Oh, that review

The Higher Education Standards Panel briefs university representatives this morning. While separate to TEQSA (a point members will probably make to anybody who will listen) it is very much part of the new quality assurance model. CMM wonders what members will have to say about the Lee Dow and Braithwaite review of the new regulator. Probably not much on the record.

Eureka nominees stick together

CMM can never understand why the Eureka Awards for science are so comprehensively ignored in main media. Granted, the science community does not much care what the rest of us think, as long, that is, as the taxpayer keeps stumping up. But every year the prizes celebrate extraordinary science, which deserves a bigger audience. Who is up for what also indicates, albeit informally, where  innovative work is underway. So CMM totted-up the institutional affiliation of every individual cited who is up for a 2013 award, either individually or as a team member. Hey, what hack can resist a league table? The University of Melbourne is first this year with 14, followed by the University of NSW with ten and Sydney with (eight). Monash and UWA (four each) and UofQ (one) make up the rest of the Group of Eight winners. In total staff from the Go8 accounted for just about half of the nominees. Other universities to do well include Macquarie (three) plus Deakin and James Cook (two each). But well over half the nation’s universities got no guernseys. As for the perennial suggestion that scientists on the public payroll should work more with business there are just three people from the private sector short-listed for prizes.

All in the pause

ANU PVC International Erik Lithander on his boss Vice Chancellor Ian Young, as quoted in student newspaper Woroni, “Measured. (Long Pause). Driven. (Short Pause). Inclusive.”

McCulloch on the money

National Tertiary Education Union General Secretary Grahame McCulloch is probably the only member of the UniSuper board most contributors could name. At the end of 2011 he worked hard to defuse mischievous rumours that the entire fund was in strife when the prospect of reductions to defined benefit pensions was first floated. However while he is a cautious critic a critic of the Unisuper structure he is. Mr McCulloch has never liked the power of the universities to decide board membership. And he has long argued they should increase their contributions to members’ super, if only to head off the need to reduce benefits for members in the defined benefit scheme, which has happened now, (but only for future payments). But above all McCulloch is a realist; yesterday he carefully acknowledged the case for reducing pension amounts going to defined benefit members that accrue in the future (existing payments are safe). “There is a good case for scheme redesign independent of any actuarial shortfall problems.  Age based defined benefit factors may no longer be appropriate (noting that there are inherent cross-subsidies from younger and lower paid UniSuper members to older members on higher salaries),” he  said yesterday.  Does this matter to NTEU members in defined benefit schemes with years to go before they collect their pensions? You bet – but there are not many of them compared to the vast mass of Unisuper contributors whose retirement income depends on market returns.

 Credit where it’s due

James Cook University announces a new maths subject, specifically designed “for secondary mathematics teachers of the future … While universities in the United States have offered such subjects for some time, JCU’s collaboration between the mathematics and education disciplines is believed to be unique in Australian universities. ” Um not quite. CMM, (in a previous life) reported Griffith academic Alison Sammels’ degree course for future maths and science schoolteachers in The Australian, May 17). “Her new three and a half year degree includes pedagogy and teaching competencies as well as an entire year in the science faculty, where students solely study their speciality.”

What’s Korean for “stunt”?

The Prime Minister  promises that Korean will be a priority language along with Mandarin, Indonesian, Japanese, Hindi and any others spoken in marginal seats. All right, CMM made the last bit up, although Mr Rudd made the announcement in the marginal Liberal electorate of Bennelong, where local member John Alexander pitches it strong to the Korean community.
But what does being a “priority language” involve? Why, “continuous access to high-quality Asian language curriculums (as a) a core requirement in the new school funding arrangements” that’s what. Good-oh, but who will teach all the kids keen on Korean? According to the Asian Studies Association, back in 2009 there were 136 students of Korean at seven universities. Even if all of them went on to become teachers this does not strike CMM as sufficient to meet any boom. Nor will the new priority mean much if the only school students studying Korean are the children of migrants.  But heaven forfend any one assume that this is a stunt, even though Mr Rudd’s Wednesday announcement ended “these initiatives do not involve any costs to the Budget.”

But you knew this already

From CMM’s reporting the bleeding obvious desk: Katharine Greenaway and colleagues from the UofQ have discovered, “people given scientific evidence supporting our ability to predict the future feel a greater sense of control over their lives.”  That’s precognition as in the capacity to know what is going to happen, not as in political prediction, as in what is filling the papers at present. Their paper is published in Plos One .

Political pre-coggers

On which topic, today’s political predictors are those sibyls of the south, University of Tasmania academics Tony McCall and Richard HerrDr McCall expects the Liberals to win the seats of Braddon, Lyons and Bass from Labor. He is silent on the fate of independent Andrew Wilkie in Denison, who is endorsed by the National Tertiary Education Union, and what will happen in Franklin, which Julie Collins held for Labor last time with 57 per cent of the two party preferred vote. Dr Herr predicts the conservative will take Braddon and Bass from the ALP.

Degrees that don’t deliver

CMM has long watched the US debate on the cost and benefit of higher education and the scary stories of graduates with huge debts and no jobs and wondered whether or when it would happen here.  Well, it started Thursday morning when a mother told Linda Mottram on ABC radio in Sydney that her two graduate sons were unemployed. They weren’t arts graduates struggling to find meaningful work, they were chemical engineers.   The days when everybody automatically assumed that a vocational degree will deliver are ending and the tough times for university recruiters are beginning.

 Different diagnoses

Legend has it that when Gough Whitlam campaigned in the country his advisors counselled that if the locals had a river he should promise them a dam, if streams were light-on he should suggest a college of advanced education. It would never happen now, because the minimum acceptable offer is a medical school. The Fin reported yesterday that the Liberals are “expected to announce” funding for a new medical school at Curtin University. This may or may not provide a precedent for Andrew Vann, VC of Charles Sturt University, who is partnering with La Trobe in pushing for a new bush medical school to serve the Murray Darling basin. Energetic Andy makes a compelling case, for campuses at Bathurst, Wagga (both CSU) and Bendigo (LaTrobe) to meet specific specialist shortages and address the general deficit of country docs. The problem is that established medical schools don’t agree. The University of New South Wales wants to build on the medical education it already offers at Wagga. Nor are some students of existing medical schools all that impressed.  Bendigo boy and Deakin medical student Frayne Gomez bought into the argument yesterday, suggesting there are more doctors graduating in the bush than there are hospital spots for interns.  The less this fight appears a straightforward country versus city stoush the harder it will be for CSU-La Trobe to win.

Incomprehensible infrastructure

There was exultation across the Illawarra yesterday when the NSW state government shortlisted iAccelerate  at the University of Wollongong as a  priority infrastructure project.  And what, CMM hears you ask (oh go on, humour me) does this organisation get up to? Well, it is “a key component” of the university’s “goal to develop an innovation ecosystem … delivered through synergistic programs designed to accelerate innovation development.” No, CMM has no idea what it means either. Why universities produce such guff when they have real research achievements to explain confounds CMM. Like the news that UoW researchers, cooperating with St Vincent’s in Melbourne have grown cartilage from stem cells on a scaffold created by a three-D printer. The university researchers say they expect creating defined tissue shapes on the scaffold will take a month. I wonder if a three-D printer can grow an innovation ecosystem, synergistically?