Bonnell calls for an end of the ERA

Plus big signings at Swinburne

More frank than fond farewell

Warwick Anderson, the newly former chair of the National Health and Medical Research Council, will address the National Press Club on Wednesday. Professor Anderson has had a bit to say about independent medical research institutes lately. I’m guessing he will have more to add.

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Never ending (but same) story

After last week’s Group of Eight announcement that it does not support add-ons to the original Pyne package that disturb market purity we, sort-of, know what the Group of Eight doesn’t want. But as to what members want depends on who is talking. Ian Jacobs, new VC of the University of New South Wales has finally broken cover to tell the Times Higher (proper journalists don’t you know) what he would do if he was minister. Professor Jacobs would fund teaching and research separately and sufficiently so the former is not used to subsidise the latter. And “continue a balance” between private and public tuition funding, with fees high enough to ensure quality but with safeguards to ensure access, “regardless of ethnic group, indigenous origin or socioeconomic background.” Gosh, I wonder why no minister has ever thought of that.

U of Q VC Peter Hoj is with Professor Jacobs on splitting research and teaching. “The public good of research should be paid for by the whole country not students. We cannot build a national research effort on increases (in fees) from students. It is wrong,” he told CMM last week. Warren Bebbington (VC, Uni Adelaide) is also worried that research funding is lost amongst all the tinkering with the deregulation proposal. As to where the money will come from, he wants increased university funding to be an election issue, while Uni Melbourne VC Glyn Davis says it is time to state debating who gets how much again.

This could take some time.

 Big signings at Swinburne

Linda Kristjanson will serve a second five-year term as VC of Swinburne University. With closing the Lilydale campus, substantial growth through Swinburne Online and a couple of big blues with the NTEU her first term was testing. I doubt her second will be any quieter. As Swinburne chancellor Graham Goldsmith signalled yesterday, “the nature of academic work is also changing as rapid advances in technology challenge traditional models of educational delivery.”

Yesterday Swinburne also announced its new DVC research, Aleksandar Subic, who joins the university from RMIT where he is dean of engineering.

The two leadership appointments follow the February announcement that retiring ANU VC, Ian Young will return to Swinburne next year in a research role.

ANU new 2

End of an ERA

Is what Andrew Bonnell wants. The University of Queensland historian and respected NTEU official does not like the Australian Research Council’s Excellence for Research in Australia model because it creates cultures that reward researchers for meeting prescribed metrics. At UoQ he says, “staff are being rewarded for publishing in so-called A or A* journals, but those whose work appears in other venues might face being penalised in terms of workload allocation or career progression.” And this even though the ARC abandoned a formal journal ranking before ERA 2012.

But it is not just the methodology that upsets him. “The existence of the ERA is a problem to start with, and even if the ERA doesn’t rely solely on metrics, managers within institutions have used the ERA as the justification for the introduction of metrics-driven performance indicators in an effort to drive up the performance of the institution in the ERA.”

Nor does the model produce robust data, which the ARC can use to defend researchers from “further cuts from a short-sighted, mean, and perhaps increasingly vindictive government.” “Sometimes academics collude too much in their own oppression,” he concludes.

In 2012 the University of Queensland was rated four (“above world standard”) for history and archaeology, behind, ANU, La Trobe, Monash, Melbourne, UNSW and Sydney, which were fives, (“well above world standard”).

No impact

Here’s another reason why research metrics may not matter as much as oft assumed.”We suspect that an average paper in a peer-reviewed journal is read completely at most by no more than 10 people,” Asit Biswas and Julian Kirchherr write for the LSE’s Impact . And the ten are not as influential as readers once were. “During 1930s and 1940s, 20 percent of articles in the prestigious The American Political Science Review focused on policy recommendations. At the last count, the share was down to a meagre 0.3 per cent.”  If this stat applies here it is a bit of luck that impact is not included in the ARC’s metrics.

Degree delivers the dream

The GFC and succeeding slump has less shaken than stolen the sense among Americans that equality of opportunity exists for the US middle class, let alone the working poor. The new debate started by Derek Thompson’s essay in The Atlantic on college admission makes the point. He argues that people smart and motivated enough to apply to elite colleges are likely to do as well, whether they are selected or not. “While hundreds of thousands of 17- and 18-year-olds sit around worrying that a decision by a room of strangers is about to change their lives forever, the truer thing is that their lives have already been shaped decisively by the sum of their own past decisions—the habits developed, the friends made, and the challenges overcome. Where you go to college does matter, because it’s often an accurate measure of the person you’re becoming.”

It’s authentic Algerism but while it is a core credo of the American dream it ignores the power of caste – young people who are super-smart, enough and well connected enough (being both helps) to be accepted by an elite college have a huge advantage over everybody else.

Research by Joni Hersch from Vanderbilt U, (CMM August 14 2014) explains why. Few graduates of non-selective institutions continue to graduate (from) professional schools and among those that do, very few move to higher-ranked post-BA programs. And even when they do, their earnings do not catch up to their counterparts with elite undergraduate degrees, even taking into account type of degree and work characteristics that are themselves related to (the) status of undergraduate degree(s”).

This does not appear to apply here. As the estimable Andrew Norton points out, graduates of Australian Technology Network universities earn the same salary premium over working lives as those of the Ivy Eight. Let us hope it stays so – for the university attended to be a proxy for ability contradicts the ideal that education makes possible the Australian (if not American) dream.

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