Plus the other big winners of the week

Lambie lines up

While university lobbies look like they are about to ask Chris Pyne for surrender terms the fight over deregulation isn’t over yet. Yesterday PUP senator Jacqui Lambie signed up to the National Tertiary Education Union’s campaign against fee deregulation. She joined the series of Labor and Greens MPs photographed holding the union’s “$100,000 degrees? I didn’t vote for this,” poster. Hard to change her mind after this.

Monro moves

Tanya “photon girl” Monro has defected to the University of South Australia, to become DVC Research, leaving less a gap than a chasm in the research line-up at the University of Adelaide. This is a very big win indeed for Uni SA VC David Lloyd. The widely published and much cited Professor Monro is a pin-up person for optical physics research with potential industrial applications – something urgently required by what remains of Australia’s industrial base. She is immensely well-regarded by the SA government, recently appointed to the state’s economic development board and her move signals Professor Lloyd’s determination to buy-in an applied research base. Earlier this year he lured Jordan Louviere and his entire team of behavioural science scholars, experts in consumer choice, away from UTS.

So what’s the mood like among the 165 staff at Professor Monro’s ARC centre of excellence at Uni Adelaide? Beyond gritted teeth congratulations nobody was saying anything yesterday, but news of a replacement for Professor Monro, which will cheer the troops is said to be imminent.

India in

Brian Boyle from the Square Kilometre Array project was very pleased yesterday with India becoming a full member. But does this completely compensate for Germany’s June decision to bail?

Gong show

Enterprise bargaining proceeds slowly at the University of Wollongong. According to the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union, progress-less bargaining drags on with management conceding nothing on pay and conditions. Just as bad, the union claims, “bargaining team members meet in their own time and at their own expense outside working of hours.” But this is not the only issue aggrieving the unionists. Yesterday ACTU president Ged Kearney joined with the NTEU state branch in calling on UoW VC Paul Wellings “to end his support for the Abbott Government changes.” I wonder if that is a formal enterprise bargaining claim, or just criticism. As the NSW NTEU tweeted at lunchtime, (@ uow#uncut) “major issue is the ‘leadership’ of the VC. We need to target him,” I’m going with criticism.

Exemplifies uniqueness

“Macquarie University is a workplace like no other,” job advertisement yesterday. It’s certainly the only university in the 2109 postcode named for a colonial governor of NSW.

Patent preference

What is Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane up to with his proposal to tie research funding to patents not publications and citations? As the minister said on Wednesday he was “freelancing” with the idea but then he added we should “watch this space.” Research policy observers say that in fact it was a statement of a long-held conviction – that Mr Macfarlane believes the job of university researchers is to assist industry and that rewarding them for patents is the best way of doing it. Problem is, patents, like any single indicator could be, would be gamed, which is why they are but one of many inputs into the ERA process. As Australian Research Council Director Aidan Byrne reminded us yesterday, “from the data the ARC receives through ERA it is clear  that patents are highly correlated with research quality. Patents reported in ERA also increase from 671 in 201 to 781 in 2012 781.

But what space does Mr Macfarlane want us to watch? The one filled by the $480m Entrepreneur’s Infrastructure Programme is my guess. The program was announced in the budget, with a research connections component due to launch next month.

Froggy philanthropy

La Trobe’s Bert De Groef and colleagues have partnered with crowdfunder Pozible to raise $10 000 to discover the impact of a common pesticide on endangered native frog species. The project has 60 days to raise the money so (ahem) hop to it.

Union blue

If the workers united will never be defeated they are in line for a terrible time at RMIT, where there is a brawl in the NTEU. The fight is over union executive positions with one candidate, Dave Kinder upsetting the True Grit ticket. The Gritters make a bunch of allegations against him, but Mr Kinder declines to return fire, urging members to vote according to their judgement. The Gritters are also upset with the union’s national office for making the last term tough. “On top of a demanding enterprise bargaining campaign we had to contend with the unwelcome intervention of the national union leadership in our local elections which resulted in a fractious and dysfunctional branch committee.” But what does this mean – a quiet time for incoming VC Martin Bean is what, at least as for as long as the comrades are arguing among themselves. And over not much. The True Grit executive ticket is already triumphant, with Melissa Slee (president), Caroline Norma (vp) and Moira Walsh (secretary) all elected unopposed

In tune

“What other university has its own ukulele group?” Charles Sturt U asked yesterday. None that will admit to it, I reply.

Winners of the week

No contest this week. Ben McNeil (UNSW) for launching a crowd funding program, via Thinkable. My pick of the projects is Tristan Stasse for research using algorithms from neurobiology to examine ocean acidification. Christopher Pyne for sticking to the script and endless energy in selling his deregulation plan. Like or loathe him you can’t say he is not game to have a go. Jeffrey Smart from Swinburne’s international office for sponsoring a huge rating quiz show on TV in Vietnam – the winner gets to do a degrees at Swinburne. Perhaps there is more effective publicity, but I can’t think of it. Tanya Monro (above) also won big with her move to DVC R at UniSA . And then there are Senator Jacqui Lambie and University of Canberra VC Stephen Parker. There I was predicting the political winds were changing in Minister Pyne’s favour when yesterday the crucial crossbencher signs up to the NTEU’s campaign against fee deregulation. As I reported yesterday, Professor Parker has made a principled stand against the Pyne package, making him perhaps the only VC to come out in opposition. As with Mr Pyne, there is no faulting him for guts.

Putting c for customer in ARC

The Australian Research Council is upgrading its Research Management System, with RMS2 functions going live from late this month. The ARC promises improved search functions, a better grants completion platform and navigation function -which will cheer up applicants. But there is one improvement which will really fly – users can log-in with an email address instead of an ID. Talk about customer focus.

Awful attrition

The estimable NCVER’s data of the day is good news, of sorts. It shows public sector VET completion rates effectively stalled at 35.8 per cent in 2012, up just 0.2 per cent in 2011. However drill down a bit and some of the 2012 stats get better. Diploma and Certificate IV courses were completed by 44 per cent of students and some 55 per cent of under-25s who were first timers at TAFE completed Certificate III study. Even so, a headline two-thirds attrition figure, for whatever reason, signals a terrible waste of staff and student time and public money.

All the news fit to print

As student newspapers go the University of Western Sydney’s Cruwsible is less tame than lame. The latest issue is full of community-affirming articles and denunciations of the Abbott Government, with criticism of university management utterly absent. Which makes me wonder whether it is a university management newspaper for students rather than an independent paper by students. I asked the university’s nominated contact person about editorial control and I’m sure she will reply after edition.

Why the eight are really great (just ask them)

Sometimes entire days go by without the Group of Eight reminding everybody that on any measure of excellence it’s it and daylight. Yesterday was not one of them. The Eight released data on a range of attributes demonstrating the distance between them and the other 31 public institutions. On the basis of the Eight’s information, the average national competitive research income of its members in 2012 was $148m, compared to $13m each for the others. And the Eight’s research staff are much more productive than the competition, producing research income per researcher ranging from $150 000 at the University of Queensland to $219 000 at ANU in 2012. The average for the others was $70 000 per head. Undergraduates at the Eight also benefited from smaller EFTS to academics ratios – ranging from seven at ANU to 13 at Monash. The average for the others was 19.