There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning Sarah O’Shea (Uni Wollongong) on student equity in our series on what teaching needs now.

And David Myton talks to  the acclaimed and much awarded academic-entrepreneur, Mike Aitken.


Cash for college

At the University of Melbourne, Ormond College is fundraising for urgent repairs

Not only are gables eroded, there is “severe decay” to roof top pinnacles and stone rosettes are discoloured. But what will have you adding another nought to your donation amount is news that there are cracks in limestone gablets.

And there CMM was thinking “gablet” was the title of an  under-butler at the student residence.

Plibersek stays in education and training

Labor’s front bench is announced

Tanya Plibersek stays with education and training on Labor’s new front bench, announced yesterday. Ms Plibersek is across the portfolio, strong in support of the demand driven system and capable of carrying the policy-fight to education minister Dan Tehan and Michaelia Cash whose portfolio includes VET. Ms Plibersek’s responsibilities appear to include research, with no separate spokesperson named.

Education is critical for jobs and is the foundation of our national prosperity, she said yesterday. Question is, given the way the government effectively neutralised post-school education as an issue during the campaign, how hard will Labor want to run with it now.

Brendan O’Connor will shadow Karen Andrews for the science part of portfolio while Clare O’Neil will ask Ms Andrews about innovation.

Minister makes it plain: Industry Growth Centres set to say

They were gone if Labor won but Karen Andrews likes them

While research lobbies and universities loved a lot of Kim Carr’s ideas (especially R&D tax changes) there is a general sense that if the innovation and science communities must have a coalition minister ‘tis best it is Karen Andrews. People in the  industry growth centres should be particularly pleased.

Ms Andrews was across her brief last time round and while no one expects buckets of money on her watch there is a general sense she will run an informed and supportive operation, with the policy stability research leaders always ask for.

She started the way she meant to go last week, with a speech at the Cooperative Research Centre Association conference.

Ms Andrews assured the audience that the CRC programme was solid across the forward estimates, that Round 21 results will be announced in December, that the results of Round Seven of the short and super-focused CRC Ps are due next month and that there will be details this month of Round Eight, focused on reducing plastic waste.

And she also talked up the Industry Growth Centres programme, which she made plain is good for CRCs and will go on.

Growth Centres directly assist industry and business to prosper by identifying priorities in key growth sectors. Industry and researchers draw on this information to leverage funding through sources such as the CRCs.”

Lest anyone miss her meaning, the minister added, “Both CRCs and Growth Centres are doing a great job and the Morrison Government remains committed to supporting them.”

Good-o but not everybody is as keen on the six industry growth centres, which are charged to “drive innovation, productivity and competitiveness.”  Learned readers question whether they are value for money, particularly the $60m in the 2018 budget and wonder whatever happened to the programme review underway late last year.

Some suggest that closing the programme could start funding for the translational research programme science lobbies want.

Senator Carr certainly thought the money could be better spent. The centres were for the chop if he had replaced Ms Andrews. But he didn’t and they’re not.

Hard marking

Monash U sponsored St Kilda for its game against Port Adelaide, played yesterday in Shanghai. Hopefully prospective international students realise questions about the rules are not part of English entry tests.

Where Australia stands in the vastness of research citations

The SCImago journal ranking shows how huge is the research world (and how small Australia is)

The Spanish product uses Google PageRank to rate the 34 000 peer-review journals in the Scopus database by visibility on 15 variables.

Australia rates 11th in the world, behind the US, China, UK, Germany, Japan, France, Canada, Italy, India and Spain.

Some 254 Australian publications are listed, with 30 in the top quartile – the more Australian the content, the lower the citation rate.

The Medical Journal of Australia has the highest local H-Index, 119, (number of articles cited at least that many times). In contrast, the New England Journal of Medicine H-Index is 933.

Australia’s overall research citation has risen over the decade, from 2.86 per cent of world output in 2011, to 3.42 per cent last year.

A 2018 analysis of research rankings rated  SCImago, with Leiden and Clarivate as a “a promising approach for research administrators”

Fair Work protecting students “in uni towns”

The feds have visited (“raided” is such a harsh word) employers close to Deakin U campuses

The Fair Work Ombudsman reports its inspectors “completed surprise audits” of businesses in suburbs around Deakin U’s Geelong campuses, Waterfront and Waurn Ponds. FWO says books were checked, “following intelligence that employers in the areas where at risk of breaching workplace laws.”  They targeted restaurants and retail, “industries that typically high hire numbers of university students.”

It’s part of a broader campaign “targeting university towns”. 

Deakin U says it supports the FWO, “to ensure young people engaged in work are being paid correctly.”

Rivers of gold flow on

Overseas students paid $3.2bn in fees to NSW universities last year. The top three markets China, India and Nepal account for nearly as much income as total domestic fees

The Audit Office of NSW report on universities sets out the system’s overall dependence on internationals, who paid $3.2bn in fees, compared to $2.1bn from locals.

“The universities that are most dependent on revenue from students from those countries are at risk if demand shifts unexpectedly because of changes in political policy, economic conditions or visa requirements”, the report warns.

Which is pretty much what it warned last year; “universities should assess their student market concentration risk where they rely heavily on students from a single country of origin. This increases their sensitivity to economic or political changes in that country,” (CMM June12)

International student fees are the largest income source for both University of Sydney (nearly $900m) and UNSW (just over $800m). Both depend on the China market for over 70 per cent of international student fees.

The audit office also reports all-uni operating expenditure was up 9.8 per cent last year, while revenues increased 7.3 per cent. Operating margins notably declined at UNE (down by 7 per cent) Macquarie U (- 4.9 per cent) UNSW (-4.8 per cent) and Charles Sturt U ( -4.7 per cent). Staff costs “are a significant contributor” to operating expenditure, the AO states – up 8.1 per cent in 2017-18, across the system.  Western Sydney U defied the trend, with its operating margin improving 4.7 per cent to just under 13 per cent, only a little lower than UTS’s at 14 per cent.

The audit report attributes increased staff costs, in part, to universities recognising payroll tax obligation on superannuation liabilities incurred since 1996.  Discussions with state and federal governments on dealing with this continue.

Only Southern Cross U had a current ratio (current assets exceed current liabilities) less than one but it has an unused bank facility it can use for cash requirements.

Whale of a research time

“We’re good at marine biology,” UNSW DVC A Merlin Crossley responds , via Twitter, Friday to a research programme spelling his institution New South Whales.

Publisher working with what its still got

Journal giant Elsevier makes friendly noises about cooperating with Europe’s Plan S (revised Friday), which will make research free to read

Elsevier fully supports and promotes open access,” Philippe Terheggen, managing director  of its STEM journals says. He recommends people publish in Elsevier’s gold open access journals – which are indeed free to read. It’s just that authors or their institutions have to pay to publish in them.

Plan S permits this, but makes clear that it will not wear publishers just changing their market model, from charging readers to charging authors. The European Research Council states it will, “consider cost controls in our grant award processes (by imposing caps on our funding of charges for publication services).”

And if that ever happens, publishers like Elsevier appear ready, to switch focus from journal income to fee for analytics, using the oft indispensable research resources in their databases.


Court critical of Dawkins in Vocation case

Private training provider Vocation, contravened the Corporations Act

The Federal Court has found the former listed training provider made misleading and deceptive statements to the market concerning government subsidy cuts to two of its colleges. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission brought a case against Vocation, as well as Mr Dawkins and company executives, Mark Hutchinson and Manvinder Grewal.

While Mr Dawkins’ honesty was not questioned, Justice John Nicholas, said that in August-September 2014, “he accepted what he was told by management much too uncritically, and without challenging the correctness of the advice or the assumptions on which that advice was based. In this regard, I am satisfied that, in doing so, he failed to exercise the care and diligence that could be expected of a person in his position exercising reasonable care and diligence.”

Mr Dawkins is a former federal treasurer and as employment minister made major reforms to the training system.

A penalties hearing is set for Wednesday.

Different training surveys

 Two similar surveys, big time gap

CMM incurred the displeasure of an official at the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research on Friday by confusing the  Apprentice and Trainee Experience and Destinations Survey, last undertaken in 2010, and the annual National Student Outcomes Survey.  The former covers all participants in the system, the latter course and subject completers.  Now that’s cleared up, CMM is still curious why a survey of all VET system-users last happened nine years ago, missing the whole VET FEE HELP catastrophe.



Brad Yu moves from ANU to Curtin U to take up the Optus chair in artificial intelligence.