The big innovation test

plus in VET we must trust (just don’t get your hopes up)

and the professors and Maryanne

No bones about it

“Breaking news! Our body sugars can work like super glue to repair broken bones in record time,” the University of Sydney announced yesterday. Shouldn’t that be, “in not-breaking” news?

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Curse of the Three Fs

If the government gets back innovation optimists wonder who will be the new innovation minister, what with Wyatt Roy losing his seat on Saturday. Some say Karen Andrews will pick up the brief, if she stays in science. But realists suggest enthusiasm for innovation as a ministerial brief is already over now the government is focusing on core issues, which as the PM put it on Tuesday are Medicare, Medicare, and what was that the one? Oh yes, Medicare. Taking innovation off the front bench will certainly make it easier for a Turnbull ministry to escape the curse of the Three Fs. That’s the review of the research and development tax incentive by Bill Ferris, Alan Finkel and John Fraser, which has filed but is now in the caretaker wilderness.

The incentive is now costing $3bn or so a year and its beneficiaries just love it, notably the biotech industry and the professional service firms that help with the forms. But $3bn pays for the Australian Research Council and National Health and Medical Research Council plus a bunch of other programmes and if savings are needed it could come down to which side gets to the Senate crossbench first. Of course it is not impossible that Labor would back the government cutting the incentive as a way to fund public provider research, just unlikely.

Any move to cut the incentive would drive industry nuts. “Despite complaining, Australian companies get a bloody good deal – a tax rebate before they pay any tax, if they do at all,” one industry policy expert observes. But leaving the incentive intact while hosing down expectations for research infrastructure will send scientists spare. So who will win? “The startup sector is increasingly savvy lobby-wise. The science sector remain dozy,” an innovation insider concludes. The  most likely outcome, a veteran of R&D support suggests is an attempt to end over-generous self-assessments but not enough as to actually upset anybody. The next government will not want to upset anybody at all.

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Another Fisk fan

UNSW’s Nicholas Fisk has joined the Association of Academic Health Centres as chair of the US organisation’s international division steering committee. Professor Fisk is DVC R at UNSW, which he joined from UoQ, where he was dean of medicine (CMM May 20).

MOOC of the morning

Universities who recognise many students see a degree as an investment not an experience market their products, sorry courses on the jobs they can generate. Deakin U’s new “ready when you are” postgrad campaign does it well (CMM June 2). But UoQ goes a step further with a MOOC teaching competencies to get a job, as distinct from the skills to do it. “A degree is necessary to secure a graduate role, but employers are looking for much more. The key is showing a potential employer what you can offer beyond your credentials, Andrea Reid and Anna Richards write in the synopsis for their, “Unlocking your employability.” Created as an in-house product it is now open to all comers, which makes it terrific recruitment marketing. The generality of universities bang on about their employment focused degrees but UoQ teaches people how to get a job. Sends a strong signal with a huge reach and at the fraction of what a TV campaign costs.

Got it covered

Last night Science and Technology Australia was promoting a lecture (at least CMM assumes it is a lecture) entitled, “Sex in Melbourne” and a  YouTube panel, “Death in Hobart” . CMM wonders where the trilogy will be completed with a talk on taxes.

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In-house talent

The University of Adelaide has appointed its own Noel Lindsay as part-time PVC Entrepreneurship. Professor Lindsay will continue as Director of the Entrepreneurship, Commercialisation and Innovation Centre at UniAdelaide. He will now also “provide vision, leadership and management of a range of new and existing entrepreneurial programs.” So what was he doing before?

ASQA has it covered

In legislation taking effect this month the Australian Skills Quality Authority can now monitor trainers providing courses for overseas students and directly register the CRICOS list of approved providers. Good to see the feds faith in ASQA is not diminished by the regulatory wreck that is VET FEE HELP. And in a decision that is only years and many millions of dollars late, the agency has decided to publish regulatory decisions “shortly after they are made.” Until now this only occurred after all appeals by a provider are exhausted, except when ASQA commissioners decided an early announcement is the public interest. The change is intended to “enhance consumer information and encourage compliance with the national standards by training providers.”

The professors and Maryanne

Before Maryanne Demassi got into journalism she was an academic researcher. The ABC TV medical journalist, now suspended while the “strategy and direction” of the Catalyst programme is reviewed, took her PhD from the University of Adelaide in 2004. Her snappily titled thesis, “The effects of hypoxia on cyclooxygenase-2 expression and eicosanoid synthesis” is available for all to read on the university website. Dr Demassi is also a co-author of four scholarly papers on the US Government’s National Centre for Biotechnology Information database. In her thesis she thanked “family and friends for their constant love, support and reassurance,” of which she can probably do with a bit now.

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In VET we must trust

A quality VET workforce can keep Australian incomes up in the face of competition “from lower cost workers overseas” enabled by broadband and digital technology, according to a new report for TAFE Queensland, by CSIRO.

But not all in VET are up to the tech challenge, and “time, investment and support will be required to build educators’ capability to deliver VET in an increasingly digital learning and workplace environment,” the report warns.

The sector also suffers other disadvantages, notably less funding than universities, and community expectations that exceed what TAFE can provide; “public providers (are) in a difficult position as they attempt to move toward more commercial models, while at the same time being expected to meet historical expectations that have been placed on them by both government and the general public, which often times may not be of a commercial nature,” the report suggests.

But it seems the big challenge for ensuring VET delivers what the market wants is bureaucracy imposed on it.

“The greatest hurdle to maintaining the relevance of VET offerings in the context of digital disruption may well be the multi-year national consultation process that is required for any changes to accredited VET courses. … For accredited training packages, offerings have to be standardised across the country, and the process of consultation and reaching agreement at a national level requires so much time that training packages are only updated every few years. Once agreement is reached, the content of the course is fixed and training providers cannot make changes to the package without further national-level consultation. Thus, when it comes to accredited training, there is very little ability to respond in a timely manner to changes in workplace practices and skills requirements.”

Nor are 34 per cent course completion rates necessarily VET’s fault, or even a problem;

“Government funding is available for students enrolling in courses which provide qualifications, even if they are only seeking a particular skill set taught as a component of the course. This means that some students may still have achieved their desired training outcome even if they did not complete the formal qualification. It is therefore difficult to determine the extent to which incomplete qualifications represent an informed choice or a failure.”

Even the good news is ordinary.

Dolt of the day

Is CMM, who left the n out of Sarah Dolnicar’s surname yesterday.

 

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