In 2021 government will spend $2bn less on unis with the impact on Commonwealth Grants to continue via a lower indexation base

plus the free speech  case against keeping things simple at UoQ

Western Sydney U agrees to pick up the bargaining pace

and Labor’s innovation agenda : silicon paddocks as well an inner-city laneways


Hitting the ground running

The University of Queensland wins big in the new round of Linkage Grants, with staff picking up four of ten. Macquarie U won two and Griffith, QUT, Edith Cowan and Curtin universities one each. Some of the projects CMM understands are Ricardo Mancera’s Curtin research into cryopreservation of Australian rainforest species. Griffith’s Huijun Zhao’s work on energy efficient windows and the project from Luke Kelly (UoQ) and four colleagues which has funding from running shoe maker Asics to investigate whether runners “help or hinder the natural spring-like function of the foot.” Research that will really rate on the ARC’s new impact measure.

WSU management gets the message

Union members at Western Sydney U have instructed their bargaining team to focus on working conditions and the extension of 17 per cent superannuation for all staff in negotiations with management for a new enterprise agreement. This is likely driven by the expected imminent announcement of the Project Essex restructure. The union rank and file are also exercised by the “unprecedented range of deletions of rights and entitlements’ management proposes,” while ignoring what worries them. But it seems the university got the message about the pace of negotiations when NTEU members instructed officers to start the process towards taking protected industrial action. The university has offered additional meetings.

Wyn winns

The University of Melbourne has named Johanna Wyn from the Graduate School of Education a Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor.


Fame Lab winner

The winner of the British Council in Australia’s Fame Lab is UTS microbiologist Nural Cokcetin who used her allotted three minutes to explain the antimicrobial and prebiotic properties of honey. She won both the judges and audience prizes and is now in the world final, at the Cheltenham Science Festival in the UK in June.

Higher educ mental health

James Cook U will host the first Australasian conference on mental health in higher education, June 30-July 1.

Tougher than it looked.

That not much negative is expected for higher education in tomorrow night’s budget is now widely considered a good thing given last week’s funding announcement from Education Minister Simon Birmingham is starting to appear tougher than it originally looked.

Universities will take a $2bn plus hit to revenue by 2021 according to an expert analysis of the funding changes. In his speech announcing the cuts last week Senator Birmingham focused on the 2.5 per cent efficiency dividend on CGS payments in each of 2018 and 2019. This is worth around $1bn by 2021. However these savings are separate to a further reduction in the CGS to offset the gain to universities from the 7.5% increase in student fees. This will save the Commonwealth an additional cumulative total of close to $1bn by 2021.  The aftershock of the CGS reductions will roll on, so that indexation increases from 2021 will be on based on the lower Commonwealth Grant Scheme base. As one analyst points out, although this is still half the cut proposed by Chris Pyne, he also promised university fee flexibility with potential to more than offset the loss of CGS.

New arts dean

Monash U has appointed one its own dean of arts, criminology professor, Sharon Pickering. A 14-year veteran of the university, Professor Pickering is now head of the school of social sciences. Her research focuses on gender and human rights of refugees.

Innovation isn’t an easy sell

Innovation must be about “sharing the economic uplift instead of dividing a small number of winners extracting their gains from the many who think they’ve been exploited in the process,” according to shadow treasurer Chris Bowen, speaking at a Friday tech conference.

Selling innovation isn’t easy – just ask the prime minister who discovered at the last election older and under-skilled voters did not share his enthusiasm for transformative technology. It’s also a hard sell for Labor, which maybe why Opposition Leader Bill Shorten talks more about schools and TAFE than universities and science. But Labor research spokesman Kim Carr is always game to have a go and so is Mr Bowen who did his best on Friday to bolt innovation onto a speech about protecting people from its effects. “A proper approach to innovation is about entrepreneurialism, but not just about entrepreneurialism. It’s about existing firms as well as new ones. It’s about manufacturing as well as services. It’s about rural and regional Australia just as much as it is about cities.”

What it wasn’t about in Mr Bowen’s address was resources to keep Australia up in the R&D race. Certainly, he talked about the role of regional ‘silicon paddocks’ so that “innovation won’t emerge exclusively out of the laneways of our inner cities” and of Labor’s proposal for “20 new accelerators partnering with a regional university or TAFE, local governments and a local business chamber.” But he added that innovation isn’t all about apps, that there has to be support for “hard technology startups” with “positive spillovers to all industries, including our current manufacturing base.”

But there is one big innovation issue Mr Bowen, like the government, isn’t talking about, his party’s position on the proposed $2m cap on the R&D tax concessions. This could be because that although he is enthusiastic about innovation he is also the shadow treasurer. It will be interesting to see what he says if there is/is not an announcement on the cap in tomorrow night’s budget.


MBA of the day

The (UK) Financial Times ranking of MBAs in finance is out and the only Australian in is the Melbourne Business School at 49th of 50.

Can the good times roll on

US economist Robert Gordon argues the industrial revolution and the productivity push it created were a one-off and that the world is now returning to the millennia-old norms of low/no economic growth. Scary stuff, but Monash economist Jakob Marsden suggests we don’t know enough about the drivers of growth over the last two centuries to determine whether the great expansion is all over. He will set out his  ideas using data on fertility, institutions, monetary regimes, financial development, mortality, income inequality, the gender wage gap and sectoral compositions at the ANU’s Research School of Economics on Wednesday.


Case against keeping it simple

It seems neither management nor union is spoiling for a big enterprise bargaining blue at the University of Queensland but an apparently innocuous request could be the making of one. According to the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union management came to the first bargaining meeting saying it wanted a simplified agreement. At some universities, this is code for a clause ruling-out shackling staff to desks (except when necessary) but otherwise making no other mention of working conditions.  However, the UoQ team want to discuss clauses covering health and safety, equal opportunity, staff appraisal and some others.

Sounds innocuous but the union is not sure, saying while it is all in favour of keeping things simple it wants to see the detail. Understandably so, it is hard to see what management would want to change in, for example, the existing freedom to comment clause, which specifies staff can speak on issues as individuals but must not harass, vilify or demean views expressed by others. Unless of course the university has something in mind for 24.2 (a) which states; “Intellectual freedom includes the rights of all staff to: hold and express opinions about the operations of the university and higher education policy more generally.” This is a right UoQ staff who remember the circumstances surrounding the 2011 resignation of then VC Paul Greenfield would not like to see restricted. As the union  put it then; “it is worth emphasising a principle to which NTEU members are deeply attached: a university is a community, comprising leading scholars and highly dedicated professional staff, and of course our students. The University of Queensland consists of several thousand highly-qualified, dedicated and hard-working (often too hard-working) staff. It is to this body of staff that the university owes its distinguished reputation, and it is this body of staff who will continue to make the university a great place of teaching, learning and research.”