On the (money) ball

Baby its cold outside

Yesterday, as people on North Terrace shivered through another glacial 43c day the University of Adelaide convened the local hacks to learn about South Australia’s hypothermia problem – apparently it kills more people per head there than in Sweden. No one is quite sure why, but the absence of double glazing is likely to be a big part of the problem. And this on a day when the always cool, and calm UoA media mavens were handing out ice creams to people at the presser. Which melted.

I dread to think what the university will distribute to the crowd at Monday’s free public seminar on diagnosing and treating prostate cancer.

On the money

The Australian Technology Network’s Vicki Thomson explains how to make the higher education case: “We need to be : a – protecting what we’ve got; and b – demonstrating better bang for taxpayers buck It’s not rocket science people!”

Who has the numbers

After a year of bitter dispute over the terms of a new enterprise agreement Swinburne University management has had enough. The question is whether staff have had a gut full as well. Yesterday the university emailed everybody on campus stating its December offer stood, – this includes a 3.1 per cent p.a. pay rise for four years, a new workload model (said to be similar to the one adopted at Deakin), permanent jobs for some of Swinburne’s corps of casuals, plus a $1000 signing bonus for permanent staff and $250 for sessionals. Management says it hopes the university branch of the National Tertiary Education Union will recommend the deal to staff but if not the university will go it alone and put the proposed agreement to a vote. So if the NTEU declines to sign which side has the numbers? As far as I can tell the workload model is not onerous and observers suggest the university has only acted because it thinks it most staff will accept it. If so NTEU state and federal officials will not want to oppose a deal which rank and file staff could endorse. This occurred last year at Charles Sturt and the union leadership will not want a repeat of that defeat.

Revving things up

Enterprise bargaining at the University of Queensland began in October 2012 and has proceeded at a predominantly peaceful pace, if only because not much has occurred. The NTEU and management bargaining teams have dug in over teaching loads and staff representation on restructures and have not even got to money yet. “We’re worried that we might be spinning our wheels,” union president Andrew Bonnell says. So, the union has decided to strike, presumably on the assumption that stopping is a form of starting. There will be the usual low-level bans on email and out of hours work followed by a 24 hour strike in the second week of semester

Industrial action is also on the way at the University of Western Australia, where the NTEU reports staff “voted overwhelmingly” in a protected ballot in support of the union’s enterprise bargain claim.  So how many staff constitute an “overwhelming vote”? The NTEU does not release branch membership figures but I hear that it has something over 600 dues payers at UWA, under 20 per cent of staff.

Hastening slowly

The Department of Industry is said to have sent cooperative research centre applicants a note yesterday advising they will learn outcomes of the 16th Program Selection Round “early next week.” Presumably they can’t be more specific because it can take time for a messenger in a sedan chair to reach outlying bidders.

Surf and turf

Southern Cross University, which has started celebrating its 20th anniversary this week, is an accidental university. The former collection of colleges of advanced education was intended to amalgamate with the University of New England back in the early 90s but where the leadership at Lismore heard “merge” the old guard at UNE thought “take over” was the appropriate term. It was never going to work – UNE back then was very conscious of its dignity, rural research background and distance education turf while what became SCU was over the mountains and looked up the coast towards Queensland. Given the way SCU has grown the split was probably in everybody’s interest. There should not be any problem inviting UNE representatives to the parties – 20 years is a long time, especially at the rate UNE turns over chancellors and VCs lately.

Time for Pyne to push

It seems journal publishers in the UK anticipated yesterday’s edict from the English higher education funding agency, that research access is to be included among performance measures. A pilot program, Access to Research, starts this month, which will provide journal content to anybody who logs in via a participating community library. Some 1.5 million articles are available from a range of publishers including many of the big names, Elsevier, Emerald, Springer, Nature, Wiley and the like. Whether this constitutes comprehensive open access is not clear – for example, what is the lag between publication and articles becoming available? Most important, do institutions have to pay for their academics’ articles to be available. Whatever, it is an improvement on the existing situation that applies here. Both the ARC and MHRC require open access as a condition of funding but a political push is needed to make publishers move. It is hard to imagine a pushier politician than Minister Pyne.

Who would have thought

At Flinders, PhD candidate Tets Kimura is researching the way Japanese and Australian newspapers report whaling. “Both countries are guilty of producing bias stories – Australia’s reporting is almost 80 per cent anti-whaling and about 60 per cent of Japanese reports carry pro-whaling tones.” No, I do not think “tones” refers to whale-songs.

Citing a team of champions  

That ominous glee you can hear is head hunters contemplating the money to be made from a new formula for promoting research success, at least as measured by publications and where they lead. An MIT team has created formulas to predict a researcher’s performance based on who cited previous papers and who he or she publishes with, rather than overall citations. “The overall vision for this project is to create an academic dashboard that will include a suite of measures and prediction methods that could supplement the current subjective tools. In accordance with findings in other business areas, our conjecture is that the use of a data-driven process in academic decisions would yield better predictions of future scholars’ achievements,” they write. They call it “moneyball for academics.” Good-oh, but am I missing something, why can’t this be gamed, like every other performance predictor.  And as for the Billy Beane comparison, he wanted to build a team, not a collection of individual stars – that is what had got the Oakland As into trouble in the first place.

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