Aus research: too much too ordinary

plus Brave Mike Brooks’s research plan for Uni Adelaide

and the irrelevance of the ATAR in teacher education at Charles Sturt U

A new take on an old argument in CMM this morning. For the innovation agenda to work some universities should only teach and government should set research strategy. John Dawkins must wonder why he bothered.

From the “you don’t say!” desk

La Nina set to bring winter rain,” James Cook U warned yesterday. Everybody on the east coast already knows.

 Lights out for some at Macquarie

The long expected staff restructure at Macquarie U is underway with some positions being abolished and others created. But while the numbers balance, staff being spilled fear that as many as 50 of 60 individuals will be effected. “People are being told they are under-skilled although for years requests for training were denied because there was no budget,” a watcher of Lighthouse Land life says. IT at the university has long been fraught, with a staff survey last Spring revealing a very unhappy workforce, CMM August 28) (CMM hears nobody who spoke up then is being singled out for the chop).

Macquarie management says after an extensive review a change proposal went to staff in April, with responses due yesterday. A “closed recruitment process” for existing IT people is “the next step”.

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ANU bound

Helen Sullivan is the new director of the ANU’s Crawford School of Public Policy. She is moving from the Melbourne School of Government.

Dan on the spot

The National Tertiary Education Union has organised an election forum tonight at the soon to be no longer Deakin University campus at Warrnambool. The sitting member for Wannon, Dan Tehan is speaking along with Labor candidate Michael Barling and The GreensThomas Campbell. Last month Mr Tehan announced Canberra would kick in $14m, which was, “not tied to the election,” to keep the campus open. But with no university declaring itself willing to take over at Warrnambool (Federation U is thinking about it) guess who will get questions about what.

Irrelevant ATAR

Toni Downes has responded to the confected crisis over teacher education ATARS. The Charles Sturt U DVC E and former dean of education has told Nadine Morton in the local Western Advocate that the number to look at is not entry ATARS at CSU but the number of teacher education student who use it in applications. CSU admitted a substantial 837 students to teaching courses last year, of whom just 6 per cent were admitted on their ATAR. And no, low academic entry was not disguised by alternate entry, yes 21 per cent got in via pathway programmes but 57 per cent were accepted on the basis of previous university study. CSU has the second largest teacher education enrolments in the country (after Australian Catholic U).

Be seen by TEQSA

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency is hosting a conference on, what a surprise, quality assurance. With the agency assessing institutions on the 103-strong Higher Education Standards Framework as of January (CMM June 1) this is a great opportunity for universities who want to suck-up, sorry, learn about HESF.

Week

Those who can’t should teach

Alan Pettigrew warns the government’s innovation agenda depends on research strength, but whether Australia’s universities are making the best use of resources is assumed not assessed by the feds. To help Canberra out he has crunched the numbers on the relationship between research block grant allocations and Excellence in Research for Australia research performance to discover nothing remarkable. But it is what he suggests should be done that will upset all sorts of people.

In a paper released this morning, the L H Martin Institute professorial fellow shows that a generation on from the Dawkins reforms the Group of Eight still picks up the funding and pump out the papers. There is, he says an “exponential relationship” between research performance and RBG. QUT for example, is rated ninth in the system, but received only 57 per cent of the eighth placed University of Adelaide’s RBG funding and 27 per cent of first placed University of Melbourne’s.

In contrast to the Great Eight, some ten universities had 44 per cent or more of their broad research areas, ranked below world standard in the Australian Research Council’s ERA 15 exercise, over half the national total of under-performing areas. Edith Cowan, Charles Sturt and Victoria U are among the less prestigious performers.

Part of the problem is that too many Australian universities are trying to do much. Certainly the system is strong in medical and health sciences, with 97 per cent of disciplines in 28 universities rated at or above world standard. But 5o per cent of research in business and related areas at 38 universities was below world standard. “The ERA exercise has established that the majority of assessments below world standard occurred in those institutions whose research block grant rating was in the lowest third of all institutions,” Pettigrew points out.

Professor Pettigrew suggests it is time to address the “high proportion” of below world standard research “that extends across many institutions” and reduce under-performing areas in universities whose output is small and poor.

Stand by for outrage and endorsement. Dawkins universities in the suburbs will argue they need time to build research, the regionals will pitch the debate as city v country, the tech-focused former institutes will point to areas where they will lead the country and the aristos of the eight will simply state that a research dollar they do not get is one wasted.

But CMM wonders what all universities will make of Pettigrew’s proposal that the government should respond and “move forward from the decades old ‘unified national system approach’ of competitive neutrality in research funding systems to a system that is more strategic needs based.”

In particular he proposes, “deeper specialisation of research in fewer” areas and “the development of ‘specialist teaching’ institutions or strategic partnerships between universities with complementary capabilities and capacities in teaching and research.

And wont that go down well with research strong universities who do not want government going beyond setting national research priorities. As for “specialist teaching institutions” – the VCs who will like the idea won’t be the ones it applies to.

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Wester and wester

To call Bozeman, Montana a one-horse town is incorrect, the horse moved to Missoula in search of adventure. But it does have a rated engineering school, part of Montana State U. So rated that doctoral student Jeffrey Simkins has a scholarship to work on reverse osmosis membranes to recycle water, at the University of Western Australia. He will find the summers much the same (the Montana plains get hot) but if Mr Simkins turns up now he will wonder where winter went.

Building one brand

For anybody who has ever told deans that no 18 year old prospective student cares what they think and no they can’t have a TVC  Lara Sinclair‘s  profile of Macquarie U‘s chief marketing officer Mark Chatterton, is a must read. It shows how to defeat the baronies that are built in every university and the vast resources that can be saved by concentrating on a centrally set strategy. Mr Chatterton is one tough cookie. He will need to be, there is no university where deans and DVCs like to see their own brands as subordinate to the university corporate identity.

Brave Mike Brooks

The University of Adelaide’s five-year new research strategy , announced this morning, is replete with the usual undertakings to excellently innovate. But there are also two specifics against which DVC R Mike Brooks will be judged. By 2021 the university will rate in the top 120 in both the Times Higher (now 149) and ARWU (now in the 151-200 bracket) rankings.

Nor does Professor Brooks underestimate the overall challenge to accomplish both, as well as the many specific-free promises in his plan. “For a mid-sized university, achieving sustained improvements in research excellence also requires much greater consistency of performance across our selected areas of endeavour than currently exists. … If we are to lift our research performance and rankings, we will need to increase the scale of our best research groups so that they can address the big challenges and not fall behind their competitors. With limited resources, we must be strategic and selective in choosing where to invest and also disinvest.”

And he accepts the obligation of a research university in a struggling state;

South Australia in particular requires an ‘industrial renaissance’ to overcome a loss of jobs and economic activity in mining and manufacturing. Improving this culture requires a change in the way universities interact with industry and government.”

There are also hints of changes that not all will embrace. “The university will examine its research institutes and strengthen capacity to deliver high-impact research outcomes,” the strategy states. And the days where what occurs in the lab exclusively makes for promotion out of it are over. “While, traditionally, academic promotion rewards research excellence – as is essential – we must also ensure that outstanding performance in research translation is better supported and similarly recognised.”

But where are the dollars? Coming quite soon CMM hears. With explicit goals set the sooner for Professor Brooks the better.

Edugrowth events

Readers ask where they can learn more about the Edugrowth international education incubator plan (CMM yesterday). Tonight in Sydney, tomorrow in Brisbane and Tuesday in Perth, CMM replies.

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Not calm at all

The campaign against the ANU cuts to the School of Culture, History and Language continues with the Australian Association for Pacific Studies warning Vice Chancellor Brian Schmidt that job losses are “a profound attack on the next generation of Pacific Studies scholars.”

“The ANU Pacific Studies Program is the only Pacific Studies Program in Australia.  These cuts threaten Australia’s position as a site of international research excellence in the field,” the association’s executive committee state.

Revenge in Rockie

CQU VC Scott Bowman’s emerging expansion plans for Townsville involve a CBD campus with 5000 students. That’s not much short of half arch rival’s James Cook U’s 11,500 enrolments at its hq campus in the city. Doesn’t leave JCU much alternative to opening up in Professor Bowman’s turf in Rockhampton.

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