Plus a programmer in a pear tree and Kiwi conniptions

Lee Harvey Academic

People with eyes fixed on the grassy knoll are speculating the government is leaking against the ARC’s Excellence in Research for Australia to discredit university focus on citations in the lead-up to the Innovation Statement. Unless of course it is the Mafia and the CIA. Sadly the source is less Oliver Stone-esque. A recent meeting of DVCs R is CMM’s guess.

Survival of the richest

CMM was wrong. The new Times Higher Education discipline ranking isn’t thaumaturgy (CMM November 13) it’s the physical sciences and there is no evidence of the dark arts in the league table. In fact, it is pretty much rankings as usual as THE reports old and rich universities do best. The top ten are all US except, for two Brit institutions – Caltech, Stanford, MIT, UCal Berkeley, Princeton, Cambridge, Harvard, Oxford, Cornell and Carnegie Mellon. The first European institution is the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (equal 11th) and the first Asian is the National University of Singapore at 19th, up twenty spots. (Anybody who does not think government money can buy research performance should have a look at Singapore – its two universities are roaring up the rankings, Nanyang TU is 43rd.) Peking University is at 28th and Uni Tokyo 34th. As for India, it isn’t anywhere.

Australia does not do much better, with just three in the top 100. ANU is 51st, Uni Melbourne 65th and UNSW 96th. Comparable Canada scores 4 – although at 20th its first entry, Uni Toronto, is way higher up the list. THE says this is the last of its big discipline rankings for the year, but CMM is still hoping for necromancy.


Red hot research

As eastern Australia bakes the CSIRO tweeted yesterday, “Doors are important in retaining the heat in homes. If draughty, consider using a draught stopper.” Thanks for that.

Those who can, teach

The University of Adelaide has finally announced its teaching academy, previously pitched ( CMM November 4) as an honour for staff not interested in research. The Adelaide Education Academy is designed for 100 staff who will be teaching specialists. The university promises Teaching Academy members will have access to advancement grants, promotions based specifically on teaching and study-programmes, funded from a $1m academy budget. However staff concerns focus on the creation of a teaching-only caste, with people prevented from returning to a teaching and research role or from being promoted to bigger jobs, which will generally require research, as well as classroom, performance.

The academy addresses Vice Chancellor Warren Bebbington’s concern that Uni Adelaide lagged other Group of Eight universities in teaching specialists and his career-long focus on teaching. “All too often the emphasis in universities is on an academic’s research standing,” he said yesterday. CMM suspects he may be the only VC in office with a lifelong achievement award from the old Australian Learning and Teaching Council.

Welcome from the ringmaster

“Incoming vice-chancellor @ congratulates graduating scholars, ‘Looking forward to working with the science circus,’ “ANU media tweeted last night quoting VC in waiting Brian Schmidt. No faulting him for frankness.

What do ministers know!

The trade commission’s new sales kit bangs on at length about why Aus is bonza for business and one of the big reasons is innovation. “Australia is renowned globally as an innovative country, with world-class scientific and academic institutions, high levels of investment in research and development (R&D), modern ICT infrastructure and strong intellectual property protection.” Here’s hoping potential investors are not also reading speeches by ministers warning what a crook job we do in applying research and how we have to improve innovation culture. Did Austrade not get the memo?

ANU Sep 15 1

A programmer in a pear tree

CMM rarely comes over all Christmassy but the Dublin Institute of Technology’s “12 apps of Christmas” is a present for all students that deserves a big wrap (sorry). Starting December 1 a learning app a day will be announced. The site is here. Thanks to the leaning and teaching people at Macquarie U for the tip (heard whether you are being banished to a faculty yet?).

And while CMM is in app-land Curtin U reports its new timetable and course info app which is downloadable to IPhone and Android mobiles. It’s called Elsie (give up? She was PM Curtin’s daughter).

Quester came close

The Telstra Business Women Award category for government and academics included only one university leader, Uni Adelaide DVC Pascale Quester. She didn’t win but at least she got close. The award went to RAN officer Captain Mona Shindy.

Blackburn moves up, again

Hobart born, Uni Melbourne educated Elizabeth Blackburn is the new head of the Salk Institute. The California based molecular biologist won the Nobel Prize in 2009.

La Trobe crosses boundaries

Education and training opportunities for Victorian country kids are boosted by a new deal between La Trobe U and TAFEs in Bendigo, Mildura and Wodonga. The colleges will offer diploma courses in nursing, early childhood and social work which students who complete can use as the basis for La Trobe degrees. Diploma graduates who go out to work but later want to return to study can pick up at La Trobe where they left off, with their diploma credited as first year of their degree. This is a great use of regional resources, and a way of expanding access to in-demand education and training in the regions in under-resourced regions. And it will also eases people into higher education in under-represented regions. It demonstrates how community demand can break down the old sectoral divides when universities listen to the market.

Kiwi Conniptions

Across the ditch the New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission is moving from funding institutions according to inputs and outputs to supporting “broader social and economic outcomes for New Zealand.” In 2019 the TEC will fund institutions “in line with the government’s top priorities for tertiary investment,” and, ominously, will provide institutions, “with longer-term certainty where it is deserved.” The basis of the approach is a focus on outcomes, “and not simply completions.”

Ye gods – imagine the outrage if the feds tried that here. Probably like the outrage there. According to the Tertiary Education Union, the TEC is already upping what it requires institutions to achieve but the big problem is its flawed approach. “Performance funding sends the wrong message to institutions to focus on getting students through the system and to massage their numbers rather than focusing on the best education that their local students need,” union president Sandra Grey says.

They certainly do things differently over there. Rather than having to worry about funding booming undergraduate enrolments, increasing numbers of young people in a diminishing youth population are giving higher and further education a miss, going straight from school to work.