The I has it

“For ag colleagues, The I in AI is Intelligence, not Insemination – sorry for the disappointment,” CRC Association’s Tony Peacock on a new opportunity for CRC Projects, budget night, via Twitter.

Bridget McKenzie’s big med school win

Bridget McKenzie had a career-building win yesterday – just months into the job as rural health minister.

She assembled very important people from umpteen universities on the banks of the Murray where they praised the budget-announced Murray Darling Medical School Network. This can’t have pleased existing medical school heads and it certainly can’t  have been the prefered result for La Trobe and Charles Sturt universities, which long-wanted a med school of their own. And yet all were there, making-nice. In the process Minister McKenzie delivered enough of a regional med school to keep her National Party colleagues happy without the big cost to state and commonwealth budgets more med schools involve.

Who knew!

“When it comes to attracting graduate doctors to the country, new research has found the more time students spend in rural placement, the greater their chance of a rural career,” Monash U statement yesterday. Just like all the old research.

Budget response: pragmatism prevails

Aside from deplore-a-grams from student groups and unions about not enough money, budget responses started pretty positive on Tuesday night. They stayed that way yesterday. The STEM lobby seems pleased (although there is not that much money up front.) The med research lobby did not get red bikes and ponies, but got enough to be positive about the funding. And the universities followed Universities Australia president Margaret Gardner whose Tuesday night statement was conciliatory. It seems higher education strategists have decided that the demand driven system is not coming back and they should now focus on the future.  This is very good news for the government – unless Labor decides it wants to fight the next election on higher education, as well as VET, universities are off the political agenda.

The Australian Technology Network set the tone yesterday, welcoming the research infrastructure package, “in line with the delivery of a world class research system which continues to improve in productivity, create jobs, lift economic growth and support sustainability.”

There was, of course, a but. The ATN “sincerely hopes” changes to the R&D tax incentive, “do not hinder efforts to boost collaboration between industry and universities.” Um, those will be the $2bn in savings across the forward estimates changes which are in response to the science-community supported Review of the Three Fs two years back. Back then reviewers Ferris, Finkel and Fraser warned; “a smaller amount of expenditure focused more tightly on the areas of improvement identified in this review would be more likely to provide greater benefit to the Australian economy (CMM September 29 2016).

The Innovative Research Universities complained (“mean-spirited and pointless”) universities will be hit for $10m to recover access costs of student loans and will have to pay for the seven-year TEQSA reaccreditation process. However, the IRU acknowledged the $1.9bn for research infrastructure and new areas of Medical Research Future Fund spending, “are significant steps to maintaining Australia’s world quality research system.”

ANU VC Brian Schmidt also backed research infrastructure spending, notably the previously announced money for the two super-computer centres and space agency – all of which ANU will use. But he also endorsed the regional student pathway places which are not likely to benefit ANU; “the only thing that separates one person from another is access to education, and this is a strong commitment to providing greater opportunity for more Australians.” Well said.

And in what may well be a first for a budget, peak medical research lobbies did not warn of the fatal consequences of insufficient funding. The Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes pointed to the Medical Research Future Fund being on track to reach its $20bn capital target in 2020-21, infrastructure funding and an exemption for clinical trials in the R&D tax incentive changes.

Business as usual

It’s enterprise bargaining business as usual, with industrial action imminent at UNSW. The Fair Work Commission yesterday approved the National Tertiary Education Union’s application for a member vote on stop works and/or strikes. Voting will open a week today. UniMelbourne unionists were out yesterday, protesting stalled negotiations for a new agreement and UofQ NTEU members stop work today, “management continues to hold out against net improvements to job security, while still attacking penalty rates for the university’s administration staff,” the union explains.

Nothing for VET yet but Shorten speaks tonight

There was something between not-much and sod-all for VET in the budget. Sure, there is a mention of funding, “to deliver projects that will arrest the decline in apprenticeships,” but that was about it. To which training lobbies replied with silence, perhaps stunned, maybe stony, but certainly silence.

The private providers were likely relieved that for once they were not blamed for every training failure since crook welding on the Titanic. But the TAFE lobby, rarely short on outrage, had nothing to say either.

There is, CMM suspects, a reason for this, which will be revealed in tonight’s budget reply speech. The Opposition has long signalled that it will run hard on funding TAFE. With the government not apparently interested, Labor leader Bill Shorten’s address is a good time to start.

ANU teaching awards

The ANU awards for excellence are announced. Winners for teaching are: Bronwyn Finnigan, philosophy, Fei Huang, finance, actuarial studies and statistics. Gemma King, literature, languages and linguistics and Shari Read, management.

A ward of opportunity for postgrad nursing

Saturday is International Nurses Day (celebrated on Florence Nightingale’s birthday) which, a learned reader remarks, is reason to recognise we are going to need a bunch more of them.

A Deloitte Access Economics report from February estimates demand for 46 000 more nurses by 2021-22. But there are nurses and nurses. The report suggests the big need will be for nurses with postgraduate qualifications. “With an ageing population placing increased pressure on existing health-related services, nurses who are qualified to deliver advanced care and extended practice – as well as those with leadership and management skills – will be in high demand in order to assist in the delivery of healthcare.”