Campus monopolies on accreditation will end

Plus Alan Finkel advocates infrastructure (but not quinoa) 

Why a duck?

Murdoch University is promoting its imminent graduation ceremonies with a pic of a yellow plastic duck wearing a mortarboard and holding a testamur. CMM has no idea why.

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No quinoatron

A couple of weeks back officials in the Department of Education hosted the officers group from Global Research Infrastructure, the collection of countries that run the really big kit cutting edge science depends on (Campus Morning Mail February 8). Not that they told anybody about it, only alluding to the meeting in a tweet. But at least we know what the group will have chatted about after Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s speech, which is now released.

It will have puzzled the officials, what with it being amusing and informative, not things mandarins expect from senior advisors. Dr Finkel outlined the way the idea that infrastructure included research as well as roads and railways appeared in Australian policy. He went on to point to the bipartisan commitment to research infrastructure, his belief that a domestic commitment will extend to international engagements and his carefully expressed hope that other countries will do the same. “We need to build national systems that are supportive of the global framework. We need to build a global framework that draws on our experience with building national systems.”

But there was one line that will have especially alarmed the Europeans attending. “Some people take the view that ‘innovation’ is just a buzzword – destined to die with kale and quinoa,” Dr Finkel said. So much for EU agricultural subsidies for research into hipster food.

What price innovation

The feds are now taking submissions on the discussion paper on tax incentives for investors under the National Innovation and Science Agenda but a bunch of senior economists have already expressed themselves in the Economic Society of Australia’s monthly poll. Asked whether, “new tax incentives for investments in technology and innovation businesses and start-ups are likely to be inefficient,” the weighted response was 40 per cent agreeing, 29 per cent disagreeing with the others uncertain. “The diversity of views highlights the lack of clear theory in the areas of innovation economics and Australian economists paucity of knowledge about relevant empirical studies,” poll analyst Beth Webster, from Swinburne U, said.

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Essential App

While Universities Australia has a campaign to raise awareness of sexual assault on campuses (CMM February 8) the University of Queensland has a product to protect victims. The university has built an app that can connect people to emergency services and campus security. The app will identify the user’s location and creates a voice link to university staff. It is operational at St Lucia and Gatton plus outlying research stations depending on a user’s mobile range. If the app is activated outside university staffed locations it automatically calls triple 0. While it relies on location-tracking technology this only kicks in when the app is activated.

Ask the experts

Innovation Minister Chris Pyne is spending just shy of $1m on a citizen science programme to encourage volunteers to do grunt research processing. The example he uses is a project last year which involved people classifying 995 000 images of galaxies for WA researchers. Good-o, but why spend $1m of the public’s elusive sponduliks on the programme. As Deakin U‘s research crowd funding programme shows, social media is a low-cost way to involve citizens in serious science.

From Stanford to Sydney

Simon Jackman is the next head of the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. The Queenslander now teaches politics at Stanford University. Professor Jackman replaces Bates Gill, who left the day the Centre announced he was going (CMM, November 156 2015). While the Centre was not talking back then CMM hears that some board members wanted a bigger emphasis on fund raising.

Campus Morning Mail

Hold the front page

“AusScan online expands analysis for soyabean meal,” theGet Broadacre website announces. Apparently it’s all down to research from the Pork Cooperative Research Centre. CMM is sure it is more interesting than it sounds.

Qualifications from over

Thanks to the reader who pointed CMM at a pre-pub copy of Christine Ewan’s late 2015 report, which still seems to be unreported, for the now soon to be shut down Office for Learning and Teaching. Perhaps there is a reason for any obscurity. This carefully constructed report is bad news indeed for all who think higher education standards and qualification requirements can be codified according to what occurs on physical campuses.

“While it is clear that the responsibility for quality assurance rests ultimately and appropriately with the qualifications granting body, regardless of delivery mode or student population, it is less clear how that assurance process will be managed efficiently in a more student designed and disaggregated course and service delivery environment,” Professor Ewan writes.

Which is what authors and now users of the long-time coming Higher Education Standards Framework will not want to hear. But Professor Ewan argues in a wired world “developing students’ capabilities and improving outcomes increasingly involves a broader range of educational  inputs many of which fall outside the control of the regulators or the HESF.”

And when people can source from all-over the content they need to demonstrate the skills and knowledge for a particular qualification, then institutions will struggle to sell themselves as exclusive providers.

“To allow full development of the potential of modern and unbundled delivery modes there will need to be flexibility in application of the standards relating of specific assessments with specific experiences and learning objectives. For example, micro credentialing, through badges that are scaffolded a formal qualification may need to be the focus of new quality assurance measure” Professor Ewan suggests.

Ideas into the ether

“What improvements could TAFE NSW make to help you get the best out of your education? Tell us in a few words,” the august agency tweeted yesterday. Well a computer system that works for students is one thing that comes to mind. Measures tackling attrition is another. But in the absence of a link to somebody who might actually read responses CMM wonders why TAFE made the offer.

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Underrated Multirank

You have got to feel for the people at http://meta.umultirank.org/ U Multi Rank, the European agency that has created a guide to university performance based on comparing, not ranking, similar institutions, mainly in Europe. It took an age to build, did not please every metrics expert and does not appear to have much impact in the market. Perhaps this is due to it being cumbersome to use and people preferring top down rankings of universities, from worldwide winner to woeful. Whatever the reason, the UMR approach has important attributes; the way it works is transparent, it does not create single ranking scores based on composite indicators and the data base allows researchers to explore performance among universities in a prospective students’ consideration sets. Above all users can “create their own ranking.” And yet UMR does not rate in the marketing stakes – management really need to start selling.

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