Anybody who thinks they know what will happen in scholarly publishing doesn’t

Questions on notice

Education Minister Christopher Pyne used the Australian celebration of World Teachers Day on Friday to remind teacher education faculties that he would shortly be on their case. “Evidence shows that student performance, and not just their achievement, but their overall engagement, depends on the quality of teaching. … We want to encourage teaching students who are committed and motivated to become teachers as their first choice to enter university. We’ll work with universities to make teaching courses more rigorous and attractive,” he said. The minister went on to announce for the third, (or is it the fourth?) time that the government will set up a ministerial advisory group, “to look into initial teacher education courses and to advise improvements.” But when, consisting of who and with what powers?

E pluribus unum

Brian Schmidt adds to his Thursday night speech on what he wants for ANU via Twitter, Saturday: “when I say elite, I also mean diverse.” So that’s a bunch of different elites or just the one, consisting of people who only share being elite in common?

Adelaide engineers a solution

Engineers, being the practical people they are, build things – in this case solutions to the shortage of engineers.  According to Engineers Australia the country only produces half the 18 000 new TAFE and university engineering graduates it need annually. So good on the University of Adelaide for banging the discipline’s drum. On Wednesday and Thursday this week mechanical engineering honours projects are on display at the Adelaide showground. And on Friday the electrical engineers do the same for final year and research student on the U Adelaide campus. No, I have no idea why they do it separately but I am sure if you ask both schools will tell you why, at length. This is the 19th mech eng annual exhibit (it takes me a while to catch up) and I suspect it is a fixture for people who are fascinated by the intellectual elegance of engineering. And its hard to imagine a better way than both displays of encouraging kids finishing school who like to make things work that engineering is something to study.

Hold the phone

Researchers at the University of Nebraska (presumably at the Institute for Observing the Obvious) report that students check their phones up to 11 times a lecture. What to do? Well more interesting lectures is one option but it would be much easier to send a text to every phone in lecture room range along the lines of “pay attentin or else.”

Just for a change, more industrial action

National Tertiary Education Union members at Murdoch University have voted for industrial action. The branch leadership has called a staff meeting to discuss what to do with the mandate for Wednesday. I have no idea how many staff voted but the union’s membership is something like a quarter of all employees, the highest in Western Australia.  At the University of Adelaide union members have voted to withhold student results for a week at the end of the semester, “unless management gives detailed written responses to all the clauses and proposals already provided to them by the NTEU Negotiating Team” and commits “to 20 hours of negotiating meetings before the end of 2013.”

Spinning hard

Hooray for the University of Western Sydney in making the best of things on Friday when it boasted that it was in the top 20 universities to receive NHMRC grants. And so it is, it came in at 20. UWS won 3 grants (strike rate of 6.8 per cent) compared to the University of Melbourne’s 139 (21 per cent success) and while UWS secured $1.3m Melbourne did a bit better with $78m. Granted Uni Melb has been in the medical research game a bit longer than UWS but spinning a “top 20” spot as a big deal is a bit rich.

Cost control

There is an excellent piece by ANU’s Roxanne Missingham (plus quality comments) on the future of e and print academic publishing on The Conversation website, but one thing that nobody mentioned when I read it is that the whole sector relies on public funding to stay afloat – including The Conversation. Which rather suggests what will happen – if there are not enough buyers to pay authors, editors, production and promotion people then sooner or later government will look to the publishing system that gets the word out there at lowest cost.

But as to how this will happen – nobody knows. Certainly not ARC head Aidan Byrne and his NHMRC colleague Warwick Anderson who spoke on open access at ANU the Friday before last, explaining how anybody who thinks they know what is going on in the green and gold debate doesn’t. As Professor Byrne put it, “it would be foolish to say with certainty what the agenda will look like in five years time.”

Off the assembly line

A new discussion paper from the ever-industrious Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency identifies a new source of graduate employment. “Universities have historically been a minor source of skilled employees for the manufacturing industry. … However, as work activities change in manufacturing, university-level skills and competencies are becoming the requisite level for many occupations in manufacturing.” But before recruitment directors brief the advertising team they should turn the page. “Stakeholders have also indicated that although universities are able to deliver strong theoretical skills, emerging graduates tend to lack practical competencies. … Coupling the practical, work-related VET skills with the theoretical skills the university system provides should help graduates to be more quickly utilised in the workforce.” Sounds like a function for  Stephen Parkers polytechnic proposal.

Full and frank

“I’ve been to Senate estimates 22 times, I know how to avoid a question” NMRC chair Warwick Anderson at the ANU forum on open access, October 18

Protectionism in place

Indian education reform is like the University of Queensland pitch drop experiment, nothing happens for years but when something does you are either out of the room, or do not notice, what with it being easy to miss. Which is my excuse for missing India’s move last month to increase foreign university’s access to the education market. For years India has had legislation to admit foreign institutions ready to go, as soon as (a) the governing party policy committee ticked it or (b) it was passed by parliament. Which, despite India’s desperate need for increased training places and high quality university education never seems to happen. So in the great global tradition of governments that are sick of MPs not doing what they are told ministers have discovered they do not need to legislate and can open the market via regulations which remove a previous stumbling-block, that foreign institutions could only open up if they had a local partner. So that’s finally that and the rivers of rupees with roll. Um, not quite. For a start an old rule remains, that profits must stay in India. And only the world’s top 400 universities are allowed in, (based on which list I hear you ask, damned if I know I reply). What this all means is not much – only very unwise foreign institutions will want to go it alone in India, which means partnerships with locals and without any profit to repatriate it is hard to see why any will bother. Whoever is making money out of the status quo appears to have prevailed.