Universities Australia keeps it clever on research engagement

plus darlings in the detail: the Massy model for making the most of funding

and CQU steps up on regional research

No pain no gain

CQU researchers Patrick Tucker and Vincent Dalbo think box jumps and burpees can reduce chronic kidney disease. Yes burpees, the exercise the union representing a Connecticut SWAT team had withdrawn from training on the grounds it is corporal punishment.

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Calibrating quality

The Innovative Research Universities group has an academic calibration project, which includes external reviews of academic units across members as part of their quality assurance programmes. CMM hears IRU has staffed up to manage the project and that outside universities are set to join.

Grant to speak up

Stan Grant, the new professor of indigenous affairs at Charles Sturt University (CMM June 9) is set to receive an hon doc from the University of New South Wales at a July 29 graduation. Professor Grant will address the ceremony on “From Reconciliation to Rights: Shaping a Bigger Australia.” CMM wonders whether he is already working on his text; his  speech on racism and the Australian dream last year set a very high bar.

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Terms of engagement

Universities Australia has charted a clear course for the research engagement and impact pilot next year, prior to applied research achievements being included in Excellence for Research in Australia for 2018.

UA’s submission to the government’s discussion paper on what to measure and how to assess it is in broad agreement with those from the Group of Eight and the Australian Technology Network. As such UA’s position will likely be taken by the feds to be what the generality of universities support.

UA backs “narrative-based, verifiable, case studies” as a way of assessing the impact of research but it also wants a range of performance metrics which is large enough for universities to select ones that suit their circumstances – UA is adamant that money cannot be the only measure.

Of course the hard part will be working out the metrics, which UA reasonably sees as a job for the expert panels established by the Australian Research Council to design the details of the new research assessment model. “The technical working group should identify a core set of indicators based on existing data sets from which universities may choose to report on, with the option for universities to report on additional indicators as appropriate. It is important that the assessment of indicators takes into account the contextual differences between disciplines and institutional processes and strategies,” UA states.

UA also makes the easily overlooked point that measuring output on the research supply side is not the whole deal, that demand drivers are needed so that industry reaches out to universities. “The involvement of end-users in the development of an engagement and impact assessment will be essential to the success of this initiative.”

Overall UA has chartered a course for next year’s research engagement pilot to follow. No, it’s not a detailed map and the ARC’s independent experts have a long way to go in establishing metrics that the research community will wear (universal endorsement is never going to happen). But UA has provided a context for the detailed work to be done.

Wednesday June 29

Curtin medalist

Doug Hilton has received the Curtin Medal for Medical Research from ANU’s John Curtin School. Professor Hilton is director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and president of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes.

Data delivers

CMM is a fan of Bill Massy, the retired Stanford U administrator and economist who has spent decades demonstrating that there are darlings in the details of university administration. Massy argues that digging into the stats and acting on the problems and performance they reveal can improve not just university productivity but the experience of staff and students. His work is not about doing more with less or finding ways for middle managers to assuage the university executive, it is about unleashing the intellectual power of universities by maximising what is spent on the core business of teaching and learning by minimising processes that simply need not be done. “When you come right down to it, productivity is about trying to find a way to get maximum quality for given spending, not by minimising costs,” he told CMM way back. And it only happens by empowering teachers; “you can’t command and control faculty. Academics, not administrators, have to do it.”

Massy sums up his work in his new book, Reengineering the university. He sets out the three areas where universities can improve performance while remaining true to core commitments to teaching and learning and research; improving core operations, identifying and analysing all activities and costs and integrating everything into a comprehensive budget. His model empowers individual operating units through to all-of-institution decision makers to choose on the basis of information not opinion or aspiration. “Many people within the academy seem to believe that mission should trump margins … while many others worry about financial viability and sustainability … the new model provides insights about the cases in which mission should rule and, in any case, what the impact of ‘doing this thing’ on other outcomes will be,” he writes.

CMM is not Massy’s only Aus admirer. He has worked with the L H Martin Institute and is very positive about the work of the Brisbane-based Pilbara Group, which independently developed an activity based costing model, adaptable to his approach.

From UWA to Curtin

Alan Dench is Curtin U’s new PVC Humanities. Professor Dench is a linguist with degrees from UWA and ANU. He joins Curtin from the University of Western Australia where he is executive dean of arts.

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CQU step up on regional research

CQU yesterday established the Centre for Tourism and Regional Opportunities, researching “economics, tourism, human society, management, indigenous issues, agriculture and food, and the environment.” The timing seems strange given the university’s Rockhampton campus hosted the Regional Universities Network conference last week, which surely was the time to speak up for regions. But the reasons for the centre are eminently sensible if CQU is to compete against neighbour and rival James Cook U, which has always presented itself as Australia’s tropical research universityVC Sandra Harding made the point at CEDA lunch in Brisbane on Friday. JCU is way ahead of CQU on research measures and still picks up funding when government thinks of research in the far north. Last week the Liberals promised $10m for JCU’s Cairns Innovation Centre, which the university says, “will tap into JCU and the region’s tropical knowledge and expertise, and catalyse and accelerate the translation of research and new business ideas into products and services that are in high demand in the north and beyond.”

To get a share of future funding like this CQU needs a research reputation to sell on.

IRU appointment

Jessica Vanderlelie is the inaugural Innovative Research Universities VCs’ Fellow. She is  Griffith U’s academic lead for employability and alumni engagement.

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