Research super achievers

Curtin, RMIT and Adelaide win big in the discipline rankings the world watches

plus moral panic over attrition

and the heads up on who is working where

Last chance to make your case

If you are flat out fixing the thingatron you might have missed that submissions for the national research infrastructure roadmap  close today. So if you haven’t, filed dammit! How will the feds know you need a new obscureascope if you don’t?

Friday Aug 26

ARWU field rankings revealed

It’s a big morning for Curtin, which breaks into the ARWU field ranking for science at a remarkable 134 of 200. And it’s a bright dawn for RMIT, unplaced in the engineering ranking last year but 8th in Australia and 123rd of the world’s top 200 this. The sun also shines on La Trobe, which makes an ARWU field list for the first time ever, at 193 in life sciences, but not as brightly as on Adelaide, where its life science scholars improved their position by 53 places.

Each year the learned Kylie Colvin from the Higher Education Consulting Group drills into the Academic Ranking of World Universities to identify how Australian universities rate, including the majority which are only placed in bands. She did it for this year’s overall ranking here CMM August 15.

And now she has done it for the discipline groups, where only the top 50 of 200 have their individual ranks reported.


Australian Rank 2016 University 2016 Rank 2015 Rank Change in Rank 2015-16
1 The Australian National University 115 61 -54
2 Monash University 119 116 -3
3 The University of Melbourne 120 106 -14
4 Curtin University 134
5 The University of Queensland 151 160 +9
6 The University of Adelaide 172
7 Macquarie University 186 170 -16
8 University of Sydney 188 125 -63
9 Swinburne University of Technology 196

This year the Australian National University holds onto the top spot for Australia, but drops 54 places to 115. Monash moves up to number two, dropping three spots and replacing the University of Melbourne, which is down 14 positions, to 120. The University of Queensland also improves, up nine to 151.

The big winners are Curtin, (4th in Aus) which storms into the world top 200 at 134 and the University of Adelaide (6th), which also enters the first 200 at 172.

Other place-getters are Macquarie, down 16 to 186, Sydney, down 63 to 188 and Swinburne, which scrapes into the 200 at 196.



Australian Rank 2016 University 2016 Rank 2015 Rank Change in Rank 2015-16
1 The University of New South Wales 42 41 -1
2 The University of Melbourne 67 46 -21
3 Monash University 77 55 -22
4 The University of Queensland 79 77 -2
5 University of Technology, Sydney 86 111 +25
6 The University of Adelaide 102 129 +27
7 Curtin University 110 141 +31
8 RMIT University 123
9 University of Sydney 163 116 -47
10 Newcastle University 194 120 -44

UNSW maintains top local spot at 42 in the world (down one position on last year). Melbourne stays at number two, although it drops 21 positions to 67. Monash at three in Aus is also down, 22 places to 77. The University of Queensland is just behind at 79 (down two on 2015).
The next three institutions posted solid improvements, UTS up 25 to 86, Adelaide up 27 to 102 and Curtin, up 31 to 110.

But it is RMIT that blitzed the list, entering the world elite at 123.

The last two Australian entries held on, just. Sydney fell 47 places to 163 and Newcastle dropped 44 places to 194.
ANU exited the engineering list altogether.

Life Sciences

Australian Rank 2016

University 2016 Rank 2015 Rank Change in Rank 2015-16
1 The University of Queensland 20 35 +15
2 The University of Western Australia 24 25 +1
3 The University of Melbourne 25 32 +7
4 The Australian National University 62 58 -4
5 The University of Adelaide 85 138 +53
6 The University of New South Wales 136 145 +9
7 Macquarie University 139 151 +12
8 James Cook University 139 145 +6
9 University of Sydney 166 129 -37
10 University of Tasmania 169 179 +10
11 Monash University 172 147 -25
12 La Trobe University 193

Overall Australia performs strongly in the ARWU life sciences ranking for 2016, with nine of the 12 universities in the top 200 improving their positions. The University of Queensland leads, at 20th in the world, up 15 places. UWA follows at 24th (up one) with Melbourne one behind, up seven. ANU holds 4th spot, despite dropping from 58 to 62.
The big winner is the University of Adelaide, up 53 positions to 85. There is a big gap to UNSW at 136, up nine spots, followed by Macquarie (up 12) and James Cook (up six), which are equal 139th. Sydney slides 37 places to hold 166th place , just ahead of U Tasmania, which rises 10 to 169. Monash is 11th at 172, a 25 spot slide, with La Trobe following at 193; it’s first entry to any ARWU ranking.

When the all-of-institution results were released last month there was a bit of tall-poppy punishing along the lines that Australia had done well largely due to changes in the Thomson Reuters high citation methodology, which ARWU uses. It’s true, Ms Colvin points out that the changes, designed to incorporate the impact of hugely energetic and influential younger researchers, favour Australian universities. But it wasn’t done to give Aus universities the inside running, rather it reflects strategic investments by canny VCs. Or at least it does until next year, because in the republic of rankings universities are only as good as their latest scores.

Look for the medicine and social science field rankings in CMM next week.


Lower pay days

Yesterday’s day of the day was for equal pay, which the Workplace Gender Equity Agency used to  point out performance by industry. Which for higher education isn’t flash. Women do most of the work (making up 57 per cent of the workforce) but earn less of the money, 12 per cent less pr head across all employees.

Moral panic of the morning

Now, let’s see what ‘s left on the media moral panic list. Demand driven funding means too many of the wrong sort of people are enrolling at university – done. Civilisation will collapse unless every teacher education student understands post doc physics – tick. There is obscure research while people can’t get plumbers – hacks have frothed on that one as well.
So what’s left? Ah, of course, undergraduate attrition, which demonstrates how universities accept far too many people (who would be better off in the training system). There was quite a bit of this argument about yesterday, which mainly missed the point.
VET attrition is twice the higher education norm (CMM yesterday). And attrition is a perpetual problem. As Universities Australia points out, in the ‘50s the Murray Report estimated undergraduate completions at 65 per cent and twenty years on the Williams Review put them at 72 per cent,  CMM June 24).
This does not get universities off the hook – undergraduates who start and then stop courses that are not right for them waste their time and public funds and Education Minister Simon Birmingham is right to push for better course information to help people make study choices that suit them. But the implication that universities are conning people into crook courses is laughable. It also ignores the existential challenge student-centred funding faces – what will happen if large numbers of graduates start questioning the promise implicit in student-centred funding, that degrees deliver good jobs?

Movers and shakers of the working week

Swinburne U head of corporate and government affairs Andrew Dempster will leave next month. VC Linda Kristjanson announced his move yesterday, saying she had “valued his counsel … as Swinburne has chartered a course through unstable policy settings.”

Jodi Clyde Smith is leaving the University of Tasmania where she is executive director for research ops to return to the University of Queensland, where she was previously deputy director of the Diamantina Institute. She is joining the Institute for Molecular Bioscience.

University of Western Australia dean of law Erika Techera is academic of the year in the 2016 Australian Law Awards.

Mark Gregory is moving from the University of Adelaide to be VP corporate services at Flinders U. This is something of a coup for the jewel of the south – its auld enemy was well pleased when it hired Mr Gregory from Portland State U to run IT back in 2013. But as he departs North Terrace, Teresa Chitty arrives. The director of research and collections at the University of Melbourne library is stepping up to be Uni Adelaide’s new librarian.

La Trobe’s Josephine Barbaro and partner SalesForce have won the Australian Information Association’s RandD Project of the Year award for ASDetect, an app that provides diagnostic tests for families to use with children they suspect may be on the autism spectrum.

Tim Grainger is leaving the ANU, where he is marketing comms manager at the College of Law to become director of the Parliamentary Education Office.

The University of Melbourne has announced a second 2016 round of Redmond Barry professors. The award is named for a UniMelb founding father and honours achievements in teaching, research and/or creative activity (CMM August 5). Newly redmonned are Peter Bossaerts, BusEco, Frank Dunshea, VetAg, Billie Giles-Corti, Med&Dentistry, Ivan Marusic, Engineering, Geoff Taylor, Science, Stephanie Trigg, Arts, Rachel Webster, Science.

University of Western Australia VC Paul Johnson will leave at the end of the year.

University of Queensland staff picked up three gongs in this year’s state Women In Technology Awards. Mathilde Desselle won the ICT Professional award; Nasim Amarillian is the life sciences/ICT rising star and Laura Fenlon secured the PhD career start honour. Griffith U was named employer of choice with staffers Michelle Burford wining the Life Sciences/ICR research prize and Cara Beal taking the inaugural rural and remote work award.

Lisa Harvey is the next CEO of the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership. She will join AITSL in October from the New Zealand Department of Education where she was most recently deputy secretary for early learning.

ARC chair Aidan Byrne has left the Australian Research Council to become provost at the University of Queensland.

Simon Lenton is the new director of the National Drug Research Institute at Curtin University. He steps up from his old job as deputy director there.


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