University of New South Wales moves to assert intellectual leadership in educational research, community debate and Indigenous Education

Alan Finkel has an idea to put scientists at the heart of government

Swinburne’s new strategy: the uni has $118m and a transformative plan

The CIA called him boss but ANU isn’t easy

Charmer in chief

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel was talking to his tribe yesterday, greeting the annual embassy of the science establishment to the political one that is Science meets Parliament. The speech was to Dr Finkel’s usual Himalayan standards, urbane, erudite, amusing and awash with charm. “I look around the room today, at the optimism you bring, the talent you carry, the calibre of the institutions you represent, and I know that my confidence in the future is well-placed,” he said.  So CMM wonders, will Dr Finkel lead his much-admired community from the front of a March for Science on April 22?

Ignored the big one

QUT’s Gerry Fitzgerald has edited a cheery handbook of horror, a primer on Disaster Health Management. “Whether it’s fires, floods, earthquakes, tsunami, volcanic eruptions, influenza outbreaks, terrorist attacks or industrial accidents; there is always a disaster somewhere in the world,” Professor Fitzgerald reports, Strangely, there is no word of the catastrophe so many people worry about – the looming zombie apocalypse.

Projecting soft power

UNSW is projecting soft power, using ideas to assert its intellectual leadership. Management has finally got around to announcing that Ann Mossop is the inaugural head of Strategic Events, a flash name for a talks programme. As CMM (February 28) reported last month, Ms Mossop is telling her friends, “The university has ambitious goals in relation to thought leadership at a national and international level. It will be an exciting opportunity for me to work with great people in the university to expand the university’s public engagement with ideas.”

The university is also a “platinum sponsor” for the new Media Centre for Education Research in Australia, created to set the record straight on what splendid work academics are doing (CMM January 24). CMM asked what this will set UNSW back but the MCER refused to comment.

Megan Davis at UNSW: The university has appointed lawyer Professor Megan Davis as the inaugural PVC Indigenous. She will take up her post in June when her responsibilities to the Referendum Council Aboriginal Constitutional Dialogues conclude.

Intel expert

Lieutenant General James R Clapper, USAF (ret) is joining ANU as a vice chancellor’s visiting fellow. He will spend his first term there in June, working with policy people and “security practitioners,” (CMM thinks that means spooks) plus academics, students and external associates of the ANU National Security College.

And if this does not sound impressive enough Mr Clapper is also a former US Director of National Intelligence and as such over-sighted the American intel community, including the CIA and the highest of high-tech National Intelligence Agency. With this background he should be able, if he tries really hard, to get his head around the intramural machinations of ANU.


SEEK and Swinburne found

In the money: A $5m investment in 2011 has delivered a huge dividend for Swinburne University, with online jobs portal SEEK increasing its share of their joint venture Online Education Services to 80 per cent. Swinburne U will collect $118m for reducing its stake in the company, which is the parent of the Swinburne on-line course provider.

“In the past five years, we have learned a lot about what students need in a digital learning environment, what motivates them, and how they learn. These discoveries inform us in our desire to ensure all students have access to digital learning technologies, be they on campus, blended or purely online students Vice Chancellor Linda Kristjanson says. The vice chancellor added that the new ownership structure will not change service delivery by Swinburne Online.

Honour the founder: The deal is also a great achievement for Ian ‘the gent” Young, who was VC when Swinburne and SEEK first committed $10m. Back in January 2011 Professor Young told the ASX, “this joint venture will build on the university’s online capability and seize a space that is becoming increasingly important in the 21st century.”

So, winners all round. Not quite, with SEEK now in a position to expand its offerings from other universities competition for other providers in the on-line learning space will intensify. As Paul Wappett, chief executive of Open Universities Australia puts it;

We have enormous respect for SEEK and for Online Education Services and like many others are intrigued by the announcements yesterday. We have seen SEEK emerge from a number of winner-takes-all market battles throughout its history and so we need to be really sharp to be able to compete with them head-on. We are ready for that challenge and will watch with great interest what direction OES takes from here.”

How will Swinburne spend the $118m?  One obvious thing to do would be to pile it all back into new online ventures. As Professor Kristjanson puts it, “we are now looking to grow our provision of new educational technologies to all students, with an emphasis placed on investment in transforming learning for all of our students.”  Another would be to spend it on research, given DVC R Aleksandr Subic’s has committed to having “all key disciplines in focus areas … “rated in the top 100 in the world,” by 2020 (CMM June 30 2016).

It looks like there is a bigger grander plan: Swinburne’s management has a new 2025 strategic framework, designed to deliver “a world class university creating social and economic impact through science, technology and innovation.” The plan has three objectives. Research Impact: a global reach which uses science and technology to transform industries and drive innovation. Innovative Enterprise: agile and responsive to markets and communities. Future ready learners: Self-directed and adaptive learners who have social and economic impact.

Without numbers it is easy to dismiss the first two as meaning whatever the university wants, however they appear designed to deliver on the new engagement and impact measures being built for the Australian Research Council’s Excellence for Research in Australia 2018. As for future-ready learners, the university rebuilt its work-integrated learning programme and reformed course structures to meet student needs back in 2015 (CMM June 22 2015) so it is well set to fund new developments.

Durrant-Whyte departs

The endlessly energetic advocate for robotics, data science and digital wizardry in general, Hugh Durrant-Whyte is off to the UK to become chief scientific advisor to the Ministry of Defence.

Beautiful backdrops

The University of Sydney proposes the top ten campus spots to Instagram and lovely they all are – from the Guggenheim-like (well, a bit) staircase in the Abercrombie Building through Graffiti Tunnel (better class of art than when CMM walked through it) and on to the steel starkness of the Nanoscience Hub. Being old and rich is good for great design.

Scientists meet government

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s office is working on a proposal to place scientists and engineers in government as policy fellows. Launching the Science meets Parliament programme yesterday Dr Finkel said an Australian version of the US Policy Fellowship scheme is receiving “strong consideration.” The US programme, in place since 1973, now place 300 people in federal government offices for a year. According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, fellows are “a powerful and coveted resource–for each other and for the offices in which they serve.” The programme’s mission is to “to connect science with policy and foster a network of science and engineering leaders who understand government and policymaking, and are prepared to develop and execute solutions to address societal challenges.”

Newcastle’s new engager and innovator

Sarah Pearson is the University of Newcastle’s inaugural PVC for Industry Engagement and Innovation. She joins from the Canberra Innovation Network, (“connecting a community of innovators and entrepreneurs”). Dr Pearson is an Oxford PhD in particle physics.

Appealing to the right readers

Tony Walker (ex Australian Financial Review) has joined La Trobe University as a vice chancellor’s fellow. “He will advise and support the La Trobe community and have a strong involvement in growing La Trobe’s presence on website The Conversation and several Fairfax publications, providing his opinion and insight on world politics.” Quite right too, it would never do for the work of La Trobe experts to appear in with lesser, conservative media.

Design for growth

University of Sydney architects are building. The School of Architecture, Design and Planning has just launched a new five-year professional programme, a bachelor of design in architecture followed by a two-year masters. Now it reports staffing-up, with 13 new people, from post-docs to professors. Senior appointments include architectural historian and critic Professor Andrew Leach, who joins from Griffith U and Professor Jianlei Niu, an authority on office environments and energy-efficient buildings who is moving from Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

International enrolments up, again

The number of international students in Australia was up, again, in January. There were 382 000 enrolments by people with a student visa, up 50 000 on January  last year. Yes, January figures should be taken with caution, enrolments for the new academic year have generally not started so the number reflects where the market was not where it will be. And there are undoubtedly anomalies, perhaps a big provider brought enrolments forward for the first time. Even so the January 2016 figure was only up 30 000 on 2015. One way or another there is growth out there.

Dolt of the day

Is CMM, who yesterday named Dr Benjamin Hayward as Daniel.