Just in at the “quelle surprise!” desk

The Australian Research Council announces its Engagement and Impact university performance report for ’24 is off

Given Education Minister Jason Clare had already asked the ARC to cancel the companion  Bxcellence in Research for Australia for ’23 this will surprise as many as none (CMM August 31).

The Council is working on a “more modern, data driven” research evaluation and advised yesterday that it will deliver the “transition plan” in “December 2022” –  perhaps, learned readers suggest, on the 25th to discourage critical commentary. Honestly some of you are such cynics.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning 

Sarah Carr (Uni Otago) on supporting student engagement now that there are multiple learning environments. Commissioning Editor Sally Kift’s new selection for her celebrated series, Needed now in learning and teaching.

plus Merlin Crossley makes the case for teaching and/or research, “the idea that every academic should be expected to both create and transmit knowledge was never sound … good teams consist of batters, bowlers, and all-rounders – and always have.”

As if by voced magic

In CMM yesterday Claire Field wondered where was the Commonwealth-Victoria Agreement for 2023 fee-free TAFE/VET places

Skills and Training Minister Brendan O’Connor said Tuesday that only the NT deal was still to be signed but at deadline that night the Vic agreement was not to be found on his department’s website.

And then 10am Wednesday, the Vic agreement appeared there!

Ms Field says it is a coincidence. CMM is just glad she uses her powers for good.

Uni Melbourne passes-on pet care

As expected, the university will close the animal hospital at its Werribee campus (CMM Tuesday), Saturday week – but it will re-open under new management in early ’23

The hospital has served as a community vet, as part of providing practical training for veterinary students. However the university says increasing costs and staff shortages make it unsustainable (CMM November 9).

At least for Uni Melbourne – GreenCross Pet Wellness takes over next year, providing general practise and emergency care.

As part of the deal, “a number of university staff members” will work there “to provide clinical teaching and placement opportunities” for Uni Melbourne veterinary students.

This is a good, if last minute, result for the university. Closing the hospital generates anguish among staff fearful for their jobs as well as anxiety among customers who rely on it for pet care. The university’s plan to close made TV news (CMM November 23)– which is never good for any university restructure.

Protecting academic freedom if codes of conduct are not enough

Bill Swannie (Victoria U) explains 

“Academic freedom requires the protection of academic staff from disciplinary action in relation to public comments made in their areas of expertise, possibly including comments on the policies, governance, or management of the university which is their employer. In several recent and high-profile cases, Australian university administrators have taken disciplinary action against academic staff who make such comments, based on codes of conduct requiring staff to be ‘collegiate’ and to ‘uphold the good reputation of the university’. In the hands of university administrators, wide discretionary powers pose a serious risk to academic freedom in Australia.”

Bill Swannie, “Protection from institutional censorship: an essential aspect of academic freedom” UNSW Law Journal (45) 4 2022, 1489-1512, HERE

Makes a case for universities at least leaving freedom of speech protections in enterprise agreements, what with their having legal force.

A job for research infrastructure experts

The Department of Education announces, just very quietly, the National Research Infrastructure Advisory Group

It’s creation was recommended by the 2021 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap, which set out tasks for the group, including, advice to government on planning and funding and opportunities for integration and function alignment across the 24 NRI resources.

The Roadmap also charged the to be appointed advisors with a workforce strategy to “to support career pathways, address technical skills shortages and identify capability gaps.”

This matters because, the NRI “is underpinned by a highly skilled and increasingly specialised workforce that needs job security and opportunities for career mobility and professional development.”

“Hang-on” you say, “didn’t NRI facility directors raise this the other week?”  They did indeed, arguing that their tech experts do not fit the HEW professional staff classification many are jammed into and that NRIs need “a job-family of their own” (CMM November 8).

This is now a proposal for the new advisory group – consisting of, Calum Drummond, Stephen van Leeuwen, Leanna Read, Joseph Shapter, Elizabeth Sonenberg, Suzanne Toumbourou, Mark Western, announced yesterday.

Although one needed to know learned readers who know where to look,   HERE.

Unflappable Ukrainians

Ukraine announces a national open science action plan. Takes more than an invasion to distract them from policy.

Positive pointers to Chinese student arrivals


Austrade September data shows Chinese enrolments are down 31 per cent on 2019 while commencements are down 44 per cent on the same period.  Things could be about to improve

In November, the Chinese Government announced changes to Covid flight bans and cut back quarantine for inbound travellers. The changes mean an end to the suspension of China-bound flights if an airline was found to carry a certain number of passengers who tested positive upon landing. Pre-departure tests by passengers are reduced from two to one, and mandatory centralised quarantine is cut from seven days to five days with an additional three at home. International travellers without a permanent address in China will still be required to do eight days of quarantine in a hotel setting.

Plus there are reports that on Monday China will turn off the phone app used to track people during the pandemic

And the Civil Aviation Administration of China indicates it will more than double international passenger flights between October and late-March, on the same period a year ago.

This is all good news. Flight arrivals are currently at around 5 per cent of what they were three years ago for point-to-point travel. According to Commonwealth Government data, in August this year, just three airlines brought in 6677 passengers from China to Australia. In August 2019 ten airlines brought in 134 901 passengers.

CMM hears the Chinese New Year is a likely time for further reform. Let us hope so!

Dirk Mulder advises education and business clients on trends in international education. He writes regularly for CMM

Accord “cast of thousands”

Not quite, but Jason Clare appears keen not to leave any interest unrepresented

The education minister has announced the ministerial reference group for the Universities Accord. The group, “will be a sounding board and a source of advice” to the Accord team. Members are,


* Georgia Beatty (National Union of Students) * Tony Cook (DoE) * Anthony Chisholm (education assistant minister) * Verity Firth (UTS) * Cathy Foley (Chief Scientist) * Pat Forward (former Australian Education Union official) * Paul Harpur (Uni Queensland) * Andrew Norton (ANU) * Mary O’Kane (Accord chair) * Lester Rigney (Uni SA) * Taylah Roberts (Rural Youth Ambassador) * Misha Schubert (Science and Technology Australia) * Michael Wesley (Uni Melbourne)


* Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry * Australian Education Union * Australian Industry Group * Australian Technology Network * Business Council of Australia * Council of Small Business Organisations Australia *  Group of Eight * Independent Higher Education Australia * Independent Tertiary Education Council of Australia * Innovative Research Universities * International Education Association of Australia * Jobs and Skills Australia * National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Education Consortium * National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education * National Tertiary Education Union * Regional Universities Network* TAFE Directors Australia * Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency *Universities Australia* Universities Chancellors Council

“They’ll need a coliseum-size space if this lot ever assemble”, a learned reader remarks.


Big ideas for a better ARC

Submissions to the Sheil Review closed last night

Universities Australia wants to save peoples’ time and assert researchers’ independence

It calls for

* an end to Excellence in Research for Australia

* (optimally) no ministerial veto of individual ARC grants

* “an application process that significantly reduces the amount of time spent by researchers on unsuccessful grant applications”

* clarification of what the ARC can fund, which should be non-medical research undertaken by universities

* a balance of research, “ have regard to the optimal distribution between basic and applied (including translational) research.

ATN focuses on the (really) big picture

The Australian Technology Network suggests the future of the ARC should be considered in the context of the Universities Accord, which, “will no doubt engender significant reforms of the system.”

However ATN also has specific suggestions including;

* “an exercise to map out ARC’s place in the national research ecosystem” which “could be part of a broader review … (including research and development tax incentives)”

* “a whole-of-government, cross-agency review of the administrative and regulatory burden on universities and possible backend efficiencies with other agencies”

* “enshrining strategic outcomes, rather than specific funding programmes”

* “support research innovation and excellence wherever it occurs across the sector.” “For the last 18 years, six universities have shared over 50 per cent of total funding distributed by ARC leaving the remaining shared amongst 33 other public universities and other organisations.”

Gosh whatever institutions could ATN mean?

And the Innovative Research Universities group matches policy precision with original ideas

Thus IRU points to the anomaly in the Sheil review’s task – its terms of reference are about the ARC Act but operations that need addressing are beyond it. It also points to the way Research Block Grants no longer fund all ARC grants, which will get worse when the Medical Research Future Fund is fully operational.

The IRU proposes the ARC

* “remain focused on its unique role as a funder of basic research … The Discovery Programme has the most unique impact on Australia’s research system”

* “take a leadership role on specific issues across the research system,” notably Indigenous knowledge, equity and diversity and open access/data

* provide selection report data to applicants and make assessment criteria changes transparent

* have “the integrity of the basic research funding system” stated in the agency’s Act  and end the National Interest Test (but) “given public money is being invested, there must be appropriate democratic oversight, accountability and transparency.”

* have “an advisory role” on research/quality and impact