Discovering where the money is

ARC paydays

The hit rate for Australian Research Council Discovery Projects, announced yesterday is down on last year, from 19.9 per cent to 18 per cent with 38 fewer projects approved and $7m less ($250m) allocated. This is largely due to the government “repriotising,” as one official politely put it Australian Research Council funds to favoured projects last year. However the allocation as a proportion of requested funds is effectively unchanged year on year at a touch over 60 per cent. (CMM yesterday had the headline winners).

Some 14 institutions had an 18 per cent or better strike rate, including seven of the Group of Eight, (Monash with 52 successful bids from 302 applications came close at 17 per cent). The great eight (no, not the usual one) who managed 20 per cent or better were ANU with 62 wins (26 per cent), Southern Cross three (25 per cent) Uni Queensland 79 (25 per cent) La Trobe 13 (23 per cent) UNSW 84 (21 per cent) Uni Sydney 65 (21 per cent) Flinders (21 per cent) and Uni Canberra (four) 20 per cent.

However when it comes to mass that other Group of Eight accounts for 69 per cent of grants, valued as follows UNSW $45m, University of Queensland $37m, ANU $35, Uni Melbourne $32m, Uni Sydney $32m, Monash $27m, UWA $18m and Uni Adelaide $15m.

However, as Conor King from the Innovative Research Universities points out while the Go8’s share was the lowest in five years overall grants distribution is stable, with the IRU up a bit and the ATN down a couple of per cent.


 A version for VCs?

Mark Humphery-Jenner from the University of New South Wales picked up a Discovery Early Researcher grant to “analyse the benefits and costs of appointing overconfident individuals as chief executive officers.” I’m guessing chancellors across the country will be interested in his findings.

Boys club

The IRU (above) has also crunched the grant numbers by gender, which shows – what a surprise – blokes rule the research roost. Of chief investigators as a whole  around 7 per cent of those with “career ages” of 5-10 and 10-15 years  are women, however this falls away for older age groups. Of the CIs working for 20-25 and 25 plus years a bare 2 per cent are female.

The wild wild west

At Murdoch University supporters of former vice chancellor Richard Higgott are writing publicly about his virtues and briefing privately on the failings of new management. Professor Higgott resigned after the WA Corruption and Crime Commission considered a brief from Murdoch and then launched its own investigation. Yesterday acting VC Andrew Taggart tried to settle things down, addressing a packed meeting of National Tertiary Education Union members.  Professor Taggart assured staff the new management team is united and fully committed to the university’s research growth strategy (below). He acknowledged a decline in mature age enrolments but pointed to a slightly better result for school leavers. And he warned that it would take up to a year to appoint a new VC. He also acknowledged the appointment of ex University of Western Australia DVC Bill Louden to advise him was not well timed (skittish staff suggested it was part of a UWA takeover plot) .

However Professor Taggart‘s keep calm and carry on approach was immediately undermined by the cancellation of today’s scheduled address from Chancellor David Flanagan, “due to legal issues involving the ongoing investigation into matters referred to the Corruption and Crime Commission.”

“As you would appreciate these are sensitive matters and, unfortunately, there is very little more than what is already on the public record that can be shared with you at this time. The chancellor is aware of my concerns in relation to this and understands the position of the university, and has indicated his willingness to talk with staff when it is appropriate to do so,” Professor Taggart said.

This is curious given the stated reason for the meeting was for the chancellor to talk on the research strategy. And to suggest the “university’s position” had to have things explained by Professor Taggart suggests confusion and division. Murdoch management may not be a mess, it just looks like it.

Less achievement than aspiration

What Murdoch Chancellor David Flanagan was supposed to be doing today was confirming the university senate’s “commitment to the Murdoch vision of a research-led university and … support for the developing strategy to realise this ambitious goal.” “Ambitious” is an understatement. Murdoch won 4 Discovery Grants worth a bare $1m in yesterday’s ARC announcement. This compares to 27 ($10.5m) for the University of Western Australia and Curtin’s 12 ($4.5m). Murdoch’s success rate was 10 per cent, comparable to Curtin and Edith Cowan, but way behind UWA’s 18 per cent. Granted, it is a vast improvement on last year when Murdoch managed no Discovery Grants at all. However it does demonstrate that some of Professor Higgott’s supporters are over enthusiastic in promoting his research achievements as distinct from aspirations.

Making themselves at home

How invasive species adapt so fast to new environments is unknown, with no obvious evidence for genetic change. Lee Rollins from Deakin suspects this might be because the driver isn’t genes changing but adjusting to their new circumstance, so a small number of invaders can adapt and multiply fast. Dr Rollins has an ARC early career researcher grant to test the theory on the cane toad.

Impact on the agenda

The feds are running three research inquiries, all related to the government’s enthusiasm for commercially relevant research. There is a review of the Medical Research Institutes in Health, the “anybody got any reasons why we shouldn’t cut back CRCs” inquiry in Industry and the commercial returns from research discussion paper, which bears both Industry and Education department badges (responses required by the end of the month). However this is very much Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane’s project and one he is pursuing with an enthusiasm that extends outside his portfolio. He addressed a meeting of research deputy vice chancellors last Friday, people very much on Mr Pyne’s patch. While the education minister is a bit busy just now some senior research administrators hope he will be able to engage soon. Mr Pyne is well regarded by senior research administrators who hope he will exercise a calming influence on any enthusiasm for an entirely new impact-approach to measuring research which is more easily advocated than implemented.

Star gazing

Here’s a project that will puzzle the “commercial application counts” lobby. Astrophysicist Dr Claudia Lagos from the University of Western Australia has a Discovery early career fellowship to examine, “the complete cycle of gas in galaxies,” “from star formation to gas outflows.” She says it will assist the Square Kilometer Array, being built in South Africa and WA, “as it will provide simulations with full physical descriptions of the neutral gas in the universe.” If she says so. Will it help entrepreneurs sell stuff into Asia? I very much doubt it. Is this a reason not to give Dr Lagos $354 000 over three years? Not a good one.


Dutch dig in

The VSNU organisation, which represents the 14 Dutch research universities, has taken on Anglo-Dutch journal publisher Reed Elsevier, breaking off negotiations on a sector-wide deal on subscription prices because the company’s offer “fails to address the inevitable change” to open access. According to VSNU, the Dutch government wants all academic publishing to be open access in ten years. “A great deal of academic research depends on public funds, and the universities aim to prevent a situation in which users eventually have to pay twice for consulting open access publications,” the lobby says. While the government is prepared to wear gold open access (pay to publish, free to read) that the Netherlands is mandating a tough stand by universities is bad news for the commercial journal publishers.