Fine writing

Suggestions that Melbourne University Publishing should focus on work by significant scholars miss major achievements. For example, MUP has published four collections of poetry by neuroscientist Ed Byrne, former VC of Monash U and present principal of Kings College London. Professor Byrne reads one of his poems,  here.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning, David Myton talks in-depth to Aboriginal woman Professor Bronwyn Carlson, head of the Department of Indigenous Studies at Macquarie University. In an inspiring story, Professor Carlson recounts the struggles of her dysfunctional early life, the challenges she encountered as a university student, and tells why she believes any degree can benefit from including Indigenous studies.

ARC chair in national interest test hot-seat

The Australian Research Council chair must advise the education minister whether grant applications meet the government’s national interest test, separate to the ARC’s peer review process.

Council chair Sue Thomas confirmed the responsibility sat with her and applied to all programmes, including laureate fellowships, in response to Senate Estimate questions by Labor research shadow minister Kim Carr, Thursday night.

“The CEO will look at “highly ranked proposals” and the text of the national interest test, Professor Thomas said.

During questioning Senator Carr suggested; “the minister has put you in the position where you have to make the recommendation to him as to whether or not a project meets the national interest test … you are in a unique position. ….  What qualifications does any CEO have to make such a judgement?”.

“Where I have concerns I will contact an institution,” Professor Thomas replied.

Education Minister Dan Tehan’ established the national interest test late last year. It assesses, “the extent to which the research contributes to Australia’s national interest through its potential to have economic, commercial, environmental, social or cultural benefits to the Australian community’.”

Senator Carr told Estimates, “if there is a change of government, this will change.”

Exciting IT times at Uni Adelaide

The “exciting times” for University of Adelaide IT CIO Bev Whitfield mentioned as she announced a restructure proposal (CMM Friday) are getting more exciting.

A learned reader advises the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union has lodged a dispute over plan, claiming it does not meet organisational change, redundancy and job security provisions of the university’s enterprise agreement.


Academy of Science backs bipartisan research on Murray-Darling

The Academy of Science says the independent scientific report on fish deaths on the Lower Darling River, commissioned by Agriculture Minister David Littleproud is “a welcome contribution to the growing evidence base to help inform action to improve the health of Australia’s rivers.”

This is in contrast to Mr Littleproud suggesting last week that a report on the subject, commissioned from the Academy by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, “seems to have done the Labor Party’s bidding.”

Chair of the Academy’s expert panel Craig Moritz (ANU) says “while the terms of reference for the government panel, and hence the scope of findings and recommendations are narrower, within the common scope there is good agreement across the two reports.”

Peak lobby Science and Technology Australia’s, Emma Johnston (UNSW) also commended “the bipartisan quest for scientific evidence and expert recommendations to inform decisions for the future of the Murray-Darling, and calls for swift action to address this significant threat to important ecosystems.”

Back to bargaining at Victoria U

Back to bargaining at Victoria U

News from CMM’s pick-yourself-up-dust yourself-off-start all-over-again desk. Last week Victoria U staff decisively voted against a management enterprise bargaining offer, for a second time. Both offers were vigorously opposed by the university branch of the National Tertiary Education Union. VU management now tells CMM that it is in contact with the union about scheduling a meeting.

Group of Eight and TAFE Directors call for expanded demand driven system

The Group of Eight calls for a return to demand driven funding, but in a broader form. The Eight have allied with TAFE Directors Australia to make a case for DDF to include sub-degree courses, offered in both vocational and higher education systems.

“Student choice should be based on the fit of the course to their learning style and aspirations and not be distorted by inequitable funding and regulatory arrangements between sectors,” the Group of Eight’s Vicki Thomson says.

This is smart politics – while holding Labor to its commitment to restore the demand driven system it will appeal to the Opposition and allies’ advocacy of more money and higher standing for TAFE, often used by them as a synonym for training.

It’s also relatively risk-free for Go8 members – they are not the universities which would compete with VET colleges for diploma load. And it will not upset the next finance minister too much, if a bunch of people who would otherwise enrol in degrees were lured back to vocational colleges.

Until, that is, universities competing in the dip space start offering upskilling degrees and demand they be on load in the same way that professional masters can be now.

Women in STEM plan sets deadline for gender equality in research funding

Women should make up 50 per cent of enrolments in vocational STEM and higher education engineering and IT degrees by 2028. The target is in a draft for the decadal plan for women in STEM, which the Commonwealth Government has commissioned from the Academy of Science.

The draft also calls for “no significant gender differences” in a decade, among recipients of publicly funded STEM grants, awards and promotions.

It also proposes amending the Broadcasting Control Act to require, “equity of representation in media content,” so that, “public representation of STEM professionals reflects Australia’s social diversity.” Achieving this could be required in licensee codes of content.

Other objectives include;

* a 50% increase in the number of young women indicating interest in STEM study and careers in senior secondary school

* universities and independent research institutes to be encouraged (and potentially funded) to assist researchers to maintain their research productivity during parental or carers’ leave, including by covering research assistant costs

* a 20% increase by 2028 in the number of women in STEM leadership positions

* “by 2028 women and underrepresented groups feel safe in Australian STEM organisations, and acceptable workplace behaviour is considered as important as ‘research quality’.”

* federal government seed funding for a specialist-recruiter, “with a specific focus to recruit and support women in STEM roles.”

An Academy of Science spokesperson says, “the Women in STEM ten-year plan is a work in progress and the complete and final plan will be publicly released in due course.”

Universities Australia rejects performance-metrics plan

Universities Australia has politely slammed the government’s proposal to tie undergraduate growth places to performance metrics, pointing to its continuing call for reinstatement of demand driven funding.

The peak body’s response to the government’s discussion paper argues that the incentives outlined are poor policy;

“There is a tension between the goal of efficiency of public spending and the quality aims of the proposed performance funding system. Rationing funding is unlikely to improve performance. It is unlikely that universities will be emboldened to try new initiatives in this funding environment, as the discussion paper predicts.”

UA’ adds the incentives are implausible in application across all universities;

Incentivising improvement does not fit well with a metrics-based performance funding system that applies the same or similar metrics and incentives across the whole sector. Such a system would be poorly targeted, and less effective in both identifying problems and incentivising solutions. Performance improvement at a given institution must be dealt with at an institutional level. This includes taking into account the context in which a university operates.”

In fact, the very premise of the proposal is misplaced;

“Australia’s university sector is diverse. Universities are very much part of their local communities and often reflect the make-up of their region.  … A performance funding system should not penalise universities because their particular cohorts, communities or programs may lead to lower results than their counter-parts’ on particular indicators.”

However, if the government insists, UA suggests performance measures should be “appropriately targeted to individual universities.”

Appointments, achievements

Paula Johnston will become CFO at the University of Newcastle in June. She joins from James Cook U.

Heiko Spallek is announced as academic lead for digital health and health service informatics in the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Health and Medicine. Julie Redfern is the academic lead for research development. Faculty dean Robyn Ward announced the appointments Friday.

Three Australian based academics are elected fellows of the Combustion Institute, which “promotes and disseminates research activities in all areas of combustion science and technology”; Bassam Dally (University of Adelaide), Bogdan Dlugogorski (Murdoch U) and Hongwei Wu, (Curtin U).