Bill Gates backs public funding for basic research

but what would he know about R&D?

UofQ’s hit MOOC rolls on

Vast VET depends on private providers

plus HeadsUp: the week’s winners at work

End of an appalling era

The new VET loan system passed parliament last night, ending the catastrophe of the former VET FEE HELP programme, introduced on Labor’s watch and allowed to continue way too long on the coalition’s. “The new safeguards we’ve put in place mean students can have confidence that the training they are receiving is aligned to workplace needs and strong employment outcomes, and is being delivered by training providers who have met the tougher benchmarks we have set. At the same time, taxpayers can have confidence the loans the Government is providing are for genuine students,” Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham said last night.  The legislation was adopted by the Senate with support of all parties and crossbenchers.

Making a difference

Philanthropy for universities generally comes from rich-listers who fund multi-multi-million dollar research into areas of interest to them or scholarships for the immensely gifted or disadvantaged. But you don’t hear much about blokes like Max Schroder, just honoured by the Business Higher Education Round Table who supports a range of scholarships for 32 Indigenous students at the University of New England. Perhaps this is how he prefers it, if so sorry Mr Schroder but the world needs to know and honour, achievements like yours.

Uni teachers of the year

Flinders University associate professor Karen Burke da Silva was named university teacher of the year last night for a programme designed to lift scientists’ teaching skills. Other award winners include Birgit Loch from Swinburne University  and Catherine Attard from Western Sydney University, both for maths education.  Mario Ricci from the University of Adelaide and Jaclyn Broadbent from Deakin U were honoured for programmes to engage students with biology and health sciences.

Not enough of what the doctor ordered

Here’s something medical researchers can do while waiting for the grant knockback from the National Health and Medical Research Council most applicants receive. The Australian Society for Medical Research has issued its annual survey on employment status and opportunities in the industry. The ASMR will use the findings to “inform future government policy on building a sustainable health and medical research sector.” CMM suspects that ‘sustainable’ is defined as always more, a lot more, money. As one respondent to this year’s survey put it; “the current situation is unacceptable and many important projects and competitive fellowship candidates are not funded. This is the main reason for me contemplating leaving academic research in the near future.”

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Research heresy of the day

Yesterday CMM reported the Chief Economist’s new innovation report ignored the impact and engagement orthodoxy to find, “for public R&D, the social returns appear to be highest in basic research.” And now, egad! some bloke called Bill Gates agrees, (thanks to learned consultant Andrew Dempster for the pointer.) “A new idea is a fragile thing. It needs allies to nurture it. Government R&D investments provide that important support. Without it, we would have fewer scientific breakthroughs, “ Mr Gates writes.

MOOC of the morning

The University of Queensland (via edX) is offering a new version/(edition?) of its MOOC on preparing for the IELTS Academic Test. Apparently it provides “immediate access to over 80 hours of interactive practice materials covering each of the four skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing.” With five UoQ instructors, there is new content, plus “comprehensive feedback on your writing using several new features.” Talk about giving the people what they want, some 270 00 people have already used the IELTS prep. Yes, this is something people will pay for, but UoQ is too smart for that. Giving it away to aspiring undergraduates makes for boundless brand-building benefits are boundless.

Authors of year

The Australian Association for Research in Education has named Jennifer Gore (University of Newcastle) Rosie Joy Barron (UoN), Kathryn Holmes (Western Sydney U) and Maxwell Smith (UoN) authors of the article of the year for “Who says we are not attracting the best and brightest? Teacher selection and the aspirations of Australian school students,” Australian Education Researcher 43 (5) November 2016. CMM reported the article’s arguments yesterday.

Aligning the superlatives

Kevin Jameson is making the most of his acting appointment as Macquarie University’s dean of business and economics. With Stephen Brammer taking over in the new year Professor Jameson has commissioned a review of the accounting department and announced flash new teaching digs in the Sydney CBD for the faculty and the soon to be part of it, Macquarie Graduate School of Management. Apparently the new “campus” at Angel Place (address is 123 Pitt St) “offers a unique opportunity for the alignment, collaboration, and forging of a premium postgraduate experience. ” Good-oh, but “campus”? It looks like a floor in a flash tower to CMM.

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Vast VET relies on private providers

Back in June the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research first reported enrolments for the whole training system, not just government funded places.

Privates provide: The result was staggering for everybody who assumed that the system consisted of TAFE, community providers and a few for-profits, including carpet baggers exploiting students and rorting Treasury. In fact, it turned out that when people paying for their own training are included there were 3.9m in training, nearly twice the public sector figure. (CMM June 16). More numbers yesterday confirmed private providers are essential to the overall system, providing skills that people need to stay in and improve their employment.

Private delivery: The new survey demonstrates people prefer the public to private sectors, but not by much. The former had an 87.1 per cent satisfaction rate compared to the latter’s 85.2 per cent. And fee for service training graduates enjoyed a clear lead on employment over people who studied at public providers, 83.4 per cent to 73.7 per cent.

True but too late: For months the Australian Council for Private Education and Training told anybody who would listen what these figures show – that quality private training is essential to the system. ACPET chair Rod Camm was still trying yesterday; “this report explodes the myth that all private providers are somehow sub-standard,” he said. True but too late, the VET FEE HELP loan catastrophe was caused by a small number of appalling opportunists taking advantage of disastrously designed legislation but the whole industry is wearing the cost of repair, a new loan system which puts onerous, in cases unfair, demands on Mr Camm’s legitimate members. But nobody cares – the numbers everybody will remember are the millions of dollars lost to bodgy providers not the millions of students satisfied with their private training.

Elsevier’s strategic withdrawal

Journal giant Elsevier has taken another small step back in its fighting retreat from the open access coalition. Some STEM and medical researchers like the idea of journals publishing the research a paper is based on, so other scientists can replicate experiments for other purposes, or catch out cheating. Institutions and open access journals deliver on data sets but for-profit publishers, not so much.

However Elsevier now says data underpinning articles in 1800 journals will be available. No, this has nothing to do with the fundamental case against Elsevier and its peers, that it privatises the profits that flow from publishing research the public pays for. But it is another reason for researchers who prefer to publish with long-established journals to stick with the status quo.

HEADS UP

the week’s achievers at work

 

Ross Tappell is the inaugural head of the ANU Malaysia Institute, which with 40 academics will be the largest foreign research centre devoted to studying the nation.

Emma Johnston, dean of science designate at UNSW is also president elect of Science and Technology Australia. Professor Johnston will take over next November. Joining her will be Griffith U biologist Jeremy Brownlie as deputy president and Darren Saunders (UNSW cancer researcher) as secretary.

Barrister and investor (a BRW rich-lister no less ) Allan Myer will become University of Melbourne chancellor as of January. Mr Myer is foundation chair of the university’s Believe fundraising campaign, which launched in 2013. He replaces Elizabeth Alexander, chancellor for six years.

Four Melbourne Graduate School of Education staff are promoted to full professor, Sophia ArkoudisHelen CahillJanet Clinton and Dianne Vella-Brodrick.

The National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education at Curtin University has announced its three equity fellowships for 2017. They are Matt Brett (LaTrobe), Louise Pollard (UWA) and James Smith (Charles Darwin).

Therese Jefferson is the Australian Research Council’s incoming executive director for social, behavioural and economic sciences. She joins the ARC from Curtin U where she is the business school’s research director.

Rob Pike is La Trobe’s new PVC for the College of Science, Health and Engineering. He was previously the director of the university’s Institute of Molecular Sciences.

New University of Canberra VC Deep Saini has joined the board of the Association of Commonwealth UniversitiesProfessor Saini took over at UoC in September.

The Sax Institute (research evidence in health policy) awards are out. Kees van Gool (UTS) wins for work on the Medicare Safety Net. Angela Dawson (also UTS) is the author of sexual and reproductive health guidelines for use in humanitarian crises in the Asia-Pacific. Kristine Macartney (National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance) is leader on a project overseeing the safety of government-funded vaccinations, via real time SMS and email reports.

Marie-Louise Ayres will be the next director general of the National Library of Australia. Dr Ayres, an NLA staffer, will take over in March, replacing Anne-Marie Schwirtlich who leaves after six years

The Australian Research Council has released the new members of its college of experts, they are:

CSIRO: Filomena Pettolino. Curtin U: Gretchen Benedix, Ottmar Lipp, Phil Bland, Carey Curtis. Deakin U: Wanlie Zhou. DSTO: Albert Wong. Edith Cowan U: Catherine Ann Hope. Griffith U: Yongsheng Gao. James Cook U: Lin Schwarzkopf, Carl Spandler. La Trobe U: Marija Tabain. Monash U: Maryrose Casey, Kate Smith-Miles. QUT: You-Gan Wang, Steven Bottle, Margot Brereton, Anthony Clarke. RMIT: Xun Yi. Swinburne U: Sarah Maddison. ANU: Geoffrey Clark. Flinders U: Sarah Wendt, Amanda Elllis, Michael Brunger. UofMelbourne: Jennifer Lewis, Katrina McFerran, Laura Parry, Ann Roberts, Stephen Swearer. UofQ: Heather Douglas, Susanne Schmidt, Kerrie Wilson.UofSydney: Seok-Hee Hong,Dianne Wiley, Ariadne Vromen, Andrew Leach. UofWA: Mark Edele, Peter Veth, Michael Johns, Simon Driver, Philip Mead. UofAdelaide: Vincent Bulone. UoCanberra: Janine Deakin. UofNewcastle: Joy Wanless. UniofSouthAustralia: Enzo Lombi, John van Leeuwen. UofTasmania: Nathaniel Bindoff, John Bowman, Andrew Chan, John Edgar, Aron O’Cass, Brett Paull, Dirk Baltzly. UTS: Anthony Dooley.UofWollongong: Madeleine du Toit, Kate Senior. UNSW: Melissa Tate, Tapabrata Ray.

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