Ask the Donald

Ask the Donald

“Does reason trump emotion in consumers’ economic forecasts?” the ultra-learned Melbourne Institute promotes a new paper. Not while Fox News watchers have the US president to explain things.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning Bret Stephenson (La Trobe U) on ghost students – you better believe they are real. It’s a new essay in contributing editor Sally Kift’s series on what is needed now in teaching and learning.

Plus, Dirk Mulder and Gretchen Dobson’s first essay in a five-part series on making and staying friends with offshore alumni, here.

Research rankings “pernicious” say historians

A researcher association wants them gone

CMM’s “good luck with that” correspondent reports that the Australian Association for Study of Labour History has resolved to oppose universities, “issuing lists of approved and/or ranked journals for publication by academic staff members.”

“By imposing a pernicious system of punishments and rewards, such lists undermine academic freedom, imperil the future of many academic journals, and threaten the study of Australian history.”

Fair enough – but there is another less high-ground reason which could encourage DVC Rs to agree. The discipline went backwards in Excellence for Research in Australia 2018.  Overall 13 out of 28 unis were rated above/well above world standard – down from 17 in 2015. Three unis “above world standard” in ’15 dropped a grade in ’18. This occurred, learned readers advise, despite some departments hiring prolific and prestigious people in the hope their publications would improve rankings (CMM May 29).

Really big day

“It’s not too late to register for the events and create a healthier, more sustainable and equitable future,” Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, promotes its annual symposium, next Tuesday, via Twitter.  The event is themed, “Saving people and the planet: exiting the consumptagenic system.”  Jove, imagine what meeting biannually could accomplish.

Going local: the new way to announce research funding

Griffith U announced its three Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Research Award winners on Tuesday. But there wasn’t a word from the ARC

Cue head-explosion among DECRA applicants sweating on announcements at other universities.

So how come Griffith U got to go?: Turns out the government has a new arrangement, with local MPs (presumably Coalition ones or duty senators in the case of campuses in Opposition electorates) making good-news research announcements.

This makes political sense: Education Minister Dan Tehan, is keen to enlist his government colleagues in the cause of research. “If I can put a compelling case to my colleagues that we are absolutely instrumental in driving productivity in this nation for the next decade then I think that we can get the support that we need to grow the sector,” he told a meeting of vice chancellors in August, (CMM September 2).

In Griffith U’s case the Liberal member for Moncrieff, and Griffith U graduate, Angie Bell had the information, but if she has announced the awards CMM can’t find it – Minister Tehan issued a statement about the Griffith U grants lunch-time yesterday.

But what, CMM wonders, would happen in the hypothetical case of a grant for research on the environmental impact of fossil fuel to an academic in an electorate with a pro-coal local member?

And when do we get a complete list? When all announcements are made by the minister, or “government representative” the ARC advised yesterday.

It’s good that Griffith U’s DECRA winners are working in areas that MPs can sell as meeting the government’s national interest test;

Jamie Ranse: predicting emergency healthcare demand of mass community events

Chin Hong Ooi: cell culture in bio-manufacturing

Hoang Phuong Phan: nano-sensors for electronics in harsh physical environments

Laura Grogan: wildlife disease management

Quoc Viet Hung; ways for government and media to monitor fake news

Good-o Gaokao: improving Chinese student uni admissions 

Australian universities use China’s National College Entrance Exam (the Gaokao) for admissions – they can do it better

Helen Hong Yang and Alan Farley (both La Trobe Ucompared the Gaokao with the ATAR as a predictor of student performance in an Australian university’s business degree. This is no mean feat given the bewildering complexity inherent in accessing and analysing data for the two different measures, one a rank, the other an aggregate score, and in different languages and education cultures.

Overall, they conclude the evidence is against using an aggregate Gaokao score as a sole admission criteria for Australian universities. But if adjusted to address gender and to include the Gaokao’s English-language score its predictive power on student performance improves. They found;

* Gaokao scores as now used are much weaker predictors of first year undergraduate performance than ATARs

*  the English language component of the Gaokao has “greater explanatory power” than the aggregate

* women perform better in first year UG courses than men with the same Gaokao. It appears, women “are discriminated against or disadvantaged in the Gaokao process.”

This wold be difficult to do, as Hong Yang and Harley acknowledge. “It may be difficult to justify using gender to differentiate one admission pathway and not others but this approach is strongly supported by almost all research on Gaokao along with much of the research on ATAR,” they write. Bonus admission points for performance on the English language component and gender can make the Gaokoa almost the equal of the ATAR for locals.

“With appropriate selectiveness and adjustment, the study shows that Gaokao data can be used as a suitable measure for admission directly into degrees in western universities and hence if used appropriately would support the approach of Australia and Canada (and some other countries) provided the key additional factors are considered (gender and preferably Gaokao English),” Hong Yang and Farley propose.

The write stuff for students

Study support provider (and CMM advertiser) Studiosity is piloting a service to help students in the 90 per cent of cases where they don’t mean to cheat

It’s called Citation Assist and it is designed to assist students who are yet to get the rules of original academic writing.

The way it works is designed to point out the pitfalls to people before they break the rules. Students at participating institutions submit a draft to Studiosity’s writing feedback service, where it is scanned, using the university/college’s preferred programme. A Studiosity staffer then goes back to the student with feedback on any originality issues.

Which are few – only 5 per cent of work assessed has “large sections” of text that matches an on-line source and 3 per cent do not identify direct quotes.

Small per centages but big problems avoided – if students take-on the advice that’s academic integrity charges that are never laid.

The biggest issues in the 492 000 referencing errors identified in the pilot to date are inconsistent in-text citations and referencing.

The exercise identifies science students as most in need of help in learning how to reference.

The pilot is underway at 21 Australian universities, plus another 70 or so institutions, including trainers, pathway providers and UK and NZ unis. It runs to year-end.

Appointments, achievements

Academic integrity expert Tracey Bretag moves up to full professor at the University of South Australia.


Curtin U announces its 2019 professional staff individual and team service awards

Reconciliation: Sue Aldenton (Information Management and Archives). Carrolup Exhibition and Engagement –John Curtin Gallery.

Collaboration: Rebecca Shillington (Media, Creative Arts and Social Inquiry). Exchange Transaction Team.

Service: Malcolm Perry (Marine Science and Technology). Science and Engineering Faculty Librarians.

Continuous Improvement:  Rachel Darovic (International Admissions). Examinations and Progression Management.

Leadership: Tej Kalyan (Student Systems and Business Support). Science and Engineering Technical Operations Managers


Nicolette Lee is acting PVC – Educational Transformation at La Trobe U. She had something to say about the subject in CMM (July 13)