Byrne to exit ARC

Plus

Plus Michelle Simmons has Feynman fans

Warren “pie face” Bebbington issues a challenge

And RUN stands up for demand driven funding

 

Don’t bank on the wales

“Made a splash on my 1st day as PVCR but failed to have the uni rebranded as the University of New South Whales” – the cetacean observing Emma Johnston, via Twitter yesterday. Has no one told her that the preferred title is now UNSW Australia?

Wednesday

Passing the pie

It was pie day at the University of Adelaide yesterday, no, not PI, pie as in pastry. VC Warren Bebbington took the Ultimate Pie Challenge, which raises funds for the Childhood Cancer Association and copped one in the kisser from Adelaide United (it’s a soccer team) captain Eugene Galekovic. The university’s chancellor Kevin Scarce was also pied, and how often do you get to write that about a retired rear admiral, RAN?

In 2014 Professor Bebbington took the ice bucket challenge for motor neurone disease research and passed the dare on to the VCs of Flinders and Uni South Australia, which he did again yesterday. David Lloyd (UniSAtook it up last time and CMM reckons he will with this one, as will new Flinders VC Colin Stirling.

More with less

Universitas 21 makes the point that its comparative assessment of national higher education systems is intended “to permit countries to benchmark performance against other countries at similar stages of development,” (CMM yesterday). So Universities Australia did just that and is very pleased with what it found. Not only are UA’s members collectively 10th in the world overall but Australia is third for “output” measured as research, education attainment and graduate employability. And it does all this with resources rated 14th! “These rankings confirm that Australia’s university system is one of the most efficient in the world,” UA chief Belinda Robinson says. But there are limits, she adds, and the $2.5bn of proposed budget funding cuts scheduled to kick in 2018 exceed them. “We must be mindful of the tipping point at which funding cuts will damage our global competitiveness.”

Ok audits

The Queensland Auditor General has reported on the state’s seven universities, and very dull it is indeed. The auditor declares them “financially sound” and issued unmodified opinions. Staff and admin costs as per centages of outlays are stable and in-line with national averages. All universities have appropriately designed and implemented internal controls, and testing found them to be generally effective, the report states.

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Super Simmons

There may not be many of them but Australian women scientists certainly have an impact. Last year Amanda Barnard (CSIRO) won a 2014 Feynman Prize for statistical analysis of nano particles and now Michelle Simmons (UNSW) has won the 2015 nano technology Feynman for work in “the new field of atomic-electronics, which she created”. CMM wrote a profile of Professor Simmons well over a decade back, when she was already a star in quantum computing research. I did not understand much of what she patiently told me then, with years of achievement by her since I understand even less now – except that if there are ever operational quantum computers she will have had a lot to do with it. But I got one thing right; “ what Simmons is trying to do is so extraordinary hyperbole seems impossible.”

Smiler Byrne strolls north

Yesterday’s news that Australian Research Council chair Aidan smiler” Byrne is leaving before his term completes is a potential research policy game changer, for the bad. The ARC’s funding programmes are always vulnerable to selective calls for funding cuts from politicians who mock what they do not understand and interest groups who want a bigger slice of limited funding. It takes a research policy expert with political nous to keep both at bay and the two skill sets are rare.

But Professor Byrne has them both. He strolls the corridors of power quietly, saying less, smiling more but always making convincing cases where they need to be heard. That the ARC saw off significant challenges for intellectual control of research engagement metrics was largely due to his capacity, credibility and courtesy. The consensus around the research traps yesterday was that this is a big win for the University of Queensland, where he is moving to be provost, and a loss for the research community. Especially as he is leaving a year early. Work on Excellence for Research in Australia 2018, especially the new engagement and impact aspects is underway but there is a vast amount still do and potential for the carefully constructed model, which integrates the new applied metrics with the commitment to assessing performance on the scholarly quality of research, to go amiss.

But why is he going? CMM understands Professor Byrne is confident that everything is on track and decided to move because he really liked the idea of working at a university, which he has admiringly observed for years. He will start at UoQ towards the end of the year. With VC Peter Hoj and incoming provost Aidan Byrne both former ARC chairs UoQ DVC R Robyn Ward will be feeling relaxed.

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Going but not forgotten

Retrenched professor Steve Turton left James Cook University on Monday. Professor Turton founded science at the Cairns campus and local paper, The Post, made sure the community knew all about it. “After 32 years of teaching in the tropical north, Professor Steve Turton presented his last lecture yesterday, having been made redundant by the university,” reporter Daniel Bateman wrote. Not the sort of farewell address JCU will have wanted.

RUN puts access on the agenda

The Regional Universities Network has released its incoming government brief without waiting to see who wins the election. RUN reminds whoever is the next minister of the fundamental role of its members in generating growth and increasing opportunities in regional Australia and calls for continuing, and new, dedicated funding. The network also calls for resource for its members and industry to “drive innovation in regional Australia.

In particular RUN speaks out for continuing all but open access, rejecting any amendments to demand driving funding for undergraduate places and calling for its extension to sub-degree places as pathways to degrees.

“We oppose a scenario where the demand driven system was retained for students with high ATARs and soft caps applied to others. This would run counter to the long held proposition that universities themselves are in the best position to judge who should enter universities. To allow any government a role in selection of students by any means creates very dangerous precedents.”

Precedents RUN obviously suspects will be on the policy agenda after the election. Adelaide VC Warren Bebbington questions the policy (CMM May 16) and Kim Carr says while Labor will increase funding for student places “we are simply not providing a blank cheque, government must protect the public interest,” (CMM September 24 2015).

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