Stirling sets sail to transform Flinders U

plus the ARWU’s understated Australian achievers  

Who knew?

Research titans (of which there are many) at the University of Queensland have discovered sheep can keep the grass down at the university’s solar research facility cheaper than mowing. “Imagine the stellar heights that UoQ’s research ranking will hit once the world hears that they’ve discovered that sheep eat grass,” a learned reader remarks.

Tuesday Aug 16

Stirling announces Flinder’s plan

Nobody at Flinders University can say they couldn’t see yesterday’s restructure proposal coming. A staff freeze was introduced last October (CMM October 21) and in February VC Colin Stirling told staff that a survey revealed “excessive bureaucracy and hierarchy have been identified by staff across the university as key concerns” (CMM February 12). Then in May he announced a ten-year plan to make Flinders one of the top ten universities in the country (CMM May 23).

Yesterday Professor Stirling released a proposal to help it happen replacing the four faculties and 14 schools with six colleges. The university will also offer uncapped voluntary redundancies in place of a previous early retirement scheme, which is said to have attracted significant interest, but too much of it from staff who did not meet tax criteria. However the new VR is not about reducing headcount, with salary savings to be spent on new hires.

The proposal also includes the creation of specialist teaching positions and research posts in growth areas, which isn’t surprising either. Last May Professor Stirling and then incoming DVC R Robert Saint signalled a focus on research productivity (CMM May 19 2015). If adopted the new proposal will run with the professional services project already underway.

Chemistry is right

Apparently its National Science Week and the Chief Scientist wants us all to learn the names and stories of five living Australian scientists to inspire an interest in science. “We can all name at least five current athletes … . We can all name at least five actors. These days we can probably even name at least five celebrity chefs,” Alan Finkel says. The last five should do it, what with TV cooking resembling advanced chemistry experiments.

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Monash keeps it low-key

While not as trappist-quiet as Silent Bruce Dowton at Macquarie University, operational announcements by Monash VC Margaret Gardner are rarely accompanied by 76 trombones. It was thus back in June, when Professor Gardner told staff that Edwina Cornish was leaving after 12 years at the university, including four as provost and senior deputy VC. “Edwina will leave Monash in better shape than when she arrived,” Professor Gardner, did not exactly trumpet. This probably suited Cornish who is said to also be a lady who likes not the spot-light.

But Professor Cornish’s departure is certainly leaving a senior management gap. The university is now recruiting a new provost and a new DVC education (a function Cornish looked after, presumably in her spare time).

Monash is also still in the market for a new DVC (enterprise) to look after industry collaboration, technology transfer and commercialisation, the job was first advertised in April.

Honour illustrated

Swinburne U has awarded alumnus Graeme Base an hon doc – presumably for services to generations of kids. And quite right too. Mr Base’s first children’s picture book Animalia has sold 3m copies since it was published in 1986. He has written and illustrated a bunch of others that have sold a million more.

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Understated achievers

Yesterday’s release of the Academic Ranking of World Universities (the league-table formerly known as Shanghai JiaoTong) was good news for Australian higher education generally and a bunch of universities specifically. Not that you would have known it, given the less-than-light-speed with which high achievers announced their results.

But not James Cook U which was out early announcing, it’s move into the ARWU 201-300 band of world universities, after six years in the 301-400 group. It is even better than it looks. As analyst Kylie Colvin reported in CMM yesterday, crunching the ARWU inputs reveals James Cook moved up 39th spots to become 279th in the world and 12th in the country. The University of Queensland was also quick to comment; pointing to its 55th place, up 22 spots from last year. UoQ is now just 15 places behind perennial leader UniMelb and 22 ahead of third-place ANU.

But after the Queenslanders there was a bit of a wait until La Trobe stirred itself to tweet that it is now in the top 2 per cent of global universities. La Trobe later expanded, stating it was 336th in the world. The university was 475 in 2013 and off the list in ’14 and ’15. LTU was followed by Flinders U, which announced it had “surged” 54 places to 318th, making excellent progress on its ambition “to claim its place amongst the top 1% of the world’s universities.” Curtin U also reported a big increase, up 59 places year on year. And Western Sydney U was pleased to report a 394th place (it wasn’t rated in the last two years) with VC Barney Glover simply stating, “WSU continues to balance research quality with the importance of ensuring relevance and impact on the local, national and international levels.

The University of Melbourne also issued a statement, which briefly and modestly announced an Australian “presence among the world’s leading universities” is a continuing goal of the institution and VC Glyn Davis. Neatly done, UniMelb doesn’t have to prove a thing.

Quick to applaud

Education Minister Simon Birmingham and Labor innovation spokesman Kim Carr were quick to congratulate all ARWU participants yesterday, but there was silence from Opposition education shadow Tanya Plibersek – this is undoubtedly an oversight, given Ms Plibersek is insistent that she represents Labor on research infrastructure.

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Headline of the week

Yes, it is only Tuesday but it will be hard to beat “Queensland researchers a step closer to world-first artificial insemination of wombats,” from ABC journalists Megan Hendry and Alice Roberts. A headline tells everybody but very close students of vombatus ursinus all they need to know.

Dolt of the day

CMM left La Trobe out of its mention of universities in the ARWU 300-400 group yesterday. LT U appeared in the table but not in the copy.

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