plus Deakin U directs law school staff on research

New ERA in research funding: engagement and impact measures in place next year

and student visas being issued ok, just not for everybody


Marriage of minds

“For us the Innovation and Science agenda is not a one-night stand; it is an on-going relationship,” Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodonis, Senate Question Time.


More vim for visas 

The go-slow in international student visa approvals (CMM August 26) is at an end with officials responding to ministers’ instructions to pick up the pace (CMM September 5). CMM hears that the University of New South Wales, which first warned of delays had 300 plus visas approved for students due to start this month. However while the new streamlined visa system, designed to move things along for people from deemed low-risk countries applying to high quality institutions, is now ticking over ok, scrutiny will be slow and specific for postgrads in security sensitive research fields. A dean at a STEM strong university reports that visa apps for postgrads can take 12 months to clear (CMM August 31) as Border Protection looks closely at applications in fields covered by the Defence Strategic Goods List (which covers university research). People who want to do PhDs on the role of cyber warfare and submarine construction should expect quite a wait.

Bagaric to leave Deakin

Mirko Bagaric is leaving Deakin U law school and moving to the start-up at Swinburne. The prodigiously prolific, occasionally polemical Professor Bagaric says that, “after 16  enjoyable years at Deakin, I believe I have more to contribute to a newly-formed law school, than a well-established one.” He will be vastly missed, Deakin, where he is director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Sentencing. rated three (at world standard) in Excellence for Research in Australia for both law disciplines staff research. In contrast Monash U and the University of Melbourne both rated five (well above) on each. (Below: Deakin directs law school staff on research.)


Return engagement

Anne Marie Lansdown has joined the Office of the Chief Scientist in what CMM hears is described as “an overarching policy role.” Ms Lansdown is a maven among mandarins with extensive experience in the bureaucracy and policy community, including a previous term in the chief scientist office. Most recently she was deputy CEO at Universities Australia.

Sydney ready, set but still waiting for go

There was a Friday flurry with news that the University of Sydney’s academic board had signed off on the proposed new undergraduate education model, which cuts the number of degrees by 100 or so, to 40 and creates new pathways to graduate study. But a university spokeswomen says not so, that last week the board noted the model, which is proposed to start in 2018, and will consider it later in the year.

What to call koalas

Queensland’s road authority needs advice on naming three koalas, which are part of a research project with CQU. Obvious innit, Professor, Scott and Bowman.

No minister, the scrofula doesn’t show

The First Law of Political Change states that when a comms campaign has run so long that everybody involved comes over scrofulous when the message is mentioned the audience is just starting to notice. So Malcolm Turnbull, Greg Hunt and Simon Birmingham will just have to put up with the blemishes (extra makeup on TV perhaps) because research and innovation are finally on the main media agenda. There is a story on the Huffington Post on how Australia is becoming a science powerhouse. The Huffington Post! According to Cayla Dengate, “Australia is the centre of the universe … for sciences.”

Schofield selected

Robyn Schofield is a newly elected member of the International Ozone Commission. The University of Melbourne atmospheric scientist is the choice of members International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics.


New ERA for research funding

The Turnbull Government’s policy of rewarding university researchers for industry engagement and research impact will be in place next year, bringing changes most academics working in libraries and labs are yet to grasp.

In a radical break from existing practise the 2018 iteration of Excellence for Research in Australia will not be used to allocate research block funding. While the Department of Education and Training is consulting with universities on new ways to allocate Sustainable Research Excellence grants the Australian Research Council is powering ahead on creating new assessment measures, for 2017 pilot and 2018 roll out in parallel with ERA 18.

The new measures are being developed by two working groups of Australian and international research metrics experts which are co- chaired by ARC general manager Leanne Harvey and DET’s Virginia Hart. One is working on indicators to measure engagement and impact; the other is assessing how universities will change behaviour to adapt to the model adopted CMM March 30). They will report to a steering committee of industry leaders, university research chiefs and officials (CMM March 10). The ARC is believed to expect to take advice to government by November.

The model adopted will be trialled next year with a metrics component and university supplied case studies of the community impact of research. CMM understands universities are keen to produce case studies, with all of them expressing interest in participating and that they will be briefed on requirements six-months before the mid 2017 due date. On the basis of the trial, ERA 2018 is expected to consist of the established performance rating of universities research with the two new quantitative impact and qualitative engagement elements appearing in parallel.  It appears that the research policy establishment assumes the prestige research ratings provide means universities will continue to commit resources to ERA as well as investing to address the two new measures. 

Hard to fill

Recruiting has commenced to replace Chris Robinson as chief commissioner of the Australian Skills Quality Authority. Curiously the job ad does not include “crazy-brave” among requirements.


Deakin lays down the law on research

The Deakin University law school will require staff to focus on traditional discipline areas. Staff are advised that they “will be assigned to one of these areas of specialisation and, bar exceptions, their teaching and research activity will concentrate on their assigned (areas).”

The prescribed law subjects are; commercial, corporate, torts and health, international law, tax, criminal law, intellectual property and resources, constitutional law and clinical practice (the last “developed so that Deakin can offer exceptional experiential learning opportunities for students in preparation for their careers”).

“The purpose of research specialisations is to create a focused research environment by generating a critical mass of bodies and capabilities around clearly identified and ‘lived’ discipline groupings i.e. the foci do not just exist on paper,” the brief to staff states. However it appears staff will be allowed to research in any of the nine areas outside their specified specialities if; “such research is beneficial to the greater good of the law school in terms of ERA ranking, grant funding pipeline and industry connectedness.”

While staff are required to focus on required research subjects the law school “may require to teach into certain areas outside your primary area of expertise.” According to Dean of Law Sandeep Gopalan; “Deakin constantly considers and reviews current practises and systems so that we can provide the best teaching and learning experience possible.

“We have formally consolidated existing staff research and teaching strengths to align with each discipline area. In doing so, most of our staff have been grouped together based on their publication history to enable better team work, co-authorship, and grant applications. The discipline areas also coincide with the core areas of the law mandated for accreditation and staff in a discipline have taught in that area previously.”

Addressing attrition

Swinburne U VC Linda Kristjanson has responded to media criticism of undergraduate attrition by setting out the university’s policy on dropouts. Attrition rates for “traditional on-campus study are on a par with other Victorian universities,”she told staff Thursday. However, in common with other providers, the university’s drop-out rate is higher for on-line courses, “because students who choose to study online are typically busy working adults who need the flexibility of online to balance their work, family and study commitments.”

According to Professor Kristjanson the university is addressing this with support in place to assist “at risk students.” And in what is believed to be a unique move Swinburne automatically cancels enrolments of on-line students who have not started work on course material by the federal government’s census date. “This is one way that we are leading the sector to reduce rates of attrition as well as ensure that students do not incur financial penalties for units they are unlikely to complete.”

Critics of student-centred funding suggest high attrition rates are the result of lower academic standards for university entry, however the overall drop out pattern appears in-line with figures identified in the 1950s and ‘70s CMM June 24 and September 9.

Dolt of the day

Is CMM. In Friday’s edition the first name of former NSW premier Kristina Keneally was misspelt.