Stop focusing on publishing and start helping Australians says education minister

plus scientists want more pay and less dumbing down

and Murdoch U to comms team: generating student recruitment revenue a priority

The truth isn’t out there

Deakin U psychologist Richard Moulding suggests conspiracy theories are bigger than ever, appealing to people who feel “socially marginalised and powerless.” Grassy knollers have “a sense of the world as (socially) threatening, non-random, and with no fixed morality,” he and colleagues argue in the new edition of the journal, Personality and Individual Differences.

Of course they would say that wouldn’t they what with Deakin being home to the CIA Centre for Mind Control Research.


Research impact and engagement imminent

Assessment and impact subjects selected: The long awaited pilot of research engagement and impact metrics is finally on the runway with an announcement of the disciplines that will be used for next year’s trial. In 2018 the new assessment will be rolled out across the board in parallel with Excellence for Research in Australia. Research metrics experts have worked for months on what to measure and for engagement the test disciplines are, chemical sciences, medical and health sciences, history and archaeology, and philosophy and religious studies. For impact the disciplines are, environmental sciences, agricultural and veterinary sciences, engineering, education, creative arts and writing, plus language, communication and culture.

Last week Australian Research Council acting CEO Leanne Harvey had no details for a research administrators seminar on how university performances will be assessed (CMM November 16) nor did Education Minister Simon Birmingham yesterday saying, the pilots will “test the robustness of a wide range of indicators and methods of assessment for both research engagement and impact.” This is not a whole heap of help for DVCs R wondering how much work the pilot will involve. Or how much time it will take, which is an issue given the exercise is scheduled to complete in May. CMM understands submissions guidelines will go to universities in the new year.

Forget publishing, deliver for Australians: What is very clear is that the feds have conscripted researchers into its innovation army. Senator Birmingham spelt it out yesterday, the pilots are part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda and are intended, “to ensure that taxpayer funds were being targeted at research and initiatives that would ultimately pay dividends for Australian young people, old people, mums and dads.

“The ‘Engagement and Impact Assessment’ is about incentivising the smart and talented people working in our labs and universities to better focus on research that has wider economic and social benefits,” Minister Birmingham said.

This deeply disturbs the high-science community, as the Global Council of Research Universities (including the Group of Eight) puts it, pure research is; “the foundation that will allow next generations to flourish … (but) it is rare that the new knowledge created by scientific breakthrough(s) has immediate practical implications,” (CMM November 10).

Belinda Robinson from Universities Australia made the same point yesterday, warning; “a careful balance between basic or curiosity-driven and secondary research must be maintained to keep the research ecosystem in good health.”

“Without basic research the well of ideas and knowledge will run dry.”

But it seems the minister is not having any of it, describing the new metrics as;

“testing how we can measure the value of research against things that mean something, rather than only allocating funding to researchers who spend their time trying to get published in journals.”

There goes the point of Excellence for Research in Australia.


Not that minister

This may not be the best of mornings at the Australian Council of Private Education and Training where people have probably realised that the minister for VET  they sent a letter to last week, Senator Scott Ryan isn’t that minister. He was, but that was before the election, he’s now special minister for state. Portfolio minister Simon Birmingham now runs the show, helped by assistant minister Karen Andrews.

What price cuts at Curtin

As wage bargaining gets to the full and frank stage at Curtin University the union has acquired some leverage. The other week Humanities PVC Alan Dench told staff the university will not renew fixed term teaching contracts to save money (CMM November 14). The National Tertiary Education Union has called a public meeting for today, LT 301.222 at 12.30 this afternoon. “Curtin management is cutting staff numbers to boost the university’s financial surplus. What impact will budget cuts have on staff, students and Curtin itself?,” the union asks.

Ramadge departs

Paul Ramadge (ex Age editor) is leaving the federally funded and Monash U based, Australia-Indonesia Centre. Mr Ramadge has led the centre for the three years since it founding. He has not revealed why he is leaving or what he will do next.

Another review at Murdoch U

Murdoch U management loves a staff review – the university is now considering the structure of the marketing, communications and advancement directorate, having last looked at it a bare year back. According to university chief operating officer Darren McKee in the restructure plan, “we have made progress in strengthening our relationships with a number of stakeholder groups and development of key strategies.” Which is good, but it seems there is still a bunch to do. “Generating revenue through student recruitment and retention will continue to be an imperative for MCA over the next 12 months as it seeks to address the current budget deficit.” Media and internal comms strategies are “pending” subject to “the appointment of suitable expertise,” which must cheer team members who feel this means their skills are not deemed up to it.

The big structural change is hiving off advancement, which will stand-alone in the provost’s portfolio. But while overall numbers for all existing functions stay around the same, jobs are going, including three of four designers and roles will change, with new position descriptions already circulating. Yesterday the university confirmed that MCA director Paula Barrow has “decided to leave Murdoch to pursue new ventures.”

Over the last three years the media and comms team at Murdoch has born a big burden, dealing with the media storm generated by former VC Richard Higgott departing and significant staff changes as experienced operators decided it was all too much and left. It seems the load is not getting any lighter.

More money for tropical medicine

The government has committed $6.8m to the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin. The money is for the Northern Australia Tropical Disease Collaborative Research Program.


More money does not compensate for cuts to capability

Scientists working for the feds in one form or another are still being paid what they were a year back, according to a major new survey of salaries and satisfaction by Professionals Australia, Professional Scientists Australia and Science and Technology Australia. But while a third of scientists received no rise, others, in industry and other parts of the public sector, picked up real pay rises, ahead of inflation at an average 2.4 per cent. But what really upsets scientists, the survey shows is the sense that workplaces are being dumbed down and cost savings are cutting into capability. That and the fact that women are paid 17 per cent less than men.

Fair points, which will be ignored

The VET private provider lobby has called on the Senate to block the government’s proposed loans system for vocational training students. Australian Council for Private Education and Training CEO Rod Camm says the scheme is “rushed and bungled” and that six months is needed to address potential problems. Mr Camm points to the new requirement for providers to have a 50 per cent completion rate in at least one course. This sounds reasonable and quality providers have no problem being held to a high standard, Mr Camm says. But it may lead to his members rejecting people at high risk of not completing, those who are in “most in need of flexible education and training options.” He also warned the Department of Education was using incorrect data, which could not be corrected in time for the new system’s start.

Good reasons but not enough to overturn the government’s political imperative, which is to be seen to have ended the VET FEE HELP disaster.