Plus gift wrapping an economist’s Christmas and Jacobs to pick his people at UNSW

When we will do it all again

CMM is off to the beach for the Christmas break, back on January 12. Thanks to the people who pointed me at stories, who explained when I made mistakes and who said nice things about CMM. Thanks as well to those who pointed out my many, many failings, (in this game you dish it out, you cop it back). Above all thanks to everybody who read – your belief that education can transform lives inspires CMM. Bring on 2016.


The what?

As the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission announces it is prosecuting another broker to for-profit VET providers has anybody heard from the Australian Skills Quality Authority. The what?, you ask – which is rather the point.

Star power

CMM promises this is the last rating story of the year but the Thomson Reuters highly cited scholars list is impossible to ignore – the equivalent of FaceBook likes for very smart people. The list for 2015 uses the Essential Science Indicators data collection, which is based on the Web of Science for science and social science. The methodology is here. TR rates 110 Australian based researchers (including some people in more than one field) and CMM counted everybody who had a primary or a secondary connection to an Australian institution (but did not double count when both affiliations are in Aus).

The outcome is not especially surprising. While 30 universities, and research institutes (plus the CSIRO) have hugely cited researchers the bulk of them are where you would expect. The University of Melbourne has 16, Monash 13 UoQ 12 and Adelaide six. The rest of the Go8 are way back in the pack – Deakin (five) edges out UNSW (four). Overall the survey demonstrates the importance of star power. So this is why UNSW is offering free parking to any Nobel Laureate who signs on  (CMM yesterday).


Seasons that suit

In the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks last month Curtin University lit a campus stadium in the national colours of France, Iraq and the Lebanon as a memorial to the victims of terrorism in all three (CMM November 18).

Now Edith Cowan U will use lights to remind West Australians of their state’s history in the university’s 25th year. From January 1 a building on each of three campuses will be lit at night to present the six seasons of the Noongar people’s calendar. It’s a great idea connecting the university to its environment in place of the imported model of four seasons, which does not have much to do with Perth’s climate. And it will remind the ECU community that people called its campuses home long before the British arrived.

Another fine mess they’ve got themselves into

Not since the idea of accommodating Bjorn Lomborg on campus has the University of Western Australia’s management been in as big a mess as now. It’s all over the proposal to cut 300 jobs. The National Tertiary Education Union is said to be angry at contradictory messages from management, with different people saying different things about the delivery of documents and one senior officer making it very clear that the comrades are just getting in the way. This is not going down well with the union and the whole matter seems to be headed to industrial tribunals, or straight to the courts.

UWA postgraduates are also not pleased with the way the year has gone. Aisling Blackmore and Gemma Bothe, for a bunch of their colleagues, have written to Vice Chancellor Paul Johnson explaining why everything is all his fault. For a start they were concerned with the university’s interest in providing an Australian base for Dr Lomborg. Then they were ashamed by the university’s “pursue impossible” branding campaign, “which compromised the university’s values.” They were also “astonished” by cuts to teaching development programmes for staff. And they are especially upset with cuts to UWA specific financial support for postgrads, which “is now less than the minimum wage.” 2016 is not looking good either, what with jobs to go – “who are the 300 Professor Johnson?” the postgrads ask. They aren’t alone.

CEF Dec 115

The dollars are in the detail

Marnie Hughes Warrington’s December blog is on the very Christmassy topic of activity based costing in universities and why it matters. And it does, not to understand the finances of an operating unit, especially in teaching, is to surrender control to outsiders.

Not to understand the numbers is also emasculating, which is why, as the ANU DVC writes, people “seek out financial understanding.”

“For every person I have met who descries cost counting as a corporatisation evil and the very antithesis of the principles that drive education and research, I have encountered many more who wanted to learn about financial management and strategy. They just haven’t had the chance.”

And understanding how systems work can also make a big difference to the quality of institutional outcomes and the professional lives of people who discover they can make huge improvements to service quality when they get the numbers.

“What has stood out most for me is how naturally people come to an understanding of at least heuristic activity based costing when they test and stretch their understanding of their budgets. More importantly, their pride in doing so is apparent,” she writes.

Professor Hughes Warrington dedicates this essay to retiring ANU VC Ian Young, “for all the encouragement he has given me and others to learn and to teach about university finances.”

That an oceanographer such as Professor Young, could lead a team restructuring the finances of an organisation as large and complex as ANU makes her point. It takes intellectual curiosity to grasp how university finances work and intellectual acumen to improve them.

Jacobs to pick his people

After a year or so in the chair the time is right for UNSW VC Ian Jacobs to put his own team in place. Iain Martin gave him the opportunity last month, by resigning as DVC Academic to become VC of the University of Anglia Ruskin. (CMM November 27). Yesterday Professor Jacobs announced his new structure. Les Field moves from DVC R and vice president to Senior DVC and “formal deputy” to Professor Jacobs. His portfolio is academic staffing and “integrity matters” plus three social-justice focused projects in the new strategic plan. This leaves the VC free to recruit two senior positions. The new DVC A will have charge of education strategy, campus life and UNSW International. The DVC R will take charge of the research and knowledge transfer strategies. This sounds like where the action will be, especially for Professor Jacobs’ plan to make UNSW one of the world’s top 50 research universities within a decade.

Have yourselves a maximising utility little Christmas

The monthly question for December the Economics Society of Australia asked its expert panel is whether; “giving specific presents as holiday gifts is inefficient, because recipients could satisfy their preferences much better with cash.” Some 75 per cent disagreed (and CMM suspects some on the other side were making a joke). Quite right too – they may be economists but they aren’t idiots. As Peter Abelson (managing director, Applied Economics) puts it; “I ask my wife whether we should take a bottle of wine, chocolates or flowers or whether we should maximise our host’s utility by presenting her with $20. My wife replies that if I am going to embarrass her by behaving like a silly rational economist she won’t come with me to the party.”

ANU Dec 15 1

On board with ORCID

In 2008 Thomson Reuters realised the benefits for researchers of a unique ID which “unambiguously ties them to their published work, projecting a consistent presence and point of access for complete information about their research output and its impact.” But isn’t that what the not-for-profit Open Researcher and Contributor ID does? Pretty much, which must be why TR’s Elise Finn reports the company’s ID product is fully integrated with ORCID. It’s a sensible strategy, the open access and research governance community is a real threat to the big research brokers and publishers and companies who want to stay in the game need to adapt. Not that many of them see it.