Archive for April, 2010

National conference addresses change in rural communities

April 28th, 2010

A three-day national conference in Narrabri last week highlighted the unprecedented changes that are facing rural communities in the upper Murray-Darling Basin.

More than 400 delegates from NSW, Queensland and Victoria attended the “Sustaining Rural Communities” conference, which addressed issues relevant to rural communities throughout Australia.

The University of New England’s Professor Paul Martin told the conference that the level of change necessary in the upper Murray-Darling Basin called for a “total community systems” approach to intervention rather than a piecemeal approach.

As an example of such an integrated approach to change, Professor Martin – who is the Director of the Australian Centre for Agriculture and Law at UNE – talked about UNE’s Rural Resurgence Initiative. This initiative aims to provide rural communities with better access to information and, through that, to address a range of challenges including healthcare, schooling, and resource management. Emerging from this initiative, Professor Martin said, were new approaches to innovation adoption and the engagement of researchers with the community that had the potential to assist constructive change.

“UNE has research under way in relation to many of the issues involved that could be of real benefit,” he said. “The real challenge is finding effective ways to help communities engage with the University in order to use this knowledge.”

Professor Martin said that the major factors contributing to the necessity for change in the upper Murray-Darling Basin were the impact of the cotton and mining industries on communities, the reduced availability of water, and the loss of many farmers from the region as they reached retirement age.

“The response by delegates at the conference suggested that they were keen to find ways of dealing systematically with a period of change more rapid and far-reaching than anything they had experienced before,” he reported.

The conference was convened and sponsored by the Cotton Catchment Communities Cooperative Research Centre (Cotton CRC) and the Cotton Research and Development Corporation, with additional sponsorship from (among others) UNE, AgriFood Skills Australia, and the Namoi Catchment Management Authority.

Speakers included Peter Shergold (Macquarie Group Foundation Professor at the Centre for Social Impact, University of NSW), Dr Linda Botterill (Director of the National Institute for Rural and Regional Australia at the Australian National University), Dr John Buchanan (Director of the Workplace Research Centre, University of Sydney), Joanne Grainger (Chair of Cotton Australia and Vice-President of the Queensland Farmers Federation), Danny Lester (CEO of Aboriginal Employment Strategy), Sylvia Admans (CEO of the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal), and Su McCluskey (CEO of the Council of the Rural Research and Development Corporation).

Kate Schwager, Community Officer for the Cotton CRC, said the “Sustaining Rural Communities” conference had been so successful that another one was planned for next year.

Ms Schwager said that reports (including audio recordings) of the proceedings of the conference were already becoming available on the Cotton CRC Web site: People who would like to be involved in the active “Sustaining Rural Communities Network” that was established at the conference can contact her on (02) 6799 2477.

‘Unexpected and wonderful outcome’ of maths project recognised

April 13th, 2010

A presentation to employees at Acacia Park Enterprises in Armidale has celebrated an unexpected outcome of the work that a team of the organisation’s employees is doing for the University of New England.

That “unexpected and wonderful outcome”, explained UNE’s Associate Professor Lorraine Graham, is an improvement in the numeracy skills of some of the employees working on the project.

The Acacia Park team has been working for several years on the collation of numeracy resources used in the QuickSmart program. QuickSmart – an intervention program developed by Dr Graham and the Director of the UNE-based National Centre of Science, ICT and Mathematics Education for Rural and Regional Australia (SiMERR), Professor John Pegg – is helping school students around the nation improve their basic skills in mathematics. The QuickSmart resources include games and “flash cards” designed to help students develop automaticity in basic mathematics skills.

Acacia Park Enterprises is a division of The Ascent Group – an organisation that supports people with a disability across the New England and North West regions of NSW. Over the past two years, the Acacia Park team has sorted about two million cards into sets of QuickSmart resources. During the process, some members of the team have developed an interest in – and have improved their ability to answer – arithmetic questions such as those presented on the cards.

The recent presentation was made by Mr Glenn Luchetti, General Manager of The Plastics Factory in Coffs Harbour. The Plastics Factory produces the high-quality perspex boxes in which the QuickSmart resource kits are distributed. Mr Luchetti presented one of these boxes to Will Brunsdon and Astrid Scott, two of the Acacia Park employees who have worked on the QuickSmart project. He said his company had been impressed by the improved numeracy outcome for the employees, the important work being accomplished by the QuickSmart program, and the University’s business collaboration with local organisations.

Will and Astrid both said they had enjoyed working on the QuickSmart project. They have both been participants in Acacia Park Enterprises’ “Transition to Work” program, and they accepted The Plastics Factory’s generous gift for use within that program. SiMERR has donated the flash cards and other materials to complete the resource kit.

Mr Barry Looker, Coordinator of Customer Relations for Acacia Park Enterprises, said the employees had worked diligently on the QuickSmart project, increasing their speed in completing the kits while maintaining a keen eye for accuracy.

Dr Graham said the QuickSmart program was on track to be implemented in more than 400 schools – with a presence in every Australian State and Territory – by the end of this year.

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here expands to show Glenn Luchetti (left) presenting the QuickSmart resource kit to Will Brunsdon and Astrid Scott (centre front). They are joined by (from left) Associate Professor Lorraine Graham, Barry Looker, and Alison Quaife (coordinator of the Transition to Work program).

UNE’s enhanced role in educating Vietnamese researchers

April 6th, 2010

A new agreement with Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training will enable the University of New England to expand its role in the education of – and collaboration with – researchers in Vietnam.

As a result of the agreement, 20 Vietnamese postgraduate students, supported by scholarships from the Vietnamese Government, will come to Armidale over the next five years to study for PhD degrees within the Faculty of The Professions at UNE. The first group of these students will arrive at UNE later this year.

The agreement is the result of discussions conducted with Vietnam International Education Development, Ministry of Education and Training of Vietnam, over the past year by UNE’s Professor Victor Minichiello, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of the Faculty of The Professions.

Professor Minichiello said that the PhD students would come from professional fields such as medicine and health, business, education, and law. “The project is grounded on the development of research capacity within Vietnam,” he said, “and on the development of collaborative relationships between researchers in Vietnam and at UNE.”

“It will not only contribute to a strong and vibrant postgraduate research culture on campus, but will forge links that will ensure strong and long-lasting relationships with Vietnam,” he said.

Dr Nguyen Xuan Vang, Director General of Vietnam International Education Development, said that Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training would like to increase the number of PhD students every year – to reach 10,000 PhD students undertaking overseas training by 2020.

The Vice-Chancellor of UNE, Professor Jim Barber, said: “This program is important because it is a partnership arrangement with the Vietnamese Government at a time when Vietnam is reforming and building its higher education sector. The students will be conducting research on issues of national importance and relevance to Vietnam, with fieldwork and data collection taking place in Vietnam. This will ensure the development of knowledge generation and research capacity in Vietnam.”

“I look forward to welcoming the students and hearing about their progress as they undertake their studies at UNE,” Professor Barber added.

As a part of a long-term plan to recruit higher-degree research students from Vietnam, Professor Minichiello and Professor Grant Harman have been conducting a postgraduate research-student recruitment campaign in Vietnam that, last year, brought three new PhD students to UNE.

Ngo Thi Bich Thu, who worked as a teacher of English at Hanoi University, is currently working with Professor Len Unsworth in UNE’s School of Education on a PhD project investigating the deployment of the language of evaluation in English and Vietnamese by postgraduate students in Australia. ”Life in Armidale has been great: beautiful weather, very friendly and sincere people, cheap accommodation and food, and very good traffic,” Ms Thu said. “And my daughter is enjoying an excellent primary education in one of the highest-quality public schools.”

Dr Khoi Do is a medical doctor from Vietnam who worked as a senior program officer at PathFinder International in the Vietnam country office. He is enrolled in a PhD program in the School of Rural Medicine working with Professor Minichiello and Associate Professor Rafat Hussain. He is investigating how physicians in Vietnam manage sexually transmissible infections and HIV cases – with a particular focus on high-risk groups such as injecting drug users, sex workers, and men who have sex with men. He said his decision to come to study at UNE involved selecting “a good university with responsive supervisors, and a safe and friendly place to live with reasonable costs”.

Mai Phuong was a researcher working at the National Institution for Education Management in Hanoi, and has enrolled in a PhD program in the School of Business, Economics and Public Policy. She is working with Professors Minichiello and Grant Harman on a survey of Rectors (the Vietnamese equivalent of Vice-Chancellors), and examining their responses to changes in higher education as a result of both national and global reforms in the sector. “I’m enjoying the peaceful beauty of Armidale, with its autumn festival and magnificent parks,” she said. “It is an ideal place for a family to live.”