Ministers to mark researchers’ work

Plus UniSuper duper wins fund of the year

And the heads up on jobs 

The week that was

A new research inquiry announced, debates over student funding and universities with big building plans. Business as usual in education.

And his point is?

Founding father of the study of international education Philip Altbach, on the Colbeck international education report (via Twitter): “Australia has new plan for international higher education – the main motivator as usual – making money!” Oh that it was so. 

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In the money, just not much

ANU physicists are honoured for their work on the team that detected gravitational wave caused by two colliding black holes 1.3bn light years away. Paul Altin, Jong Chow, Georgia Mansell, David McClelland, David McManus, Thanh Nguyen, David Rabeling, Susan Scott, Daniel Shaddock, Bram Slagmolen, Andrew Wade, Rob Ward and Min Yap will share in $2m in prize money from two physics awards. But if you have a radio telescope you want to sell them don’t bother. They have to divide the dosh with 1000 other scientists. CMM wonders how the ARC will include this in the engagement, unless it is impact, section of ERA ’18. 

Assessed to exhaustion

Back in March Universities Australia said the government is “walking the talk on securing the future of Australia’s critical research infrastructure,” (CMM March 23) following the ten year research equipment commitment and government support for 12 recommendations in the Watt research funding review (CMM December 7). Recognising a good thing when he sees one Education Minister Simon Birmingham has now adopted Dr Watt’s 16 other ideas. Some of these will be less popular with researchers than the buckets of money previously announced, however they fit the government’s applied research emphasis. For example, changes to Australian Research Council grants “to better suit business” will discomfit researchers who would rather be left alone. But the one which will upset everybody already reviewed rigid is the government’s commitment to Dr Watt’s idea for “an annual assessment of the performance of Australia’s publicly funded research system.”

Sound ominous? It is, Dr Watt wants; the education, innovation and health ministers to “take the lead on assessing and reporting on the performance of the publicly funded research system” with the assessment made public. And don’t think universities have time to get used to the idea. The first review is due at the end of the year.

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UniSuper duper

The National Tertiary Education Union got seriously stuck into UniSuper last week, arguing CEO Kevin O’Sullivan’s statement opposing a royal commission into the banks was an unwise intervention in politics which would be a “serious distraction,” from the fund launching a major new product ( CMM April 28).

Not so serious that it stopped ratings agency Chant West on Wednesday night naming  UniSuper as Fund of the Year, for the second time in a row.

Labor leads on the VET FEE HELP mess

Bill Shorten seized the initiative on VET student funding reform for Labor last night. While the government talks up its position paper in response to the VET FEE HELP mess Labor has announced specific commitments. In his budget reply speech the Leader of the Opposition committed to capping VET student loans at $8000 a year, (any exemptions would require ministerial approval), restrict access to funds “to the highest quality colleges”) and set national priorities to meet national skill needs.  TAFE supporters will love it and with for-profit training on the nose it comes with nil political risk. It also ensures Labor looks focused on education without having to discuss university funding.


Hoping still

The La TrobeCharles Sturt U proposed Murray Darling Medical School was ignored in the budget for the umpteenth time. But CSU never gives up, responding to the news with a statement that the “rural medical school is still to be approved” and not just dead. It also announced an MOU between its pharmacy school and a Thai university. You work with what you have got.


Build it so they can come

Scratch a university executive in Western Australia and find a property developer. Curtin University is looking for partners to develop “a dedicated innovation precinct and a vibrant well-connected community,” on the Bentley campus. The $500m project includes university facilities as well as, and this is the interesting bit, digs for 2000 students as well as “short term accommodation”. (So there’s one reason why VC Deborah Terry was in Indonesia this week as part a state delegation promoting Perth as an education destination.) And this is just stage one!

Murdoch University also has plans for its empty acres, although it needs a change to its founding legislation to implement them, something which Curtin has covered. The university says most of its plans are permitted but the “short term accommodation” element requires changes to the Curtin University Act, which “will be put before parliament in the near future.”

 Not definitively dead

The government tells us deregulation is dead, that the Pyne proposal for universities to set their own student fees has a stake through its heart, dead. Bones burned dead. Buried on a crossroads at midnight dead.

But Labor and the National Tertiary Education Union say in fact deregulation is only napping, that the proposal in Senator Birmingham’s discussion paper for “flagship programmes” is deregulation delayed not denied. “Institutions could be given the freedom to set fees for a small cohort of their students enrolled in identified high quality, innovative courses,” the senator’s paper suggests. This, the union replies “could still result in $100,000 degrees, and may be the thin edge of the wedge in terms of broader deregulation.”

The comrades are correct – if flagship courses worked they would gradually be extended as universities charged up for what they could. Over time market competition would emerge. But this will not be enough to keep the issue on the agenda in this election. CMM understands that the advisory group for the Birmingham paper will not be appointed before the government goes into caretaker mode and the project is frozen, presumably cryogenically until after the election.

Local knowledge

Gosh you would think an election is imminent. While there was no money in the budget for the University of Tasmania’s ambitious plans for developments in Launceston and Burnie, the Hobart Mercury suggests $150m is “tipped to arrive soon” CMM asked Education Minister Simon Birmingham if Canberra would be the source of the cash, who replied; “The UTAS proposal is being carefully considered for the contribution it could make to our economic plan for jobs and growth. I’ve been working closely with Brett Whiteley, Andrew Nikolic and Eric Hutchinson and Richard Colbeck in considering the expansion proposal from the University of Tasmania.” Mr Whitely is the Liberal member for Braddon, Brigadier Nikolic represents Bass, Mr Hutchinson is the member for Lyons and Senator Colbeck is based in Launceston.” CMM is sure they all gave good advice.

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Heads Up: the week’s job news 

The University of Adelaide is looking for a university librarian to run the network of six libraries, plus archives and research repository. Paul Wilkins is acting in the job, following the departure last year of the long-serving Ray Choate.

Science lobby losses

Staff changes continue at peak science lobbies with Science and Technology Australia’s Catriona Jackson moving to Universities Australia as deputy CEO. Her move follows Sue Meek’s decision to depart the Australian Academy of Science last month, (CMM April 18).

Child protection appointment

The Queensland Government will fund a research chair in child protection at Griffith U for three years. It is named for Griffith chancellor Leneen Forde and will be held by Griffith’s Clare Tilbury.

Barron moves on

After 15 years at Group Training Australia, CEO Jim Barron is out of a job with the chief executive role to be abolished. “GTA Ltd has achieved so much on behalf of the GTO network. We have certainly punched above our weight on behalf of the business of group training and I am very proud of that,” Mr Barron said in a message to group training network members. CMM understands the GTA board is yet to settle on a new structure.

Johnston in the deep end

Super-active marine ecology researcher, TV presenter (Foxtel’s Coast Australia) and advocate for women in science, Emma Johnston is the PVC Research (designate) at the University of New South Wales. She replaces Brian Boyle who steps up to DVC R.

Farewelling Flinders

Back in February Flinders University signalled jobs could go in the strategic plan through to 2025. Back then VC Colin Stirling was not specific but he did mention the possibility of voluntary early retirements and said staff had expressed concerns about excessive bureaucracy and hierarchy,” (CMM February 12.) It’s all happening now pretty much as suggested with people who want out are applying to go. The word on campus  is the university seeks to shed 200 or so, mainly professional staff.


Another brummie

Julie Birmingham has moved jobs in the Department of Education and Training, again. A little more than a year after taking over the HE governance, quality and access branch she is now branch manager for finance and planning.

James Cook seeks resource economist

James Cook U is in the market for a research leader for its Tropical Landscape joint venture with the CSIRO. You need a PhD in natural resource economics and want to live in Townsville. The job involves building a team to “address challenges and opportunities in the development of northern Australia.” Curiously there is no mention of engaging with the newly announced to be Townsville based Cooperative Research Centre for Northern Australia, due to launch mid-year (CMM April 22).