Shine bright: all the PM’s science awards

Aus VC pay: you can bet the house on uni leaders earning a motza more

Like or loathe them VET private providers are here to stay

plus: the top ten countries for graduate literacy

Power cuts

Learned readers reported loss of power  at the University of Western Australia yesterday and of course blamed Senior DVC Dawn Freshwater’s job cutting restructure. This was as unkind and as it was unfair, something fritzed in a new electricity sub-station.

Hunt works the room

“There are those of you in this room and out there across Australia whose work today will position us to secure our future prosperity, create jobs and protect us against disease or harm for many generations to come,” Industry, Innovation and Science Minister Greg Hunt works the room at the PM’s awards last night. The coalition has come a way since the Abbott Government did not even have a minister with “science” in their title.

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Amazing sights

Education Minister Simon Birmingham did not remotely open the University of Wollongong’s new molecular and life science facility yesterday (the event was at Parliament House not on campus) as expected. Some bloke called Malcolm Turnbull turned up and seized the photo opp. But Senator Birmingham did get to speak approvingly about the $80m worth of super science kit. It will, the minister said, allow researchers “to see things that have never been seen before.” And that, as anybody who has been to a Wollongong nightclub knows, is really saying something.

ANZAC achievement for graduate literacy

Now here’s a league table everybody will love. The OECD has graphed literacy levels for people with tertiary education in member countries and we can all expect to hear about it. The top ten countries (in descending order are): Japan, Finland, Netherlands, Australia, Norway, Belgium, New Zealand, England, United States and Czech Republic. Of the top education export nations, Australia is a ways in front. (Thanks to the BBC’s Sean Coughlan for the pointer).

Shine bright

Richard Shine from the University of Sydney has won the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science. The evolutionary ecologist and conservation biologist is honoured for his strategies to stop cane toads breeding and killing native Australian predators, crocodiles, quolls, goannas, which eat the execrable amphibians  and then die of poison.

The award follows his NSW premier’s prize for science for research last week, on controlling the terrible toads (CMM October 17). Professor Shine’s brother John won the PM’s prize in 2010 for biomedical research.

Michael Aitken from the Capital Markets Cooperative Research Centre takes the PM’s award for innovation. His system to analyse stock market trades to detect fraud was bought by NASDAQ. Now he and his team are working to address inefficiencies and to stop swindles in other industries that are based on huge numbers of transactions – such as the Australian health system.

Colin Hall (University of South Australia) is the PM’s inaugural new innovator for a manufacturing process that replaces glass with layered plastic – it’s already in use in side mirrors on 1.6m Ford trucks.

Richard Payne (University of Sydney) is the Malcolm McIntosh physical scientist of the year. He re-engineers peptides and proteins that occur in nature into drugs to treat strokes, malaria, TB and antibiotic resistant infections.

ARC Future Fellow Kerrie Wilson, from the University of Queensland is the Frank Fenner life scientist of the Year for her work on the allocation of conservation resources.

Geoscientist Suzy Urbaniak is secondary science teacher of the year, she teaches at Kent Street Senior High School in Perth.

Gary Tilley, from Seaforth Public in NSW, is the primary science teacher of the year.

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel chaired the judging panel.

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In the black

Readers whose superannuation earnings have disappeared into a black financial hole thanks to less low than subterranean interest rates will be delighted to know that UniSuper is industry watcher SuperRatings’ Pension Fund of the Year. This is on top of it being named 2016 superfund of the year by three other raters. You may not be able to see any balance increases but at least it’s safe.

High cost of housing

Ultra learned Canadian commentator Alex Usher has dissected the data on university CEO pay to discover Australian VCs make a motza more than their US, UK and Canadian colleagues. “At roughly equivalent universities, Australian presidents are making over two and a half times as much as Canadian ones,” he says. Timothy Devinney and Grahame Dowling also found that this is indeed Australia Felix for VCs when they crunched the numbers in 2013. They estimated US and UK university chiefs were paid an average of $A 450-480k while those in Australia received a quarter million more of the not so elusive spondulicks. “It is quite unclear what it is that makes the compensation levels so different (particularly given that most university vice chancellors either come from other Australian universities or UK universities where the compensation levels for comparable positions is lower). There is also no reason to believe that Australian universities are any more difficult to run than major US universities or those in the UK or that the individuals chosen to run the Australian universities possess any special skills that demand greater compensation,” they concluded. One learned reader suggested that it might be because of the cost of grand houses in Sydney and Melbourne. Perhaps. Given accommodation is built into some VCs pay a few of them probably get much more modest cash after their flash housing is paid for.

People person

UniSA has a new HR head. Jane Booth, ex BBC, ex SA Health is the new executive director, People, Talent and (no less!) Culture.

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Hot topic

In ANU student newspaper Woroni, Lorane Gaborit and Kanika Kirpalani report on sexual assault policy and practise, at the university’s student residences. Good subject. In February VC Brian Schmidt said there were 21 reported incidents of “unwanted sexual attention” on campus last year and “we know there are more that were not reported,” (CMM February 12). With ANU management committed to expanding on-campus accommodation (CMM August 2) the potential for problems can only get bigger.

MOOC of the morning

The University of Adelaides MOOC on managing addiction is returning for a second season, being offered again via edX. It first ran last winter. UniAdelaide bills it as an “ideal starting point for health professionals” but it surely also appeals to people who want to stop a loved one destroy their life. It starts today.

Private providers are permanent

As MPs blamed each other for the VET FEE HELP mess in yesterday’s Reps debate on the new loan scheme the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research reported first half 2016 training enrolments. And what do you know, the training system supposedly on its last legs actually looks like it might go for a walk! Overall publicly funded enrolments were up 3.6 per cent on the corresponding period in 2015, to 490 000. TAFE numbers increased by 14 per cent while private providers were down 9 per cent. But even with the cleanout of the spivs who rorted VET FEE HELP some 35 per cent of people were enrolled in private providers. The reality is that if the entire for-profit sector was banned from enrolling publicly funded students TAFE would be overwhelmed.

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