La Trobe up in lights

plus Australian research dodges a bullet

 “innovation,” it’s Australian for jobs 

and Group of Eight strike back

Hot topic

A learned reader notes John Kinsella from Curtin University’s Sustainable Policy Institute is nominated for the WA premier’s prize for fiction. “Here’s hoping One Nation senator and climate change sceptic Malcolm Roberts doesn’t find out,” the LR remarks.

Group of Eight attacked

On Wednesday morning The Australian reported Group of Eight CEO Vicki Thomson was about to make a speech that “would represent an unprecedented attack on other institutions in the sector which are funnelling thousands of students with low Australian Tertiary Admissions Ranks into taxpayer-subsidised courses.” Later yesterday the Australian Technology Group‘s Renee Hindmarsh sailed into the Eight, (also in The Australian) saying the group had abandoned “the notion of a fair go, and fair reward for hard work.”

However last night Ms Thomson stated, “despite media reports to the contrary earlier today, the Group of Eight continues to support the Demand Driven System (DDS) which underpins our university access system. As we outlined in our Priority Directions document released publicly during the federal election campaign and restated in a speech delivered in Sydney this morning, the DDS in its current form has successfully increased participation in Australia’s university system. As we have stated then, and in subsequent public comments, we do believe that there is now the opportunity to enhance the DDS to ensure it better meets its original intentions and continues to deliver wide participation. Returning to the previous system of capped enrolments allocated by government is not the answer. To that end, the Go8 has recommended that the Government take immediate steps to broaden Australia’s commitment to educational opportunity – spanning diploma to post graduate qualifications.

What come’s next

After two years at 88 the University of Western Australia fell eight spots in this week’s research ranking, hanging on, just, in the top 100. Management saw this as a success, with staff announcements including more spin than a warehouse of warnies. But the marketers are adjusting the corporate message. Instead of quoting specific ranks the party line is that UWA should now be promoted as in the top 1 per cent of world unis. With this year’s QS and Times Higher rankings due soon UWA-ites wonder whether the spinners fear more lower scores to come.

Thursday Aug 18

New man at Monash

One of the big jobs at Monash U (CMM August 16) is filled, with Ken Sloan becoming the inaugural DVC Enterprise. Mr Sloan joins from the University of Warwick. He previously ran higher education business development for outsourced service provider Serco. Mr Sloan starts at Clayton in January.

Hard to sell

Industry, Innovation and Science Minister Greg Hunt described his portfolio yesterday to a South Australian audience. “It is about creating the jobs of today, the jobs of tomorrow and the jobs of the future.” And in case anybody missed it he added, “together, the portfolio’s three pillars—industry, innovation and science—are about ensuring Australians have well-paying jobs today, tomorrow and into the future.”

He also promised that today he would outline, “the vision and plan for further innovation—which creates more successful businesses that hire more people and pay better wages.”

Oh, did he mention innovation is all about jobs? That’s j-o-b-s.

This isn’t exactly the transformative tech visison the prime minister outlined at the election, but then again that didn’t go so well.

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Educating Adobe

Swinburne U has new a subject in digital marketing, created in cooperation with Adobe. That’s probably because the subject, “uses Adobe training materials and accredited teaching practises to solve a graduate skills shortage in the international marketplace.” This will surely give academics who think they educate rather than train a case of the screaming meemies, but a skill is a skill is a skill. It’s a win for Swinburne, a chance to demonstrate they teach with graduate employment in mind.

La Trobe lights up

It looks like the bitter industrial dispute at La Trobe over retrenchments and restructures a couple of years back was worth it, with the university moving into the light the Academic Ranking of World Universities shines on the global top 500. When VC John Dewar arrived LTU was all lit up, but just, placing 475 in 2013. But the next year it was gone and it stayed in the outer darkness until now– when it is back with an all-time ARWU high of 336. It’s highest previous score was 397, ten years ago.

The decline was decades in the making, the result of people assuming La Trobe U could never catch the mighty Ms of Monash and UniMelbourne but would always be ahead of Deakin. They were wrong and long declines in research productivity resulted.

John Dewar recognised if LTU was to become ranking-competitive change, and lots of it, was required. But when he announced $65m in savings and a restructure in June 214 CMM suspects he may not have anticipated how tough the fight to secure both would be (CMM June 24 2014). Was it worth all the pain? For people who value research rankings as a proxy for academic quality and institutional energy most definitely. LTU watchers estimate the university was in the mid (and unpublished) ARWU 500s last year but now its back – thanks in large part to an 18 per cent increase in publications.

It’s a start – but with Deakin U roaring ahead (CMM yesterday) there is still a long way to go.

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Art of music

Monash’s Paul Grabowsky has won the Art Music Awards jazz category for a collaboration with the Young Wagilak Group called Nyilipidgi. Andrew Schultz, head of the School of the Arts and Media at UNSW won the choral work award for a piece based on the last scene of Moliere’s Le malade imaginaire.

Researchers dodge a bullet

The week’s research ranking results did not surprise people who really know how the Australian system works. But it did relieve them.

They weren’t surprised that UWA and UniAdelaide are doing ok-ish. “The just don’t have scale,” one says. But the University of Melbourne does, with an immense concentration of the biomedical research that really rates in the indices that shape the Academic Ranking of World Universities. A colleague concurs, adding Glyn Davis has a fair bit to do with UniMelb’s success. While his Melbourne Model is about education, not research, it has united his university’s community. Not to ignore Monash, another says, pointing in particular to the work of outgoing provost Edwina Cornish in building research. In Victoria, for research it’s UniMelb and Monash then daylight, says another.

But its not the same in Sydney. For a start geographic outliers are strong, notably Uni Newcastle in medical sciences. But this does not explain why UniSydney has not translated its medical sciences strengths into a rating achievement. Perhaps this is because it lacks the unifying vision Davis delivered for UniMelbourne is one suggestion. In contrast, UNSW is considered the one to watch, especially in engineering.

But what are the experts relieved about? That the next national research rating exercise will still have a strong research focus is what. In fact much of Australia’s impressive ARWU performance had it’s beginning in 2009, when Excellence for Research in Australia switched from volume of publications to citations. “This focus has flown through to the ARWU result,” an observer notes, pointing to the challenge to come when impact and engagement join research quality as a basis for rewards in ERA 18. “There will be a differentiation of effort which is good for the country overall but could have an impact on our ARWU results.” It already would have if the push over the last couple of years to replace ERA with engagement and impact measures had succeeded. In terms of international research rankings  Australian universities have already dodged a bullet.

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