University demands a guaranteed return for investing in a CRC: tell them their dreaming says CRC A’s Peacock

ACU working on a green investment bond

plus the women scientists voted winners by a jury of their peers

MOOCs of many mornings: UoQ powers ahead with online courses

and lab research results: what you get depends who you ask

Polite Pepper 

A UTS team is taking a domestic service robot to Japan

Social roboticist Mary-Anne Williams and ten PhD students are the only Australian entry in the RoboCup, in Nagoya at the end of July. The competition is for robots which have sufficient artificial social and emotional intelligence to work with people at home. Professor Williams and colleagues will have to create software for their robot to interact with humans, recognise objects and human faces and perform “adaptive behaviours in “human-centric” situations. They will use Pepper a humanoid robot built by Softbank Robotics which is obviously up for anything. Last year a Pepper met Malcolm Turnbull and Kim Carr and bowed to the former and did not run screaming from the room when the latter started interrogating it Senate-estimate style.


MOOCS of the morning

The University of Queensland is building a big profile in the moocverse with its 30th course set to start

The university will launch next week two courses via edX and both demonstrate there are many rooms in the MOOC mansion.

Sebastian Kaempf will teach a  unit on how digital technology ensures wars are now fought interchangeably in physical and cyberspace. Course content and communication, “enable you to gain a deeper understanding of how the politics of today’s wars play out on and behind the digital screens in our hypermediatized age,” Dr Kaempf says.

The second MOOC, from Cherri Ryan, Mieke van Driel and Allyson Mutch, promise to make possible what CMM thought was not,  “understanding the Australian health system.”  The course covers funding and regulation plus patient experience and options. For anybody who fears becoming lost in the wilderness of medical mirrors the course coverage of “mapping and facilitating a patient’s journey through the Australian health care system,” will appeal.

This is a long way from the MOOC as a business masters taster, however the university is still not adverse to presenting itself to prospective students. The university’s two top MOOCs to date are both on track to reach around, or over, 500 000 starters this year. They are English Grammar and Style and  IELTS Academic Test Preparation. They are followed by The Science of Everyday Thinking, The Psychology of Criminal Justice and Philosophy and Critical thinking.

The big five MOOCs people stick with are just as diverse; Sharks! Global Biodiversity, Biology, and Conservation, Introduction to Biomedical Imaging, The Psychology of Criminal Justice, Through my Eyes – Intellectual Disability Healthcare around the World and Hypersonics – from Shockwaves to Scramjet.

They may never make any money, or encourage fee paying enrolments but as brand-builders they are high-impact, low-cost investment.

No time to lose

Recruitment is underway for two VCs

The two big jobs up for appointment now are VCs at the University of Melbourne and QUT and to score either you have to impress recruiters Perrett Laver. Impress them fast, the Melbourne job closes on July 11 and QUT on July 5.

To make it at Melbourne you need to be “a determined and inspirational leader of high intellectual standing” with, amongst a bunch of other stuff, “a clear vision for the future of the University, its academic aspirations and its ability to create economic, social and cultural value.” To learn if you qualify for QUT you have to fill in a form for an information pack. Although  Glyn Davis is not leaving to the end of next year and Peter Coaldrake at the end of this, time is tight, unless of course there are favourite sons and daughters, already on very short shortlists.

Tell them their dreaming

Avoid institutions that demand a guaranteed return for investing in a CRC says Tony Peacock

With applications for the 19th round of Cooperative Research Centre funding due soon bid teams are keen to lock-in support, and potential investors know it. In one case a research university is said to be asking for a project-life return of five times its investment to be part of a bid.

This is not on, says chief executive of the CRC Association, Tony Peacock.

“If a university offers to put cash into a CRC only on the basis that they get some multiples of that cash back from the CRC, that’s not collaboration. It’s money laundering. If a research organisation is not willing to participate on the basis that they will be asked to supply research because they are the best to do so, then they should not get on board in the first place. When I hear an organisation has asked for a guaranteed cash return, I wonder what they think the board and CEO of the CRC are there for? They are asking the board to oversee an algorithm, not a strategy.”

ACU going green

Australian Catholic University is testing the market for a green bond

Bankers from NAB and UBS are in Asia this week talking to investors about what a good idea a bond issued by the Australian Catholic University would be. They will talk to locals about the same things week after next. If all goes well ACU might put a sustainability bond on the market.

It appears ACU is following the lead of Monash U, which raised $200m plus late last year to fund green energy developments on campus.

ACU had an operating surplus of $31.7m last year on income of $509m. It had $150m in borrowings, up $30m on 2015. The university did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.

Flutter steps up at ANU

Banker and ANU council member Naomi Flutter will be the university’s pro chancellor as of next month.

Mate of MDMS returns fire

Another broadside in the for and against over a new medical school

If anybody at the University of Sydney School of Rural Health thought yesterday’s criticism of the Charles Sturt and La Trobe universities proposed Murray Darling Medical School by Mark Arnold would work they have not been paying attention to the Central Western Daily, the newspaper that serves the NSW region which would be home to the MDMS. Here’s how the paper editorialised on the UniSydney position yesterday;

The sandstone universities have built their reputations on prestige degrees such as medicine and law, and clearly don’t fancy competition from upstarts like CSU and La Trobe. … Sydney Uni says better post-graduate pathways for young doctors are needed rather than more training places for doctors at university. Call us cynical but they would say that, wouldn’t they? … Yes, country areas have benefited from young doctor placements through the School of Rural Health but they are all scuttling back to the city once they have their degree. We know that to be the case because too many towns can’t find a qualified GP.  Regardless of how Sydney Uni tries to spin it, that’s the reality too many residents west of the Great Divide are living.”

Sun shines on science

The Peer Prizes for Women in Science are announced

Funded by the Melbourne based, Sun Foundation, the two $20 000 awards are won on the basis of votes cast by women scientists who can demonstrate they are the authors of peer reviewed publications (CMM June 6).

The life sciences winner is ANU’s Megan McDonald for her work on a newly discovered fungal species that kills wheat.

An interdisciplinary team won the earth, environment and space award for research on biodiversity redistribution caused by climate change. The winners are Gretta Pecl (UTAS), Julia Blanchard (UTAS), Lorena Falconi (JCU), Charlene Janion-Scheepers (Monash), Sarah Jennings (UTAS), Vicki Martin (SCU), Phillipa McCormack (UTAS), Jan McDonald (UTAS), Nicola Mitchell (UWA), Sharon Robinson (UOW), Justine Shaw (Australian Antarctic Division), Jan Strugnell (JCU), Adrianna Verges (UNSW), and Cecilia Villanueva (UTAS)

Depends who you ask

Hormone levels aren’t consistent in tests, they can differ by a factor of ten depending on the lab, Deakin U researchers report

The team sent 19 labs seven samples of avian plasma with a known concentration of a hormone – and got back absolute measurements that differed up to ten-fold. Kerry Fanson and Deakin colleagues, with Zoltan Nemeth from UCal Davis, set out their results  here and suggest why it happened and why it may, or not, be very important for ecology research. However, even if the implications are not as dire as they appear the authors suggest their work adds a new dimension to the problem of research results that aren’t always replicated.

“Understanding measurement error among laboratories is also an important step in addressing the ‘reproducibility crisis’ that is facing many empirical fields. In recent years, there has been growing recognition of the fact that many published findings cannot be replicated when a study is repeated. Efforts to resolve this lack of reproducibility have largely focused on reporting issues or statistical issues. However, inter-laboratory variation, or laboratory transfer issues, is another important factor that could potentially contribute to this lack of reproducibility,” they write.