Lomborg appointment divides UWA

Plus ACU responds to Four Corners 

Well that’s a relief

“Killer robots a few years away,” NICTA assures us.

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 UWA removes criticism of Lomborg appointment

At UWA dissent over the university’s hosting Bjorn Lomborg’s Australia Consensus Centre is a controversy on the verge of becoming a crisis for management. Yesterday the School of Animal Biology‘s UWA Facebook page published a detailed dissent, described as “an official response” to management’s relationship with Dr Lomborg. Friends of the school say staffers there are researching the impact of climate change on WA animal species. However the statement disappeared three hours after publication. School head Professor Sarah Dunlop did not respond to a call and written request for comment but the university issued a statement from her that: “the letter was a private communication between myself and the university and was posted on Facebook by accident. I asked for it to be removed.”

The text of the statement also appears in an email seen by CMM, from Professor Dunlop to the university’s government and corporate affairs chief David Harrison.

It supports debate over the economics and science of climate change but questions Dr Lomborg’s appointment stating, “even individuals with unconventional backgrounds should be subject to a rigorous process for appointment.”

The statement also deplores the apparent absence of a peer review process, “peer review is essential as it minimises conflict and bias and is at the very heart of Australian and, indeed international world class standards for the ethical conduct of research.”

Professor Dunlop advises Mr Harrison in the email that Dr Lomborg’s appointment will have specific impacts on her school, which is “facing a difficult reputational challenge in terms attracting high quality staff and students as well as establishing and maintaining national and international collaborations as a consequence of these events. …”

The university has not responded to requests for comment.

We’ve always admired you, whoever you are

People who want to tell members of the new Australian Industry and Skills Committee they have always admired them will have to wait. Members of the committee, a key part of Training Minister Simon Birmingham’s new structure, released yesterday, will be named next week.

Dreaming spires woke up

Yesterday’s editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald on the Four Corners/ICAC allegations undoubtedly expressed baby boomer perceptions of what has happened to universities. “With many reduced to mere vocational and professional training institutions, universities now fight each other to attract poor-quality students from overseas whose pre-existing cynicism is only heightened by the exorbitant fees they must pay. Small wonder many of them cheat,” the Herald deplored. This is opinion from another age, when universities were elite-ish, before demand driven funding turned them into mass institutions where students juggle work and study and see education as career-training. Attention: SMH there is no point revisiting Brideshead, it isn’t there any more.

ANU new 2

 One upbearship

Macquarie University’s taxidermist in chief was not awed by news of CQU research on grizzly bears and where to find (or better avoid) them in the Canadian Rockies (CMM yesterday). MU has a grizzly named Frank, standing guard over the Biology Department, just not very effectively. The grizz came to the university after he died at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo and was stuffed.

Standard defence

ACU, one of three universities singled out for particular attention in Four Corners on Monday night finally responded to the accusations against it late yesterday in a message to staff from acting VC Ann Cummins. Among the usual assurances about commitments to standards the university dealt with three issues.

Professor Cummins said the plagiarism charge referred to “an isolated incident of plagiarism that was identified and addressed. The individual students were disciplined appropriately and we have strengthened the systems in place to ensure such an incident is not repeated. ACU has not had any similar experience since then.”

She assured staff ACU “admissions specialists” are “skilled in the identification of fraudulent documentation” and English language requirements are “in some cases higher than other higher education providers.”

And as for “nursing graduate preparedness,” they all ”receive thorough preparation for the workforce. All nursing students must successfully complete clinical placements before graduation and registration.”

Professor Cummins must be very confident in university procedures and policies – imagine what would happen now if cases of plagiarism, inadequate English among international students or incompetent nursing graduates emerged at ACU.

Framework not finalised

A policy wonkette suggests Chris Pyne could have weighed into the international student recruitment controversy and pointed to measures already in place to regulate university use of agents. Australia is a signatory to the 2012 London Statement, which sets out seven ethical requirements, notably; “agents and consultants develop transparent business relationships with students and providers through the use of written agreements.” Ironclad it is not, but it is a start, especially as it informs Australia’s own Higher Education Standards Framework. For example, 7.1.1, “representation of the higher education provider, its educational offerings and charges, whether directly or through agents or other parties, is accurate and not misleading” and especially 7.4.4, “agents and other parties that are involved in representing the higher education provider are bound by formal contracts with the provider, their performance is monitored and prompt corrective action is taken in the event or likelihood of misrepresentation or unethical conduct.”

So why isn’t the minister pointing everybody at the standards, the wonkette wonders? Perhaps it’s because while they went to Mr Pyne’s office in December they aren’t adopted. The required consultation with the states must be taking time.

Bowman on target

CQU is recruiting a PVC Learning and Teaching and “multiple” research professors in any of 13 “areas of research strength”. It’s a defining moment for VC Scott “no bears” Bowman, who got off to a stringent start at CQU by retrenching staff to deal with deficits. The university lost $4m in 2011 and $24m in 2012 and Professor Bowman inherited a budget based on unsustainable international enrolments. So he cut and cut again, 100 jobs went in the international subsidiary followed by a voluntary redundancy programme in mid 2013. In the end 135 people went willingly then and another 30 or so were told to go. The budget cuts had such an impact that in July that year the newly appointed dean of business and law, Willem Selen, decided he could not implement his vision for the faculty and quit. Through it all Bowman was always upbeat, telling anybody who would listen that the university was sustainable – and now CQU is back in the black and hiring expensive researchers.

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