On target

A couple of weeks ago Labor leader Bill Shorten was calling for $10 000 donations to fund a TV advertisement opposing deregulation but it seems university staff and student unions plus activist lobby GetUp! beat him to it. They have made an advertisement with families bidding for an undergraduate place which is auctioned off for (you guessed it) $100 000. The National Tertiary Education Union says it will be on-air in time for the Senate vote on the Pyne package. Seems an expensive way to reach a target audience of eight cross bench senators.

Swinburne saga

In February Swinburne University management ending an enterprise bargaining stalemate with the National Tertiary Education Union by putting an offer straight to staff – which passed. The union then contested the decision in Fair Work Australia, arguing ineligible people voted in the ballot. Fair Work’s full bench finally heard the matter this week and Swinburne says a judgement will take anything up to three months. Which seems to strike the NTEU as a bit long, the union has called a protest meeting for Friday to demand the university deliver the pay rise in the blocked agreement, but I’m guessing none of the other conditions in it.


Teaching only expands

Universities are restructuring academic staff profiles at a pace. According to Department of Education data the number of teaching only academics with full-time or fractional appointments is up 35 per cent this year on 2013, to 4700. There are 3000 more teaching-only FT/FFT staff now than five years ago. In contrast, traditional teaching and research numbers dropped marginally this year to 32 000. In comparison, both specialist teaching only and research only positions now account for 22 000 of permanent appointments.

ARC rules

The Australian Research Council announces applications for 2016 Laureate Fellowships are open. The 17 fellows will be announced next June.

The ARC also reports rule changes for 2016 Discovery Programme applications. Most are innocuous, but one looks intriguing. A chief investigator must “be an employee for at least 0.2 FTE at an eligible organisation; or be a holder of an emeritus appointment at an eligible organisation.” I would love to report that this is to close a loophole which somebody had used to game the process but sadly no, the ARC advises it is only about clarity.

Stoic but sceptical

There is no faulting Tony Peacock for resilience – the head of the Cooperative Research Centres Association calmly cops hard knocks. When the next CRC funding round was cancelled in the budget and a review of the programme announced Dr Peacock got on with promoting CRC achievements. Yesterday he responded to Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane’s announcement of the Industry Growth Centres (which look like competition for the CRCs) with equivalent calm, suggesting the IGS “will be very different to CRCs, even though they have shared objectives.” But while he is careful not to criticise, one of the differences is that the IGS may not work as expected. Dr Peacock says the similar UK Catapult Centre Programme requires participants to raise 33 per cent of revenue from industry after five years. In contrast the IGS are expected to earn 100 per cent of income from partners in four. If the UK experience applies Dr Peacock points to three potential problems, centres focus on working with large companies not start-ups, playing safe with a contract research approach, which does not appeal to top scientists who want to do entirely new work and ignoring new industries.

He also adds “many” National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme centres “are falling off a funding cliff”. “If we are honest, some of that problem is because overly ambitious business plans that envisaged a hand over from government to business funding were accepted.” Not that he thinks the IGC program is doomed or anything.

Selling soon

The ANU activists who pushed for the university to sell its shares in fossil fuel companies must be pleased with the impact. Universities report people asking where there funds are invested. Watch for institutions selling unpopular stocks soon to beat the expected share slide.

Research not what it was

Higher education analyst Gavin Moodie suggests Industry Minister Macfarlane push for applied research continues a long-term trend. He quotes Australian Bureau of Statistics figures showing that in 1992 “pure basic” work accounted for 40 per cent of higher education research but 20 years later it was down to 24 per cent. In contrast, applied research grew from 30 per cent to 45 per cent and with experiential development now amounts to 53 per cent of total outlays. “Such a major change in higher education’s research orientation at least warrants discussion.  Before starting to ‘focus’ government funding on university research there should be a discussion of how much and what type of the nation’s research should be done in universities and how much and what type of research should be done in other bodies such as government research agencies and business,” Mr Moodie says.


Paychecks and priorities

In the US consultancy Payscale has published its top-paying undergraduate degrees list for this year, which shows STEM disciplines occupying 23 of the 25 places – the others being economics (19) and government (23). The first HASS discipline is philosophy at 49 and the first business degree is supply chain management at 35. The last four of 207 degrees are all in early childhood education – which surely says something about priorities.

Gosh thanks

Journal publisher John Wiley  is very pleased with its new Open Access Account Dashboard. This service to the research community, “provides funder and institutional customers with complete control over their open access funds online. Account holders can approve or deny open access payment requests immediately while authors will be informed of decisions as soon as they are made.”  But who is requesting open access payment, authors whose research must be open to all under public funding agreements?  ‘Fraid not – the journal publishers charge research agencies to publish papers that cannot be kept indefinitely behind paywalls, even though the publishers pay authors nothing in the first place.

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