Plus the old-one two in training and the ARC reveals all 

Feeling no pain

Big (really big) pharma Novartis has bought University of Queensland pharmaceutical spin-off Spinifex, which has a chronic-pain reducing drug in development. Novartis paid $200m for the company, which is developing research by UoQ’s Maree Smith and Bruce Wyse, with undisclosed further payments to come. This is another big deal indeed from the university that brought the world Ian Frazer’s cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil.

ANU June 3

Athena: goddess of equity

The Australian Academy of Science is calling on STEM and medical research organisations to participate in an Australian pilot of the UK Athena SWAN program, which issues annual awards for “hiring, promotion and retention of women, while also improving the workplace environment for people of all genders.” Participating organisations “will be assessed on their gender equity practises and programmes, plus what they can’ (or will?) “do to improve performance.” CMM suspects the response will be strong, but selectively so. Last year when the National Health and Medical Research Council called on medical research institutes it funds to advise on their strategies to stop the loss of female researchers the response was initially underwhelming. (CMM July 14).

Testing the teachers

Debate over assessing teacher education graduates is opening up again. On Thursday the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership released a paper on the issue by its deputy chair Bill Loudon. On Sunday, Education Minister Chris Pyne reminded us that education faculties are up for an overhaul, (CMM yesterday). And yesterday AITSL chair John Hattie asked the key question, “how do we know somebody can teach?”  Like Professor Loudon he likes the idea of, “a comprehensive, moderated assessment of teaching performance.”

“There is something very attractive about an assessment that is moderated across universities.  It would allow us to see what approaches are working in different contexts.  It would give confidence that every graduate is meeting an agreed national standard.  And it would give universities the information they need to target areas for improvement in their programs,” Professor Hattie writes.

Sounds less like an idea being floated as the shape of things to come  being described. 

CEF June 15 2

The old one-two

Victorian Training Minister Steve Herbert delivered a sharp jab to private providers yesterday with the release of the VET quality assurance review. The cross will follow with the funding review, due at the end of August. But this first punch is a beaut. It calls for “stricter requirements for providers to access publicly funded places, a consumer campaign on courses and providers,” and “greater transparency of poor quality training, such as problem providers that had a contract terminated for serious compliance issues.” This can mean whatever Mr Herbert wants it to mean but it certainly sets up the funding review to deliver a knock out blow for the private sector on the grounds that public providers are not motivated by money. As yesterday’s review makes clear. “An effective training market is only possible when the consumers in that market (students and employers) are fully empowered to make appropriate choices. This requires robust, accessible information, support for susceptible cohorts and rapid redress when providers fail to provide services to a sufficient level of quality.”

The principle of more rigorous regulation is hard to argue with. The deregulation model created by the last Labor government in Victoria was too easily rorted by colleges focused on collecting government payments by enrolling people in courses they had no hope of completing. And thanks to extensive and appropriate media coverage everybody in the state knows it.

But the public education lobby has attempted to use the mess to discredit the competitive training provision model adopted nationally by the states and Commonwealth during the Gillard Government. This report will make it easier for Mr Herbert to make a case for increasing TAFE funding, regardless of where demand is.

Always keen to talk

Group of Eight CEO Vicki Thomson keeps communications open with senators Lambie, Lazarus and Muir, yesterday; “I found (the) three crossbenchers keen to contribute. We will hold them to that, and value their input, even if we can’t change their minds about fee deregulation because we must find a solution or every Australian will suffer, not just our students.”

mindhive 2

ARC takes centre stage

The Australian Research Council has a new website ready to go and a big improvement on its impenetrable predecessor it is too. The ARC holds an enormous amount of information on research policy, not to mention the Excellence in Research for Australia data, as well as distributing vast amounts of money and it’s work needs to be accessible to researchers, hacks like CMM and anybody else interested enough to look it up. But on the old site people who could find what they were looking for first go were automatically shortlisted for an ARC Discovery Grant (alright, I made that bit up).

So, the new site will end the digital dark ages at the council, at least if the video promoting it is any indication. Yes the ARC is using YouTube to promote its work! CMM wonders if the college of experts reviewed it first.

Engineering accolades

There are 25 academics and university leaders on this year’s list of Australia’s top 100 engineers compiled by Engineering Australia, including two VCs, Andy Vann (CSU) and Peter Lee (SCU), a former VC, NSW chief scientist Mary O’Kane and a chancellor, Monash chief Alan Finkel. The University of New South Wales is top of the institutional tally with seven. The University of Melbourne claims four, but had to include alumni.

Reframing regulation

What can the for-profit training lobby do but accept governments increasing standards? Make the issue its own, is what. Yesterday Rod Camm from the Australian Council of Private Education supported tougher regulation, saying, “it is very pleasing that governments have recognised the need to ensure their contestable programs are well designed to help ensure a quality outcome.” But he renewed his call for a national industry, not government, ombudsman to protect students. “I recognise the progress in Queensland and Victoria on their own approaches. This can inform the end goal but I still hope to persuade our decision makers to consider a national model, and not another eight-version approach. I also recognise that an industry ombudsman work best when industry funded.”

Money talks

University of Western Sydney media spokespeople flat out reject rumours of a name change (CMM, May 14). But staff keep speculating, probably because the university is set to invest in the brand, with talk of $10m per annum for three years being budgeted for awareness and allegiance in western Sydney. For that sort of money marketing consultants will call a university whatever it wants to be called.

Open for accuracy

Last November US researchers and librarians established the Transparency and Openness Promotion guidelines to set out standards for open access in journal publishing, which the Association of Research Libraries in the US and Canada has now endorsed. “Evidence for scientific claims should be shared openly so others can evaluate, question, replicate, or extend scientific studies. When evidence cannot be reproduced independently, then it should not be accepted as credible evidence,” the association argues.

The impact of Impact

No matter how strong the Open Access case, the for-profit journal publishers have two big advantages. The convenience of the established order, plus prestige, a poultice of prestige. And Reed Elsevier knows it, pointing to the performance of its journals in the Thomson Reuters 2014 citation report (CMM, Friday).  RELX reports 55 per cent of its TR Journal Impact factors are up on 2103, “ahead of the aggregates across other journals”. And of the 426 journals it published for scholarly 62 per cent had higher impact factors.