Birmimgham warns case for STEM study must be made

plus Greg Hunt’s hint on research and development funding

and Mooc of the morning from UNSW maths

Nothing to tweet about

The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science suggests we should follow it on Twitter for the latest news. So CMM did, to become follower 17. This is not especially impressive considering the account was opened in May 2012. You have to wonder if the hearts of Industry officials are in this social media lark.

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MOOC of the morning

At UNSW Norman Wildberger is about to launch Maths for Humans (presumably because AI knows this stuff already), which will “strengthen your algebra, geometry and thinking skills by learning about fascinating mathematical relations from daily life.” Target markets are high school students and commencing undergraduates plus teachers and anybody curious “about how mathematics is intertwined with the real world.”

This is yet another example of the virtuous MOOC – a community service that builds a university brand while selling its maths courses to people in the market for a degree. Just brilliant. It’s offered via mainly-UK MOOC platform Future Learn.

Brothers in verse

CMM thought UniMelbourne VC Glyn Davis was the only person in the country keen on Lord Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses“, (CMM February 4) but no, Industry Minister Greg Hunt quoted a couple of lines of yesterday in his speech to assembled science policy people.

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Who got what

Nicolas Herault and Francisco Azpitarte are the winners of the Economics Society of Australia best paper award for 2016. They are honoured for their “”Recent trends in income distribution in Australia”  published in the Society’s Economic Record. They found increasing income inequality between 1997 and 2009 was due more to the rise in middle and upper market incomes than policy changes.

Selling STEM

Yesterday was probably not the best time for Education Minister Simon Birmingham to give a speech about the importance of STEM subjects, what with yesterday’s Grattan Institute report that science graduates (apart from maths) had employment rates after graduation in-line with creative arts. But not to worry said the senator, things get better for STEM grads who do PG study, plus STEM skills “can and will increasingly be employed across a range of industries requiring more analytical ability and cross-disciplinary thinking.”

Gosh, once upon a time only deans of arts used lines like that.

With the state of the market for STEM grads out of the way the minister was able to concentrate on what he wanted to tell the Australian Council for Educational Research conference – the government’s commitment to lifting teacher education STEM standards. This is core business for Senator Birmingham, to admit that maths and science are beyond teacher education undergraduates would be a gift to opponents of student centred funding, who already argue that too many kids without the intellectual fire-power are admitted to uni, especially into education.

But there was an apposite aside in the speech that acknowledged not everybody understand the need for STEM. “We need to ensure that students and parents see the benefits of STEM disciplines and seize the opportunities to learn them through our education systems,” Senator Birmingham said. Before the election the government assumed that everybody understood innovation was a GOOD THING and would embrace job-changing technology, except that quite a few voters didn’t. That selling STEM is necessary is a sign of changed times.

Tuesday June 28

App of the Day

ANU’s classics museum has an app featuring 22 items in its collection, with photographs accompanied by a text written curator Elizabeth Minchin, designed to be “a guide at your shoulder.” “The app is also aimed at people who think that museums aren’t for them,” the university states. Spot the flaw in that idea.

Hunt hints at R&D winners

No one died of excitement when Greg Hunt delivered his first speech as Industry/Innovation/Science minister to policy people in Canberra yesterday. It was a perfectly serviceable address, including all the conventional components – how delighted the minister is to have the portfolio, the importance of science through history, great moments in Australian science, how central science is to the government’s plan and did the minister mention how glad he is to have the portfolio. As is customary in these rituals Mr Hunt made a couple of small funding commitments and mentioned how much the feds were spending on already announced programmes. But people listened closely to one section, where Mr Hunt talked of the need “to encourage private investment in science through venture capital.”

“I also want to work on further improving our attractiveness to early and mid-stage private equity. Our angel investors initiative is important but I am soon to meet with the venture capital sector to discuss how we can further improve our attractiveness as an international investment destination,” he added.

For everybody waiting on the Ferris, Finkel, Fraser report on the research and development tax concession this is very interesting indeed. The concession is not universally admired, with critics who think universities would better spend the $3.5bn it is expected to cost next financial year, saying it is too easy for businesses to collect a rebate without actually creating a product that makes money. But Mr Hunt’s talk of making nice with angel investors is a big hint that the concession will be changed around the edges, at most.

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Expert opinion

The Australian Research Management Society school is on in Melbourne next week and very serious it will be indeed (there are prereqs for attending). Mark Hochman from the University of Tasmania will lead one session those allowed in will want to queue up for. Mr Hochman has long experience of impact measures and will talk on how to collect and present data on research to demonstrate community benefit. He will also “address the emerging Australian Engagement and Impact framework.” Given the trial impact and engagement exercises are due next year, to run parallel with Excellence for Research in Australia in 2018, plenty of people are keen on expert opinion. Certainly nothing is emerging from the two Australian Research Council appointed working groups developing measures, which have maintained radio silence since they were announced in March (CMM March 30).

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Even endless optimism has its limits

Rod Camm’s optimism is admirable. As CEO of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training he could easily embrace realism and accept that a small number of VET FEE HELP rorters have unjustly ruined the collective reputation of providers for years to come. But Mr Camm never gives up; pointing out the stats show training in Australia will collapse without his members. However for alpha optimism there is no beating his call for a federalist solution to the mess that is the present eight different approach to VET funding, “courtesy of shared responsibilities between states and territories and the federal government.”

“While I don’t think we want to see a ‘one size fits all’ approach or hand the system over to the federal government (think VET FEE-HELP), surely there can be some agreement on the priorities and funding,” he says, adding that the agreement that divide up the dosh under partnership agreements expire in under a year.

But there are limits to even his optimism; “of course what we really need is a coherent, integrated tertiary education and training governance and funding regime but that’s a bridge too far for now.”

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