Ice cold Chris could bucket research

Plus Mr Bowen’s smart speech

Freezing frenemies

Chris Pyne took the ice bucket challenge for motor neurone disease on the weekend. That he passed the frozen chalice on to SA Liberal leader Steven Marshall is unsurprising, if perhaps unkind. Mr Marshall has already copped a bucketing this year. But Minister Pyne’s other nominees are intriguing, Anthony Albanese and Sarah Hanson-Young. As if relations between the government and Greens-Labor are not cool enough already.

Price of passage

The skirmishing has started on the deregulation legislation, due in the Reps on Thursday. That the government could cut research funding if the Senate stops it increasing students fees was always on the agenda and Education Minister Pyne was threatening nothing new when he refused to rule it out yesterday. Of course, as Labor spokesman Kim Carr responded, the Senate can vote against research cuts as well. But whether the crossbench will be as keen to protect research as senators are to save students from more debt is not clear. With Universities Australia maintaining a semblance of unity in favour of deregulating fees there are two questions for Mr Pyne to consider. The first is what will UA plus any of the subordinate lobbies settle for. The Group of Eight is largely on board (HECS interest rate aside) and the Regional Universities Network will likely sign for a compensation package for its members. The second is whether university endorsements will be enough to convince the Palmer United Party senators to pass a compromise deal.Of course,  the minister could sit tight and let deregulation fail the first time. Imagine vice chancellors facing the prospect of having to increase fees to bring research funding back to the status quo. Some would be willing to back pretty much anything in a second package before the Senate to avoid this. But others will have additional concerns. Like what deregulation will mean for competition from the non government sector, in particular how many Commonwealth Supported Places private providers will receive and how much public money they will receive for them. Mr Pyne has ample room to secure support across the public system as the debate begins.

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Popularity poll

Tony Abbott addresses South Australian Liberals on Saturday: ”My time here in Adelaide started off with a trip to Adelaide University on Thursday night. There were 400 of my friends inside the lecture theatre, there were about 500 of my friends outside the lecture theatre, and thanks to the wonderful white horses of the South Australian police, none of my different groups of friends met on that particular night. But I’d finally drawn a bigger protest than Christopher Pyne!”

Ideas man

Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen (113th education minister in the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd dynasty) delivered a strong speech on Friday, telling a Brisbane audience that education was the only antidote to job killing technology, that as artificial intelligence takes on the routine tasks young people must acquire higher level skills. “Economic change like the wave of technology we are seeing will inevitably lead to populist calls: to resist technology, to embrace protectionism, to lower immigration, to look inwards in an effort to avoid change These calls must be resisted. Instead, the policy priorities lie in two key areas: innovation and education, “ he said. He went on to detail the cuts to innovation support in the budget, contrasting them with the new “vague, one size fits all” Entrepreneur Infrastructure Fund.

But what is especially interesting is Mr Bowen’s interest in crowd funding for new ventures, which should appeal to academics with ideas. According to Mr Bowen, ASIC considers using crowd-sourcing to raise capital for new products investment advice, which requires a licence and is thus ”problematic.” He says Labor is looking for solutions so Australians can tap cash from wise crowds. It’s worth a look. Deakin University’s success in crowd-sourcing funds for small research projects demonstrates Australians get the idea. With OECD figures showing Australian industry ranking low for innovation spending perhaps small investors can meet the need.

Plaudit for publishing

The Western Australia science awards are out with Ian Small from UWA named scientist of the year. Professor Small is chief investigator at the ARC Centre for Plant Energy Biology. The other two awards went to Curtin. The early career scientist is mathematician Ryan Loxton who uses math in industrial processes. PhD candidate Mark Zammit is student scientist of the year for work including a model of the way atoms and molecules collide. Mr Zammit has nine papers published in “high impact” journals – what they like at Curtin. The university jumped 100 plus places in the ARWU this year, due to the research performance of highly cited scholars.

Looking forward

Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane is celebrating Training Week by telling us how he intends to change everything. “We will be looking at the system as a whole to take account of its diversity and make sure that any changes achieve a stronger role for industry, better training and employment outcomes for students and simpler systems with less red tape.” More to anticipate than celebrate.

Transmuting research 

The University of New South Wales is very pleased with its two new Australian Research Council Laureate Fellows. Rose Amal will work on transforming carbon dioxide into sustainable fuel and Veena Sahajwallais research “micro-recycling of ewaste.” But what possessed the university to describe them both as “modern day alchemists”? Hocus pocus their work is not.

Making friends in high places

The University of Melbourne is in the market for a lobbyist, although they have a more exalted title for the role, director policy and government relations. That the two functions are often unrelated does not bother Uni Melbourne, which says the director will “proactively” (natch) liaise with government and respond to its initiatives and so on and so forth. Whoever gets the job will provide “advice and support” to the vice chancellor while reporting to the Vice Principal, Policy and Projects – which will demand diplomacy before the director gets anywhere near government, having to keep multiple managers pleased is always such fun. People who stroll the corridors of power with style are all the go in universities these days. The University of Sydney has just appointed the polished Edward Palmisano as government relations charmer in chief.

Less growing than sinking

The Australian Research Council is apparently pleased to fund a research training centre at the University of Tasmania in Launceston for “Australia’s growing naval manufacturing industry. Um, that will be the naval manufacturing industry that is running out of work now, and faces the prospect of losing out on the submarine and frigate projects, due in part to the air warfare destroyers programme being 21 months behind schedule and $360M over budget.

This may take some time

The speaker list for today’s open meeting at the University of Sydney to discuss deregulation is out and there are 21 people on it. Prominent names include National Tertiary Education Union campus chief  Michael Thomson, outspoken (to understate it) academic Nick Reimer and union activist Donherra Walmsley. I’m guessing that it will be an agree-a-thon opposing the Pyne package. There are also 14 reserves, presumably to cover people not turning up or, however unlikely, concluding before their time has expired. Former ABC Sydney breakfast announcer and Uni Sydney favourite son Adam Spencer will host.

Follow the money

This year’s list of best graduate starting salaries in the US is pretty much the same as every year’s and the evidence is that you should follow you heart in doing a degree – as long as you love the idea of engineering. Seven of the top ten degrees are in engineering plus actuarial maths, physics and computer science.

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