Innovation Minister Hunt promises CSIRO money for blue sky research

plus still Warrnambool waits

Group of Eight to implement transparent entry scores

and Aus way back in the innovation pack

Internationals still stalled

A dean from a STEM strong university says postgraduate visas  are now being issued in a couple of weeks for people from places deemed low risk, Europe and the US, for example (CMM yesterday). But not for China, where a big group of higher degree applicants is still stalled, presumably while they are assessed for security risk. “The concept of a security check is fine but they must do it quickly. They are seriously affecting students careers and if not resolved will have a significant impact on research capacity in Australia,” the dean says.

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Eight announce all on ATARs

The Group of Eight is now completely committed to publishing transparent information on university entry scores with the University of Sydney announcing last night it will announce “minimum, median and top ATAR marks,” for all its courses.

According to Group of Eight CEO Vicki Thomson all members are, “demystifying entry requirements – for all students – and placing the student at the centre of what can be a very difficult process and time … having entry requirements that are transparent, easily understood and readily available for prospective students, their families and other stakeholders is a core responsibility for all universities.”

According to UniSyd registrar Tyrone Carlin in addition to ATARs with the new system, “cutoffs can also be filtered by faculty or alternative entry pathway to offer a more complete picture of university entry standards”.

At this rate the Higher Education Standards Panel report on transparent entry standards will have nothing to recommend.

Accounting for awards

Who would have thought, accountants have Emmies! At least they have awards that “recognise excellence across the entire accounting industry.” Grainne Oats from Swinburne U is among the nominees for thought leader of the year. The ten nominees for student of the year come from UoQ, Western Sydney U, UNSW (three), QUT, Uni Southern Queensland, Flinders, Victoria U and RMIT. Three academics are also on the judging panel, Vincent Bicudo de Castro (Deakin U), Fariborz Moshirian (UNSW) and Maryam Safari (RMIT).

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Games unis play

Last week Southern Cross U hosted a conference on surfing (CMM September 15) and today the university is launching the Liverpool Football (as in soccer) Academy at its Lismore campus. The academy will combine the LFC “way” with SCU’s sports science programme and be based at the university’s football centre.

Blue sky and commercial clouds

Innovation Minister Greg Hunt was in charm mode last night as he addressed a CSIRO centenary dinner, telling his audience what many of them wanted to hear; that CSIRO’s role is “about pursuing pure public good research as a foundation for our knowledge and capabilities.” He went on to talk up a new mission statement for the organisation and announced $17m next year rising to $52m pa by 2019-20 for “blue sky” investment in six Future Science Platforms, in environomics, synthetic biology, deep earth imaging, digiscape, probing biosystems and active integrated matter. “These platforms offer opportunities for researchers to work on frontier science,” Mr Hunt said.

But the minister also made it clear that “commercialisation of that research is not something we should dismiss.” “Taking pure science to commercialisation brings the magnificent research to the public and the people who need it most.”

Thus he also announced funding for 39 teams of academic and CSIRO scientists using the agency’s  , pre-accelerator programme, ON Prime, which, “helps to create connections between research, science and business.”

So it’s an St Augustine strategy for CSIRO, purity in research, just not now.

Similar strategies

Common ideas are emerging from managements in enterprise bargaining talks across the country. The public universities in WA are all proposing much shorter agreements, without the very detailed employment protections the National Tertiary Education Union likes. And now Deakin U management is using the same approach as enterprise bargaining begins there. The union also says Deakin management is proposing a clause that would restrict academics to public comment on their area of expertise, as opposed to speaking about whatever they choose, as long as they do not purport to speak for the university. This is approximately the position adopted by Murdoch U management (CMM August 22) and a couple of months back University of Melbourne managers proposed (CMM August 10) something similar, which was dropped after staff protests.

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Making the most of courses

Marnie Hughes Warrington continues her campaign to cause conniptions among university staff who liked things better when Canberra sent the cheques and left them alone. In her September essay on managing universities the ANU DVC reflects on the role of load planners in predicting how many students will enrol in which courses and what revenues they will produce, notably for what she calls, “brand extensions,” products, sorry courses, repackaged to suit the consumption preferences of new markets.

To marketers this is sensible straightforward stuff, suggesting that universities find the ways that will produce the maximum return on their investment in course creation and meet the needs of new groups of students in the process. “Wouldn’t it be terrific, for instance, if we really used our innovation smarts to help more students who fall out of school and university to achieve success? That would signal us really understanding that load planning is mother lode,” she writes.

Ok-ish on innovation

So how, to paraphrase the Pauline Hanson of Alaska, is that innovation thing working out for you now, Australia? Good, but perhaps not good enough – because new UNESCO datagraphics put Australia’s performance in perspective. On the per centage of GDP spent on R&D we make a middling effort, way ahead of the developing world and level pegging with France but behind the US and Germans and barely in sight of the Israelis and Koreans. According to UNESCO, Israel spends 4.1 per cent of GDP on research and employs 8255 researchers per million people, the figures for Korea are 4.3 per cent and 6899 – remarkable what countries do when the only natural resources they have is brain power. In comparison, Australia spends 2.2 per cent of GDP with 2230 researchers per million of us. But commitment does not inevitably mean cash. Singapore commits 2.2 per cent of GDP, like us, but has nearly three times the researchers 6 650 per million inhabitants.

Nor does Australia do so well on business R&D investment, which UNESCO asserts, “is an underlying factor for success”, coming in at 13 of the world’s top 15. Some 56 per cent of R&D is by business, compared to close to 80 per cent by China, Japan and Korea, 70 per cent for the US and 68 per cent for Germany.

 Classics of the genre

The learned Elliott Green has used Google Scholar to identify the 25 most cited social science texts. The list includes nothing published this century and is dominated by books that are now classics. Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions is first and John Bowlby’s Attachment is 25th. John Rawls and Benedict Anderson are in the middle. Yes there French theorists, Michel Foucault is there twice and Pierre Bourdieu has an entry. He’s just behind some bloke called Karl Marx whose Capital was cited 40 000 times and ranks 17th.

Warrnambool waits

The fate of Deakin U’s Warrnambool campus is still not known following the university’s hope to offload it to another, any would have done, university failed. VC Jane den Hollander has committed (CMM July 12) to continuing to accepting new students next year but if there is a long-term plan it’s secret. Warrnambool staff have now set out their concerns to local federal MP Dan Tehan (L-Wannon), explaining the need for Deakin to up its commitment to the campus, not to slash staff numbers and introduce new and unique courses that attract Australian and international students. Given Mr Tehan extracted a promise of $14m package for Warrnambool from the government before the election what happens next is surely down to Deakin.

Colouring in the dark details

Now that the big picture of the UWA restructure is painted people are starting focus on the details of whose jobs will go. Like people in campus security who fear for the future with their work outsourced. “The proposed for-profit provider will determine service provision and costs on a commercial basis. If there isn’t a profit for shareholders, then it is unlikely that the currently outstanding service will continue in its existing form,” the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union warns.

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Big issues ignored

Rod Camm has asked the question that should have been put to Department of Education and Training officials at the first sign of trouble in the rorted VET FEE HELP loan programme. “Why it has taken so long to implement checks and balances and how unprecedented growth was approved without appropriate audits.”

“No action was taken or any interventions obvious while VFH payments grew from $117M in 2010 to around $3B in 2015. Yes, someone had to approve this expenditure. Can anyone believe that financial audits were not part of the scheme design? As enrolments grew from 26,100 in 2010 to 272,000 in 2015, tuition fees in some providers skyrocketed and outcomes in some were abysmal, and yet – nothing,” Mr Camm comments.

Even worse, as the CEO of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training points out, the focus on this mother of all messes has taken attention away from structural policy problems, as distinct from a stuff-up which is appalling as it was easily avoidable.

“Reducing government expenditure (outside of VFH), state and territories recreating regulation, South Australia walking away from the national agreement without consequences, stalling apprenticeships, a complete disconnect between state and territory purchasing and VFH and cost shifting are all real issues that need to be addressed.”

And addressed fast. The existing national agreement on training runs out in the middle of next year

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