The coming cost of big data

Plus union win at Southern Cross and Pyne applauds international education

Tweets tell the tale

An algorithm developed by visiting Flinders U political scientist Thad Kousser is tracking the ideological tilt of MPs’ tweets. And, what a surprise, it turns out Chris Pyne tweets to the right almost all the time and Bill Shorten to the left. But the party line is not always solid, the prime minister tweeted toward the centre during the last election and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is not the only Liberal who tweets left more than some Labor MPs. Professor Kousser says this indicates Australian politics does not divide as rigidly on party-lines as in the US but surely tweet analysis tells us more about the way MPs interpret what voters want rather than what they necessarily think.

CEF June 15 2

Another win for the NTEU

In a very big win the National Tertiary Education Union has defeated an enterprise agreement offer at Southern Cross University. Management put its offer to staff despite the union’s opposition. Voting concluded yesterday with a decisive no. Industrial observers say they are not surprised given university management did not campaign hard for the deal, but even so it is a big rebuff to Vice Chancellor Peter Lee. Last night Professor Lee was gracious in defeat, thanking staff for participating and assuring staff the 2010 agreement remains in force. Presumably until he comes up with an offer the union will recommend to its members.

Case for QILT

An expert adviser to universities who is following the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching project says potential students should be able to see performance data and that institutions already live with simple “star systems,” (CMM yesterday). However there is still work to be done on the fine detailed data, which QILT will present. For example, the long established first job metric is no longer the measure of success it once was given the old school-university-work sequence is no longer the norm. There are also questions about the way graduate outcomes are measured, for example “further study” may disguise unemployment/under employment. Getting these measure right is essential, lest universities unhappy with how they appear argue problems with data discredit the whole exercise.

Overall however there is goodwill for QILT. With Labor’s Kim Carr keen on incorporating outcome measures into funding formulas universities need comparable performance data based on sound and serious stats.

Mindhive 1

Northern exposure

That James Cook U will make a solid case to house the new CRC on Developing Northern Australia is assured (CMM yesterday). But a research policy person suggests Charles Darwin U VC Simon Maddocks will be hard to beat. “He’ll argue that an east coast centre always faces east,” the researcher predicts. Professor Maddocks knows his way around research and development policy and has served on a Cooperative Research Centre board.

Symbiotic citations

Journal publisher Reed Elsevier is cosying up to ratings agency QS, with a close relationship becoming closer. QS already uses RELX’s Scopus abstract/citation database for its various league tables and will now use its Scival product, which collects data on research performance. The arrangement makes mutual sense, embedding both companies ever deeper in the architecture of performance assessment. And it makes it harder for advocates of open access publishing and opponents of commercial league tables to argue higher education can easily dispense with either organisation.

ANU June 3

Dolt of the day

Is CMM, who named CQU’s VC as Scott Harding, the gentleman is, of course, Scott Bowman.

NTEU counsels caution

The NTEU branch at Griffith University is worried that changes to the teaching year will increase workloads for members and that the ramifications are not thought through. The union template of arguments for members to use when asked to teach more (CMM yesterday) is designed for University of the Sunshine Coast – but it could turn out to be useful for Griffith unionists. Not that the union flat out opposes change you understand, “but we do want to see Griffith making the right decisions, taking into account staff rights and welfare.” The university did not respond to requests for comment.

Counting costs

Ian Chubb can count and not just the numbers needed to get policies up, last week he set out in a key-note speech the challenge and potential of big data for research and government. For a start, there are 58 million items in research data bases and then there is all the information routinely recorded, “massive amounts of data collected in real time, massive amounts of important information (which) will go to waste unless we get our policies right – to store, to manage, to access and to use the data,” he said. Those policies, Professor Chubb suggests, require a national approach, across all disciplines as well as more maths and IT specialists, 100 000 more by 2020. But it is not as grim as it sounds, with the Chief Scientist “cautiously optimistic” that the emerging bipartisan commitment to science and recent policy commitments mean big ideas in big data are entirely possible.

Good news indeed, especially for managing data created and controlled by Australians but this does not cover the vast commercial journal databases. And the first issue here is access not analysis. There are arguments that data mining should be copyright exempt, to make it easy for researchers to do enormous cross-discipline searches of the journal data bases. But publishers worry this could lead to entrepreneurs creating and benefiting from ideas based on diverse research they accessed for free. The irony of publishers who do not pay for research complaining about this aside, this is a problem for big data research. One obvious answer is a search license but this will not go down well with the open access movement.

Who needs convincing?

The government did well last week talking up international education initiatives and hosting the first meeting of the industry’s council of elders. Education Minister Pyne is keen to keep the momentum up, making much yesterday of Bureau of Statistics figures showing export education services in Australia generated $17.038bn last year. The minister also pointed to another $600m earned offshore. This finally eclipses the last peak of $16.07bn back in 2009. The earnings “endorse the government’s move to strengthen Australia’s visa framework to encourage further high quality growth in international education,” Mr Pyne said. The minister also emphasised the importance of international education as a job generator, which builds on his announcement last week of research to demonstrate the benefits higher education brings to regional economies (CMM June 19). It seems to CMM that there are $17bn reasons why this point does not need making but the minister obviously thinks differently. Is he picking up antipathy to the industry out there?

New TAFE chair

Terry Charlton is the new board chair at the NSW TAFE Commission replacing Margy Osmond and her deputy, voced veteran Warren Grimshaw. Mr Charlton spent three decades at the former BHP before moving to Snowy Hydro. He is now chair of Water NSW and state government coordinating agency for greater Sydney, Local Land Services.

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