$400m in ARC grants announced: where the money will go

Big wins for Monash and UNSW 

VET private provider tax: the feds could adapt it to higher education 

Don’t name the day: the NHMRC points to problems with fixed dates

Scientific selection

Apparently there is a horse race on today. Science Minister Greg Hunt is backing a neddy named for people in his portfolio, Oceanographer. 

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Of course it’s a coincidence

On Friday the University of Queensland challenged all comers to a best jacaranda competition – and on Saturday the University of Sydney’s venerable tree in the quad carked it. There is no truth to the rumour that the Vice Chancellor’s Guard are deployed around famous jacarandas at UniMelbourne, Griffith, QUT, ANU and UTas.

ARC grants: Monash and UNSW win big

There is slapping of backs and rending of garments this morning, depending how people went in the big round of Australian Research Council grants announced by Education Minister Simon Birmingham this morning.

Some $416m is split among 989 grants across five programmes.  The pool is up from $357m last year, but so is the number of grants, it was 899 in 2015 (CMM’s 2015 coverage is here).

As usual the Group of Eight pick up most of the pool, taking $286m or 68 per cent of funds. This is marginally down on last year when the Eight took 72 per cent. The big winners (with 2015 funding in brackets) are (to the nearest million) UNSW $48m, ($36m) and Monash U $48m ($30m) followed by UniMelbourne $44m ($42m), ANU $43m ($44m), Uni Queensland $37m ($41m), UniSydney $31m, ($30m), UWA $18m ($17m) and UniAdelaide $17m ($16m).

The only other universities to win $10m or more this year are Macquarie U $11m, Griffith U $11m, UTS $10m, Uni Wollongong $10m.

With 18 awards it is Monash’s years for Future Fellowships, awarded to researchers in areas of “critical national importance” who the ARC wants to stay in Australia. ANU followed with 15 but there was a big gap to the next three universities, UNSW with eight and the universities of Melbourne, Sydney and Queensland, which had seven each.

The Group of Eight also dominated linkage grants, generally considered as a marker of applied research. Members all won between three and five each, in combination accounting for 33 of the 48 awarded.

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Short odds

Anybody keen on a last minute punt should put their money on no interest rate rise today. According to the shadow RBA board at ANU’s Centre for Applied Macroeconomic Analysis the real Reserve Bank cash rate will not change today. Good-o but what puzzles CMM who is this interest rate expert called Hartnell punters bang on about.

Date not to be fixed

In the tense days before last week’s announcement of National Health and Medical Research Council grants a petition circulated calling on the council to ease the suspense by announcing awards on the same day every year. “It is disrespectful of researchers that outcomes of decisions that so greatly affect their livelihoods should be announced ad hoc,” petition author Tim Moss said (CMM October 26).

NHRC chair Anne Kelso is sympathetic, “from my own experience as an applicant and lab head,” but a fixed date is easier petitioned than proclaimed. The selection process can take 25 weeks, involves large numbers of very busy people and delays occur. While Professor Kelso would never say such a thing, the expression “herding cats” occurs to CMM.

To ensure everything was done to a deadline would mean a fixed date had to be in mid November, at best. Given applicants complain that win or lose they are already told way too late to prepare for the funding year it makes a case for a floating date in October.

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Desirable property

International students arriving in Australia can easily mistake the cost of accommodation for a year’s tuition and the competitive rental market is daunting for many. So CMM will be interested to see how Student.com, “the world’s leading marketplace for international student accommodation,” goes. The online leasing service connects students with landlords via a slick sight, listing accommodation in 29 countries, now including Australia. The site is free to students and sells on its knowledge of local markets and multi-lingual staff.

Extended hours

The Monash branch of the National Tertiary Education Union says management is extending the teaching day without consulting the union or staff and that next year some classes will start before 9am and end 6pm. This the union says will have a “negative impact” on staff health and make it difficult for them to “maintain work/life balance including caring responsibilities, participation in community and pursuing further education.” A learned reader adds that the prospect of students making it Clayton before 9 in the morning is also unlikely.

Nice little earner

Long time education policy person Mark Warburton wonders why people aren’t paying close attention to the tax on private providers in Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s legislation to replace the VET FEE HELP loan scheme. According to the bill’s explanatory memorandum it includes a fee to be levied on private providers to “to fund the VET student loan program including the costs incurred by the Commonwealth in administering the program, data collection and analysis as well as compliance and enforcement activities.”

So if this works for VET what is to stop extending it to higher education, Mr Warbuton asks. Not much CMM replies. The feds could either charge universities a student loan admin fee, which institutions would pass on to students via HECS or the government simply slug students itself. Attaching it to a student ombudsman office, or some such would provide some cover for what would be in effect a new tax on students. It’s the sort of scheme Finance officials would love.

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 App of the day

With five assaults-robberies on ANU’s sprawling campus in a week the Library was promoting the university’s safety app to users yesterday. The app tracks the free bus that shuttles between libraries, lecture theatres and car parks from 6.30 to 11.30 at night. The app tracks the bus, which will also pick up people who phone from an off-route location.

TAFE winners in the west

The WA Government has appointed five heads to lead its restructured TAFE system, now organised as regions. They are: Terry Durant – south metro, Michelle Hoad – north metro, Duncan Anderson, southern region, Bill Swetman – central region, Kevin Doig – northern region.

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