Ella and Bobby were right

Sharks get jazz according to research by Macquarie U’s Culum Brown and Catarina Vila-Pouca. Explains why you never hear Miles Davis at the beach.

International students keep coming

March international education stats are out. Higher education and VET enrolments are up 15 per cent year on year to 319 000 (HE) and 138 000 (VET). All-industry growth was lower, up, 11 per cent to 578 000. Commencements were marginally slower with HE starts up  a touch over 11 per cent to 86 000. There were 42 000 VET starts, 7 per cent up on March 2017. Total commencements were 186 000, a 6.6 per cent lift on March 2017.

The crucial China market stayed strong, with higher education commencements 13 per cent higher and VET starts up 10 per cent.

There’s more in the Mail

Paul Abela writes about the community of practise that engages academic and professional staff in universities and the importance of honouring all who keep them running at the Association for Tertiary Education Management awards in September.

$30m gift for UniMelbourne students

Jane Hansen and Paul Little (Toll Holdings) have established a $30m student residence and scholarship programme at the University of Melbourne. The money will build “a landmark student residence” in Carlton, Little Hall which will house 669 students. It will also support  Hansen Scholars who will live in the hall and be helped with “general living expenses for the duration of their bachelor degree.”  The scholarship programme will run for 40 years, with a first intake of 20. The Hansen Little Foundation’s gift is the largest to benefit students the University of Melbourne has received.

This is a new bid for the elite undergraduate market – on similar lines to the Graeme and Louise Tuckwell scholarships at ANU. The Tuckwell programme also includes student housing construction, with 800 beds in two halls of residence. All up the Tuckwell gift is estimated to be worth $200m over 30 years, (CMM July 13 2016).

Who would have thought?

TAFE Directors Australia reports its members are ready, “to open their doors” to the 100 000 people who would receive free training at public providers under a Labor plan. In other surprising news today is Wednesday.

Franco-Flinders friendship

Students at Innovative Research Universities are eligible for internships at French universities, being launched today at Flinders U. The Nicholas Baudin scheme is named for a French explorer, who cooperated with Matthew Flinders RN, for whom the university is named, in mapping Australian coast.

“This agreement is testament to how Australian universities and France are stepping up to make the most of the opportunities for upskilling a new generation, advancing research and commercialising innovative technology,” Flinders VC and IRU chair Colin Stirling says.

There seems to have been no thought of naming the programme for the French governor of Mauritius, Charles Decaen, who locked Flinders up during the Napoleonic Wars.

Regional unis lobby praises Labor with a “cheep”

Four of the five university lobbies are in full-throated approval of Labor’s commitment to restore the demand driven system, but the Regional Universities Network not so much. This struck CMM as strange – RUN is always quick off the blocks when it comes to bi-partisan praise for more member resources. The group certainly spoke favourably about the budget, which included funding for new students places only at regional universities. But lobby chief Caroline Perkins says that RUN has endorsed Labor’s policy. She’s right, RUN did, tweeting last Friday, “great commitment from Labor to restore demand driven student system – will be good for regional Australia.”

RMIT academics want to keep rooms of their own

The RMIT branch of the National Tertiary Education Union is alarmed that a building move means lecturers and senior lecturers in Global, Urban and Social Studies will lose their offices. What is worse, the union warns, this is the start of a new university-wide accommodation plan.  The comrades point out that academics use private space to write and read, talk to students and staff and to secure exam papers and research files. The NTEU adds that enterprise bargaining cannot continue while, “such a profound attack on the professionalism and wellbeing of academic staff is in the balance.” Last night, RMIT replied that it is; “working to improve the quality of office accommodation for all staff – academic and professional support – in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies. We are undertaking a significant investment into the refurbishment and improvement of staff spaces, and also creating adjacent learning and teaching spaces that will continue to improve the student experience at RMIT. Our ambition is not only to create and improve working accommodation for staff, but to also bring the School together under one roof as it is currently spread across a number of buildings.” Good-oh, but curiously there is no mention of staff offices.

Picking winners: the feds announce research infrastructure spending for ten years

The federal government is following the National Research Infrastructure Roadmap, with a long-anticipated ten year spending plan announced yesterday. Readers with long memories, it was way back in MMXVII, will recall Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s tabula via infrastructure, was based on research community recommendations.

Yesterday’s announcement identifies two funding streams; Investment Plan spending, from 2017-18 to 2012-22 and National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy outlays from this financial year to 2028-29.  Most programmes will occur across a range of universities and research agencies but three are institution-specific. The nine research fields are:

Australian National Fabrication Facility.  Investment Plan: $36.2m, NCRIS: $103.2m. “Processing of materials for application in defence, sensors, medical devices, nanophotonics and nanoelectronics.

Integrated Marine Observing System. Investment Plan: $22m, NCRIS: $14.9m. Data streams and genomic technology to study Australia’s “vast and valuable ocean economy.”

Australian Microscopy and Microanalysis Research Facility. Investment Plan: $14.3m, NCRIS: $35.4m. “Equipment, instrumentation and expertise in microscopy and microanalysis for widely used and cutting edge techniques, including optical, electron and X-ray techniques.”

Bioplatforms Australia. Investment Plan: $48m, NCRIS: $123.9m. Next-gen sequencing and mass spectrometry for medicine, biomedicine, biotech, agri-business and environmental conservation.

RV Investigator. Investment Plan: $31.1m, NCRIS: $31.15m. Increase the research vessel’s sea-time by 120 days to 300. Funding to CSIRO.

Auscope. Investment Plan: $1.5m, NCRIS: $41.5. Instrumentation and IT platform prioritising Earth imaging, subsurface observatory and spatial representation to discover, develop and manage of minerals, energy and groundwater resources.

National Collection. Investment Plan: $43m, NCRIS: $43m. Consolidation of national collection of animal and plant specimens. CSIRO.

Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network. Investment Plan: $7.4m, NCRIS: $18.8m Linking data sets for research and government use in urban environments and transport. University of Melbourne.

Therapeutic Innovation Australia. Investment Plan: $29.3m, NCRIS: $49.3m Clinical trials for health outcomes and health system efficiencies, including biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

The ‘what’s the point’ university ranking

CMM’s enough-already correspondent reports a new, sort of, university ranking. The Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, “reconciled” the QS world university rankings, the Times Higher and “the Shanghai ranking,” which has to be the Academic Ranking of World Universities. The SBS points to the limitations of rankings and concludes by asking, “what an overall ranking of universities as a league table is good for.”  Oh good, a futility ranking.

Lobbies approve research infrastructure plan

Research lobbies were pleased, up to a predictable point in some cases, with yesterday’s research infrastructure spending plan.

The Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes was happy with the budget and is happy with this new funding calling it a “much welcomed long-term commitment to ensuring Australian researchers have the tools they need to make new discoveries in medical research.”

Universities Australia was also happy, with brand new CEO (designate) Catriona Jackson calling it, “a smart investment.”

“It keeps us in the race on the kinds of research that are fundamental to our economic and social prosperity. … These facilities are the backbone of our research effort and it is great to see their future so strongly backed by government,” she said.

The Innovative Research Universities agreed, saying its members are investing “a lot of time and money” researching “real-life problems, “but rely on a solid research base to make it happen.”

ANU VC Brian Schmidt also welcomed the plan, taking the opportunity to mention that his university would host three of the programmes.

But while the Academy of Science welcomed the investment plan, it worried that there is not enough detail on when money will actually be spent.

The Group of Eight also tempered its praise. Executive Director Vicki Thomson described the plan as a “strong signal of Australia’s capacity as a research nation.” However, she regretted the government’s refusal to set up an independent advisory group and to use the money still in the Education Investment Fund as originally intended. (The government wants the $3.8bn to go to the NDIS.)

Opposition research shadow Kim Carr was not having any of it, calling the plan; “a pre-election stunt by a desperate government.” The fund will only spend $5.5m in the next financial year and $1.5bn “is not accounted for in the budget,” the senator said.

There was silence from the only apparent losers, humanities researchers. The 2016 roadmap recommended, “enhanced digitisation aggregation and interpretation platform processes,” for the humanities and social sciences. The urban research network delivers, a bit, for some social sciences but the humanities look out of luck.

The universities undergraduates rate and the ones they don’t

The ranking that matters most is out; the federal government funded Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching, based on a survey of students in Australian higher education. The 2017 year’s results are in-line with 2016, with three small student-intensive institutions again rating highest for the overall undergraduate education they provide. The Melbourne based University of Divinity leads with an overall score of 91.1, followed by the University of Notre Dame Australia on 91 and Bond U at 90.5. The all-university satisfaction score is 78.5.

Universities rating above 80 are: ACU (80.4), CQU (80.1), Curtin U (80.2), Deakin U (82.4), Edith Cowan (84.9), Flinders U (80.1), Murdoch U (80.1), QUT (81.6), Swinburne U (81), UoQ (80.8), UNE (80.8), Uni Sunshine Coast (83).

The universities with overall student ratings under 75 are: Charles Darwin U (74.9), UniSydney (74.9), UNSW (73.7) and USQ (73.6).

While this year’s response rate was down 9 per cent from last year, to 36 per cent, overall satisfaction rates are similar.  In 2017 universities had positive ratings for: skill development (81 per cent), teaching quality (80 per cent) and learning resources (84 per cent). However only 60 per cent of university students were positive about learner engagement.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham welcomed the QILT results, explicitly referencing the coming importance of institutional performance in allocating growth-funds for places in 2020. “Our focus on improving outcomes for students is precisely why we want to link a degree of university funding growth to performance outcomes. … By incentivising universities to focus on areas such as student satisfaction and experience, we should see better outcomes for graduates and employers and better value for taxpayers,” Senator Birmingham said.

Dolt of the day

In Monday’s email edition CMM ranked new Universitas21 member McMaster University ahead of the University of Queensland in last year’s Academic Ranking of World Universities. In fact, UoQ was 55th and McMaster U 66th.

Loyal readers (hello Mum) noticed there was no CMM issue yesterday. This was due to a major tech fail – all sorted now.