Group of Eight VCs make case for basic research

Plus Edith Cowan U braces for change and icy academics in Adelaide 

Campus clobber

“Sell your old clothes or buy some pre-loved garments. Suitcase Rummage this Thursday,” UoQ announced yesterday. So it’s true, universities are really doing it tough.

Akolade

Minister’s mind made up

In their new magazine released yesterday Group of Eight VCs explained why Australia needs to invest more in research funding. The one with the most to say, certainly on the basis of research rankings, Uni Melbourne’s Glyn Davis, says least. But his message is especially significant as Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane continues to make the case for focusing funding on applied research. “Support for basic research is essential to build the skills and platforms for applied translational work. We need both,” Professor Davis says.

Outgoing ANU VC Ian “the gent” Young, made the same point, acknowledging the government’s push for research-industry links but adding; “high level applied research is underpinned by world-class basic research. Major industrialised nations such as the United States and Germany have built major high-technology industries. These industries have been underpinned by some of the world’s best universities funded to carry out world class basic research.”

And UofQ’s Peter Hoj warns against “cutting off the pipeline of discovery, which is so crucial for translation to impact and economic benefit.”

Whether the government focuses funding on basic or applied research; the Group of Eight will collect the biggest share. That VCs are starting to speak up for basic research is however a significant response to Minister Macfarlane’s policy, defined by his statement in parliament on Monday; “Australia has an unprecedented opportunity to align industry, universities, the research sector and the science community, to turn great ideas and breakthroughs into great leaps forward for business, for industry, for local communities and for every Australian.” But given the minister has hammered away at this strategy for over a year it may be just a little late.

UoQ

Law for Lannisters

Flinders U reports legal academic Associate Professor Mary Heath is using scenes from Game of Thrones in classes to provide “a vivid entry point for abstract points of law.” Apparently the show “references an historical period quite different from the period we live in, but with some similarities.” Insofar as a fictional world with dragons, zombies and a political culture based on the Wars of the Roses (only more brutal) is “similar.”

Scholars on ice

Its ice-bucket challenge time and South Australian university leaders are stepping up for a soaking to raise funds for motor neurone disease. Last year (http://campusmorningmail.com.au/group-eight-goes-broke/ CMM August 27 2014) Uni Adelaide VC Warren Bebbington copped a coldie first and then challenged Uni of SA VC David Lloyd to follow, which he did. This year there are more academic icebergs, with Professor Lloyd, Flinders DVC R Robert Saint, UoA DVC R Mike Brooks and SA Health and Medical Research Institute director Steve Wesselingh all up for a bucketing (August 21, at 2.30pm Goodman Lawns, UoA, North Terrace).

Change agent of the day

When Steve Chapman took over as VC at Edith Cowan U four months or so back he signalled from the start that he wanted change, and lots of it. He took about a week to announce that he wanted a new structure (CMM May 11) and signalled straight-up that he was interested in having heads of schools report to him direct, which must have cheered up the three executive deans no end. Since then Professor Chapman has started a research expansion programme, with an ambitious plan to hire 20 high flyers (CMM August 12). And now the proposal for a new structure is imminent, with a document due early next month. ECU insiders say they expect it to cover all three campuses and include a devolved academic structure.

ANU June 1

Flash digs

Scott Bowman is very pleased that his CQU has picked up a prize for education facilities in the Queensland Master Builders awards. That it’s for a CQU facility in Townsville, home to arch rival James Cook U, has nothing to do with it.

Sticking to the script

Rod Camm must be tired of having to welcome state and federal agencies coming down hard on for-profit training providers accused of exploiting students or breaching public funding rules. A fortnight ago two Melbourne registered training organisations had their federal registration suspended and this week the Victorian Government cancelled the contracts of three others. But the Australian Council for Private Education and Training chief has no choice – the only way to restore his members’ collective credibility is to make it clear that ACPET backs rigorous regulation and will expel members if necessary. “Where there is evidence of poor conduct the regulatory bodies must act, and act quickly. ACPET will continue to work with the government and regulators to support quality and integrity measures in the training sector,” Mr Camm said last night.

The problem is whatever he says every new case compounds the case made by the public training lobby, that for-profits cannot be trusted but TAFE can.

Premier’s prizes

Until now the NSW science prizes have a had profile less low than subterranean, which is rather a waste of the time and talent of the state’s chief scientist the admirable Mary O’Kane. This may be why Mike Baird wants his office associated with the awards, which are rebadged as the Premier’s Prizes. This year’s scientist or engineer of the year will collect $55 000. Nine category winners will pick up $5000 each for achievements in areas including biology, maths and science education. Nominate here.

All our fault

Alex Dunhill (Leeds U) and Mathew Wills (Uni of Bath) say the last global mass extinction slugged species everywhere and the human-induced biodiversity one to come will do the same. As the immortal Walt Kelly would have put it, “we have seen the asteroid and it is us.”

ACPET 2015 Conf EDM-FINAL

 

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