Call to share the wealth in research infrastructure

plus Sydney, Adelaide, Deakin and Wollongong win big in research rankings

and the Chief Scientist knows no fear

Star power

A test cricketer, a comedian and a premier walk onto a stage. And walk off it with hon docs from Edith Cowan U. Justin Langer, Ben Elton and Carmen Lawrence were all honoured by ECU yesterday.

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Research ranking winners

Kylie Colvin from the Higher Education Consulting Group completes her analysis of the Academic Ranking of World Universities rating of Australian universities by discipline groups this morning with clinical medicine and pharmacy and social sciences. Her figures include the specific rank of institutions which rate from 50 to 200 in the world, which ARWU only ranks in bands. Last Friday CMM published her analysis of science, engineering and life sciences.

After dismal declines in the Academic Ranking of World Universities field results for science, engineering and life sciences (CMM Friday) the University of Sydney bounces back with this morning’s results. Deakin, Wollongong and Adelaide also have good numbers. The University of Melbourne’s improvements are not as spectacular but when a university is number one in the country and in the world’s first 50 for everything big lifts are all but impossible.

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ARWU: Medicine and Pharma

The University of Sydney had a big win in medicine and pharma, rising 65 places to rate 36 in the world and third in Australia. The University of Melbourne, first in Australia and 26 globally also improved by 6 places, as did Monash which lifted 43 spots to be 34 in the world. The University of Queensland (fifth and 74) improved four places and University of Adelaide (sixth and 78) picked up 16 spots. But the big winners are Deakin (135) and Newcastle (178), which break into the world’s top 200. Only UWA (fourth and 76) down four places and UNSW (seventh and 121) down 22, went backwards.

Australian Rank 2016 University 2016 Rank 2015 Rank Change in Rank 2015-16
1 The University of Melbourne 26 32 +6
2 Monash University 34 77 +43
3 University of Sydney 36 101 +65
4 The University of Western Australia 67 63 -4
5 The University of Queensland 74 78 +4
6 The University of Adelaide 78 94 +16
7 The University of New South Wales 121 99 -22
8 Deakin University 135
9 The University of Newcastle, Australia 178

ARWU: Social Sciences

The University of Sydney also did well in social sciences, lifting 43 places from 86, putting it just eight spots behind the University of Melbourne, which rose from 49 to 35 in the world. UNSW, up 55 to be three and 53 and Wollongong up 56 to four and 55 also did well. So did Griffith, which lifted by 18 places to rank 9 and 127. However the big winners are UWA up 72 to score six and 158 and Adelaide, which break into the top 200 at 10 and 187. Monash (seven and 87) lost one spot and ANU (eight and 109) went backwards by nine.

Australian Rank 2016 University 2016 Rank 2015 Rank Change in Rank 2015-16
1 The University of Melbourne 35 49 +14
2 University of Sydney 43 86 +43
3 The University of New South Wales 53 108 +55
4 University of Wollongong 55 111 +56
5 The University of Queensland 76 77 +1
6 The University of Western Australia 86 158 +72
7 Monash University 87 86 -1
8 The Australian National University 109 100 -9
9 Griffith University 127 145 +18
10 The University of Adelaide 187

Gold for governance

University of Queensland deputy chancellor Jane Wilson is the Australian Institute of Company Directors 2016 gold medallist.

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“Cure for cancer” trumps “adaptable PhDs”

Does Chief Scientist Alan Finkel know no fear? He made a speech the other day about the way universities train far more doctoral students than will ever find work in the academy and how people with PhDs can apply their skills in all sorts of jobs outside labs.

“We accept many more students into PhD programs in biomedical fields than we can possibly employ at the postdoctoral level – let alone sustain in lifetime academic careers,” he said Nothing he and lots of people haven’t said before. But Dr Finkel was speaking at a medical specialist conference.

Bravery indeed, given the medical research community is perpetually appalled that there is not enough money to fund research by all the PhDs it pumps out. The National Health and Medical Research Council is presently searching for ways to get grant submission success up to 20 per cent, a figure which PhDs in all sorts of other disciplines would think lavish. Dr Finkel’s argument certainly will not wash with the medical research establishment. As Floyd Larsen from Cure Cancer Australia puts it; cancer research is a calling rather than a job. It takes at least seven years of intensive training to become a scientist and a life-long commitment to improving people’s lives. Researchers can spend up to a third of their year applying for highly competitive funding. Waiting to hear if their application is successful and if they have a job and funding for the upcoming year can be a stressful and uncertain process. The current environment has led to many talented researchers with incredible potential either leaving research altogether or moving overseas to secure funding. We must keep our brightest brains in Australia.”

Which rather misses the Chief Scientist’s point. But then again ‘cure for cancer’ trumps “adaptable PhDs” every time.

MOOC of the morning

Noel Lindsay and colleagues from the University of Adelaide launch Entrepreneurial Opportunities, via edX tomorrow. According to the blurb, the course delivers, “practical tools to evaluate entrepreneurial opportunities … , how to unlock your creativity and innovation …” , and “the fundamentals of successful entrepreneurs.” If the UofA team ever get sick of academe they have a future in copywriting.

Group of Eight’s policy prudence

This week the Senate’s Economic Legislation Committee is considering the government’s Omnibus Savings Bill, which includes a bunch of small-ish education measures. Instead of a nupathon the Group of Eight has responded with a considered submission to the committee that opposes some savings but approves others.

Thus the Eight rejects using the CPI to index funding in place of the Higher Education Grants Index, which “provides more policy coherence than the CPI”. And it opposes hefty funding cuts to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which supports research. But it backs a 1.5 per cent cut to the Research and Development tax concession. This is especially significant in the context of the unreleased inquiry into the entire R&D tax concession system, which is expected to recommend retaining the system while tightening self-assessment (CMM September 8). UA’s position now will provide it with credibility however it responds.

The G08 also supports the proposed lower threshold for student debt repayment to “protect the sustainability of the HELP scheme as Australian higher education’s most significant access and equity measure.”

Overall this is pragmatic policy designed to protect the fundamentals of the higher education system while demonstrating that the Eight understands that for all universities take they do have to give. As the submission describes the R&D tax concession cut, it’s “prudent in the current fiscal environment in the current fiscal environment.”

Location, location

National research infrastructure is concentrated in inner cities, with Group of Eight universities hosting more than half of university-based facilities, according to the Innovative Research Universities. It need not be this way, many facilities can be based anywhere and the existing arrangement makes researchers in outer urban and regional centre permanent outsiders.

“Since the large majority of resources are based in the larger cities, particularly Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, researchers from many institutions (and in the majority of cases that means researchers from younger, outer-metropolitan and non-metropolitan universities) are permanently the ‘outsiders’,” the IRU argues in a background paper to its submission to the National Research Infrastructure Roadmap.

Access and spread should be two key principles underpinning this research infrastructure roadmap. New research infrastructure should be devised in such a way that it can be located anywhere in Australia ensuring full access to all potential users,” the IRU adds.

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Culture swap

RMIT is very pleased that the Disney organisation is recruiting for its cultural exchange programme on campus. So pleased that the RMIT comms team may not have noticed the promo pic features Mickey and Minnie Mouse in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Maybe moving to Sydney from Melbourne is what the university means by “cultural exchange.”

Digging deep

University of Melbourne officials have taken down an announcement of public talks on academic freedom of speech, which the National Tertiary Education Union had posted to a university events e-notice board. According to the university as it’s an event for UniMelb staff it can’t be announced there. Except the event, featuring La Trobe’s Roz Ward and UniMelb historian Stuart Macintyre is already being promoted at other universities (it’s on at 7pm tomorrow in the Singapore Room, Melbourne School of Design).

It’s another example of UniMelbourne officialdom’s fascination with seeing how deep a hole they can dig themselves into. Back in August somebody decided that academic free speech should be subject to the university’s appropriate behaviour policy, now being drafted (CMM August 1 and August 10). This was exciting all sorts of ire until somebody senior and sensible had it pulled. And now this –deleting an announcement of a discussion of free speech on a campus!

Big Loss

Long-time LaTrobe U historian Inga Clendinnen is dead at 86. Internationally regarded for work on the Aztecs and the Holocaust her book on first contact between Australians and the British at Port Jackson from 1788, Dancing with Strangers (2003) is a gem.

Deal delivered

At the beginning of August Navitas said a new deal with Edith Cowan U was in the offing and so it was (CMM August 4). The pair has announced a JV, which rebadges Navitas’s Perth Institute of Business and Technology as Edith Cowan College. Demonstrating a trust born of 20 years doing business, there is neither a fixed term nor periodic renewal requirements for ECC.

No zombie joke

Thanks to a learned reader for a Canadian story about education administration academics who are using The Walking Dead to teach organisation theory. Makes a change from interminable Game of Thrones classes. That is all. No, CMM is certainly not going to make any comparison between zombies and deans of education.

Dolt of the day

Is CMM. In Friday’s email edition the ARWU engineering table listed RMIT in eighth and tenth place. As the copy stated, the University of Newcastle is in tenth spot.

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