They’re not going on a summer holiday

The Cliff Richard Grinch Christmas award goes to UNSW, which has extended consultation on the proposed new research and teaching quantitative benchmarks (CMM November 19) from November 30 – to January 9.

Australia’s Athena SWANs soar

The first group of Australian institutions to be accredited by the Athena SWAN programme was announced last night. The UK originated scheme addresses gender equity at universities. The local Sciences in Australia Gender Equity is a partnership of the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering.

The institutions accredited are; ANSTO, Baker HDI, Charles Sturt U, CSIRO, Curtin U, Edith Cowan U, Griffith U, Monash U, Swinburne U,QUT, UNSW, Uni Newcastle,

UTS, Uni Wollongong, Walter and Eliza Hall.

A second group of institutions will complete accreditation next year.


 Demand driven off Labor’s platform

The draft Labor Party platform is out and what a whimsical tract it isn’t. But it is terrific for training, mentioned 150 times, plus 27 references to TAFE. Higher education, not so much (19 references) with universities in general referred to 37 times.

But what is not mentioned at all is demand driven funding. Certainly Labor’s leader and deputy, Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek, are on the record that the party will reinstate it in government, but the platform to go to national conference next week does not mention it. As Stewie Griffen puts it, CMM’s just saying.

Three way preference race for top Sydney unis

Universities used to promote their undergrad applications hard, spinning the stats to show that each was more popular with the sorts of students it wanted to enrol. Not so much now that direct entry schemes have reduced the role of admissions centres but there will be marketing directors in Sydney this morning looking for the best angle on new first preference figures.

The Universities Admission Centre reports there is nothing between the big three on first preferences, with the University of Sydney having 16.29 per cent (up from 15.54 per cent last year), UNSW 16.23 per cent (up from 15.71 per cent this time in 2017) and UTS at 14.73 per cent compared to 14.71 per cent.

Of course, things might change when ATARs are out – there’s always space for spin.

Geoff Prince on saving maths education: “think long-term and don’t blink”

Geoff Prince is retiring from the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute. CMM asked him for farewell thoughts.

What have I learnt after nine years leading the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute?

Mainly things that in hindsight were bleedingly obvious.

For example, getting maths prerequisites reinstated for science, engineering and commerce degrees will be contested by universities because so many enrolments depend on their absence.

That reversing our acute out-of-field teaching problem in secondary school maths will take unprecedented cooperation between the states, the Commonwealth, teacher unions and universities – code for unprecedented political leadership!

But I did know that both these structural flaws had been driving down Year 12 participation in intermediate and advanced maths participation for more than 20 years.

In other words, I have learnt that structural change is hard, will take a long time and require many advocates.

Of course, I also knew that female adult numeracy is considerably lower than that of males, unlike literacy, and that this would take generations to change. I did not realise early enough the connection between this and the fact that our children are relatively more literate than numerate.

If I had, we probably would have concentrated on mothers more in our public outreach.

How does this square against the various high profile STEM and Women in STEM campaigns that are out there, including AMSI’s own? Are they directed toward structural change? Will they achieve it? Another thing that I’ve learnt is that these campaigns get us a seat at the table to discuss structural change. Combined with AMSI’s well-founded reputation as the supplier of evidence and analysis, this public outreach has put the critical issues on the national agenda. And enlisted the strong support of chief scientists and the peak scientific and business bodies.

But most importantly, I have learnt  we have to persist long-term with public awareness and advocacy if we are to achieve structural change.

In the 1980’s the “Maths Multiples Your Choices” campaign turned around low female participation in Year 12 maths. But then it stopped – big mistake. It addressed a structural issue that needed 10 years effort, not three.

My advice to our STEM leadership – think long term and don’t blink.

© Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute 2018

Skills to stop plagiariasm

Study support provider (and CMM advertiser) Studiosity commissioned a survey of student attitudes to plagiarism to find that 40 per cent of those from non English-speaking backgrounds are more tolerant of cheating than native English speakers (11 per cent). Student attitudes are broadly similar in the UK and ANZ, although 25 per cent of the sample in Britain thought people did not care about plagiarism, compared to 17 per cent here and in NZ.

The report also finds that international students who use a support service are more confident in the quality of their work, have a higher intolerance of plagiarism and believe they have the skills to avoid it. Many international students arrive in Australia with very different understandings of what ‘academic integrity and honesty’ mean, and it’s imperative that universities that enrol them recognise this and take necessary steps to ensure they understand how to appropriately cite, reference, and attribute,” Studiosity CEO Michael Larsen says.

Achievements: including Macquarie U’s top staff awards

Awards season rolls on, with Macquarie University announcing the vice chancellor’s Learning and Teaching awards. Major hons go to; Teaching Excellence, Penny Van Bergen (Human Sciences), Enhance Learning, Human Anatomy Program – Goran StrkaljAnneliese Hulme, Richard Appleyard, Mirjana Strkalj and Michael Rampe. Excel Skills for Business – Yvonne Breyer, Nicole Bull, Phil Goody, Prashan Karunaratne, Tim Keighley and Nathan Sollars.


 Brian Castro (University of Adelaide) has won the poetry prize in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. John Edwards (Curtin U, adjunct professor) won the history category for the first volume of his John Curtin’s War.

ANU chancellor calls for “push-back” against intrusions on uni autonomy  

ANU is holding a conference on free speech at universities, perhaps to practise the lines it will use if Education Minister Dan Tehan decides the government needs to ensure people with unpopular opinions get a hearing on campuses.

On Tuesday night new ANU fellow Glyn Davis explained the real problems universities face, none of which includes protecting free-speech (CMM yesterday). And yesterday the university’s chancellor, Gareth Evans , extended his robust October endorsement of “the traditional idea of the university as the home of free speech, of the clash of ideas, of unconstrained argument and debate,” (CMM October 4).

Universities know how to foster debate and pursue ideas and should be left to do it, he said yesterday. In particular, “it is critical that we push back against, and demand absolutely, rock-solid justifications for, anything which intrudes on our traditional autonomy, above all on our capacity to support and encourage those aspects of both research and teaching that go the very essence of what it is to be a university,” Professor Evans added.

“We have to make, unashamedly, the case for doing the blue-sky research that universities have always done, research for research’s sake, and research where even the potential for measurable real-world practical impact may be non-existent or, at best far distant, which may well be largely the case for humanities disciplines like history, philosophy, literature, classics, linguistics, art and music.”

CMM is sure  that if Mr Tehan wants to defend his idea for a ‘national interest” research test  for research at ANU he will be heard politely.