Nothing to speak of

There were no entries in the issues management category for the Universities Australia communications awards on yesterday. It must be because no university had an issue to manage, at least not that they will admit to.


“We associate speculating about the future with prophecy: voodoo and astrology and economics,” Chief Scientist Alan Finkel in a speech (below) on Wednesday.

Chief’s science fiction

Alan Finkel rather gave the game away last month when he was photographed with a praetorian guard of Daleks (CMM August 21) but the Chief Scientist is a big science fiction fan. “It is a respectable pursuit for leaders such as yourselves,” he told an august audience at Melbourne’s Cranlana Institute on Wednesday. Not any old space opera mind you, he referred to writing where the laws of physics apply and where authors have ideas that influence and inspire your actual scientists.

Much like being chief scientist really and getting to commission “horizon scanning projects” to identify the shape of things to come on; energy storage, precision medicine and gene editing, synthetic biology and the internet of things.

And SF can help envisage the future, if not inform, CMM is sure federally-funded horizon scanning. What Dr Finkel has in mind is;

“science fiction, which carves out a space for the future in our minds. So that no-one is blindsided. So that people are challenged to think, and helped to be informed. So that we can calibrate public policy with a better sense of the sort of challenges we might be facing ahead.”

There are however limits, word is Dr Finkel drives a Tesla not a Tardis.

Researching practical policy problems

Glyn Davis will chair the research committee at the Australian and New Zealand School of Government. The University of Melbourne VC will oversee a $500k increase in research funds, to $750K plus the same sum in an anticipated partner funding. “It will work more closely with partner governments and other organisations to ensure its research has practical applications,” ANZSOG says. What was it researching up to now?

Research output: it’s what you know and where you work

Xin Gu and Karen Blackmore from the University of Newcastle have crunched journal data for staff at three representative, but unidentified, Australian universities to find similarities in individuals’ outputs.

The authors sampled author and citation data at a sandstone, a “middle-tier” institution and one which could be a regional.

They find that researchers at the sandstone were most productive from 1974 to 2009, but since performance based funding was introduced output per researcher at all has converged. And they discovered publication data demonstrates that an increase in quantity was not accompanied by a decline in quality. Researchers at all three universities publish 70 per cent of work in the top quarter of journals.

As to influence, from 1974 to 2014 research by academics at the sandstone was more highly cited that that from people at the second-tier institution, except in 1979 and 1988. Researchers there out-cited the third university in all years, bar 1994, 2004 and 2006.

Gu and Blackmore also find that researchers at the sandstone are more likely to publish in teams, while those at “lower-ranked” institutions work alone, or in pairs.

And one especially interesting finding confirms what many assume; “in terms of publication impact, the higher-ranked universities in this study had a higher citation count per publication.”

It’s not just what you know, it’s where you work.

International numbers up, again

It’s business as usual in international education with growth rolling on. In July there were just short of 565 000 students from other countries in Australia, up 15 per cent on the same month in 2016. Both higher education and VET were up 17 per cent, with school numbers growing by 12 per cent and ELICOS 7 per cent. China accounts for 29 per cent of the market. Here is hoping a vice chancellor never offends anybody on the Politburo.

Sophie dances off

With Queensland adopting the ATAR, admissions authority QTAC has made a video explaining how it works. As CMM reported yesterday the first version included the example of “Sophie”, who thinks she should study physics but would be better off sticking to dance, which she does not find as hard. But you will just have to take CMM’s word for it – the version with Sophie was deleted sometime yesterday. Funny that.

Time to roll at MGSE

At the University of Melbourne Graduate School of Education the union wants consultations on staff changes to continue (CMM yesterday). But Laureate Professor John Hattie says nothing doing, that the consultation period is complete and it is time to get moving. Management’s plan means the end of numbers of fixed term contract positions and the creation of continuing appointments. The plan also makes it mandatory for staff in teaching and research and teaching specialist roles to hold a doctorate. Professor Hattie says this is mandatory under the Australian Qualifications Framework which requires academics to hold a qualification one level above that of courses they are teaching.

The known unknowns Birmingham wants to know

Yesterday Education Minister Simon Birmingham spoke at the Australian Research Council jamboree celebrating its Centres of Excellence, at Parliament House. Senator Birmingham quoted Donald Rumseld’s known/unknown unknowns to make a point about the importance of basic research citing the Centre for Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery, “(which) has captured the imaginations of many as it seeks to capitalise on those first historic detections of gravitational waves, to understand the extreme physics of back holes and warped time space.”

But the other examples of research achievement he used were all work that an MP could include in an electorate email. Senator Birmingham mentioned nanoscale biophotonics for brain surgery, understanding how young children develop the cognitive capabilities to be school-ready and research into translational photosynthesis for crop growth and landscape care.

And in case anybody still did not know what the minister knows he wants, he added. “we are committed to continuing to build on the Innovation and Science Agenda, continue to work through the ARC and to invest in centres of excellence, to inspire ongoing collaboration, to help build the public support for the very valuable work you undertake across so many disciplines.”

But there was another known unknown he did not mention – how the research impact and engagement pilots are progressing. Assessing them when they are rolled out in next year’s Excellence for Research in Australia exercise needs to be a known known soon.

HEADS UP: winners at work this week

Word from Universities Australia’s comms conference is that Adam Redman, flak catcher in chief at Monash University,  is returning to the private sector after two years at Clayton

Ipek Kurtböke from University of the Sunshine Coast is the new president of the World Federation of Culture Collections, which maintains a global database of 400 000 strains of micro-organisms. Dr Kurtböke studies antibiotic-producing bacteria.

Steve Baxter will become Queensland’s Chief Entrepreneur next month. Mr Baxter is an ISP and appears on TV’s eat-aspiring-entrepreneurs alive Shark Tank. He succeeds Mark Sowerby.

Former NSW state education minister and Nationals MP Adrian Piccoli is moving to UNSW to research the disparity in education for city and country school students.

Geraldine Mackenzie took over as vice chancellor at the University of Southern Queensland on Tuesday.

 Eileen Webb from Curtin U’s law school is appointed a part time commissioner at theLaw Reform Commission of Western Australia.

The NSW Premier’s History Awards are announced

Australian history: Mark McKenna (University of Sydney). From the edge: Australia’s lost histories (MUP),

general history: Sandra Wilson (Murdoch U), Robert Cribb (ANU), Beatrice Trefalt, (Monash U) and Dean Aszkielowicz  (Murdoch U) Japanese war criminals (Columbia UP),

community and regional history: Peter Hobbins, (University of Sydney), Ursula K Frederick (ANU) and Anne Clarke, (University of Sydney) Stories from the sandstone: quarantine inscriptions from Australia’s immigrant past (Arbon Publishing),

young people’s history: Christobel Mattingley, (independent author) Maralinga’s long shadow(Allen and Unwin),

multimedia history, Adam Clulow, (Monash U) The Amboyna conspiracy trial (Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media)

The Council for the Humanities Arts, and Social Science has announced the long-list for its Australia Book Prize Marco Duranti (University of Sydney), Conservative Human Rights Revolution (OUP). Tom Griffiths (ANU), The Art of Time Travel: Historians and Their Craft, (Black Inc). Kim Mahood (ANU), Position Doubtful: Mapping Landscapes and Memories, (Scribe). Mark McKenna (University of Sydney), From the Edge: Australia’s Lost Histories, (MUP). John Murphy (University of Melbourne), Evatt: A life, (New South Publishing). Elizabeth Tynan (James Cook University) Atomic Thunder: The Maralinga Story (New South Publishing)