Universities slammed over international industry

Plus UWA defends Lomborg consensus centre

No, the other ICAC

USQ VC Jan Thomas attracted interest yesterday when she praised ICACS. Sadly for hacks short of a story, she did not mean the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption but her own institution’s International Centre for Applied Climate Sciences. (Tomorrow is Earth Day).

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Big kick for Curtin

After the Fremantle Docker’s five goal win against the West Coast Eagles on Sunday, Curtin University VC Deborah Terry must be delighted the club has agreed to give her students access to its facilities for exercise science, sports medicine and media production. That it locks one of the west’s two AFL teams into a relationship also gives Curtin a clear lead on the endorsement ladder, with three more universities in the state but only one other club in the national competition. The University of Western Australia held discussions with the Eagles back in 2012 but no goal was kicked.

Issues that will not go away

A great many VCs were very lucky last night that Linton Besser and Peter Cronau‘s Four Corners documentary did not focus on their campus. Because the allegations they raised – lax English language entry for international undergraduates, soft marking, prolific plagiarism – could have been made about any number of universities. The sheer numbers of students across the system make such problems all but inevitable and Besser and Cronau did very well to cover an immensely complex issue, although their aside on low ATARS comes from another age, when universities were elite institutions. However the impression they left is that universities place student fees above academic rigour and even graduate competence. The allegation that the Four Corners audience will remember is that students who cannot read a medical chart can complete nursing degrees.  Will this do lasting damage to the education industry? Not if universities make it plain that they are happy to pay the price for protecting their core standards and tbat is failing students and losing the income they provide. The worse thing every university mentioned in the programme could do now is just wait for the controversy to blow over. It wont.

No cash for consensus

The University of Western Australia confronted critics of its Australian Consensus Centre last night, stating it was not committing cash to Bjorn Lomborg’s new Perth project, that it’s support for the $13m centre was in “in kind”. (The centre) “will seek to attract external funding beyond the Australian Government $4m grant,” the university says. Vice Chancellor Paul Johnston, who will chair the ACC’s board, briefed students on its role yesterday.

The university was also anxious to assert the academic credibility of the centre’s research, describing how research projects will include up to 30 research papers, the authors of which will defend their work to “a group of “Nobel level economists” for three days.

“The broader remit of the ACC, is to develop robust, evidence-based knowledge; and, on the basis of that knowledge, give to the Australian Government, parliament and people potential policy reforms and other interventions that will deliver the most cost-effective solutions to the most pressing world and Australian challenges.”

ANU new 4

ORCID blooms

Following last week’s Canberra visit from Open Researcher and Contributor ID executive director Laurel Haak, a research coalition of research agencies is endorsing ORCID for Australia. The registry of researcher IDs would reduce red tape, increase efficiency, improve data quality, integrate disparate data, promote its reuse, and enhance the presence of Australian research online, supporters say. ORCID endorses are Universities Australia, the Council of Australian University Librarians and the Australian National Data Service. Peak research managers, the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Australian Research Council are both considering adopting ORCID.

Application always the answer

Science Minister Ian Macfarlane and Chief Scientist Ian Chubb are off to the US where they will meet John Holdren, the White House science and technology adviser. They will also talk to “science leaders,” in Washington and “look at ways that science and research can be put at the centre of industry policy to boost innovation.” There cannot be a scientist in the country who doesn’t know there is not much of a financial future in blue sky research.

Shelter from the storm

“Escape the torrential rain in the library,” UNSW urged students caught on a very wet campus yesterday. “It’s warm and dry and you can curl up on a beanbag.” No mention of reading a book.

Got to love Lynda

Good on whomever it was at Deakin University who did a deal with Lynda, the online trainer that provides thousands of courses, supported by instructional videos on everything from teaching to video production. Lynda is a terrific training resource (which is why LinkedIn bought it last week for US$1.5bn) and Deakin students who use it will learn skills that will make them more employable. It also sends a very strong signal to prospective students that Deakin is focused on their interests. Smart move.

Here to help

As VCs practiced saying “no comment” in the lead-up to last night’s Four Corners, on international education, Christopher Pyne was doing everything he could to help them. For a start his office issued a statement about how seriously providers took their responsibilities and that the government’s draft strategy on international education demonstrated an “unwavering commitment to quality.” Question is does everybody who manages international students share it.

Mr Pyne also released the 2014 edition of the International Student Survey, which found that over 80 per cent of the sample like living here and are satisfied with their course – which is good, but does not refute allegations students whose English is not up to university study are being enrolled in degrees and graduating.

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