Finkel is new Chief Scientist

 

Plus Western Sydney’s open space spat and the ARC prepares to pick up the pace

Mandate of Kevin

Education Minister Simon Birmingham will open the Australian Centre on China in the World at ANU today. Yes that China Centre, the one funded by forgotten Emperor Lu Kewen.

ANU Sept 15

ARC ready to pick up the pace

Now that university-industry collaboration is the go research observers say if the Australian Research Council is smart it will be expecting calls in the Watt Review of Research Policy and Funding for faster allocation of applied grants. Certainly this involves challenges for the ARC, handing out money on a rolling basis years in advance involves guesses on future funding and inevitably increases staff costs and the Council’s old IT system would struggle to manage the mass of extra information. But not the new system introduced this year, which is said to be up to managing rolling Linkages. And not just that programme, do not be surprised, observers suggest if ARC chair “Ever-ready Aidan” Byrne offers to include the Industry Transformation Research Programme in a new speedier scheme.

Life style inventors

CMM used to wonder why the Shark Tank features people with new food and cleaning products rather than STEM entrepreneurs with big plans for capital and technology intensive products. The answer, it seems, is we do start businesses but like to keep them small. As a new paper from the Office of the Chief Economist (Mark Cully)  puts it; “our data is consistent with the majority of owners and managers of Australian start-ups being self-employed or lifestyle entrepreneurs, i.e. opportunity based entrepreneurs, opting for work-life balance versus ongoing wealth creation. Most surviving start-ups still double their sales in five years but do not to grow much in employment. They keep their costs and re-investment low and focus on being efficient and profitable.”

It will be interesting to see how this finding compares with the paper on entrepreneurs in education expected from the Chief Scientist in coming days.

ANU Sep 15 4

Schmidt pays his respects

Brian Schmidt is talking to Australian National University constituencies preparatory to taking over as VC in January. Tomorrow he meets the active and influential emeritus faculty. Very wise, these are the people who know where many bodies are buried, basically because they did the burying.

Realistic Rod

With a new for-profit training scam reported just about every week and VET student loans demonstrating huge amounts of doubtful debt, even the indefatigable Rod Camm is struggling.

“I find myself at a bit of a loss of what our key messages are for the sector. One must try and remain positive and I remain very proud of the many private and public providers I know and respect for their genuine commitment to education,” the Australian Council for Private Education and Training chief said yesterday.

But he also acknowledged “we are not there yet” in “cleaning out ACPET’s membership, “with the view to ensuring we do represent those colleges that stand for ethics and quality in tertiary education.” And he is not sure what to do next.

“All also lament where we now are. Where to – now that is the question.”

It’s a good one – with no easy answer. It is hard to see what ACPET can do to restore the sector’s credibility without the federal government redesigning the funding system and banning, probably prosecuting, providers who have gamed it and broken the law in the process.

Finkel now first

Last week CMM suggested retiring Monash chancellor Alan Finkel would be the new chief scientist and yesterday the Melbourne Herald Sun and the ABC did the same. But on the weekend Dr Finkel was not talking, replying it would be “inappropriate” for him to comment when CMM asked him direct.

However it all stopped mattering yesterday when Andrew Holmes, president of the Australian Academy of Science effectively announced Dr Finkel’s appointment. In a story headlined “Alan Finkel announced as Australia’s chief scientist,” @ The Conversation, Tim Dean reported Professor Holmes saying, “the Academy is looking forward to the government’s announcement, but Professor Finkel would be an excellent choice for this position. I’m confident he would speak strongly and passionately on behalf of Australian science, particularly in his advice to government.” Not quite an announcement – but close enough for Mr Dean. (Later yesterday the headlined changed to “expected to be Australia’s new chief scientist.”) By mid afternoon people at the Science meets Business seminar were announcing; “coming up next Dr Alan Finkel gives his first speech as Australia’s new chief scientist!”

Which must have puzzled Ian Chubb last night when he appeared on ABC TV’s Seven Thirty report as yes, the current chief scientist. It seems that for the science lobby nothing is as ex as an imminent ex. The government announced the appointment overnight.

UniMelb biomechs

Competent for-profits

What is lost in the present crisis is that across the board the private sector does as good as job as TAFE in training. Yesterday’s  survey from the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education and Training makes the point. Some 82 per cent of employers with apprentices and/or trainees in TAFE are satisfied with the training compared to 85 per cent for private providers. For employers using nationally recognised training its 93 per cent for TAFE and 90 per cent for the private sector.

Overall however VET’s share of the national education and training effort continues to decline with a 2 per cent drop in employers with apprentices and trainees, down to under a quarter of the national number.

Argument in the open

The controversy over open-plan workspaces at UWS is growing. Staff in the business school are anxious at the prospect of working on floors without internal walls when they move into their flash new digs in the Parramatta CBD (CMM October 7). And now people in the School of Humanities and Communications Arts are concerned by the prospect of a move to a mix of “open plan and traditional offices.”

Very concerned. “I appreciate that the topic of working spaces is a sensitive one: there will be a range of opinions on the options being canvassed, and it is very important that we all feel that we can discuss these options in an open and courteous manner, and agree or disagree with the utmost civility in the tone and conduct of our discussions,” head of school Peter Hutchings has written to staff.

Apparently a university-wide consultation starts next month and the school will convene a working party “to investigate best practice in mixed office space.” Openly and courteously, no doubt.

Down a dean

Yesterday CMM reported Charles Sturt U is rolling the education faculty into arts as part of a new three, instead of four faculty structure. But, and brace yourself for a shock, it turns out to be a good deal more complicated. A CSU insider explains; all four education schools are staying together but justice studies (they educate a bunch of coppers at CSU) which is now in arts is moving to business. What education definitely has lost is a dean with Toni Downes, who used to do the job, already having moved up to DVC.

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