A selfie of success at Melbourne while Mr Abbott goes for the doctor

Just unkind

On Monday I suggested the Australian Research Council had extended the ERA journal and conference list consultation to March 21 because everybody is having so much fun. However it appears I am a duffer (and what else is new, I hear you ask). An ERA observer suggests the reason for the extension is because it takes so much time to log on to the ARC and come up with a password its system will accept. Some of you are just unkind.

A selfie of success

The reform race never ends, John Howard famously said and Glyn Davis knows it, demonstrated by yesterday’s University of Melbourne green paper for growth, which updates the 2005 strategy (think of it as Treasury’s Intergenerational Reports only with much less despair). This is an unusual document, for a start it is written in plain, not academic English and it is full of ideas in place of the usual aphorisms that apply in-tick-the box university strategies. It is also a realistic one – based on obviously in-depth analysis. While distributed as a discussion paper Melbourne middle managers who dismiss it better have some good ideas, really good ideas, to offer in its place. The vice chancellor proposes a focus on new ways of teaching, on research impact (which could turn out to be a well-judged reading of the political winds) and brand building in Asia. The idea of a sustainability and energy research precinct, along the lines of the university’s bio-medical community is sensible. And there is room in the international marketplace of ideas for a Melbourne public policy stall – notice how badly Australian universities did on the recent University of Pennsylvania policy league table ratings? Professor Davis’s proposal to use technology so that staff can be in “individually relevant” contact with students seems an endorsement of the digital opportunity. And warning that income from teaching is necessary to fund research accepts reality – as does his interest in expanding online in Asia rather than by creating campuses. Granted, with a $2bn budget the University of Melbourne has opportunities most VCs cannot contemplate. But mass can be a burden rather than an opportunity. Professor Davis is obviously intent on ensuring that his university becomes no Kodak case.  This is less a selfie of Melbourne now than one of where he wants, indeed needs, it to be. Of course if it goes wrong the picture will not be pretty.

Go slow at UQ

The National Tertiary Education Union has around 900 members at the University of Queensland (approximately 10 per cent of staff) but I doubt all of them were on strike yesterday. The ABC reporter covering the story for Brisbane radio’s Steve Austin certainly did not mention many striking staff or any barricades. However the union needs a circuit breaker as negotiations for a new enterprise agreement drag on and on.

As the union explained in a full-page advertisement in yesterday’s Courier Mail, larger classes, “increasing casualisation” and what was that other thing? oh yes, pay (or the absence of it) “could” have an effect on the quality of students’ education. Even worse, although this was overly esoteric for the paper, the university wants to remove standing committees which oversight restructuring.

All of which had no effect on management yesterday. The university points out that it is negotiating in good faith on wages and conditions, that other campus unions are not striking, and that industrial action so early in the semester is “regrettable”. Now that both sides have gone through the motions perhaps we will see progress towards a long overdue deal.

You don’t say

Australian National University’s Michael McKinley said it would take some sort of explosion for the aircraft to fall from the sky so suddenly. (Sydney) Daily Telegraph reporting on the mystery of MH 370

Student visas bouncing back

International student numbers are on the way up. According to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection there were 70,000 applications in the December 2013 quarter (a 13.5 per cent increase on the last quarter of 2012) and 62,000 were awarded. Applications have now returned to a level last seen in June 2010. While applications are up across all areas higher education is driving the growth, with a 32 per cent increase in apps in 4th quarter ’13 over 2012. Success rates are steady at around 90 per cent. The biggest growth is in the Indian (up 25 per cent) and Vietnamese (up 38 per cent) markets with India and China accounting for 30 per cent of all applications.

Don’t call the doctor

Tony Abbott is nothing if not consistent. Some eighteen months before he formed a government the prime minister was promising to be a friend to medical research and yesterday the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research (the WA Institute under a new name) reported him saying the same at its launch. Given the form of friendship researchers appreciate comes as cash what is good for the medicos in a tight budget year might be bad for other researchers. If the Australian Research Council is feeling ill just now staff should just shut up, the National Health and Medical Research Council would probably say more research on the ARC’s condition was needed – and send it the bill.

Clashing colours

The Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association will hold its first Asian conference in Bangkok on June 2-3. I wonder what sides of the green and gold debate the Red Shirts and Yellow Shirts will take? Speakers include open access advocate extraordinaire Colin Steele from ANU and Charles Sturt University bibliometry maven Pat Loria.

Ontario is no option

Sessional staff, the good news is that you are not alone. That is also the bad news – don’t even think things are better anywhere else. They certainly aren’t in Canada, according to consultant Alex Usher who explains why sessionals are poorly paid. “Partly, it’s a free market and there’s a heck of a lot of people willing to do academic work for very little pay. But partly it’s because institutions have a conscious choice to prioritise pay rises for existing full-time staff (gotta pay more for research excellence!) over hiring new full-time staff.” So that’s (not) all right then.

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