$1bn for new ARC research centres

plus less demand in driven funding as UG starts stabilise

the Aus journal business deans really rate 

UniMelb hunts for the devil in the data that might make epilepsy less of a misery

Rules at the inn

TEQSA and accreditation agency the International Centre of Excellence in Tourism and Hospitality Education have signed an MOU. Ye gods by the time TEQSA is finished with them concierge courses will have three volumes of quality control requirements and the tourism trainers will need a stiff drink, which only bar-persons with PhDs in the theory of cocktails will be accredited to make.

Thurs Aug 25

Birmingham’s $1bn babies

Education Minister Simon Birmingham has announced nine new Australian Research Council Centres of Excellence, to be supported by $283m in federal funding and a further $761m in cash and kind from lead organisations and partners. The big winner in the announcement is UNSW, which will host three centres. Wollongong and Swinburne are the only universities outside the Group of Eight awarded.

The new centres will undoubtedly upset News Limited papers, which last month criticised research considered a touch esoteric (CMM August 23). There is nothing that passes the ‘pub test’ in funding for research into black holes (unless the pub is popular with astronomers).

The new centres, federal funding and administering organisations are:

Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions, “to answer fundamental questions in astrophysics including the origin of matter,” ($30.3m) Australian National University.

Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, “to understand Australia’s unique biodiversity and heritage and to be able to adapt to our changing environment,” ($33.7m) University of Wollongong.

Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, “to revolutionise Australia’s capability to predict climate extremes into the future,” ($30m) University of New South Wales.

Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems “to build sophisticated quantum machines to harness the quantum world,” ($31.9m) University of Queensland.

Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery ($31.3m), “to explore the historic first detections of gravitational waves to understand the extreme physics of black holes and warped spacetime,” Swinburne University.

Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science, ($31.8m) “to manipulate the way light energy is absorbed, transported and transformed in advanced molecular materials, University of Melbourne.

Centre of Excellence in Future Low-Energy Electronics Technologies ($33.4m), “to develop the scientific foundation and intellectual property for new low-energy electronics technologies Monash U.

Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research ($27.2) “to generate crucial knowledge to inform social and economic responses to population ageing,” UNSW.

Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology $33.7m), “to use quantum processors to potentially transform all industries dependent on computers” UNSW.

Plibersek sighting

Labor shadow education minister is certainly not diving into the policy scrum – making no speeches that CMM has heard of and leaving Kim Carr to do the deploring (CMM September 5). But a learned reader reports she was at Charles Sturt U Wagga the other day where she is said to have called for more investment in education. Now there’s an idea.

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Demand less driven for funding

The rapid expansion in domestic university student numbers has ended with commencing enrolments by Australian undergraduates down 1 per cent, to 403 114 last year on 2014. International student commencements were up 2.5 per cent to 165 000.

In a blow to arguments that equity programmes are working and should not be reconfigured, as the government is considering, target group enrolments as a share of overall students, were static, at best. Indigenous commencing students were up by just 1.3 per cent, regional and remote commencers decreased and students from the lowest socio-economic quintile continued to be under-represented with starters increasing from 17.5 per cent to 17.7 per cent. However supporters of the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Programme argued that the long term trend made the case for continuing the programme.

While Education Minister Simon Birmingham celebrated to longer-term improvements in disadvantage enrolments he also pointed to a continuing 15 per cent attrition rate across the board. “Student experiences show there’s a range of factors that lead to student attrition and it is going to take concerted efforts from educators and policymakers to reduce it,” he said yesterday.

Lesser lab loads of money

Bioscience investors are ever vigilant in the community’s interests and are accordingly upset at the government’s proposed research and development cuts. The Omnibus Savings Bill now before the parliament “risks Australia’s competitive advantage in the life sciences,” according to AusBiotech CEO Glenn Cross.

The bill cuts R&D incentives by 1.5 per cent, to 40 per cent of company tax for companies turning over less than $20m and 38.5 per cent for those with higher turnovers. According to the Australian Tax Office, for small companies liable for tax the existing arrangement translates to a 150 per cent deduction.

CMM is surprised that the complaints are not louder but maybe the industry is reserving its ire for the release of the Ferris-Finkel-Fraser review of the whole Research and Development Tax concession, which went to the government before the election. Critics of this $3.5bn programme say it is way too easy to collect without creating a product that actually makes money. Word is that the ThreeF’s recommend retaining the programme while tightening what is widely considered generous self-assessment provisions (CMM July 7). It does not sound like much but as the research corollary to Wran’s Law states, “never stand between a biomedical investor and a lab-load of money.”

Devil in the data

When it comes to epilepsy the devil is in the data, with the possibility that it might be possible to predict seizures. The University of Melbourne, with a bunch of US partners, including U Penn and the Mayo Clinic want to determine if analyses of electrical activity in the brain can identify when a seizure is probable. The data comes from a small number of people, three in Melbourne, who had a device implanted that recorded brain activity from three to six months. The challenge is to analyse the data recorded for predictive patterns, which will take some ultra elaborate algorithms. So elaborate that UniMeb and partners are using the ultimate research tools – curiosity and cash. They have enlisted  Kaggle, a site which posts competitions for data scientists and statisticians who; “crave real-world data to develop their techniques. There are 96 teams working on the data to win the $20 000 prize.

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Secrets in the sky

UoQ has signed an aerospace collaboration deal with Universite Paris-Saclay, a cluster of organisations that pumps out 15 per cent of research in France, sort of like MIT but with longer lunches. UoQ brings its hypersonic research programme to the table. CMM does not know if the French assured UoQ that the tradition of leaving high-tech secrets lying around only applies to submarines.

Down, down, VET’s always down

There is no faulting the training establishment for consistency, the number of apprentices and trainees declines quarter after quarter, year after year. The estimable National Centre for Vocational Education and Training reports that commencements in the March quarter were down 3.7 per cent, to 56 000, in the March quarter. The drop was due to trades, were starts declined 10 per cent. Still, at least completions are steady at just under 60 per cent across the board but with 40 per cent dropping out attrition is way higher than in higher education.

Strife at Swinburne, again

The last enterprise agreement negotiations at Swinburne U seemed like the 30 Years War, only longer and nastier so when a deal was done a year back people there were hoping for peace in their time.

‘Fraid not. Swinburne and the National Tertiary Education Union are back in Fairwork Australia in a new blue over wages and conditions for staff in the university’s pathway and voced programmes, not covered by the main enterprise agreement. The union now has FWA approval for a member ballot on protected industrial action.

MOOC of the morning

Simon McIntyre and Karin Watson from UNSW will launch a new online course on Monday, “Learning to teach online.”

This course will guide you through your journey of understanding how online technologies can enhance your course design. You will have the opportunity to develop your understanding of effective online teaching practices and their relationship to the use of different technologies,” the authors  explain.

Dr McIntyre is director of learning and innovation at UNSW Art and Design and co-authored a previous MOOC on digital teaching with Negin Mirriahi, from the university’s learning and teaching team (CMM May 18).  

If there was ever a PD course that teaching staff at any university should do (or explain why they can’t be fagged) this is it.

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Absent Aus A

The Australian Business Deans Council have followed the political scientists (CMM Monday) and updated its list of preferred journals. Of the 2785 on the list around 90 are published in/about Australia and what they lack in quantity they do not make up for in quality. A bare 20 are rated A with 26 scored B and 41 C. Just one that CMM could identify is scored A*, the Federal Law Review out of ANU.

Know something the world needs to know? Anonymity guaranteed but lots of questions asked, stephen4@hotkey.net.au