Research ratings achievers: how Curtin and Deakin did it

Plus ANU’s early bid to house proposed Aus-China commission

What’s to say

The NSW VCs met yesterday but the new research ranking was not on the agenda. There wouldn’t have been much to talk about, certainly for the three regional schools that did not make the cut. The six that did are all in Sydney, Wollongong and Newcastle.

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Work choices

ANSTO is offering internships to chemical and industrial engineering undergraduates plus chemistry students, all going into their last year in 2017. Paid internships! Just wait to government MPs charged with rebutting suggestions that there are no job in STEM hear about this.

Walter and Eliza Hall also  offers hons, masters and PhD students a wide range of research projects, with “opportunities to develop a range of skills in medical research, through tackling important research questions with the support of experienced mentors.” There is no mention of money though.

One way or another there are thousands of intern programmes out there. The university that is firstest with the mostest on a database that lists them will win big in creating cred for claims about employment-ready graduates.

Capital achievement

The ACT has a scientist of the year award (who knew!). This year it is ANU’s Ceridwen Fraser. A Canberra local, Dr Fraser studies is a biogeographer, who studies how plants and animals responded to past climate change as a guide to what they will do as the climate changes now.

Reflecting research success

Australia’s ARWU results defy predictions that the national research effort has peaked and the number of universities dramatically improving their ratings over the last three years makes the result look like a trend rather than the result of one-offs. Unless of course ARWU methodology changes, particularly the way the ARWU has adjusted its use of Thomson Reuters Highly Cited research database uniquely suited Australian universities this year – which CMM very much doubts.

Certainly university research strategists recognise what works for ARWU.  As a learned reader points out, Curtin University has increased its highly cited scholar strength, focused on publishing papers in high prestige journals and producing highly cited articles. This is easier said than done but it is not random chance that Curtin U is up 88 places on 2014 (see below). ARWU is not written in stone, and yes local circumstances can lead to universities gaining and losing ground, the University of Wollongong is back where it was in 2014, after a 60 spot jump last year. But what goes down can go up again.

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Prizes for practicality

Nominations are open for the Clunies Ross Awards. Managed by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, the awards honour people who have applied technology for the benefit of Australia.

ANU’s fine china

The ANU’s East Asian Bureau of Economic Research (in the Crawford School) yesterday jointly published a major study of the Australia-China bilateral relationship with the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges, (it’s here online, for free, thanks to the marvellous ANU Press). The project calls programmes to strengthen the relationship, notably by “a new and well-resourced bi-national Australia– China Commission in the form of a statutory entity that operates independently of both governments,” comparable to the US-Australian Fulbright Commission. “The Commission will boost the level and range of policy, research, scientific, technology, education, cultural and people-to-people exchanges between the two countries.”

This is right up ANU’s institutional alley and last night Vice Chancellor Brian Schmidt backed the idea; offering “full institutional support.”

ANU is home to the largest group of China specialists in Australia with more than 50 academics undertaking research on China including several who rank among the very top China specialists in the world.” Professor Schmidt says.

It’s a concentration helped by the $50m or so Kevin Rudd gave ANU to expand its China focus but of course this does not mean the Australian base for the new commission has to be at ANU – but it probably will be. As Professor Schmidt put it last night, (the proposal is for) “an outstanding national initiative and one that, as the nation’s university, we are committed to support through our intellectual input and complementary programs.”

Or as a China scholar said to CMM last night, “ ‘National university’ sounds pretty prestigious to the Chinese, which makes ANU hard to beat as a home for the Australian branch.”

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Deakin delivers

Deakin, the big winner in this year’s ARWU, did it by integrating its research growth plan into the university’s overall strategy of service. Vice Chancellor Jane den Hollander says that when she arrived in 2010 she set 350th spot in the ARWU by 2020 as her goal, (this year Deakin U rose by 182 positions to 216th in the world). But she wanted the growth to be in the same area that the university was growing its teaching to meet student demand and community need. Thus Deakin developed its base in advanced manufacturing, vital for its Geelong base, and IT, which is strong in the surrounds of its suburban Melbourne campus at Burwood. And instead of trying to catch the big Ms, Monash and UniMelb, in medicine, Deakin built a base in public health research.

Most important Deakin did it by developing its own people, there were no expensive hires of researchers with reps that generate citations. Good lord, a research culture based on organic growth and a community focus rather than gaming research metrics – who ever would have thought of that? The Deakin team did, and look where it got them.

Curtin raiser

Curtin University is up 57 spots in the ARWU this year, nearly 100 on last 2014. VC Deborah Terry and DVC Chris Moran are pleased but not surprised.  While the ARWU change in citation methodology (above) helped a university like Curtin, with younger high performing researchers, success is largely due to the university’s strategy. “It’s about scale and focus and the results are starting to show,” Professor Terry says. The Curtin research plan has combined recruiting talent and encouraging their own. “We have high cited researchers who have been here for 30 years,” she adds.  The university has also lifted higher degree numbers, which flows through into the productivity of senior people Professor Moran adds.

Curtin also encourages a publishing culture that emphasises quality over quantity, encouraging researchers to focus on meeting the standards of high standing journals, which drives citation rates. The Excellence for Research in Australia exercises help with this, focusing Curtin researchers on quality publications, they say.

To keep up the momentum Professor Terry says there are three priorities. Support early and mid career researchers to nurture stars, broaden research capacities and encourage knowledge transfer, an area Curtin is already strong in.

Aspirational or impossible

Back in May Edith Cowan U launched its ‘Get Ready’ recruitment campaign, which CMM (May 3)  thought is bang on, writing; “it features, nurses and teachers, sports scientists and coders stepping up at work. … the message is that ECU’s qualifications provide the skills graduates need to do the jobs they want.”

Good slogan, great positioning. Such a good slogan that the University of Western Australia used the same approach for its Open Day, “getting you ready for UWA.” Doubtless it is a coincidence but similar slogans do not disguise the gap, well chasm actually, between the two universities branding.  While ECU focuses on getting students ready for specific jobs, the core message of UWA’s corporate campaign is “pursue impossible.”

Long shining star

CSIRO radio astronomy icon Bruce Slee has a stellar lifetime achievement award; the International Astronomical Union has named a planet after him, “Minor Planet 931 Slee.” Bit light on for grandeur, still it’s the thought that counts. Mr Slee’s utterly admirable story is nicely reported by Fiona McFarlane, here.

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Cop this

The University of Tasmania is very pleased with its relationship with the state’s police. All recruits must complete an associate arts degree in policing with the university and then can “align their careers” with a bachelor of social science in police studies. According to UTas, the associate degree “is part of a nationally unique partnership between the university and Tasmania Police.”

Good-o, but what about Charles Sturt University, which has educated coppers since Robert Peel was a pup? CMM asked CSU about UTas’s claims and the university replied; “The associate degree in policing practice is a mandatory entry pathway completed by all NSW Police recruits and is a pathway which can be used by NSW Police officers seeking to further their higher education studies through the bachelor of policing and for higher degree study options through the Australian Graduate School of Policing and Security at CSU.”

Perhaps UniTas meant nationally unique, south of Bass Strait.

Authors acknowledged

Curtin U is pleased with academic authors, even though their work will never get a mention in research rankings. Professor John Kinsella from the Sustainable Policy Institute is shortlisted for the 2016 WA premier’s award for fiction. Dr Lucy Dougan (Humanities) is up for the poetry prize.

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