Research dividend demands

plus Linkage lineup and market intel in voced

Here comes the rain again

Scientists from the University of Southampton have identified 750 pop songs about or that refer to the weather. Perhaps it makes a change for Brits not to be whinging about it.

mindhive 2

Dividend diviners

Yesterday morning CMM suggested it would take a minister to reform how research impacts are assessed, but sadly cannot take any credit for Chris Pyne’s new inquiry into research funding and policy. The education minister has appointed former secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Ian Watt to consider how to boost links between university and industry. “The review will provide the opportunity for the government and the university sector to work together to identify how the world class research undertaken by Australian universities can be translated into maximum economic advantage and social benefits for the nation,” the education minister said later in the day.

This is part of the government’s concerted push to focus funding on industry links and returns on investment. Despite assurances from Chief Scientist Ian Chubb that there is still some role for blue-sky research there is no good news in this new inquiry for people who want to be left alone in the lab to work on ideas that may, or may not, go anywhere. Dr Watt’s terms of reference include simplifying block grant funding, proposing incentives for closer university-industry links and more academic engagement with the market. Mr Pyne also specifies where Dr Watt should look for inspiration, notably to the government’s recent science and research priorities announcement, the Miles Review of the CRCs and the Clark research infrastructure review, which as far as CMM knows is not out yet.

The membership of the expert reference group to assist Dr Watt also provides a sense of what the government is looking for. It is heavy on applied research experts, including Peter Coaldrake, VC of QUT, an Australian Technology Network institution and Sandra Harding who heads James Cook U, a member of the Innovative Research Universities group. Professor Harding is also immediate past president of Universities Australia. Monash Provost Edwina Cornish represents Group of Eight institutions. Thrice VC Steven Schwartz, now executive director of the Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences is also a member. An astute appointment to the group is that wonk among wonks Conor King, executive director of the IRU. By some strange coincidence Mr King has just released a paper on a new research engagement metric designed to measure the achievements of researchers who climb out of their silos and talk to industry, (CMM yesterday).

Not everybody is impressed

Dr Watt’s advisors are a carefully considered group but not so careful as to impress everybody. Deakin VC Jane den Hollander was quick to question its composition yesterday pointing out that it includes, “none of the unaligned … there are lots of us. Why overlook some of the more independent, entrepreneurial uni’s ?”

And shadow education minister Kim Carr has seen it all before, six time before, saying that this is the number of higher education reviews commissioned by the Abbott Government. The senator also went straight for the substance of the strategy, which specifies the sort of research universities should focus on. “Without new knowledge there can be no ideas to translate into broader economic, commercial or social returns,” Senator Carr claimed.

ANU June 2

Sober as a smartphone

Singapore National University researchers Melvyn Zhang and Roger Ho have developed a smartphone app that tracks how much alcohol a person has consumed according to the drinks they log into their mobiles. The phone will call to tell them to lay off the sauce when they reach their specified limit. There’s just one problem that CMM can see, people who lie to themselves about how much they drink will have no trouble fibbing to their phones.

Cash clinks

Linkage Grants were announced yesterday, with 252 bids sharing $86m. The details are at the Australian Research Council’s new website and very convenient, compared to the old one, it is too, as CRC Association chief Tony Peacock said last night.

Engineering disciplines dominate, with close to 70 successful bids, with biology and ICT a distant second and third with just on 20 each.

The University of New South Wales has the highest number of successful projects, with 32 worth $10.2m, just ahead of the University of Melbourne with 30 ($11m). All up Group of Eight institutions won 146 grants (58 per cent) and $52m (60 per cent) of the funding. The Australian Technology Network’s five members picked up 39 grants (15 per cent) funded by $12m (14 per cent) and the Innovative Research Universities group 19 (7.6 per cent) worth $6.6m (7.6 per cent).

Among the major unaligned institutions Macquarie won two, Wollongong three, Newcastle three, UWS two and Deakin 2.

Of the mass of projects some that are especially intriguing include money for the already announced (CMM May 14) dark matter detection experiment in a goldmine at Stawell (UniMelb), a music selector which uses acoustic content rather than content association (UWS) and a new material to make concrete pipes without steel reinforcing (Monash).

But what puzzled CMM is how many of the linkage grants are with government funded agencies rather than business. The list is an example of why Australia is second last on the OECD list of university-industry links.

Market intel

Training Minister Simon Birmingham was very supportive at the National Centre for Vocational Education and Research conference yesterday, making positive noises about the good job it has done, But he made it clear that he wants the estimable agency to do a bigger one, “I have a vision for NCVER that is very clearly NCVER becoming a one stop shop for data collection in the training and vocational education sector right around Australia.” Because without dollar what to fund becomes little more than dialing for dollars.

“For public policy we face the particular questions of what to subsidise in the VET space, by how much to subsidise it, in what volume to subsidise it or how long to subsidise it. These are very significant questions that state and territory governments in particular grapple with year after year. … It’s not easy to decide what to subsidise when you have a finite budget … so quality information is critical for those public policy making outcomes.”

Everybody clear on that?

Senator Birmingham is also anxious to empower VET consumers with the information they need, which is why he was keen to announce updates to the My Skills website. The site now includes linking courses to skills in demand, provides student satisfaction data on 230 courses (well, it’s a start) and a VET Fee Help debt calculator. And for providers who have incurred Australian Skills Quality Authority’s wrath, there is an “element of name and shame.” CMM hopes that the coming Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching higher education information site is as good.

CEF1 June 15

Live and off stage

Last week’s headline in the AFR that the University of Adelaide was abolishing lectures generated jeremiads about the end of academic standards, except at the university, where people know it has not happened – yet. Yes, it will says DVC Pascal Quester, in 30 years time “the sage on the stage” will have to be pretty good to hold an audience. But for now lectures continue although they are part of the undergraduate education mix instead of the foundation of teaching, and students can hear many of them in cyber space, whenever and whenever it suits. It’s part of Adelaide’s strategy to move lectures on-line to free-up contact classes for in-person education. “Students do the reading in advance and then participate in discussion,” Professor Quester says.

Which makes CMM wonder what all the worrying about the end of in-person lecturing is about. Yes, it’s an ancient tradition, but a pup compared to the original ideal of education where the socratic sages talked with a few students rather than lectured to many.

Scripting success

According to Griffith University, the “pharmacy jobs boom” puts it “at the top”. And so the university is offering new bachelors and masters courses to meet the demand. “There are real shortages of pharmacists throughout regional Queensland, as well as in the pharmaceutical industry, clinical trials, government and research,” the university asserts.

If Griffith says so, although back in November 2013 the federal government estimated less booming than “moderate” growth and warned, “opportunities may be limited in some regions” for five years. And in January the National Australian Pharmacy Students Association reported graduate oversupply topped member concerns for the fourth year running. Perhaps they listened to the Pharmacy Guild, which regularly warns disaster is imminent whenever it wants something from Canberra, (a new funding deal has just been done.

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