Plus the Group of Eight’s many French friends and the innovation in-crowd 

In breaking news

The University of Sydney reports, “geologists discover how Australia’s highest mountain was created.”


UWA restructure to roll on

The University of Western Australia’s Senate has approved Vice Chancellor Paul Johnson’s restructure. Last night senior DVC Dawn Freshwater, who has carriage of the process, told staff that the university will now move to set up new management structures, establish staff and plans to implement the new model and provide schedules for continuing consultation with the UWA workforce.

The executive has also provided the university community with reports on staff feedback to management’s original proposal, the university’s response and details on the approved structure, which remains largely unchanged to the draft. One of the few concessions to staff opinion is to continue to call faculties faculties and to consider their “purpose, responsibilities and functions,” in “the next phase of the process.” Professors Johnson and Freshwater make their case here.

The new academic structure will go to the Senate in October, with administrative functions in place by the end of the year.

Last night the WA branch of the National Tertiary Education Union declared itself unimpressed, “today’s decision remains light on detail, meaning that UWA staff have no more certainty about their future than they did when the vice-chancellor made his premature announcement in December 2015. All that is certain is that the management of the university is determined to push on with its unjustified change proposals.”

Blather of the day

Edtech provider Blackboard has announced a deal with Moodle to achieve something or other – just what escapes CMM. This is hardly surprising, given how Blackboard describes itself; “We challenge conventional thinking and advance new models of learning in order to re-imagine education and make it more accessible, engaging and relevant to the modern-day learner and the institutions that serve them,” whatever that may mean.


New innovators in old innovators out

The prime minister has announced membership of the Innovation and Science Australia board, charged with, “placing innovation and science at the centre of government policy making … including advising the government on strategic innovation and science priorities and investment.” Chaired by Bill Ferris, it includes Chief Scientist Alan Finkel and a legion of IT and entrepreneurial luminaries, including ANZ’s Maile Carnegie, Atlassian’s Scott Farquhar and ResMed non executive director Chris Roberts. Only one member of the board of predecessor body Innovation Australia will stay on, business-woman and agri-governance specialist, Charles Sturt U chancellor, Michele Allan.

La belle alliance

The Group of Eight will host French industry leaders intent on building research and business links in Australia at the University of Melbourne today. French ambassador Christophe Lecourtier and Innovation and Science Australia chair Bill Ferris will attend with 80 delegates from French businesses and le Group des Huit, including University of Adelaide DVC Pascale Quester – surely the senior French born academic in an Australian university – and M Vicki Thomson, doubtless the only Australian university lobby executive to be a Knight Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes académiques.

Huge impact

For ultra applied research have a look at the winners of the Cooperative Research Centres Association’s, excellence in innovation awards.

The Capital Markets CRC won for its HIBIS health fund claims management system, (CMM assumes popularity with the public is not a criteria). The programme identifies and managers “claims leakage,” (“fraud, abuse, waste and error”) across medical and hospital claims.

The Energy Pipelines CRC was honoured for its work on pipeline coatings and the Polymers CRC got a gong for products developed with the Integrated Packaging company, which creates film to wrap baleage and silage.

CMM had already written about the Sheep CRC’s RamSelect database while wearing another hat and was accordingly pleased it won. Working with San Francisco data consultancy Pivotal the CRC created an app with 20 years of genomic data to create a database of rams that are on the market, searchable by buyer requirements.

“The beauty of genetics is that it is really hard numbers which can deliver relentless progress. This can be worth a phenomenal amount of money if you get it right,” James Rowe from the Sheep CRC told CMM in December.

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Check the address

Macquarie University warns the world against bogus orders purporting to come from the university, for which suppliers are never paid if they deliver goods. The university points out that the emails do not come from a university account, the delivery address isn’t the university and the purported purchase orders are “poorly written, with misspellings and awkward sentence structure.” And yet people still fell for it.

No quick fix

Training policy veteran Peter Noonan sets out the continuing crisis for vocational education while it continues the under-resourced under-study to higher education in a new paper for the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University, released this morning.

It is a problem, he argues that has always existed, born of “the poor standing of technical and vocational education evident as far back the delayed Commonwealth national intervention in technical education relative to its early investment in universities and schools.”

And it continues to have a dangerous impact.

“The gap in funding between VET and the other sectors of education will widen, diminishing pathways for school leavers wishing to enter VET, potentially distorting choices between VET and higher education and limiting opportunities for workforce retraining and upskilling,” he writes.

This is a polished presentation of VET policy past and present, which makes plai the mess that federalism has made of training. Reading Noonan makes it  clear that fixing training will take much more than cutting off funding to crook private providers and giving TAFE  more money.

Professor Noonan argues that a redesign of all post school education funding led by the Commonwealth is required but that the training market specifically needs benchmarked prices for all qualifications and an agreed split between public and private contributions in funding them. This would be even harder than it sounds; as Noonan points out, the last “fully independent” review of funding was in 1991.

However nothing can be done until Canberra and the states agree to a new resourcing model;

“the threshold issue is whether a national VET funding system is synonymous with a Commonwealth funding system with the states withdrawing from VET funding altogether (as in higher education) or whether a national funding system can retain an ongoing role for the states but through a different shared funding model which has regard to and addresses the weaknesses in the current model.”


Great idea defeated by time

Last April the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering proposed a research impact and engagement model to work in parallel to the Australian Research Council’s Excellence for Research in Australia, which then focused mainly on the academic merit of research, (CMM April 24 2015). The proposal created a stir with talk that the government’s applied research focus was such that the ATSE model could take over from ERA, given the government’s focus on applied research, especially as it used existing data collections.

ATSE has now piloted its Research Excellence for Australia proposal and found that it can indeed measure research engagement , “act as a forward indicator of potential research impact” and has “low resourcing requirements.” The Academy calls for a national trial in 2017.

“Despite the importance of research engagement to Australia’s future, there are still no adequate measures of the interactions between public researchers and research end-users across the public and private sectors. In the case of universities, assessment is still based on peer review and metrics such as journal to journal citation rates are used as a proxy for research excellence,” ATSE suggests.

Great idea, six months too late, given the Australian Research Council and the Department of Education and Training are working on impact and engagement measures for ERA. As CMM reported working parties of metrics and impact expert groups will start work on a stand-alone engagement model, to run in as an independent part of ERA in 2018 (CMM March 11). The new ERA model is also said to include short case narratives of research engagement and impact, which is also an idea in the ATSE plan. Certainly a university-group, or even a discipline association could roll out the ATSE model, but unless it will generate public funding for research it is hard to see any making the investment.