Australian Research Council delays opening funding round

The Australian Research Council announced Tuesday that applications for a major grant scheduled to open today won’t

Nor is there is word when the Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities scheme for 2023 will. Plus Discovery Grant ’23 and Linkage Projects ’22 guidelines, “are still in development.”

So, what’s the problem? “Revisions will enhance the National Interest Test and increase its transparency in the ARC grants process,” the council states.

That’s the test Acting Education Minister Stuart Robert wants stronger, “by enhancing industry and other end-users’ involvement and improve transparency in the grants process.”

As to Linkage programmes, Mr Robert instructed the ARC before Christmas, “to align” them “with the government’s research commercialisation agenda.”


Australia Day honours science

Six of the seven new Companions of the Order of Australia are researchers or science governance experts

Top awards this year go to James Dale (QUT), Alan Finkel (former Commonwealth chief scientist and present advisor to government on green energy), Jennifer Graves (La Trobe U), Ary Hoffmann (Uni Melbourne), Graeme Moad (CSIRO), Helen Nugent, (chair National Disability Insurance Agency and director Garvan Institute). (Sports administrator and philanthropist John Wylie is the seventh).

CMM faves include

Professor Dale who has worked for decades to keep Africa alive by developing disease-resistant bananas. The fruit is a kilo per day diet staple for people in Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania

Dr Finkel was endlessly energetic as chief scientist, advising on policy, advocating for research, keeping science on the national agenda. He has kept it up since standing down – plus returning to his roots as scientific equipment entrepreneur. At the scary start of the pandemic in 2020, he led the Commonwealth’s Ventilator Taskforce charged with manufacturing the 5000 respiratory units then expected to be imminently and urgently required.

Professor Graves won the PM’s prize for science in 2017 for her career achievements using genetics in conservation and studying marsupials and monotremes, birds and lizards to understand the human genome. Her AC adds to what she hoped the PM Prize could help her accomplish, “it will really help me push my message that science is interesting and important … and perhaps push the idea that women can do science too,”

TikTok boom at UNSW

UNSW announces it is the first ANZ university to pass 1m likes on TikTok

This is a win worth having, what with TT being a preferred social media for teens in Australia, used by 12 per cent in 2017 and 38 per cent in 2020, according to the eSafety Commissioner.

The 1m figure gives it a light-year lead on other universities. Macquarie U is second, with 115 000 likes followed by, Deakin U (72 000), UTS (64 000) and Uni Sydney (35 000). At the other end, 13 universities with TT accounts have no, as in none, followers.

UNSW’s Tiktok is an eclectic combination of product information (“the law building has no right angles”) and brand building (such as research stories for people with minimal attention spans).

UNSW gets social media – it always has, since ancient times when Facebook was where universities made friends. Back in 2016 it was the first Australian university to have half a million Facebook pals (CMM October 13) – it has 641 000 likes now. This is way ahead of its TikTok numbers – just 28 000 followers (Macquarie U has 4000) – but TikTok is where the next undergraduates are.


ACU provost exits next week

Belinda Tynan resigns from Australian Catholic U

She is now on carer leave and will depart on February 4, to take on expanding family commitments, just a year after starting at ACU.

Professor Tynan had a big year at ACU, including work on the Universities Australia policy paper on microcredentials and overseeing her university’s imminent expansion in on-line courses. Meg Stuart moves from deputy to interim provost next week.

Monash U considers giving a RATs

Campuses will open to staff and students from O week with the university “strongly encouraging” all to be triple vaxed

In-person classes begin at the start of semester, on February 28, but stay on-line for students now off-shore who plan to stay there and people in-country who can’t get to their campus.

As to rapid antigen tests, the university is “currently considering” how they could be used.

“Subject to supply and availability, the university is working on the provision of RATs for individuals including teaching staff and other areas with a higher risk of transmission – based on the latest health advice,” COO Peter Marshall tells staff.

The message for everybody else is, “we encourage the Monash community to continue to access RATs via state-run testing centres.”

S for slow in Euro open access

The EU backed Plan S requires publicly funded research to be free to read on publication – it is not off to a racing start

The scheme was operational for all of last year but “overarching OA” went down  – from 78 per cent in 2020 to 73 per cent in ’21.

Green OA (free to read, free to publish) declined most from 25 per cent in 2021 to 16 per cent while Gold OA (free to read but pay to publish) increased, from 39 per cent to 47 per cent.  The Plan S annual review suggests that “many” articles published in ’21 were submitted prior to the scheme starting and so it is too early to evaluate progress.

However, “hybrid OA” also increased by 4 per cent to a third of all OA – with free to read articles appearing in subscription-only journals if an article processing charge is paid. Plan S suggest this is due to researchers publishing in a “transformative” journal (on the way to full OA) or as part of “a read and publish agreement”. This is the model being used by the Council of Australian University Librarians which has negotiated agreements with a range of publishers where free to read and free to publish is built into subscription costs.

But while agreements are being reached, Plan S suggests some publishers are digging in when research institutions adopt a rights retention strategy. This involves staff lodging on publication the author accepted manuscript of an article in their institution’s OA repository. UNSW has just adopted such a policy (CMM january 17).

Plan S suggests publishers oppose this because, they “fear of losing lucrative Gold OA resources.”

Claire Field on the coming force in immersive on-line learning


It may be the global tech companies and gaming platforms, rather than traditional learning management system providers, that education institutions will need to turn to

With the pace of government-led policy reform underway in Australian tertiary education at present it can be difficult to find time to look over the horizon.

Many CMM readers will have seen the recent headlines of Microsoft’s US$68.7 bn acquisition of leading “game development and interactive entertainment content publisher” Activision Blizzard.

Fewer perhaps will have made the connection between this announcement and their education offerings.

With three billion reported games users in the world today – the more that gaming and entertainment offer fully immersive experiences (in the metaverse), the more people are likely to expect that on-line learning will also be fully immersive.

Rebecca Kantar, head of education at the on-line games platform Roblox, spoke at the December 2021 QS Reimagine conference. Roblox reports 47m daily active users and they are now looking to unlock the platform’s educational potential, particularly in schools.

Moving beyond social media and gaming, and into education in the metaverse, is also at the heart of Facebook’s current strategy.

John Preston, at the London School of Economics, writes persuasively of the potential of the metaverse to change the work of educators. And in November Colin Simpson provided CMM readers insights on the tools which will support learning in the metaverse.

As Australian institutions grapple with how much of their COVID shift to on-line delivery to retain, and as the government encourages much more on-line, offshore delivery – it may not be enough to plan for continuous improvement of current on-line offerings. It also may be the global tech companies and gaming platforms (rather than traditional learning management system providers) who education institutions will need to turn to, to move their on-line delivery to a fully immersive experience.

Major disruption to on-line learning needs to be in the minds of education leaders at the same time that they grapple with the reforms underway in the here and now.

Claire Field is the host of the free ‘What now? What next?’ podcast. In the latest episode she speaks with Gavin Lind from AUSMESA on the reforms underway in the VET sector

STA warns: science success “crucial” to Australia’s safety

The pandemic proves investing in science pays off says peak lobby Science and Technology Australia

“We must invest deeply in science and scientists. Their success is crucial to our safety,” STA suggests in its budget bid.

How deeply? Deep enough to pay for (among other initiatives)

* a $2.4bn research translation fund, like the MRFF which is expected to spend $650m in ’22-‘23

* increasing “discovery research” by increasing annual grants to the Australian Research Council (now $823m pa to research projects)  and National Health and Medical Research Council ($863m) to $1bn each.

* “long-term funding certainty” for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy

Appointments, achievements

Kirsten Andrews becomes VP External Relations at Uni Sydney. She steps up after serving as chief of staff to former VC Michael Spence and successor Mark Scott. She replaces Tanya Rhodes Taylor, who announced her departure last July.

Mark Bazzaco is chief of the Research Services Division at Defence Science and Technology. He moved from CSIRO.

Leon de Bruin (Melbourne Conservatorium of Music) becomes coordinator of its masters of performance teaching.