Plus the PM’s big innovation picture of very small science 

Understated UNSW

“We’ve seen extraordinary demand from incredibly talented students wanting to study at UNSW,” DVC Iain Martin, last night.


Big picture of nano science

Innovation was on the PM’s agenda in Washington with a photo opp at incubator 1776, where he met people from Qx, a subsidiary of Adelaide headquartered ShoalGroup. No, CMM had never heard of them either but it seems Shoal designs and analyses large-scale complex systems, notably in defence. Qx is a partnership between Shoal and Lockheed Martin developing software for use in quantum computing, assuming that is, researchers such as the UNSW team can actually create a quantum computer. There is no doubting that Mr Turnbull is a technology true-believer – where once a PM in the US would have had his picture taken at an Australian owned factory now the visit is to scientists working on something that only a handful of people on the planet are smart enough to understand, even though it is hard to get vision for the TV news out of a nanoscale science that does not work yet.

But if the PM looks pleased with himself in media pics that is easily explained, what with finding an ally on innovation in the Oval Office. As President Obama said; “I know that the prime minister has an agenda to spur additional innovation and investment in science and technology in Australia, which in this economy is going to be vital for any economy to succeed.  So I’ll be interested to hear his plans and maybe offer my thoughts about the work that we’re doing to continue to make sure that our economy is a dynamic, knowledge-based economy.”

Nothing nano about what that could to do to a prime ministerial ego

All astro ears

As an ANU veteran new VC Brian Schmidt knows there is nothing his colleagues like more than talking about how the university could be so much better if only (insert budget issue of choice here). So good on Professor Schmidt for starting his term by inviting everybody to have their say.  “I want you to tell me what makes you proud of this university, and what could make it better, I invite you to participate in the coming months in the staff forums I will host as part of a listening tour of the campus,” he announced in his first blog as boss last night.


Chubb comes up trumps

ACE and Chubb are now one” a full page AFR advert announced yesterday. In the week when Ian Chubb will end his term as chief scientist it was entirely appropriate, the bloke-wonder has always aced science policy. Alas, it was about a corporate merger.

Clare vintage

Flinders VC Colin Stirling has recruited a colleague from his days at Curtin U, Clare Pollock. Professor Pollock will take on the new Flinders DVC, students portfolio, focused “on student experience and student success.” She says the position is unique in South Australia and “quite distinctive nationally.” Flinders observers suggest she is far too more modest, that while universities across the country have PVC portfolios which tie students with engagement and education, its rare to have a representative focused on student needs in a university executive. That a senior staffer has the same name as a great SA wine region is a happy omen that has not escaped them either.

Green for no

Greens leader Richard di Natale has signalled he is amenable to negotiating with government on policies, in place of the party’s long-established strategy of opposing everything. But CMM suspects this will not apply to higher education, where the student vote is a big constituency.

HE spokesman Senator Robert Simms certainly shows no sign of acquiescing in anything that will cost students money. In the last few weeks he has spoken out against a reduction in the HECS repayment threshold and collecting student debt from people who move overseas. Yesterday he renewed his opposition to the move to convert start-up scholarships to debt.

“The Greens oppose these changes and are absolutely committed to ensuring university is accessible to everyone and students don’t leave uni saddled with huge debts. We will fight to see the Start Up Scholarship reinstated,” Senator Simms said. With the government and Opposition agreed on the move there is not much point fighting at all, but student lobbies that once were Labor loyalists are now a core Green constituency.

ANU Dec 15 1

Friends of STEM

The Office of the Chief Scientist has released a national guide to STEM sources for schools, with contacts on resources and programmes at primary and secondary levels. It was compiled by the Australian Industry Group, which makes for a very practical contribution to the resource base indeed.

ATAR as intended

The image of the ATAR has taken a terrible hammering over the years, beating out of shape university reputations for transparent entry schemes in the process. “Lack of transparency with ATARs, just the tip of the iceberg in higher education,” Fairfax Media commentator Erica Servini, tweeted yesterday. But reforms to ensure the integrity of the university entry score appear to be working in South Australia.

Back in 2013 University of Adelaide VC Warren Bebbington, then chairing the SA Tertiary Admissions Centre, called for a rationalisation of bonus mark programmes, which were widely seen as distorting university entry. Flinders and the University of South Australia agreed and so this year entry schemes (applying to all but a handful of schools) are much more transparent (see CMM August 17 2015).

This is a big and necessary win for the credibility of the ATAR, which Professor Bebbington says is a useful guide to a student’s capacity for university study. “An ATAR tells us a student can sit in a classroom for two years and do assessments satisfactorily. It’s a reasonable predictor of success at university.”

One which Uni Adelaide relies on. With flat domestic demand Professor Bebbington says the university will not grow enrolments by accepting students with lower scores and that he expects this year’s starting class to be plus or minus 50 on last year. Growth will come, he adds, from the international market, where demand is strong, especially among postgraduates. Professor Bebbington expects Chinese student interest in particular to continue stronger for longer. “No matter how fast China modernises it will not catch demand,” he says.