Plus “danger honourable member for Robinson”

Obsolete embargo

There was an embargo until this morning on Innovation Minister Chris Pyne announcement that venture capitalist Bill Ferris will chair new advisory body Innovation Australia, although it is hard to see why. Somebody gave the story to the Fin in October.

New research era

The Innovation Statement sell is starting, with chatter about an impact measure for research funding and a reduced role for citations in deciding who gets what. None of this is new – the impact debate began on Ian Macfarlane’s watch as industry and science minister. In April the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering proposed a Research Engagement for Australia metric to match the Australian Research Council’s Excellence for Research in Australia (CMM April 24.)

“A focus on research excellence is often at the expense of other important activities such as university collaborations with the private and public sectors, entrepreneurial behaviour and knowledge transfer. … This work is intended to ensure that research engagement is appropriately recognised and rewarded alongside research excellence, in line with the government’s industry innovation and competitiveness agenda,” ATSE announced.


Back then adepts of the metric arts were curious as to how ATSE could create a new model from existing resources but certainly took the policy push behind it very seriously, what with the way it could undermine ERA. Some liked it, notably in the Australian Technology Network, some were not fussed – the Group of Eight will do well on an REA just as it does on ERA. But people who are wedded to the idea of measuring research on the basis of scholarly success largely ignored the possibility of a way to reward researchers on the basis of work with industry. (Just like they ignored the applied research strategy with national priority areas that Mr Macfarlane wanted and is now in place.)

Big mistake then – Minister Macfarlane was keen on applied research. Bigger mistake now Prime Minister Turnbull wants universities out innovating with industry, which makes an impact measure tied to funding a sure thing in the Innovation Statement. Just as the government is pushing for applied, rather than blue-sky research, it can fund impact as well as, or instead of ERA.

CMM wonders whether the Innovation Statement will be released before or after ERA 15, also due next month.

Pure research

Bourbons need not worry; the Greens are here to defend the ancien regime. New education spokesman Senator Robert Simms was on the case yesterday; “The government has to be careful not to undermine the academic integrity of our universities and see them co-opted by big corporates. We also don’t want important research being sidelined because it may not immediately have commercial value.” Heaven help the ARC if the senator ever learns of the Linkage programme.

Locals lose

The Overseas Student Ombudsman office reports that in its four years its has dealt with 2150 student issues involving a third of private providers, which make up its jurisdiction. In 40 per cent or so it found for students with the most common issues being fees, transfers and course progress impacting on visas. Is it only CMM that finds it ironic that international students studying with private providers have dedicated consumer support while locals don’t? For-profit training may not be in the present mess if an ombudsman existed to help keep the industry honest.


Following Flinders U (which lit up a building in the tricoleur) the Group of Eight’s Vicki Thomson has written to the French ambassador expressing solidarity in shared scholarship and values. Will it accomplish anything? Probably not. Was it the right thing to do? Too right.

ANU Sep 15 4

Gender inequity

The research funding agencies are getting twitchy about low success rates, especially for women. Last week the National Health and Medical Research Council announced it was looking at outcomes for early and mid career women ( CMM yesterday). The ARC followed yesterday, promising more women on grant committees and pointing to its various commitments and actions, notably Research Opportunity and Performance Evidence, that is intended to “ensure that all eligible researchers are competitive for NCGP grants, particularly those under-represented owing to limited career opportunities, non-research career intervals or alternative career pathways.”

However as ARC chair Aidan Byrne acknowledged to research administrators yesterday, there is still a way to go – the percentage of women winning Discovery Programme grants as chief investigators by career age is never half and often less than a third the rate for blokes. It is worse at the most senior levels. CI success for women working in their discipline for 25 years plus is barely 2 per cent. For men it is nearly 15 per cent.

Danger Hon Member for Robinson!

NSW MPs will attend a briefing by students on artificial intelligence and coding at state parliament tomorrow. Clearly a plot to replace them with robots.

Fast forward to future

Just after Easter senior university administrators met at Curtin U to talk about long-term workforce needs, (CMM April 7). The conversation has continued all year and now Universities Australia’s DVC Corporate Group and the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association are combining to commission heavy-duty research. CMM understands that the project will explore individual and national needs for education and how they will be met, changing working patterns for academic and professional staff, how universities will fund and administer their operations and, notably, student expectations – especially of employability.

Despite the obvious implications for industrial relations the partners are said to be keen that the project is not seen in the context of the national round of enterprise bargaining set to begin in the new-year. This might be why very senior university leaders are being very careful about what they say publicly on the future of higher education.

If UA-AHEIA get this right the document will be a template for the debate over higher education funding, what universities teach and how it is delivered plus staff productivity. The alliance is looking for a complete report by year’s end. Big job, tight timeline.

Terrible timing

Terry O’Gorman’s 2015 National Tertiary Education Union lecture on Thursday could not be more relevant or sadder. The Australian Civil Liberties Union president will speak on, “Civil liberties v Terror: Advancing and preserving liberties in a complex environment and the role of the university.” The lecture is on at 5.30, QCA Lecture Theatre and Gallery (SO5) – Griffith University, 226-234 Grey St. South Brisbane, Qld. Griffith is also live-streaming Mr O’Gorman’s address.

Local hero

Michael, Misha to his mates, Zelinsky is challenging shadow training minister Sharon Bird for pre-selection in her safe seat of Cunningham. Factional obligations aside, any preselectors at the local University of Wollongong should be solid for Mr Zekinsky, who is a member of council there. At least he was last winter when he got into a blue with the university for condemning Vice Chancellor Paul Wellings over his support for the Pyne package. “I grew up in Wollongong and received a great education from the University of Wollongong and thought that the university reflected the proud working-class values of our city. The vice-chancellor’s ambitions represent a radical and dangerous policy shift with profound implications for families and young people in the Illawarra,” Mr Zelinsky said then. (Campus Morning Mail June 20 2014). The university returned fire, announcing that “as a council member (Mr Zelinsky) is not in a position to speak for other council members as per the University of Wollongong Act and the council code of conduct. He has been reminded of this by email via the Council Secretariat.” (CMM July 4 2014) It’s never wise to appear to be shutting down debate on a campus – as Misha might remind Uni Wollongong Labor loyalists.