Big Ls line up against commercialising research

Plus a big bounce for Glyn Davis and what was Deakin thinking

SCU, where dreams come true

Southern Cross U promotes the quality of its degrees with a media release about a graduating student who did an internship at Disney World, where she “worked closely with Tinkerbell and Mickey Mouse”. CMM wonders if they have signed up for an SCU recruitment campaign.

ANU Sept 15

QS is working on it

Just weeks after the Times Higher Education conference made an enormous amount of noise at the University of Melbourne rival rater QS convened a quieter confab last week down the road at RMIT. While the QA Asia Pacific Professional Leaders in Education event went down well with the audience it was not a major media event, at least compared to the THE.

Which means the release of QS’s pilot graduate employability ranking did not generate the usual hullaballoo which accompanies league tables. While  details on the methodology are scarce it seems this new product is no worse than other rankings – based on information from universities, alumni outcomes and employer attitudes. The result is certainly consistent with other rankings, up to a point – that being the presence of universities, which do not make the cut on research performance tables. For example, the anglosphere dominates this top ten as usual, with Stanford first, followed by MIT, Harvard, Cambridge, Yale, Oxford, Princeton and UCal Berkeley at 8th. But the ninth, Tsinghua and tenth, France’s Ecole Polytechnique place getters are not normally top rankers. All up there eight Chinese universities in this top 200 list and five from France. This compares to 50 from the US, 23 from the UK and eight from Canada.

In the local derby the University of Sydney leads at 14th in the world, followed by Monash (30), UWA (49), RMIT (51-60), Macquarie (61-70), Wollongong (61-70). QUT (71-80), Curtin (101-150), Swinburne (151-200), Newcastle (151-200) and UTS (151-200).

Notice anything odd about this? Yes, there is no mention of the University of Melbourne. CMM suspects the reason is that, as QS reports, “universities have only been ranked if they elected to actively participate in QS’s data collection processes.” A league table isn’t a league table without UniMelbourne .

Hopeless headline

Deakin University is running an outdoor recruitment campaign featuring a smiling young woman with the caption; “Deakin’s looking for more headturners”. “Your fresh thinking brings our uni to life” is the body copy. A CMM correspondent saw it at the supermarket and not quite believing the copy went home and looked “headturner” up in the Macquarie Dictionary – where it is defined as “a person, especially a woman who is extremely attractive”. Which, pray, has what to do with people choosing where to study?

ANU Sep 15 5

Back to where we started

The campaign against the government’s applied research and innovation agenda is picking pace with a carefully considered  intervention by Leo Goedegebuure and Lynn Meek from the L H Martin Institute. The government’s emphasis on “research commercialisation” and impact in place of publication metrics,” completely misses the point on what innovation in a service-dominated economy is all about,” they write.

While “they celebrate the great economic successes of the odd virus breakthrough drug, the spectacularly successful IT spin off and the invention of Wi-Fi,” these are exceptions because “universities do not excel at commercialisation.

“Universities are the powerhouse of innovation through their long-term commitment to fundamental research, applied research of local relevance and, in particular, the production of highly trained human capital – not their capacity for product commercialisation per se.”

So far so saleable in labs where appalled academics are only now hearing the message about industry linked research that ministers and mandarins started sending over a year ago. But Leo and Lynn are not pursuing applause and they also have plenty to say that will upset those who believe that all universities should be funded to research whatever they like.

“We have a strongly stratified research system across our universities that has been stable over the last twenty years and will remain so for the next. So let’s not kid ourselves about a level playing field, for it never has been, nor will it ever be.

“Let’s not spend vast amounts of time and energy on grant proposals that will never have the slightest chance of success. Or force staff to write academic journal articles that only serve the interests of publishers rather than the academic community at large.”

Instead they propose encouraging some universities to focus on teaching, for students “are the engine of innovation.” And they call for an applied research culture in tertiary institutions, universities or otherwise, “that are not currently known to be bastions of basic research.”

“Let them effectively deal with industry-related issues and problems that will never be on the radar of our most gifted researchers. Let them drive innovation across our professions and services industries, including their students in the process,” the authors argue.

Gosh, a binary higher education system – now how could the two types be distinguished” Well, we could call the teaching and community focused institutions colleges of advance education.

Spring in his step

People who saw it say it will be hard to forget the way Malcolm Turnbull patronised Glyn Davis  at a November conference when the University of Melbourne VC suggested that linking up with industry was hard going. “Don’t be defeatist, be bouncy,” the PM advised Professor Davis in an excruciating exchange. So while he will never show it, Professor Davis must be pleased indeed with the new ranking by Swedish business development ranking agency UBI Global of UoM’s Accelerator Programme as the eighth best business incubator in the word. Bouncy enough for you PM?

Protecting for-profits

It now seems certain that the government’s legislation to crack down on for-profits rorting the training system will pass the Senate this week. Good but not good enough. The damage done to the private sector’s reputation is such that community attitudes to the vast majority of legitimate providers are, and will stay, skewed for years. This is disastrous, while advocates for socialised training may not like it, the private sector is responsible for anything up to 30 per cent of VET and TAFE would break under the burden of a wholesale collapse of its competitors.

It is time for a bipartisan campaign to undo the damage and a good place to start would be the national VET student ombudsman Labor and the National Tertiary Education Union advocate. Prosecutions will only draw attention to the problem, the industry needs evidence that students are protected.

Economic answers

Why the Economics Society of Australia is so discrete about the results of its monthly poll of a panel of members on an issue of the hour eludes CMM. The survey responses are always informed and engaging, demonstrating why we need more economics in policy debates. This month’s poll asked whether aligning Sunday pay rates to those applying on Saturday will increase, employment and services in hospitality, entertainment and retailing. The panel split 80 per cent yes and 20 per cent no with Gary Banks, Dean of the Aus and NZ School of Government making the best affirmative argument. “Penalty rates as currently structured are the vestige of a bygone era. The only policy question is how best to effect the transition to modernity.”

The indefatigable John Quiggin (UoQ) led the charge against change, “this question is ill-posed, and should not be used as a basis for policy analysis.” That’s the problem with Professor Quiggin, you never know what he thinks.

Bebbington steps up

Uni Adelaide VC Warren Bebbington is the new patron of Autism SA. Quite right, given he has a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Back in September Professor Bebbington wrote a Father’s Day piece for his hometown Advertiser on the experience of dads like him (CMM September 7). “Being an ASD dad is many things: love and delight, concern and worry, and small victories hard won. Above all you strive for your child to overcome his obstacles and have a fulfilling life, something you would do anything to make possible.” Good on him for stepping up to help other parents who want the same for their kids.

Dutch advance open access

The doughty Dutch continue to lead the open access cause. In the middle of the year The Netherlands‘ national universities association jacked up at price increases from journal publisher RELX (what was Elsevier), calling on academics to stop editing and reviewing for the company’s products and researchers to take their work elsewhere (CMM July 6).

The push for open access has now escalated, with the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) stating that as of tomorrow reports from research it funds must be immediately and universally accessible “from the moment of publication.” This is not as dramatic as it sounds. Netherlands education state secretary Sander Dekker has long advocated gold open access, where authors/institutions pay to publish in journals that are free for all to read. NWO will pay Euro 6000 towards gold journal publication costs. But where Mr Dekker has specified that all publicly funded research must be published open access by 2024 NWO wants it to happen from tomorrow, calling it “a contribution to the broad international movement towards open access.”

The Netherlands is not a big content provider but the move will encourage research funding agencies and universities around the world who support open access, (as long as it does not make it too hard for scholars they fund to publish in commercial journals) to up the pressure on the industry.

All not quiet on the western front

Well, at least at West Australian campuses. The WA branch of the National Tertiary Education Union has laid out the terms of engagement for the 2016 enterprise bargaining round which will, as is traditional, begin in the west. “Vice chancellors to value all university staff and restore university values. Salaries that recognise the value of university work and more secure employment are among the key issues.” professors Chapman, Johnson, Terry and whoever is going to run Murdoch, you are warned.

Brightest of stars

Just two Australians have made it on to the American Association for the Advancement of Science 2016 fellows list; quantum computing pioneer Michelle Simmons from UNSW and ANU astronomer Matthew Colless.


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