Plus equity research winners and how to publish low cost, high sales research 

No choice

“Would you trust your life with the laws of physics?” the Australian Academy of Science, promoting something or other, asks. CMM is more than a little hazy on hard science but he does get that when it comes to natural laws our attitudes do not much matter.

UA budget ask

Budget season begins today with Universities Australia submitting its proposal to the assistant treasurer. Signed off by the UA board last week, “it is a powerful reminder in a tight budget context about the crucial role of universities in generating future national prosperity,” UA CEO Belinda Robinson tells members.

University comms directors will also assemble on-line today to discuss the imminent “Respect. Now. Always.” UA campaign against sexual assault and harassment on campus. The programme will tie to Australian distribution of the US film, The Hunting Ground.


Say less, tweet more

Research administrators in the Department of Education and Training were so pleased with themselves last week that they actually announced what they had been up to, which is unusual. Just not in a useful way, which is normal. On Friday the department’s official tweeter announced that it had been a big week; “department hosts major event on global research infrastructure, with key international guests and the new chief scientist.” Even better (if you are an ambitious public servant) Australia now gets to chair the officials group on global research infrastructure through to October.

Good-o if you know what it means, a condition in outsiders the department does not encourage. What CMM hears happened is that the officers group from members of the Global Research Infrastructures met in Canberra. These 14 nations plus the EU Commission, manage most of the very big research equipment that the world relies on, the Hadron Collider, telescopes and the like. A productive time was apparently had by all – not that DET wants us to know the details.

Just two more sleeps

CMM realises it is hard, but we are just going to have to contain our excitement until Wednesday, when education agencies and the department appear at Senate estimates.


Fewer cuts at James Cook

The National Tertiary Education Union says James Cook U is set to retrench 37 people. This is an improvement on last week’s speculation that 75 people were for the chop, which will be as much as no comfort at all to the 37. While the university says there is no final number because “investments in new positions will offset some redundancies,” the cuts are necessary, a spokesman adds “to reduce duplication of teaching and research across parts of the university.” With campuses 350 kms apart “duplication” is hardly an indulgence if there is demand at both.

Equity research awards

The feds have announced research funding in the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Programme. The big winner is the University of Newcastle with no less than eight of 21 projects and $890k of the $2.44m pool (the government expects a bomb of bang from not many bucks in equity). The university’s projects include three focusing on indigenous needs and one on pathways to medicine degrees for low SES students. The Regional Universities Network also picked up a project, with Federation U leading all members on ways to help country students stay in study.

Two other projects are particularly pertinent in this age of ATAR outrage. Flinders researchers are funded to develop “accessible admissions pathways” that assess aptitude for study “via a variety of means.” The one the government will really watch is CQU’s evaluation of what low SES strategies actually work.

Uni Newcastle academics Erica Southgate and Cathy Stone also won two of the three 2016 equity fellowships awarded by Curtin U’s National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education. Dr Southgate will investigate using technology to interest low SES students in study for professional disciplines, notably law, medicine and engineering. Dr Stone will look at low SES student retention in open-learning programmes.

The third award went to Deakin’s Nadine Zacharias who will assess whether HEPP is working. Perhaps she should chat to the CQU team.

Astute appointment

A week after Lisa Paul finished up as secretary of the Department of Education she has appeared on the board of listed for-profit education provider Navitas. “Her knowledge of the education, employment and workplace relations sectors will be particularly valuable,” Navitas chair Harvey Collins says. Understated sort of chap Mr Collins.

Campus Morning Mail

Economic ORCID

ORCID ensures researchers can identify their work, books and articles, papers and posts, reports and recordings, the lot. The excellent Australian operation of the Open Researcher and Contributor Identifier, officially launches at ANU next Monday with 40 members, 36 universities and four research organisations, including ARC, CSIRO and the NHMRC. But where are the University of Sydney and the University of Wollongong, neither of which appear on the member list? At under A$200 000 in membership fees it can’t be the cost.

It ain’t what you know it’s the way you explain it

Unless graduates can communicate discipline knowledge their ability to explain themselves will “continue to be the Achilles’ heel” of Australian higher education, Sophie Arkoudis and Paula Kelly suggest in a paper for the International Education Association of Australia.

The University of Melbourne academics argue that providers should reframe the debate over the quality of communication skills of English as an Alternative Language students. “A focus on developing and assessing the communication skills of all students will shift the institutional and external perceptions of the English language ‘problem’ of EAL international students,” they write.

“This would enable a shift towards a broader agenda for the explicit development and assessment of communication skills as core business for higher education institutions, linked to educational success and enhancing graduate employability.”

The authors argue for integrating oral and written comms into subjects and for institutions to provide evidence, not just assertions, of graduate attainments.

And if this all sounds too much like yet more hard work, tough. “As claims about learning outcomes and graduate attributes continue to be used by higher education institutions within an increasingly diverse and competitive market, scrutiny from a range of stakeholders including government, prospective students, international markets, the media, parents, employees and professional associations will follow,” Arkoudis and Kelly argue.

Quite right. From the feds to property investors (in the weekend Fin) it seems everybody assumes that the river of gold flowing from international students will grow into a torrent, there is talk of doubling international student numbers in a decade Not, CMM suspects, if we just offer existing products while competitors improve theirs.

More ore for Pilbara data miners

Brisbane based Pilbara Group models revenues and costs for higher education providers, finding operational efficiencies in the process. Well established in Australia it is expanding in the US, where it has just completed a Gates Foundation project for the University of California, Riverside (CMM August 17 2015). The Pilbara team is about to start another Gates funded exercise there, running a community college’s numbers through its system to test whether the Pilbara approach works for that sector.

Pilbara has also just picked up private provider, the New York Institute of Technology as a client.

ANU Dec 15 3

Best sellers

When it comes to open access to scholarship it is hard to beat Monash and ANU e-presses which, with philosophy focused, have given away 800 000 digital copies of texts. While the two universities subsidise their presses, e-publishing is still an effective way of distributing monographs to a market beyond the institutional sales enjoyed by the small share of dissertations that actually make it into print and specialist studies that no conventional publisher could afford to produce.

The figures are in a fascinating study of the state of Australian publishing, by a team of Macquarie U economists led by David Throsby. Funded by the ARC it is open access published here.

A case study of the ANU press demonstrates the potential for a university to use e-press to reach large audiences, last year its top five titles were all downloaded over ten thousand times. And DVC Marnie Hughes Warrington has pushed for the press to publish e-texts to match ANU’s move into MOOCs.

With the Australian Research Council developing an impact measure it is hard to see how such reach can be ignored. Unless, of course, management inquires about the bottom line. As Nathan Hollier from Monash U puts it in the report, “‘the future of an academic publishing operation depends considerably on the priorities of the university and those might change with the appointment of a new vice chancellor or other members of the senior management team.”

But unless a vice chancellor is prepared to stop paying for staff articles in gold-open access journals it is hard to see the case against a university building its scholarly brand by funding low-cost e-publishing of its academics’ research.