Straight bats at Senate Estimates

Prutty good praise

Across the ditch Newstalkzb reports the University of Auckland Business School is judged the 28th most beautiful in the world. Whacko. Still, it makes a change from the new QS list of “liveable” students for cities – on which all Australian capitals feature.

But not enough for terrific teachers

The winners of the national university teacher awards get nowhere near the praise they merit, largely due to the Office of Learning and Teaching which appears to consider all coverage crook coverage. The prime minister’s university teacher of the year, Professor John Croucher from Macquarie University should have been praised in the media yesterday, but there was nary a mention outside the trade press, (he did one radio interview). This contrasts very poorly indeed with the pm’s science prizes announced at the end of October, when the pm’s scientist of the year Professor Terry Speed was interviewed everywhere. In a higher education culture obsessed with research performance missing any opportunity to praise teachers is simply not good enough. Still, the citations are finally found here. There is no particular pattern to the awards for teaching excellence and programs enhancing learning but it is worth noting at an institutional level less which got what. Of the 21 individuals and teams honoured Australian Technology Network members did very well indeed, with Queensland University of Technology and Curtin winning two awards, and the University of South Australia and UTS picking up one each. The University of Queensland and Uni Tasmania were the only other institutions to claim two awards. The Group of Eight were not all there, in addition to UoQ, only staff from the Australian National University and UWA received awards.

Nowhere to go

UNSW Vice Chancellor Fred Hilmer warns that research fund shortfalls mean, “some of our most outstanding researchers will find themselves, and their projects, left high and dry. Many will have no alternative but to look outside Australia.” Um but where? The New York TimesBinyamin Appelbaum tweeted yesterday “James Rothman, Nobel Laureate in Medicine: ‘I advise my students not to stay in the United States” because of declining US science funding’.”

Straight bats at estimates

“I won’t be so enthusiastic about being here,” Kim Carr said yesterday as others expressed their delight to be at Senate estimates yesterday. And yet he was. Senator Carr has obviously decided to make the best of the bad lot that is opposition and he spent hours yesterday bowling up cunning questions to officials. Spinners education secretary Lisa Paul and lower order officials straight-batted away. Who, Senator Carr wanted to know, is responsible for science. Why, industry minister Ian Macfarlane, Ms Paul replied. Well sort of, science policy and science agencies are with industry but university sector research and liaison with the Australian Research Council are in her department. So are there joint administrative arrangements? Senator Carr asked. There are no formal mechanisms yet, Ms Paul replied, there may be in the future but education and industry people know each other well. So that’s all right then. When Senator Carr came back to the issue later in the morning Ms Paul expressed her enthusiasm to have research in her portfolio, without actually saying anything. When Minister Pyne said he was minister for research on Sunday he must have meant apart from large swags of science and related policies.

Even straighter

But Ms Paul was ferociously on the front foot compared to Aidan Byrne who was polished, professional and as careful as usual at estimates. Understandably so, given the government has already shown it is happy to raid his Australian Research Council’s budget. Professor Byrne explained why the ARC’s work is responsible, accountable, measurable and how it delivers dividends for Australia. Exciting it wasn’t, astute it was. Especially when Senator Carr asked if the ARC had instructions on lengthening grant terms, an idea Mr Abbott expressed at his science awards the other night. No, Professor Byrne said, he had not heard from ministers but his view is that some programs could work well with longer grant durations while others need not change. Professor Byrne was precise and polite. Nothing between bat and pad. But when Senator Carr lobbed one up about Jamie Brigg’s celebrated attack on humanities research before the election the ARC chief said the grants involved were approved by peer reviews, which he supported.

What was in the pot?

An expert in the ways of the National Tertiary Education Union was interested in the way the union quickly reached a wages deal at the University of Canberra the other day. This kremlinologist considered the rush to sign suggested quite a win for the comrades, pointing to evidence buried in the document, specifically here, which deals with the third tranche of the agreed pay rise due in 2015, for when the Commonwealth indexation payment is not set. But U of C commits to the same rise that applies now. Of course this is typical of Stephen “renaissance prince” Parker who likes to spread the wealth, on everything from rugby teams to poetry prizes. But it does imply the university is confident of its capacity to pay, even if the feds turn tight fisted. Perhaps the university’s pockets are deeper than the union realised.

Careful it’s a trap

RiAus invites early career researchers in Adelaide to a discussion of balancing work and life. Since when are PhD students and post doc fellows allowed lives?

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