Elite unis aren’t innovators

plus Group of Eight backs case studies to measure research achievement

Murray Darling med school: not dead yet

and: from far south to deep north coalition coughs up campus cash

Forgiving feline

Flinders University is using a cute kitty to promote its out of hours study centre, but not just any cat, its Trim, successor to explorer Matthew Flinders sea-going puss of that name. And a generous feline Trim is too, appearing in this campaign despite being treated shabbily. The university’s online student information service used to be named “Ask Trim” until somebody changed it to “Ask Flinders” (CMM September 18 2015). So why do Flinders’ whimsy guidelines allow cats in some student service comms, but not others?

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Murray Darling Med School not entirely under water

John Dewar has backed the National Party proposal to ease requirements for regional students to access Austudy. Which is big of the La Trobe VC given Nats Leader Barnaby Joyce was widely expected to back the Murray Darling Medical School last week (CMM June 23) but didn’t. For years La Trobe and Charles Sturt U have called for the MDMS, which would train doctors in the bush on the assumption they would stay there. But health ministers, let alone treasurers, have not been buying.

CMM was looking forwarded to blistering responses from Professor Dewar and his CSU colleague Andy Vann when there was no joy from Barnaby and was puzzled when they expressed merely mild regret. Now we know why. Late Friday health minister Fiona Nash (another National) promised a rural health commissioner if the coalition is returned. The commissioner will develop a “national rural generalist pathway to address rural health’s biggest issue – lack of medical professionals in rural, regional and remote areas.” A med school it isn’t but it is a step towards one.

IT to India

Swinburne U’s Jason Sargent is a winner in rating agency QS’ impact awards for technology in international education and recruitment. Dr Sargent won for a project that sends Australian business and IT students to work in work in a remote village in India.

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U Tas election win

The University of Tasmania is on a funding promise for its growth plans in Burnie and Launceston, whichever parties form the next government. Labor promised $150m in April and as universally expected, the government came good on Friday. This is a big deal for the university and local government in northern Tasmania, all of which see expanding access to education as the way to improve the region’s dismal rate of economic growth. It is also a big deal for local Libs, notably Brett Whitely and Andrew Nikolic whose ultra marginal seats include Burnie and Launceston respectively.

Equally foreign but much closer

Cosmopolitan scholar Francesco Paolucci was quick to commend his Murdoch University to Eu students now that the UK is just another foreign country. Of course it’s still a bit more convenient than Perth.

Elite least in innovation

A survey of ANZAC universities finds they are enthusiastic for innovation, especially ones which lift productivity and improve the student experience. But not all innovators are equal, with the top 13 Australian institutions (as listed on the Shanghai ARWU), less interested in change than others. “First tier universities are unlikely to lose their top-ranked status for research, but they could be vulnerable to efforts by other universities to improve the student experience or otherwise increase their student numbers,” the report states.

In contrast, less complacent campuses appear focused on improving the student experience to drive growth, rather than enhancing research. “The pattern of innovation strategies and benefits for second tier universities could reflect an alternative strategy that focuses on innovations to attract students through improvements to the student experience and university reputation instead of a strategy to use innovation to increase research output.”

Authors Anthony Arundel, Dominique Bowen Butchart, Sarah Gatenby-Clark and Leo Goedegebuure produced the survey and resulting report for the L H Martin Institute and the University of Tasmania’s Australian Innovation Research Centre. The survey sample was senior university managers, outside their institutions’ executive and not academics, at 39 Australian and six New Zealand universities.

Overall innovation in universities is focused on service deliveries with processes and IT both leading areas. As for the idea marketing units spend ever-money on new social media in fact they rate third lowest (30 per cent) for innovation, although they rate highest for the importance of changes made. Given the disaster innovation gone wrong would mean for every university, international units are highest for reporting facing resistance to change.

Monday June 27

Cost benefit not analysed

Economist Leo Dobes (ANU) and colleague conclude that neither politicians nor public servants understand how or why to undertake a cost benefit analysis. CBA is not conducted independently and objectively, is used to ‘justify rather than inform’ and is not always undertaken on important decisions,” they write in their new book on the subject for the excellent ANU Press. It’s available without charge, here.

Bucks for benefit

The PM has announced funding for a project that undoubtedly produces bundles of benefits for its cost – $10m for James Cook University’s Cairns Innovation Centre. The Queensland state government has already committed another $10m.

Group of Eight on the case for measuring research

The Group of Eight submission, out this morning, to the inquiry on how the Australian Research Council should measure impact and engagement in its funding formulas is carefully calibrated and elegantly under-stated. That Go8 executive director Vicki Thomson is an adept in the arcana of research measurement undoubtedly assists. When at the Australian Technology Network she cooperated with the Go8 on a major project on impact and argued last year that the ARC’s emphasis on publications is at the expense of industry collaboration, (CMM March 31 2015.).

Now the Eight asserts that its trial demonstrated impact is (relatively) easy to measure, using a case study approach, along the lines of, but not as extensive as the version used by the UK research agency. The Eight-ATN project “proved not only the undeniable impact of quality research from Australian universities but also the capacity of case studies and expert panels to assess the impact of research and the institutional pathways to impact.” This will likely be the big issue that the expert groups appointed by the ARC to develop new metrics for the 2018 Excellence for Research in Australia assessment have to hammer out, Critics of case studies suggest they cost a bomb to prepare and review but the Go8 point out that the cost of the 7000 or so case UK studies annualised over the six year life of the funding model was less than $350 each.

As to engagement, the Go8 suggests the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering model, which emphasises income for research and commercialisation of it, is ok but needs to expand beyond STEM disciplines to include HASS.

The Go8 point out that whatever is adopted the government should go easy on demands for information, what with no funding being attached. This is true for now but CMM doubts the feds are requiring all this effort from the ARC unless impact and engagement will be funding drivers in ERA ’18, at least if the coalition wins on Saturday.

Good idea, shame about the advertising

The prime minister‘s campaign launch promise to “invest $28 million in programs to encourage more girls and women to study and work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics”  with 1400 internships for women with STEM PhDs, went down well yesterday. As Universities Australia chief Belinda Robinson pointed out, women studying STEM at university does not translate into their building careers on the basis of their science and maths skills. The Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, which runs a PhD intern programme, also backed the plan. As for $3m for a “new and contemporary” National Career Education Strategy this sounds like the usual government information advertising waste of money. Still, at least the budget is not big enough for it to be squandered on television.

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Counting the human cost

The fifth International Academic Identities conference, on Wednesday-Friday at the University of Sydney looks like being an extraordinary event. While the theme, academics are now assessed by their output, is hardly new, the explorations of the ways measurement impacts people cover the spectrum of university life. This is a big conference with dozens of speakers from around the world and a credit to conveners Tai Peseta (UniSydney) and Simon Barrie (WSU), especially as their’s is an inherently subversive symposium, independent of academic publishers, scholarly societies, university endorsement or government sanction.

“The independence of the conference is one of its strengths. While we will always need sharp structural, macro analyses of the changing global patterns of academic labour, we also need to wrestle with how this version of academic life affects the people who do the work – their psyches, health, bodies, and the relentless desire for improvement in the age of measurement,” Dr Peseta says.

Dolt of the Day

Is CMM. Friday’s email edition confused two books by QUT VC Peter Coaldrake and his colleague and collaborator Lawrence Stedman. It’s the second edition of their Raising the Stakes: gambling with the future of universities, which will be out just days after the election.

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