“Science has a special role in Australians’ feelings about their country”

50/50 HECS a safe budget bet

and collateral damage, unless the government actually wants to ban international postdoc researchers

Class act

“This government is determined to put the ‘class’ back into ‘classroom.’ ” Greens senator Sarah Hanson Young testing a line yesterday for when, sorry if, the government announces a hike in HECS charges on budget night.

Always on message

The universities and CSIRO staff unions are calling on members to participate in Saturday’s March for Science in cities around Australia.

The marches, part of a global movement will “celebrate the public discovery, distribution, and understanding of scientific knowledge as crucial to the freedom, success, health, and safety of life on this planet.”

However, the unions also see the evens through an employment prism. “Four out of five research-only staff in our universities are employed on fixed term contracts, and 50 to 70 per cent of teaching is done by academics employed casually. Research scientists’ valuable time should not be spent dealing with the serious financial and personal implications of not knowing if they will have a job in a few months or weeks,” National Tertiary Education Union president Jeannie Rea says.

CSIRO is trusted by the public to solve some of our nation’s biggest problems, from climate change to energy. In reality, CSIRO simply won’t be able to do this with current trends of declining funding and insecure careers,” staff association secretary Sam Popovski adds.


Speak up Edith Cowan

A week after Edith Cowan’s stellar performance in the QILT student experience survey was announced the university is finally promoting its national third place. CMM was brought up to dislike big-noting, but ECU is over-doing the modesty. This is a huge win and all the big name universities that scored way below the national average, (like the universities of Sydney and New South Wales – both in the bottom ten) know it, keeping quiet about the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching result.  ECU should make the most of it.

Support for science

Australians believe in science, they want government to pay more attention to scientists in making policy and spend no less, many think more, on research. But, as the prime minister discovered at the last election, not everybody is comfortable with tech innovators and entrepreneurs.

According to Jill Sheppard and Matthew Gray’s new survey from the excellent ANU Poll, “science has a special role in Australians’ feelings about their country.” Even the bad news for the science is community is good. While 43 per cent of people surveyed think Australian science is average or below the rest of the world’s, nearly 70 per cent of them want the state to spend up.

There is even good news for Malcolm Turnbull’s innovation agenda. The survey reports 68 per cent of Australians are “more excited than concerned” by “new technologies” and 75 per cent believe the benefits of “technological progress” outweigh the risk.  There’s even hope for the government’s emphasis on engagement and impact in research with 94 per cent thinking “scientists and industry should cooperate more with each other.”

But the country isn’t absolutely overwhelmed by innovators. Setting out the sell Mr Turnbull must make, people with the least education are most alarmed about what technology can do, some 74 per cent of people with Year Ten education, “think technological change happens too fast to keep up with”. And while just about everybody (94 per cent) thinks government should assist drought-stricken family farms some 84 per cent think the state should support a start-up with an app to help kids learn maths. Still, as bad news go, 84 per cent support is pretty good.


Sounds like “yes”

Will there be a HECS hike in the budget so that government and students pay half each of the cost of courses? Here’s what Education Minister Simon Birmingham said yesterday on ABC radio in Adelaide when that was put to him; “In broad terms that is not an unreasonable proposition. The government picks up a significant element of the tab and the other 50 per cent, you need to appreciate – or currently 60 per cent and wherever it lands – is, of course, fully paid for in most cases by the government up front under one of the most generous student loan schemes in the world, that people only pay back once they’re earning a good wage.”

CMM is taking that as a yes.

UoQ speaks up for science

The science establishment is keeping quiet about the March for Science, presumably fearing marchers might go boo at a funding goose. But not the University of Queensland, which issued a statement yesterday announcing the Brisbane event and quoting one of its organisers, head of the university’s school of chemistry and molecular biosciences, Paul Young. “Everyone in our community should be happy to stand up for that, as a large part of our modern lives is underpinned by science,” he says.

Case to continue

The University of Western Australia has  lost a big round in a long-running case against former staffers who set up shop, originally in a relationship with the university. The Supreme Court of Western Australia has upheld an appeal by TWS Analytical against a District Court judgement that it owed the university $696 000. The case started in 2103 and involves a dispute between the university and the company set up sometime staffers of UWA’s Centre for Forensic Science, which used university resources. Justice Mitchell describes the relationship between university and TWS as “largely undocumented and opaque.” With justices Buss and Newnes he set aside previous judgements for the university and gave TWS leave to defend UWA’s action. Yesterday a university spokesman declined to comment on the case.

Unintended consequence

Universities Australia is alarmed that the end to 457 visas might stop post-study work-rights for international students, “which are vital to continued recruitment.”

UA is also seeking “urgent clarification,” from the feds “to avoid unintended consequences on university recruitment of world-leading global researchers and academics.”

The Group of Eight is also alarmed. “The mere suggestion of the government clamping down on academic mobility into Australia could deter potential academic recruits to Australia. This is particularly a concern at a time when there are opportunities for recruitment from the US and the UK and initiatives under way such as the recently announced Go8 – India taskforce tasked with developing PhD and researcher mobility between Australia and India.”

CMM suspects that the voters the government is appealing to with changes to work visas are not fussed about universities hiring foreign physicists, even so,  but the rule requiring two-years work experience would stop international post docs taking up appointments.