' poor English skills and the application of diminished academic standards were the main reasons universities were producing overseas graduates with skills and qualifications that were of little interest to employers. "The biggest problem is poor English and the lack of occupational experience," Professor Birrell said. "It also raises questions about courses that are being reduced in demand or complexity to cater for overseas-trained students."

The study, to be published in the Monash journal People and Place, looked at 212,812 degree-qualified migrants who arrived in Australia between 2001 and 2006. Of those, 90,416 were aged 20 to 29, most of them former overseas students who had studied in Australia. The remaining 122,396 migrants were aged 30 to 64. In both categories, most came from non-English speaking backgrounds. Young Chinese students fared the worst, with only 16 per cent working in professional roles.

Professor Birrell said many of the young, Australian-educated migrants took degrees in accounting, one of the professions most in demand, but only a minority ended up working as accountants. He called for a review of the way the skilled migration program was administered.


Taunts at Chinese Australian kids centre of complaint

PLAYGROUND taunts against Chinese Australian children are at the centre of a major court battle over complaints of school racism. A family has taken its case to the Supreme Court after three brothers were allegedly derided with comments including "ching chong Chinaman" at their Sydney primary school. The trio, aged 7, 9 and 10 at the time and who cannot be identified, claim the playground "bullies" teased them repeatedly, saying they hated Asians and Asian restaurants should be bombed to make way for "McDonald's and Kentucky Fried outlets".' The oldest was also allegedly threatened with a pair of scissors by a boy who said: "I'm going to kill you."

The Education Department has been fighting the case since the allegations were first made to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board in 2000. The family is taking Supreme Court action in a bid to have the case reopened in the Administrative Decisions Tribunal - and the outcome could have serious ramifications for schools across the state. It follows the landmark $1 million award to bullying victim Benjamin Cox after it was found the department had failed to protect him in the '60s.

After an ADT hearing two years ago the family of Chinese descent was awarded $6000 in damages and the school - Excelsior Public at Castle Hill - was ordered to apologise. But the decision was overturned on appeal last year when it was ruled teachers could not be held liable if they failed to respond to racist insults in the playground. Teachers said they did not believe the gibes were racist because they were "silly talk" between children.

The department said the boys responsible had been disciplined but the school was accused of failing to provide a safe learning environment. Staff said the case put teachers under extreme stress, raising complex issues around the context in which playground comments become racist. A departmental spokesman said discrimination of any kind against students or staff in public schools and TAFEs was not tolerated [Except when it is]. "Comprehensive policies, including tough disciplinary measures, have been developed to handle such cases. The ADT appeal panel found the department appropriately handled events occurring almost 10 years ago," he said.

Teachers' Federation president Maree O'Halloran said a Supreme Court decision could change department guidelines.


High quality education for all?

That's what Leftists will tell you government schools are for -- but it is not so, never has been and never will be. Reality is not like that

Proximity to sought-after primary schools in Brisbane's dress circle suburbs has become the latest must-have selling point in the tough property market.

Just being in the catchment area for the most popular schools can add up to $70,000 to the value of your house, say agents - and buyers are lining up.

At both Wilston and Ascot state schools - and others such as Eagle Junction - the desperation to get their children on the rolls has been so great parents have been known to lie and cheat to succeed. "They fight fiercely to get in," one agent said. Fake addresses were one ploy, or getting a lease and breaking it after a month; using friends' houses as a mailing address, or even granny flats, guest cottages, business offices and investment properties have been used in a bid to get proof-of-residence documents.

Some parents said, apart from the schools' reputations, there was a social benefit in getting their children on the roll at blue-chip state schools. Not only is it good for the kids but parents get to rub shoulders with Brisbane's business and social elite. One mother of an Ascot child said: "It's one of the only private schools you don't pay fees for."

Education Minister Rod Welford said it was "extreme" for people to buy into a particular area simply because of the name of the primary school. "Most schools are within range of each other in terms of the quality of education," Mr Welford said.

But residential research director at RP Data Tim Lawless said it was clear the demand for properties within well regarded public school zones had a profound influence on property prices. "Take the example of Wilston where the local state school enjoys an enviable reputation. Median house prices within the suburb of Wilston have risen by 18.7 per cent over the last year and by 13.5 per cent per annum (on average) over the last five years," Mr Lawless he said. Agent and the mother of an Ascot student, Kim Josephson said the catchment was a primary motivator for many buyers. "If they have $2 million to spend they may buy a lesser house in the Ascot catchment rather than a better one outside," she said. "There is a nice sense of community. It would be easy to paint it as shallow and cliquey, but that has not been my experience at all. My little boy is getting a lovely education there."

Wilston State School principal Leann Griffith-Baker said she saw the school being used to market properties within its catchment every week and put it down to academic excellence and a sense of community. She said parents made a huge financial commitment to buy in the area and some had moved a few streets just to get into the catchment. "But people do invest for schools in the private ranks as well. When they apply to Gregory Terrace of St whatever they pay $1000 just to get on the waiting list," she said.

According to agent Liz Fell there's a huge demand for Wilston's catchment. "I've got two buyers who have been on my books for six to eight months. They won't compromise on being in the catchment even though Windsor, down the road, is a good school. "If you're in walking distance it's an even hotter prospect."


The reliable high standards of government schools (NOT)

The Torres Stait and Cape York areas are primarily inhabited by blacks (Sorry: "Indigenous people"). The Leftist Queensland government is big on talk about black welfare but deeds speak louder than words -- revealing once again what Leftists REALLY think about blacks

TEACHERS in the Torres Strait will be the first to strike this week over "untenable living conditions" in far north Queensland. Some teachers on Cape York have been without hot water since the beginning of the year while many throughout north Queensland face security issues. Broken locks, security doors and airconditioners, mouldy furniture and collapsed water-damaged walls and floors are all common teacher complaints, according to the Queensland Teachers' Union.

QTU state secretary Steve Ryan said an extra $5 million for maintenance and housing stock was needed to lift living standards to an acceptable level. Stop work meetings will be held from 2pm to 3pm tomorrow in the Torres Strait. Teachers around Cape York and the Gulf of Carpentaria will stop work on Wednesday between 2pm and 3pm. Mr Ryan said they will call on the State Government to guarantee sufficient, secure and regularly maintained accommodation backed by a significant funding increase in the state budget. Rolling 24-hour stoppages will be considered if that funding is not increased.


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