Always on-message

Nobel laureate Harold Varmus spoke on cancer research at the University of Melbourne the other day. That he did a degree in literature before moving to medicine was too good an opportunity for Provost Margaret Sheil to ignore. The sort of switch the Melbourne model can make possible, she suggested in a tweet. They never miss a trick at UniMelbourne.

Research relevance centre stage with engagement and impact metrics ready to roll

University researchers will be judged on the community impact of their work and the way they engage with colleagues and consumers outside the academy with confirmation the government’s long-anticipated relevance metrics will proceed next year.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham is making it plain this morning that he intends to link research outcomes and community service.

Research is about discovery, but it also needs to be about directly tackling some of the issues Australia faces. These new engagement and impact assessment measures will give us a clearer view of what Australian researchers are achieving but will also help focus some of our brightest minds on how to help families and businesses,” Senator Birmingham says.

Today’s announcement marks the end of a long debate over how to assess the immediate community impact of research, and whether this should be a key performance indicator.  Back in 2015 the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering proposed a Research Engagement metric designed to extract performance measures from existing data sources (CMM April 24 2015). A strong case was made for using this exclusively, in place of the research publication model used for the Australian Research Council’s, Excellence for Research in Australia.

While initially slow to see the significance of what the government, wanted the research community also mounted a quiet but concerted campaign in defence of funding basic research, warning a focus on immediate outcomes reduces the opportunity for breakthrough discoveries.

Yesterday ARC observers were calling it a draw. The scientific establishment has kept research publication assessment for ERA 18 and the new research model announced today does not create an existential crisis for basic research. Nor is any funding attached.

However, Senator Birmingham has put the importance of applied research firmly on the agenda in a way sure to be noticed by hacks looking for “look at what taxpayer money is spent on” stories. The minister is also indicating that applied research has rewards.   “By ensuring researchers outline the way they are engaging with businesses and industry and assessing the impact their work is having, these new measures will act as an incentive to drive more of that valuable work.”

Top billing sells QUT to students

QUT is rolling out its “up in lightsstudent recruitment campaign for a fourth year. Prospective students who list QUT in their first three university preferences are offered a billboard running their name with the message, “thanks for using QUT. You’re awesome.” Students also get a personalised version of the university’s starting student website.  There are eight billboards across inner-city Brisbane and last year’s campaign featured 3600 people. Hard to target the market more precisely.


ARC sets out new research assessment requirements

The Australian Research Council has determined on the engagement and impact information universities will have to provide next year. The announcement follows a complex design process involving dozens of research policy experts and a sector wide pilot with universities submitting case studies.

This morning the ARC reports largely fine-tuning changes for the roll-out with the core pilot principles remaining; universities must submit data on key indicators plus reports that combine to demonstrate the impact of their research on society and the level of their researchers’ engagement with organisations outside higher education. They will report on research performance in a maximum of 25 fields.

Changes include:

# variations to assessment nomenclature; the previous rating of impact; “limited,” “emerging,” “mature” is replaced with “low,” “medium: and “high”

# the definition of engagement is simplified, and now reads “the interaction between researchers and research end-users outside academia, for the mutually beneficial transfer of knowledge technologies, methods or resources”

# the definition of impact is redefined to include “culture,” thus, “the contribution that research makes to the economy, society, environment and culture beyond the contribution to academic research”

# broadening coverage of medical and health sciences by splitting a field of research reporting code

# expanding quantitative engagement indicators

Qualitative assessment will be based on two statements, 750 words explaining indicators and a 1000-word engagement narrative, explaining research achievements.


Better here than there

So what were British VCs doing at the Universities Australia dinner Monday night? Looking for jobs post Brexit suggests one learned reader, or given the Tory Government’s attitude to their pay, investigating political asylum, suggests another.

Perhaps not quite unbreakable blockchain

Basher Tarr’s Law states the higher the tech the quicker the clever the con – which means smart villains must already be working on bitcoin burglary (sorry). A team of scholars* from Singapore and Sydney say that even with quantum computers blockchain thievery will not be easy with one big exception – a criminal cracking the secret key that identifies a transaction and using it before an exchange is placed on the blockchain can loot accounts. The first graduate course on blockchain security cannot be far away.

# Divesh Aggarwal, National University of Singapore, Gavin Brennen, Macquarie U,  Troy Lee, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Miklos Santha, Universit´e Paris Diderot and NUS,  Marco Tomamichel, UTS, “Quantum attacks on Bitcoin and how to protect against them,” is here

Ranking remains

As CMM reported Monday, Spanish research agency Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas has cancelled its ranking web of repositories. However editor Isidro Aguillo advises that the university ranking continues, with the next edition in January.

Responsible returns only

Griffith University has kicked $250 000 into an investment fund for finance students to manage. The brief is to invest in “socially responsible ASX listed companies” with profits going to student scholarships.  Socially responsible? “The market isn’t red in tooth and claw like it used to be,” a learned reader remarks.

The Griffith announcement follows ANU’s establishment of a $590 000 student investment fund last week.

Nothing casual about UTS staff count

If the National Tertiary Education Union thinks 75 per cent of the UTS workforce are casuals or on fixed term contracts (CMM yesterday) the comrades can’t count, a staffer suggests. To get that number they would have to include students working part-time for the university and seasonal staff, contractors and consultants. As for academics, many fractional teaching staff do it as an extension of their professional practise. The casual crisis is more apparent, at least to union officials, than real, this UTS veteran suggests.

University of Queensland leads on new MBA ranking

Today’s league table is from The Economist which announces the University of Queensland has the 16th best MBA in the world, ahead of its nearest regional rival, the University of Hong Kong at 25th. The other Australian schools in the list are the Melbourne Business School (27) and the Macquarie Graduate School of Management (now being folded into the university’s business and economics faculty) at 49. The other Asia-Pacific universities listed are University of Hong Kong (25), Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (97), Nanyang Technological U in Singapore (78), National University of Singapore (99) and Sun Yat-sen University in Guangdong.

The global top ten are all in the US, with Northwestern U first followed by the University of Chicago, Harvard, the Wharton School at the University of Pensylvania and Stanford U.

Dolt of the day

Learned readers were quick to point out that yesterday CMM spelt the country of which Bogota is the capital Columbia (as in the capital of the state of South Carolina) when it is Colombia.