Plus PM advises: it’s less “publish or perish” than “collaborate or crumble” 

Starstruck selfie

At a function yesterday some bloke called Malcolm Turnbull posted a selfie of him with super scientists Tanya “photon girl” Monro and Andrea “Signore Quantum” Morello. As host Paul Kelly (no, not those two, the journalist) put it after the PM’s speech on innovation, “I’ve been covering Australian politics for a long time and have never heard a prime minister talk like that.” Scientists your time starts now.

A new ERA

Think the existing emphasis on what and where people publish as a measure of academic success will continue in the new era of innovation? Think again. As the prime minister said yesterday; “publish or perish will be replaced by collaborate or crumble.”

UA NOV 15

Gold for oldies

The University of Queensland will run a second early retirement scheme, from February to April next year. Vice Chancellor Peter Hoj wrote to staff yesterday suggesting eligible people consider the tax advantages of going while permission from the Tax Office applies. Is there a university in the country not encouraging older staff out?

Shape of things to come

Victoria University has shed staff and lost money on its TAFE division but is now taking advantage of the crisis in for-profit training by reconfiguring its VET resources as a polytechnic. Victoria Poly will focus on National Training Packages as well as the standard certificates, plus pathways into higher education. VU’s Grant Dreher says that some people might see this “as a daring move” but it looks like common sense to CMM. All quality private providers are besmirched by the scandalous behaviour of parasites and VU has a solid reputation. Expect to see more of this higher cost, but reputable approach from the public sector. 

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THE UWA cuts 

Media management one oh wrong

What did strategists at the University of Western Australia think was going to happen when they suggested that senior staff go to ground and avoid media asking questions, (oh that such wickedness could be!) about Wednesday’s announcements that 300 jobs will go (CMM yesterday)? Whatever they thought, somehow word that nobody was supposed to talk reached reptiles of the press. What a surprise!

Johnson follows Kennedy

Whoever drafted UWA VC Paul Johnson’s speech to staff did not help the case for cuts, what with choice bits like this:

“You may have heard the story of President Kennedy who, on during a visit to the NASA space centre in 1962, spoke to a man sweeping up in one of the buildings. ‘Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?’ he asked. ‘Well Mr President‘ the janitor replied, ‘I’m helping put a man on the moon.’ ” The sentiment of this statement is as true for UWA as it is at NASA. … Therefore my question to you is, how are you going to help us face our challenges to better fulfill our purpose? This could mean reviewing and improving your processes at a local level, something I encourage you all to try. You may not always be successful on the first go but we need to give ourselves permission to try, and to fail, if we want to move forward.”

At least Professor Johnson did not try JFK’s famous inaugural address line “ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country”

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Case to make

Professor Johnson has a case to make about the university’s underlying budget position. He warns that the shortfall between what Canberra funds and what research costs is such that the university needs to find an extra $100m to maintain its existing effort. He argues that the student mix – not many internationals, lots studying science and an ‘over-reliance’ on undergraduates, means UWA has the lowest revenue per EFT in the Group of Eight. And he states that at 63 per cent of revenue the university’s staff costs are the highest of its peer group. But the way he announced the cuts rather than the reasons for them is now the issue.

Have yourself a miserable little Christmas

Wont the VC’s Christmas party, long scheduled for 3pm this afternoon at the UWA Club, be fun. Staff are invited to “celebrate the festive season with colleagues from across the campus, and mark the end of another busy and successful year at UWA.” Alternatively they can discuss who is for the chop.

What next?

The UWA senate has endorsed three change programmes to be run by senior DVC Dawn Freshwater. There is no list of professional staff to go, but “the distribution of services across the university” is up for examination, notably the existing academic structure, which has nine faculties while just four undergraduate degrees account for 72 per cent of student load. Some 100 academic positions will be abolished but 50 will be created in areas of existing or intended comparative advantage. Finally, the university will move to a three-session year, although whether summer sees a short or full semester is not decided.

“Lowering our cost base and improving space utilisation addresses our underlying deficit and will, in time, provide us with funds to improve our facilities and infrastructure and reinvest in our core business of teaching, research and community engagement. Refocusing academic effort to areas of comparative advantage will provide an important opportunity for staff renewal,” Professor Johnson argues.

A proposal will be presented to the university community on February 2 with a final decision on February 22.

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Big bucks for cancer research

The Australian Cancer Research Foundation has allocated $30m in new grants, including $10m to the Children’s Medical Research Institute, to build a specimen collection of cancer samples. The other recipients are the Australian Synchrotron, which received $2m for protein analysis, as did the John Curtin Medical Research School at ANU for its new Department of Cancer Biology and Therapeutics. A further $2m went to the Centre of Cancer Biology, in partnership with the University of South Australia and the Thoraric Research Centre at the University of Queensland picked up $1m.

ANU Dec 15 1

Don’t happy be worried

CMM reporter Bobby Mcferrin writes that a survey of one million UK women has found no connection between misery and mortality. According to Bette Lieu, now at the University of New South Wales, unhappiness and stress do not cause ill health. So there you go, be as miserable as you like this Christmas.

No stroll in the car park

Overheard at UoQ’s flash new car park (CMM yesterday); “how do you know you are at a university? Everybody is complaining about parking.” They certainly are at the University of Adelaide, where parking permits will cost up to $2133 in 2016. This builds on successive steep steps – some people who paid $1177 in 2011 were paying $1565 the next year. And it was nearly worse, back then outgoing VC James McWha intervened to curb the enthusiasm of administrators who mistook parking bays for gold mines. But don’t expect his successor Warren Bebbington to do the same. The parking fee list states, “the revision of all permit prices is carried out annually with approval by the chief operating officer and vice-president services & resources.” That’s Bruce Lines for anybody interested. But anybody who wants to complain to Mr Lines about price rises from this year will struggle. As far as CMM can see the 2015 rates are nowhere to be found on the university website.

Gift-wrapped futures

The Australian Research Council expects to announce the 2015 Future Fellowships on Wednesday. For the few winners it will certainly be a case of quite a few Christmases coming at once.

Ecology of academia

A scholar who has joined us from foreign parts suggests there is a very Australian style to research policy.

“It’s something of a mining country in more ways than one — the academy allows for booms and busts in the form of research institutes/ centres and even, we may see in the next decade or two, universities.

Australians always seem to benchmark themselves against the rest of the world when the top systems worldwide play to their strengths as much as they try to mimic other countries. I see that in the debate about commercialisation. A vice chancellor notes that leading European countries have a totally different industry profile, but we are all told to commercialise and work with ‘industry’. The danger with going down the commercialisation path is that the vast majority of research – at MIT or anywhere – is not commercially viable, and thus it risks cutting out huge sections of university research, which are part of a wider ecosystem of knowledge. Like any ecosystem, we can knock out a few species here and there, but if we take out too many there is a danger of the entire system falling apart. Given this country’s ecological history, perhaps that is a metaphor that should be used more!