plus the immigration go slow on Chinese postgrad researchers

and big win for WA on the CRC shortlist

Chook cha-cha-cha

Gisela Kaplan from the University of New England reports research finding chickens respond well “to complex rhythmic acoustic patterns” and they really like the bosa nova. Somehow Eydie Gorme’s timeless song does not work so well with a new outro “blame it on the bossa nova, the dance of chickens.”

Wed August 24

Amended ATAR endorsed

The ATAR should survive but with universities providing more information about qualifying scores for courses according to submissions to the Higher Education Standards Panel’s review of undergraduate admissions.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham released the submissions last night, renewing his consistent call for transparency in what entry scores are required and how they are achieved.

“I regularly hear from students who are confused by how higher education institutions pick their students and from students who find it near-impossible to get a clear understanding of the study options available to them,” the senator said.

The consensus in submissions is that the ATAR must be less a marketing measure and more a real indication of course entry requirements. This means replacing cut-offs with the various components of an entry score, raw ATARs, plus bonus marks and so on. There is also interest in ending the state-based tertiary-entry fiefdoms by creating a national admissions agency. And there is wide support for the comprehensive information students need to get a sense of their options across courses at different universities, including data in offers and acceptances, student demographics, progression, attrition and completions. Perhaps entry information by universities and groups of courses could be included on the excellent QILT website.

Many submissions are in-line with the Universities Australia position, which acknowledge the role the ATAR plays but pointed out the case for reform. If the HESP adopts the generality of proposals outlined, the ATAR will survive but in a more credible form. Universities that have manipulated published entry scores will not like it, but they are hardly likely to complain. This is a win for Senator Birmingham’s strategy of increasing the credibility of the student-centered system.


Research intel

The visa go-slow for international students extends way beyond undergraduates. A dean at a STEM strong university reports it is taking up to 12 months for Chinese postgrads who want to come to Australia to pursue a specific project to clear security.  “The assessment criteria are unknown so the process is completely non-transparent,” the dean says. For universities that have big international postgrad research cohorts this is very bad indeed.

So what’s the problem? The Defence Strategic Goods List is one suggestion put to CMM yesterday. The DSGL is part of the defence trade control law that makes a criminal offence dissemination of military products and technologies, or the results of research for other uses that can have a military application. It applies to everybody working at an Australian university. The list covers research in; * navigation and avionics, * materials, chemicals, microorganisms and toxins, * materials processing, *electronics, *computers, telecommunications and information security, *aerospace and propulsion, sensors and lasers, * navigation and avionics, * marine, * nuclear materials.

What’s the betting the Border Protection people are checking overseas postgrads research projects against the list?


Absent all hours

Managers at the University of Adelaide are issuing their own policies on working for home, which the campus National Tertiary Education Union warns are not sanctioned by the uni’s enterprise agreement. “Under the EBA there is no requirement that academic staff work from the office 9-5 Monday to Friday,” the union advises. Or anywhere else it seems.

UWA headcounts released

University of Western Australia management briefed staff on the new administrative structure yesterday, specifically on headcounts and functions. Some notable numbers include 185 FTE in marketing, alumni, comms and corp affair functions, compared to just 86 FTE in the library and 61 FTE in HR. Staffers also suggest that the description of unit heads as “leads” is a worry. The term is used at UWA to describe a professional staff position a pay-grade lower than a manager. “The great game of musical chairs has begun,” one UWA-ite ruefully remarks.

Chance for a chat

Vicki Thomson (Group of Eight) and Renee Hindmarsh (Australian Technology Network) will have plenty to talk about when they appear on a panel at the Knowledge Commercialisation Conference in Brisbane on Thursday week, what with both being expert in research impact and application, which is the theme of the panel. But perhaps they might have a few courteous words about Ms Thomson’s speech the other week setting out the Go8’s position on student-centred funding and Ms Hindmarsh’s response in The Australian on August 17 “Australia has been built on the notion of a fair go, and fair reward for hard work; regardless of postcode, schooling, economic background or ethnicity. Yet, the Group of Eight universities have turned their back on the principles that have made Australia great and are using budget repair as a fig leaf of modesty to account for an elitist and exclusionary approach to higher education policy,” she said in a triumph of understatement. Ms Thomson issued a statement explaining that press reports had got it wrong and this was not what she meant at all so undoubtedly all will be sweetness and light.

CRC shortlist

The shortlist for Round 18 of Cooperative Research Centres is out with seven projects surviving the cull. They and the lead university in each are * high performance soils (Newcastle), * honey bee products (UWA), * cyber security (Edith Cowan), * food agility, (UTS) *future water, (Murdoch)* iMOVE (intelligent transport), which has 18 university participants, including, QUT, Uni Syd, Swinburne, UofMelbourne, Monash and UniSA * innovation for mental wealth (UniSyd).

This is a very good result for Western Australia, which is home to three of the seven shortlisted proposals – a big improvement on the number of CRCs headquartered there now, which is none.

Proposals not going forward are; regional industries, brain injury, VIRTACH (Virtual Tactile Human) CRC, smart ageing, food and wine integrity, beef value chain and chemical and advanced materials industries.


MOOC of the Morning

The University of Sydney, via Coursera, is launching a MOOC for health practitioners on eHealth and how it can integrate care. It explores “the breadth of technology application, current and emerging trends, and showcases both local and international eHealth practice and research.” Some 26 health academics and officials teach the course, including no one from the federal government which is supposed to be filing all our medical records online. Maybe that’s because as of February only 75 000 national ehealth summaries had been uploaded, ever.

Hard to find HEPPP

The review the feds promised when they reduced funding for the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program is underway. Consultants ACIL Allen are conducting it and written submissions are being  accepted until September 5 – which does not seem long. Perhaps the equity community was advised but this is the first CMM has heard of it.

Time too tight

Monday’s call for a review of the vocational education system has not been cheered to the echo, although there was polite applause yesterday from the Australian Council for Private Education and Training. The case for change was well made in a paper by the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia, which details system failures in everything from governance to pedagogy. ACPET is also keen to endorse everything that has “reform” in its title as the organisation works to restore the industry’s rep after the VET FEE HELP catastrophe, in which its legitimate members were collateral damage.

“It’s time to sit down and work together on a plan for Australia’s tertiary education and training sector that will prepare our workforce for the challenges and changes ahead,” CEO Rod Camm says.

Great idea, shame about the timing – the existing state and federal agreement expires at the end of this financial year. It would take COAG ten months to write the terms of reference for a committee to work on the terms of reference for a VET inquiry.


Sure fire ratings reducer

“Curious about CRISPR? Watch ABC Catalyst to learn about genetics’ next frontier,” Walter and Eliza Hall spruiked yesterday. If you know what it is you don’t need to and if you have no clue you probably don’t care.