The Libs are already bossing researchers about

Desperate lead of the day

“Garlic – long portrayed as protecting humans from the fangs of ‘vampires’ – does in fact protect fish from a particular fanged parasite.” James Cook University media release yesterday.

Byrne goes for broke

Monash University returned to the bargaining table yesterday, offering staff 2 per cent per annum for three years. “I recognise that this salary increase is below the quantum demanded by the NTEU; however 2 per cent is the maximum responsible and sustainable salary offer that the university can afford, without significant job losses, ” Vice Chancellor Ed Byrne emailed staff. The April cuts and reductions in research revenue will cost the university $50m over the next two financial years, he explained. “It needs to be remembered that every 1 per cent increase, in salary, costs the university some $10m and unless covered by additional revenue, would need to be funded by the equivalent of reducing staff numbers by 100.”

So pushing for a payrise gets people sacked. I wonder how the Monash branch of the National Tertiary Education Union will respond to this – not well is my guess. This yarn has a way to run. As for the timing, Professor Byrne obviously assumes that there are no extra Coalition cuts to come. I suspect that yarn has a way to go as well. As yesterday demonstrated, the Coalition may maintain overall higher education spending, but this does not mean cash can’t be moved around.

Tremble before Kim Il Tony

The deplore-a-grams flew thick and fast as Liberal Jamie Brigg’s research censorship, sorry, selection strategy was condemned yesterday. And they will continue today now we know that the $103m in Australian Research Council funding will be “reprioritised”.
The National Tertiary Education Union’s Canberra chief Stephen Darwin tweeted what many thought, “it would be back to Brendan Nelson thumbing through proposals finding those that create good media.”
Andrew Leigh, one of very few MPs who actually understand the way research is funded, is probably right, “I’ll bet anyone who’s been an ARC assessor takes a dim view of Tony Abbott threatening to kill peer-reviewed research he dislikes. Kim Carr chimed in on ABC Sydney radio, saying the proposal “was garnering votes on the basis of philistinism.”
Even Universities Australia’s Belinda Robinson, who takes the need to appear bi-partisan very, very seriously, told ABC radio that it was not the best idea she had ever heard. (It took UA until 6.55pm to issue a statement that “expressed concern that projects normally funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council would be funded by re-directing grants from expert-approved Australian Research Council research projects.”)
The on-time over-kill criticism was from NTEU federal president Jeannie Rea, “while we might expect direct government interference in the determination of successful research grants in countries like North Korea, it is simply unacceptable in a country like Australia.” The again, if idiotic comparisons do become illegal it will be the re-education camp for her.
While the irrelevant-research announcement was always intended as cover for taking control of $100m of ARC funding it is also a stunt and the grown up Liberals know it – which is why Mr Briggs, Liberal spokesman “on scrutiny of government waste”  fronted the story yesterday.
There was certainly no sign Brett “below the radar” Mason wanted to anything to do with this intervention on his higher education policy patch. Unless he has lost interest – the Senator last had something to say on Twitter on August 30.
Another group that did not spring to the defence of research independence was the medical research lobby but only a cynic would suggest that this is because the ARC’s loss is their gain. Mr Briggs is quite clear- a Coalition government will not cut overall research funding – he just confirms what Tony Abbott told Universities Australia back in February, that medicine matters most.
And, what a coincidence, Liberal MP and assiduous oped author Josh Frydenberg had a piece in the Herald Sun just as Mr Brigg’s proposal appeared, making the case for the conservative’s support for medical research, including its emphasis on dementia. “The Coalition’s track record in government and its policies at this election acknowledge that and see medical research as an important opportunity to advance Australia and help the world.”
Looks like time for humanities researchers to work out how to add, “cure for dementia” in research grant applications.

Not quite nixe-e for NICTA

The Information Communications Technology Research Centre of Excellence took a $42m hit in the Coalition costings yesterday, leading to commentators assuming that its days as a research organisation are over even though It is barely a month since Kate Lundy, announced an extra $42m for the agency in the 2015-16 financial year. But NICTA itself was remarkably relaxed, reporting last night; “the Coalition has expressed strong support for the work of NICTA and there have been discussions about an alternative funding model going forward.” They are either putting a very brave face on their fate or there is a secret plan. Unless of course management suspected it was too good to last in the first place.

Clueless concupiscence

Writing in the Journal of why do women bother studies (yes I made that bit up)  Rob Brooks from the University of New South Wales reports on male perceptions of the female orgasm, “Men, it seems, are pretty clueless about when their partner is faking this important signal of sexual satisfaction.”  Who would have thought it?

It only looks irrelevant to the unimaginative

Now here’s an example of research that Jamie Briggs might think makes his point, but doesn’t, Moshe Justman and Karine van der Beek’s, “Market forces shaping human capital in 18th century London,” (Melbourne Institute, Working Paper 28/13, August 2012).  Sound like a waste of money better spent on a cure for the disease de jour? Not really, the authors explain how the market for training created the skills basis the industrial revolution required. And they demonstrate the way investing in training delivered higher incomes for skilled workers. Gosh, now how could this be relevant to Australia in a week where stats show a collapse in apprentice and trainee starts, the very things we know are an engine of social mobility? I think I just answered the question.

 As long as he does not sing

The endlessly enthusiastic Craig Emerson is back in the policy game, following his decision to follow Julia Gillard into political retirement. He has hung up his shingle as an economics consultant. Despite the April funding cuts I am guessing there are plenty of people in the sector who will wish the former higher education minister was back in about a week. If anybody understands the importance of all sorts of research that is not top of the agenda when written it is a bloke who wrote his PhD on rent resource taxation back in the ’70’s.

Yes, it is rocket science

The University of Queensland reports its scramjet is set for a three second experimental flight above Norway. I have no idea how this air-breathing engine is supposed to work but hope it does, given the years UofQ rocket scientists (yes they really are rocket scientists) have spent on it. They must be confident given the university is already spruiking the technology in a course for the Harvard/MIT led edX MOOC.

By Ballarat, hello F U

The Victorian lower house is set to approve the University of Ballarat’s takeover of, sorry, merger with, what was Monash Gippsland (the legislation is already through the Legislative Council). From January 1 the new institution will be Federation University Australia. VC David Battersby gets cross whenever anybody suggests people might unfortunately abbreviate this so all I will offer is that some of the alternative names were worse. At least the university has kept Ballarat’s perfectly adequate old livery – thus depriving a design consultancy of a big fee for new branding.

 Less safe than certain seat

With the campaign all but over La Trobe academic Ian Tulloch is probably confident that nothing will change his prediction that the Nationals will hold Mallee. Given retiring member John Forrest received 66 per cent of the primary vote in 2010 you could probably get good odds if you doubt Tulloch.

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