Chief Scientist plan gets the nod

Plus for-profit trainers call for change

Good as his word

WA premier Colin Barnett was warning yesterday that without a bigger share of the GST his state’s future would lie in Asia rather than with eastern Australia. As if to make the point he was speaking in Singapore, where he addressed the University of Western Australia’s In the Zone conference on “capital ideas for the 21st century.

Another step towards a science strategy

The Prime Minister chaired the Commonwealth Science Council meeting yesterday, which does not seem to have been all that hard given everybody agreed on the next policy step, which is to consult some more. While the statement on the meeting issued by Mr Abbott and industry minister Ian Macfarlane was all but invisible on the content radar, it seems the meeting endorsed the funding emphasis on applied research Mr Macfarlane and Chief Scientist Ian Chubb have long called for. And the eight research growth areas were not only adopted but expanded, with the previous resources and energy category split.  The nine priority areas are, food, soil and watertransportcyber securityenergy, resourcesmanufacturing, environmental change and health.

Last month Professor Chubb told the Universities Australia conference that if the CSC adopted the eight priority areas “departments and agencies will get a letter advising that a proportion of their R&D budget should be used to support the priority areas that are relevant to their mission.” Um, they may take a while to draft but it seems Professor Chubb’s plan is on-track. According to the meeting communiqué, released last night; “the chief scientist presented practical challenges identified for each science and research priority by expert working groups. Members requested the National Science, Technology and Research Committee oversee capability mapping for each practical challenge.” This officials committee includes deputy secretaries of line departments plus PM&C and the heads of the ARC and NHMRC and is chaired by, what a surprise, the chief scientist. Professor Chubb’s term extension concludes at year’s end and he will be relentless in ensuring everything is sorted by then.

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More applied research CRCs 

The Science Council also discussed the Miles Review of the Cooperative Research Centres and it seems the programme is set to survive, although with more emphasis on industry-focused applied science and less on social welfare research.

ACPET on attack

The Victorian Government training inquiry includes invitations for the public education lobby to explain why the government should make the running on voced, with terms of reference including; “build a strong and responsive public TAFE sector” and the possibility of “regulation of training providers.” This makes responding tough for private providers in a state where some of them famously rorted a badly designed voucher system. Apologising, blaming bad apples and promising to do better will not cut it. Which is why the Australian Council for Private Education and Training’s submission is so smart – arguing new policies can make for a more efficient private sector providing superior training products. Thus ACPET calls for a smaller group of registered training organisations, which “must be governed with real checks and balances and funded at workable hourly funding rates to deliver real training.”

ACPET also calls for students to make “a contribution to course fees” “to encourage meaningful consideration to the commitment required as well as the type of training they will undertake.” The problem now, it argues, is that access to VET Fee Help leads people to think training is free. To ensure engagement “workplace components of courses up to Certificate IV should also be compulsory.

The submission also suggests fines and exclusion from state government funding for providers whose behaviour is unethical if not illegal.

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ARC returns fire

The Australian Research Council is not wildly impressed with Andrew Bonnell’s criticism of the imminent Excellence for Research in Australia (“End of an ERA,” CMM, April 10). Associate Professor Bonnell says academics are still pushed to publish in high ranked journals. But the ARC responds that this is nothing to do with it, having dropped a journal rank before ERA 2012. And it sets out in detail the range of measures its Research Evaluation Committees use to assess output and quality according to discipline norms. “In some disciplines, primarily physical, biological and medical sciences, a REC’s judgement is informed by citation profiles about journal articles and discipline specific citation practices. However, the peer review of the research outputs (not citation information) is commonly used for social science, arts and humanities disciplines (including history).”

But this argument has more to do with philosophy than methodology, between a funding system that pays on competitive results and a culture that sees this sort of accountability as the antithesis of reflective scholarship. 

No convincing Quiggin

I doubt anything ACPET argues will convince traditional supporters of public education, like celebrated University of Queensland economist John Quiggin who argues the best private providers should become contract providers of TAFE courses. “Those who don’t like that deal could compete like good capitalists in the open market, charging upfront fees and serving whatever market they could find, subject to ordinary consumer protection laws.”

Leaders we like less

Swinburne University’s new survey of Australians perceptions of leaders found we rate politicians low on competence and commitment to the national good compared to business, religious, union and community leaders. Surely, this isn’t surprising, governing, as opposed to representing interest groups, inevitably involves saying no much more often than yes. Be interesting to see how vice chancellors and academic researchers would rate if included in the next edition of the survey.

New bloom

Now that VET students all have their own ID number why not researchers? Certainly a unique identifier will make it easier to identify a researchers work and for scholars to assert ownership. A coalition of data managers, librarians and Universities Australia is accordingly pushing for Australia to adopt the US based Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID) system, which claims 140 institutional members and a million individual users have signed up since it was founded in 2012. Dr Laurel Haak, ORCID’s executive director, is in Canberra for a Q&A today.

But for ORCID to be of most local use it will need support from the National Health and Medical Research Council and Australian Research Council. Last month ARC chair Aidan Byrne reported the NHMRC’s Research Grants Management System can now accommodate researchers, including IDs like ORCID, and the ARC is working on ways to do it.

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Grey matter

Even with the Gallipoli centenary, military history, as distinct from war and society, is not high on university agendas. Scholars of campaigns and strategies are largely left to talk among themselves on campus and to the large lay-audience interested in what happened once the shooting started. But for everybody else, who knew, for example, that in February Jeffrey Grey, from UNSW Canberra was elected president of the Society for Military History. He was in Alabama for the AGM on the weekend and gave a paper on his new book, on Australia’s WWI Ottoman Empire campaigns, across the border at the University of Southern Mississippi last night. He will be back home talk about the book again next Tuesday at the Sydney Institute.

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