You still have to talk to the tower

RMIT announces it is the first university to offer degrees (aerospace and aviation) which include qualifying for a remote pilot licence. That’s a licence to fly a drone as opposed to approval for pilots who do not enjoy chatting with air traffic control. Of course, if you can’t be fagged with the rest of the degree, Charles Darwin U reckons it can teach all you need to know to qualify for a commercial drone licence in a fortnight (CMM June 30 2017).

Bargaining business as usual

Union members meet tomorrow at the University of Melbourne to consider more industrial action over enterprise bargaining. The comrades claim negotiating progress in negotiations with management since they went out for four hours on May 9 but say the university is still not budging on core issues, notably its push for separate academic and professional staff agreements.

Unionists at UNSW are holding the first stop-work of their industrial campaign on Wednesday. Just four-month into talks this looks like a standard part of the bargaining process rather than a fundamental split. Outstanding issues the National Tertiary Education Union nominates include regulating workloads and change management procedures, a sore-point for many admin staff given the university-wide restructure underway.

At ANU Schmidt sets out terms for Ramsay Civ Centre proposal and Union responds

ANU VC Brian Schmidt’s Friday goodnewsgram mentioned “various media reports” (who, CMM?) “relating to partnerships and philanthropy in the university sector”. In ANU’s case he must have meant the proposal for the Ramsay western civilisation study centre to fund courses and scholarships at ANU.

There are staff and students at ANU who do not like this proposal at all but government ministers, notably Simon Birmingham and Josh Frydenberg think it is a splendid idea. Whether or no ANU accepts the centre and the many millions it will bring, vocal people will be upset.

So, Professor Schmidt is getting his ducks in a row, with an all-purpose statement covering whatever the university decides.

“ANU approaches any partnership or funding opportunity with the same core set of principles. These include retaining, without compromise, our academic integrity, autonomy and freedom, and ensuring that any program has academic merit consistent with our status as one of the world’s great universities,” he wrote Friday.

Smart stuff moving the argument away from the issue both sides want to debate – whether or not the Ramsay Centre’s take on western civilisation is a suitable subject for study. If ANU embraces Ramsay it is because it meets standards and if it doesn’t, it is because Ramsay does not measure up.

Last week the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union weighed in to the debate, calling on Professor Schmidt  to make a “clear statement” of the university’s commitment “to academic freedomintegrityautonomy and independence” and that the university’s academic board will be “the ultimate arbiter of academic standards,” (CMM May 23  ). On Saturday, the union supported the vice chancellor’s statement,  saying it “welcomes the strong leadership and commitment to core academic principles given by Brian Schmidt in response to NTEU concerns about the proposed Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation. “


Elizabeth Elliott (UniSydney) has won the Australian Medical Association’s 2018 excellence in healthcare award for research, advocacy and clinical work in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

Erica Tong and colleagues at Alfred Health are honoured by the AMA for a trial on reducing medication errors in hospital discharge summaries.

Nothing innovative in allocating R&D tax incentive savings

The government has responded, very quietly, to the Innovation and Science Australia plan for a policy through to 2030.  The ISA proposals (CMM Jan 30) include better targeting of the Research and Development Tax Incentive and government funding “audacious challenges” in genomics and precision medicine, protecting the Barrier Reef and clean hydrogen fuel, all covered to an extend in the new research infrastructure plan and other initiatives.

Of the 30 recommendations, the government only rejected those on VET and R&D funding. ISA proposed reform of VET to make it “responsive to new priorities presented by innovation, automation and new technologies.” In particular ISA recommended performance metrics, more and better information for students and integration with higher education. To which the feds responded they would see how present reforms go first.

ISA also proposed savings from the R&D tax incentive and directing them to applied research agencies, such as the Cooperative Research Centres. While the budget reduced the incentive in the budget, it did not spend the savings on research. As the ISA response records, “the government did not consider that the R&D Tax Incentive was the appropriate mechanism to address the systemic cultural and structural impediments to collaborative R&D.”

UniMelb launches disability research agency

The University of Melbourne launches its Disability Institute this afternoon. Its executive director is Bruce Bonyhady, the founding chair of the NDIS.

“Through interdisciplinary research, teaching, partnerships with industry and collaborations with the sector, our aim is to be an integral part of a new and growing eco-system in Australia. We will foster the exchange of evidence and ideas that support the long-term vision of the National Disability Strategy and the NDIS, Professor Bonyhady says.


ARC announces gender equality action plan

The Australian Research Council has released its gender equality action plan, which is very good indeed, as long as you are not hanging out for early action.

The ARC commits to a bunch of observing and assessing activities, including:
* looking for ways to increase the number of women on ARC assessor committees with a gender imbalance

* “identify initiatives to improve “the diversity of researchers” at ARC centres of excellence from 2020

* review “provisions, requirements and management” of maternity and parent/partner leave under the National Competitive Grants Programme.

And if you think that last one looks innocuous, you did not follow the February furore when Sophie Lewis, then at ANU, went public when she was denied parent leave from an ARC funded project to care for her, and her (birth-mother) wife’s new baby. The decision was reversed, with the ARC making a weasel-word statement of the; it’s-not-our -fault and-we-really-care, kind.

The ARC also assures us it “works closely” with the National Health and Medical Research Council, “with regard to policy and best practice processes in gender equality.”

Good, the rARC might pick up some ideas. Back in 2016 NHMRC chair Anne Kelso said the council could “do better” on grants awarded to women. Since then council staff have worked hard on ways to obviate career-break obstacles effecting women. With impressive pragmatism, last year the NHMRC also found the money for 34 projects with female chief investigators.

What happened after the great VET FEE HELP debacle 

A learned reader reports that submissions to the Australian National Audit Office consideration of the VET student loan scheme are due on Friday. The scheme was created to replace the catastrophic VET FEE HELP programme.

The ANAO wants to know, “was an appropriate design process established to support the achievement of the government’s policy objectives?” and “were sound arrangements established to support the implementation and management of the program?”.

Loan-scheme expert Mark Warburton spelt out a bunch of issues on this in a paper for the L H Martin Institute in February ‘17, where he pointed to potentially expensive drafting errors in defining which courses incur, or not, a loan fee. Overall, he concluded, that the scheme was created quickly, and that “the objective of ensuring that the department has power to control providers has overridden almost every other consideration. It certainly overrode the development of a coherent scheme and any guarantee of fairness for students and consistency of outcomes for providers.”