Universities Australia’s big tick for Birmo

Plus the people who will make the infrastructure map and the wind shifts in medical research

Golden opportunity

Thanks to Tweeter Shane Dawson (Uni SA) for pointing to a job advert for the director of opportunity in the graduate research school at UTS, which has an advertised salary from $112 000 to $9 999 999. “An awesome salary range,” Dr Dawson suggests. CMM suspects applicants will likely assume the upper end is just a base for further negotiation.

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Infrastructure trailblazers

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel will lead the high-powered group charged with setting the direction of research infrastructure for the next decade.

This morning Education Minister Simon Birmingham announced Dr Finkel’s appointment to chair the Expert Working Group to “help set the direction of national research infrastructure.” It will “develop a roadmap to maintaining and expanding Australia’s world-class research capability.”

The group’s work will “guide” future funding and investments of $150m pa for ten years under the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme.

“Combined with guaranteed funding for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy, this roadmap will help retain and attract the best researchers to position Australia amongst the world’s other top research countries,” Senator Birmingham said.

The other members of the working group are; Edwina Cornish (Monash U), Andrew Cuthbertson (CSL), Sandra Harding (JCU), Rosie Hicks (Australian National Fabrication Facility), Suzanne Miller (Queensland Museum Network), Adi Patterson (ANSTO) Andy Pitman (ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science). ARC chair Aidan Byrne and NHMRC chief Anne Kelso are ex officio members.

Professors Harding and Cornish were also members of the Watt Review of Research Infrastructure and Funding.

Big tick for Birmo

Universities Australia was quick to endorse the research infrastructure expert appointments (above) and praise the government’s approach.

“This is where the rubber hits the road as the government commissions the map needed to arrive at a research and innovation driven future. The expert group announced by the minister … have the skills, knowledge and depth of experience needed to oversee this work that is so crucial for shaping our economic transition and future national prosperity,” UA CEO Belinda Robinson said.

Minister Birmingham and the Turnbull Government are walking the talk on securing the future of Australia’s critical research infrastructure,” she added.

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Avoiding the issue

The prime minister made it clear that higher education is not on his election agenda yesterday, unless he did. On ABC Radio’s AM Michael Brissenden asked if “higher fees and deregulation” are part of his plans for higher education. Mr Turnbull replied, “there is a COAG meeting … on the 31st of this month and the 1st of next month. … I will have more to say in the lead up to that relating to health and schools and so forth.”

But nothing, it seems, about universities, which are not a matter for COAG. Unless of course Mr Turnbull knows that and will have more, or nothing, to say about higher education later.

And they’re off

The first academic commentary in the long march to the polls is by Nicholas Reece, a principal fellow (no, CMM does not know what that is either) at the University of Melbourne. In The Age yesterday Mr Reece acknowledged, “no one in Canberra is predicting a Labor victory” before arguing in great detail how “Labor is very much in the hunt in this election. Momentum is running its way and the key building blocks for a strong campaign are coming into place at the right time.” Mr Reece’s by-line declares he was a Julia Gillard advisor, not that it showed.

Immigrants, they get the job done

As the Victorian Government and Innovative Research Universities both make the case for allowing international students with in-demand skills to stay on in Australia the US is way ahead of us. With thanks to Kylie Colvin from the Higher Education Consulting Group for the tip, a report on a US court ruling shows foreign STEM graduates of American universities can now work there for three years after completing studies. The ruling could be challenged but the trend is clear. The US understands that immigration works for the country that accepts the motivated. As Lin-Manuel Miranda puts it in his Broadway show, Hamilton – “immigrants! We get the job done.”

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Wind shift

The National Health and Medical Research Council yesterday announced two grants “to enrich the evidence-based understanding of the effects of wind farms on human health.” Aspro Peter Catchside from Flinders U has $1.3m to “directly evaluate the sleep and physiological disturbance characteristics of wind farm noise compared to traffic noise.” Professor Guy Marks (UNSW) gets $1.9m to research “the human health impact of infrasound that comes from wind turbines.”

This was not always the way the wind blows at the NHMRC. Back in July 2010 the council issued a public statement, which included;

“As with any new technology, wind turbines are not without controversy. Those who oppose the development of wind farms contend that wind turbines can adversely impact the health of individuals living in close proximity.

While a range of effects such as annoyance, anxiety, hearing loss, and interference with sleep, speech and learning have been reported anecdotally, there is no published scientific evidence to support adverse effects of wind turbines on health.”

However the council rescinded the statement last year and is now spending a bucket of money on research to discover if there is indeed scientific evidence now for what there wasn’t then.

Outrageous exploitation

On Monday CMM reported a staff suggestion to the UWA restructure team that research students receiving funding from the university should teach for free. It turns out this is not unique mean-mindedness. A senior researcher whose contract at a Queensland university is concluding tells CMM that they are allowed to continue supervising their PhD students but will not paid. “I understand adjunct appointments themselves, should they be offered, are not usually funded, but this is quite a separate question related to a casual contract arrangement specifically for ongoing supervision based on the university’s allocation formula,” the supervisor says

CMM knows there is a week to go but this has to win the outrageous exploitation award for March.

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Stories with impact

ARC watchers say the next edition of Excellence for Research in Australia will include some small space for impact and engagement case studies. Small because the UK experience is such that the impact case studies used by the UK Higher Education Funding Council became way too large and as such metrics mavens are deeply suspicious of too many words and not enough formulas.

But a new UK report by consultants Digital Science, The Societal and Economic Impacts of Academic Research, includes reviews from a range of content creators and analysts and leaves an overall positive impression. As Jonathan Adams from Digital Science, puts it; “there is a flavour to research outcomes that analytical indicators can never provide.”

The report does not suggest that the narrative model used by the HEFC in 2014 is settled but it does make a case that it adds a dimension that metrics do not. According to consultants Laura Fedorciow and Bakani Tshidzu; “research impact evidence corroborates claims of impact and gives tangible proof of the difference that research makes. Impact evidence offers a critical route into the ways in which research has been assimilated by users outside the academic community. Gathering this information in a consistent and structured way helps stakeholders and researchers to better understand how research utility can be most effectively developed.”

Powering down

As for-profit training providers continue to go broke leaving students in the lurch there is actually some good news in VET this morning, just not much. The energy industry skills council, E-Oz reports a pilot that has lifted the retention rate for electrical apprentices from 62 per cent to 93 per cent. The key to it is allowing apprentices to progress on competence achieved rather than time served. However in a shock to the system E-Oz says the pilot stopped after two years because federal funding ceased. Ye gods, anything that keeps people in training to completion just now surely should be kept connected to the funding grid.

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