Who will speak for universities and will cabinet hear their case?

No call list

“Hoarders have 23 million old mobiles stashed,” Monash University researchers report. Here’s hoping they don’t all ring at once.

Who will get what

We should know the new ministry tonight but in the meantime that staple measure of the Canberra economy the Gossip Domestic Product expands apace. The optimists say with Sophie Mirabella embracing the darkness of the backbench, or being despatched to the doom of defeat her old portfolio will be split. Ian Macfarlane is tipped to pick up industry (a job he has done before) with research, science and innovation going elsewhere, perhaps to Malcolm Turnbull in an expanded comms portfolio. There would be worse fates. I remember commissioning Mr Turnbull to write a piece when he was a humble (well relatively so) parliamentary secretary for water. He had held the job for about 11 minutes but was already across the issue – smart bloke Mr Turnbull is. But having mentioned parly secs and outer darkness other sources say one will represent higher education. Serious people take the possibility well, seriously, suggesting everybody should brace for a parliamentary secretary keeping an eye on universities and reporting to the education portfolio minister.  Certainly prime minister elect Abbott promised back in February he would leave universities alone but to not have a voice at the cabinet table, or even in the full ministry, would be less benign neglect than a statement of determined disinterest.

 Don’t miss this 

“Make your own slime in University of Southern Queensland tents,” a promo for Maryborough Technology Challenge entices. How can anyone resist?

 Ratings: love them or hate them we’re stuck with them

If there was ever a case of love them or hate them you have to engage with the rankings it is the University of Wollongong’s response to its slide in the QS league table, reported this week. Wollongong is no worse a university than it was a year back but given the way QS measures perceptions once a slide starts it becomes self-fulfilling, demonstrated by the decline in Wollongong’s QS standing over the last few years. Which is why Vice Chancellor Paul Wellings is right to acknowledge the result and promise to do something about it rather than the deplore or ignore the result. While the university’s media team spun QS as best they could this week, the VC told Angela Thompson from the Illawarra Mercury that although the decline was relative, (Asian institutions are becoming more competitive), he intends to reverse it. As to the solution, well you work with what you’ve got. “University of Wollongong academics will be encouraged to produce more articles, in more prestigious publications.” That sharp sound you just heard was DVCs R around the country slapping themselves on the forehead and wondering why they had never thought of that.
To an extent this is a problem of Professor Wellings’ own making. When his appointment was announced, back in April 2011 he told me that he intended to take UoW into the top 200 universities in the world, (although he did not mention on which measure). The QS slide was already underway then and after only 18 months in the job Wellings is hardly responsible for this year’s decline. But next year will be different.

The worth of the printer’s paper

University of Sydney astrophysicist Bryan Gaensler will win the Scopus young researcher of the year award for physical science today at the Australian Research Management Conference in Adelaide, beating Michael Breadmore and Matt King (both from the University of Tasmania). Wonder how I got the drop? Well have a look here. The award goes to a scholar under 40 who publishes a lot and whose work is heavily cited. Other categories are humanities, life sciences, engineering and medicine. Given the universal obsession with research performance where these young high performers work makes for an interesting mini league table. For a start, only a third of the 15 are from Group of Eight Universities. The University of Newcastle leads with three, followed by U Tas, U of Queensland and (won’t Professor Wellings be pleased) the University of Wollongong, all with two nominees.
So what’s in it for the nominees, I hear mercenary readers ask. Not much I sadly reply. Scopus slings the winners $1000 and gives the runners-up a certificate. The company can probably afford it, what with it being owned by Elsevier – the publisher of scholarly journals the content of which it does not pay for. Last year the overall Elsevier empire had revenues of 6.1bn stg and an operating profit of 1.7bn stg. I hope the certificates are printed on expensive paper.

 Drink up boys

University of Western Australia neuroscientist Osvaldo Almeida and colleagues conclude alcohol use neither causes nor prevents depression in older men. I don’t know about you, but when things I have believed all my life turn out not to be true – well, it’s enough to make a man so depressed he needs a drink.

More than he bargained for

David Battersby tweeted yesterday, “U(university) B(allarat) has its regular enterprise bargaining meeting today – the first following the election. It’s always challenging with 4 unions involved.” Particularly as the most influential of them, the National Tertiary Education Union, is not happy with the university’s wage increase. The challenge is increased by separate negotiations at the Gippsland campus of what was once Monash and is now joining Ballarat in the new Federation University Australia.

Land of the brave and the home of the bureaucrat

Have a look at this explanation from the US Federal Student Aid Office on how graduates can manage student loans– most will need a masters to work out whether they qualify for relief from fees from their other degrees. From the outside the US student loan system looks like a labyrinth of debt and complexity. I have said it before; somebody needs to send Bruce Chapman to explain income contingent loans to the yanks.

Obsolete and expensive

On the subject of expensive US education, last month President Obama got stuck into higher education ratings, particularly pinging US News and World Report as an example of ratings which universities game. Yesterday his secretary for education Arne Duncan asked,   “as a nation we’re still spending $7-9bn each year on textbooks that are obsolete the day we buy them. Why?” A vote of confidence in the textbook biz this is not – but then again the big publishers probably are not surprised. Campaigning for the president in October 2011 Mr Duncan asked an audience to imagine a world where college textbooks that cost a student US$100 are free. Mr Duncan’s big beef may be with print production, which he considers slow and cumbersome – but he seems to miss that some of the cost of textbooks goes to the people who wrote them.

A bigger stage 

Wollongong Conservatorium of Music is losing it’s leader (and no, it has nothing to do with QS – the Con is not affiliated to the university). CEO Andrew Snell is moving up the arts administration ladder to become CEO of the Victorian Opera.

Less than illuminating headline of the day

“New solar cell technology sparks interest,” Stuart Gary, ABC Science, yesterday.

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