plus universities unite to survey sexual assault

confected outrage over research 

and ever-changing crowd funding

People’s choice

While the poll is not yet officially declared it appears Melissa Slee from RMIT has won a crucial election in the Victorian branch of the National Tertiary Education Union. This is a big loss for the union’s state office, which backed official Josh Cullinan to become assistant state secretary. Ms Slee argued the job should go to somebody who has worked for a university – which she has and Mr Cullinan hasn’t.

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Morrison has a bob each way

What was Treasurer Scott Morrison doing yesterday talking about a News Limited exercise in confected outrage, over public funding for HASS research? The first of these stories was written when a citizen in ancient Syracuse complained the government had bought Archimedes a bath. They have rolled around regularly round ever since and are the sort of cheap shots favoured by minor MPs in need of a headline, but surely not the Treasurer. And yet Mr Morrison said of grant allocators yesterday, “ we expect total accountability from all of these bodies and I think what you’re pointing out will raise a lot of concern in people’s minds … ,” which seemed to placate the interviewer.

But what Mr Morrison also said, which funnily enough was not as widely reported as the above bit, was;

“there was a project a while back which had to do with the research into snails and it copped a lot of flak. Well, that was actually a project that was looking at the infestation of particular insects that were destroying crops. As you would expect that has a pretty significant impact on Australia’s productivity. So, I would say look beyond the headlines of some of these projects. I think some of them will raise questions but others I think might have more value than it first looks like.”

Neatly done.

Tuesday Aug 23

Tough talk, small change

The Treasurer also said something about the way research grants are decided which was probably noticed over at the Australian Research Council; “Minister Birmingham is looking to further increase controls.”

Say what? CMM hears it wasn’t as bad as it sounds, that Mr Morrison was thinking about the research infrastructure consultations, the Watt Review reforms and programmes like CRCs. Senator Birmingham then added that the government is keen on collaboration between industry and universities “so as to ensure our research dollars ultimately get the best possible outcomes for Australia in STEM and humanities.” Linking the humanities to industry will be enough to upset their advocates, although Senator Birmingham did put the debate in context by reminding us that they only receive 7 per cent of ARC funding.

Why PPE is history

One learned reader points out that in addition to UoQ and La Trobe the University of Wollongong also has a philosophy, politics and economics degree (CMM yesterday). Another suggests that CMM’s enthusiasm for PPEs is misplaced, that without economic and political history a degree designed for aspiring policy makers lacks context and there is not much of either discipline in universities anymore. “Contemporary Australian political history tends to be written by journalists from The Australian,” the reader suggests – CMM wonders whether this was meant as a good thing.

UA launches news stage of “Respect” campaign

In a world first this morning, peak higher education lobby Universities Australia will launch a national campus survey as part of its “Respect. Now. Always” campaign against sexual assault and harassment on campus. The target audience is Australia’s 1.3m university students. The survey, designed by the Human Rights Commission, also includes an option for individuals to make in-confidence submissions to the HRC.

The project builds on an awareness campaign that commenced in February. Led by three VCs, S Bruce Dowton (Macquarie) Barney Glover (UA chair and UWS) and Ian Jacobs (UNSW) it includes all 39 Australian universities. When complete R.N.A will deliver three key benefits, issues awareness and higher profiles for campus services, a national university best practice resource and incident data “to guide further improvements in university policies and services.”

According to former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick this is the first nation-wide university campaign of its kind in the world.

The campaign launches this morning at UNSW with the three VCs and shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek scheduled to attend, but not Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Being Tuesday morning he is probably in cabinet. However the senator has sent a supportive message, “these surveys are, within universities, a strong first step to ensuring the right policies and practices are in place across the country.”

Expert advice

University IT leaders are combining to tackle some of the top ten problems plaguing their colleagues CMM July 5). The Council of Australian University Directors of IT has appointed mentors from the executive committee to work with its five communities of practice.

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NHMRC can do better on grants, says chair

Consultations on the National Health and Medical Research Council’s proposals for a new approach to grant allocations end this week. But although written submissions are still to come chair Anne Kelso is optimistic, telling CMM it is possible to lift grant rates above 20 per cent, (the success rate now is less than 15 per cent). “We can do better,” she says.

The NHMRC has proposed three alternative models for funding, five year grants for cross-disciplinary teams, funding for lab leaders to take discoveries to “commercialisation, translation and implementation” and grants to chief investigators to run a range of projects (http://campusmorningmail.com.au/new-ways-fund-medical-research/ CMM July 19).

However Professor Kelso says none was a clear winner in consultations to date and while she is waiting until the review is complete to comment she does say, “the best model might not be one of the three, or it might be a hybrid.”

It reflects the chair’s calmly pragmatic approach to wicked policy problems. Like the under-representation of women in research. While she acknowledges there is no easy answer Professor Kelso focuses on what can be done. Thus she backs the Athena SWAN project, (to increase the number of women working in science), “we all have an interest in gender equity,” and says she is trying to make it easier for women who have caring responsibilities to participate on NHMRC peer review panels.

She is also careful to distinguish the different roles, and governance oversight of the Medical Research Future Fund and the NHMRC, “we get the money and have the whole responsibility.” And she makes it clear that in a world where there will never be enough money for all the good that can be done researchers “want to work on what is important. Cancer and obesity, for example, are tremendous areas of interest.” Professor Kelso also acknowledges the case for considering the outcomes of the research her organisation funds. “We can do a lot more with final reports to understand where NHMRC money leads,” she says.

Big challenges all but for now the biggest one is how the council tackles the problem of many more research bids than there is money but if they bother her the calmly confident Kelso does not show it.

Chemistry is right

While changes to music and languages school at ANU generate attention and anguish cuts in the Research School of Chemistry are also on the agenda. Last month a revised change management proposal involving cutting 17 professional staff positions was challenged by the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union. However union and school management are said to be calmly working through the issues, which makes, well a change.

Finding the funding crowd

CMM is a big fan of Deakin University’s strategy of funding small-scale research via crowdfunding partner Pozible. (CMM May 21 2014) . Now social media research mavens Associate Professor Stuart Palmer and Professor Deb Verhoeven report on the role of social media in Deakin staff securing $185 000 for 19 projects in the university’s Research My World series. But anybody looking for an off-the-shelf marketing model will be disappointed because there isn’t one, basically because social media, by its very nature is ever evolving and what worked once for a researcher may not work again. Crowdfunding platforms also adapt, both technically and in terms of product pitches, thus Palmer and Verhoeven point to thinkable’s approach where social media users vote for a project from a range of competitors as a recent example of a new model.

But what seems sure is that crowdfunding campaign management will become a new discipline. “Future development of crowdfunding at Deakin University will see a greater formal institutional uptake of crowdfunding, and this will have interesting repercussions for the development of greater cohort-based and corporate-derived social media use,” they write.

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ACPET’s ideas of its own

Education Minister Simon Birmingham is expected to explain how to sort out the VET FEE HELP mess this week but to be on the safe side the Australian Council for Private Education and Training has a plan of its own. ACPET chief Rod Camm says “a significant change in what we do to protect our members from the rest,” will be announced at the council’s conference this week. “This approach will mean we will be able to give confidence to students, employers and government that ACPET members are bona fide in their commitment to students and the outcome.”

Dolt of the day

Is (no surprise here) CMM, who yesterday referred to a bloke being in Columbia (as in the university) when he meant Colombia (as in the country).