The science of finding fantastic fellows

Arise Sir Own Goal

“Education rights not dames and knights” was a slogan on a banner at the National Union of Students Melbourne rally yesterday. Yes, I know it does not make a lot of sense but expect to see a lot of it at every education related protest from Canberra to Camelot. Tony “Black Knight” Abbott has done Lord High Elucidator Chris Pyne no favours whenever he has to talk about higher education.

Fantastic fellows

Proving puffery moves faster than sound, university press releases announcing Academy of Science elections were arriving before the official announcement. These men and women are serious scientists indeed. If anybody deserved enobling for community achievement they do.

As to gender, it breaks 11 men and nine women – the split is even if you include Telstra chair Catherine Livingstone, “for championing science and technology” and services to the Academy – she is also a former CSIRO chair. The Australian National University lead the field, being home to seven of the 20, followed by the University of Melbourne with three and Monash and UNSW with two each. Group of Eight institutions which did not bother the scrutineers are UofQ, Sydney, Adelaide and UWA. Swinburne, Newcastle, Flinders are all home to one new fellow. The University of South Australia also has a sort of favourite son to celebrate – though based at the SA Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science, Professor Angel Lopez is an adjunct at UniSA. CSIRO also has one among the elect – Dr Elizabeth Finnergan who works on plant gene expression. The new fellows come from nine fields with five medical scientists, three chemists and three botanists being the most numerous. I am not sure what it proves, if anything, but there is only a single climate scientist among them. The election of Ms Livingstone is an especially astute move by the fellows – she is expected to become chair of the Business Council of Australia today. The more friends science has in cashed up places the better.

If only it worked with scotch

Scientists from the University of Melbourne and the Florey Institute of Neuroscience have discovered that the brain stops us drinking water when we aren’t thirsty. Watch for alcohol campaigners demanding brewers add water to the beer, but only in our interests of course.

Research innovation is not tax minimisation

Bill Shorten’s National Press Club speech yesterday was standard stuff. All bullet point style short sentences. Designed for TV edits. Mentioning Labor values. And jobs. And so on. And so forth. It also built on Kim Carr’s efforts to make education a Labor issue, after the university cuts proposed by Craig Emerson this time last year they do not mention anymore. Thus the Leader warned Tony Abbott, “if your budget takes money from education, from science, from trades training and from research and development then it will confirm that you have no ideas for the future.” And he wants Labor to be, “the champion of science innovation.” But before the science spruikers, sorry communicators, start tweeting approval this does not necessarily mean more public money. In fact, Mr Shorten appears less interested in maximising investment in research than minimising tax on returns. “I want us to take a new look at removing barriers to innovation. Right now, too many scientists and start-ups struggle to commercialise their ideas. I believe we should reconsider whether changes to the employee share scheme announced in 2009 best support these outcomes. We can do more to encourage entrepreneurs to do what they do By better aligning the tax burden with the likely realisation of equity stakes in a company, we can remove a significant drag on innovation. We have to help our innovators capitalise on their genius.” Good-oh, but why is it when Australians in public life, of all political persuasions, say they are committed to science they so often talk about tax and company structures than funding research which may, or may not, turn a quid?

Mirabella takes to teaching

Sophie Mirabella is joining the University of Melbourne as a public policy fellow, “contributing to public debates of national importance and helping teach students.” Perhaps she will teach a unit on campaigning in seats that are not as safe as they seem.

Power of parking

It did not take long for Glyn Davis to decide that Paul Duldig is the bloke he wants as the new head of services at the University of Melbourne. Applications only closed at the end of January but Mr Duldig announced yesterday he would start at Parkville in June after 12 years at the University of Adelaide. Mr Duldig joined UofA from the South Australian public service and now runs finance, HR, resources, and a bunch of other stuff, including, in an odd fit, marketing. One oft remarked aspect if his career there was his enthusiasm for parking. A few years back he upset the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union, which alleged the cost of spots increased in some cases from $750 in 2009 to $1900 pa in three years. After protests the maximum was reduced by $350, in line with what a permit costs at Melbourne now. I wonder if this helped get Mr Duldig his new job. As University of California president Clark Kerr once famously said “parking for faculty” was one of the three things that mattered in university administration.

When campus is bright with life

“The University will mark its commitment to the environment by joining millions around the world to switch off major lighting from 8.30 to 9.30pm on Saturday 29 March.” University of Sydney commits to Earth Hour, yesterday.

No volume in VET

New figures from the feds show public vocational education is not exactly a powerhouse of export earnings. In 2012 some 37 public sector institutions were teaching 57,000 students offshore, down slightly from the year before. Onshore enrolments also dropped 14 per cent between 2006 and 2012 to just under 20,000. The vast majority of students were learning English.

La Trobe’s loss, Monash’s gain

Dr Ken Harvey who resigned as a La Trobe adjunct in protest at the university accepting funding from complementary medicine research from manufacturer Swisse has accepted an appointment at neighbouring Monash. Dr Harvey was set to retire before the Swisse stoush but now seems set on soldiering on. He is joining Monash as an adjunct ASPRO in the School of Public Health and Preventative Medicine.  Won’t La Trobe be pleased (not).

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