Plus Chris sticks to the research script and Spence steps up at G8

Get m0ving

Proposals for Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowships are now being accepted and you have until November 17 to submit. Don’t muck around, it will take most of that to get your head around the funding rules.

UniMelb water

Spence steps up

University of Sydney VC Michael Spence is the chair designate of the Group of Eight. Dr Spence will replace retiring ANU VC Ian “the gent” Young who will return to research at Swinburne U  in January.  “It’s a privilege as part of the Go8 to speak for Australia’s tradition of excellence, of innovation and creativity, in education and research. These institutions are crucial to Australia’s future,” Dr Spence says.

A parrot of a policy

What Education Minister Simon Birmingham said to Virginia Trioli, ABC News24 yesterday about fee deregulation. “I’m not going back to zero. We have legislation that’s still before the parliament, we have government policy that’s there, and that of course will form a benchmark for conversations. But (previous minister Christopher Pyne) was always clear that there had to be room to compromise, and that we had to be sensible about trying to get pragmatic outcomes. And that’s exactly the approach that I will be taking.”

What the senator meant: “This policy is no more. It’s kicked the bucket, shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleeding choir invisible. This is an ex policy”

ALP women leaders programme

No, this will not explain how to line up a Senate seat. It’s the Advanced Leadership Programme for women in education, run by private provider  the Australian School of Applied Management. Cost is $3800 but the National Excellence in School Leadership Initiative will pick up $3000 for approved applicants. (Nick Williams @ [email protected] is your man.)

ANU Sept 15

Eight upsets everybody 

The more restrained of the university lobbies ignored the Fairfax story (number 1000 in a series) yesterday about the Group of Eight wanting research training funds to be restricted to universities with world class research. Short of Education Minister Simon Birmingham deciding that he wants to start a brawl with all but eight universities it isn’t going to happen. But there was ample outrage from people who saw the Go8 argument as unfair and a breach of the convention that research funding should be progressively distributed from rich to poor. “A move like this is a cash grab from the sandstone universities that would entrench their position of privilege while compromising the ability of the majority of our other universities to compete for research funding,” the Greens higher education spokesman Senator Robert Simms said. Another way of looking at it, as the Eight’s Vicki Thomson told ABC Radio yesterday, is that spending public money where it will do most good is generally considered sound policy. Fair enough, but while the fight is about assumed fairness that isn’t going to fly.

Especially when smart people like Charles Sturt U VC Andrew Vann make the argument that the Grate, sorry Great Eight isn’t arguing on a level playing field. Here’s how he put that yesterday;

“There is already a disincentive for universities primarily concerned with the perceived prestige of rankings to produce applied research with practical benefit, or research that delivers a public good. That’s because the reporting and evaluation systems, including the ERA ratings, that the Group of Eight wants even greater attention paid to, are largely based on research publications and research income figures. That creates an aversion to taking research to the next step of intellectual property development because it risks limiting publication and other traditional measures of success.”

He has a point but the brutal truth for the 31 other universities is that however research output, and probably impact, is measured the Eight are in front. And the brutal truth for the Go8 is that they are not located in enough marginal seats to build a political constituency, in the way CSU, or outer urban Western Sydney U can.

So why doesn’t the Eight try another argument and use the strategy of indirect approach? Instead of hammering away at comparative research performance they could argue instead that society should honour and the government reward universities that are really good at teaching.  University of Adelaide VC Warren Bebbington made the case for teaching focused universities in a speech last year, pointing to the US tradition of elite colleges. Certainly VCs wbo measure institutional achievement by research output would hate it but the idea would appeal to taxpayers who measure university achievement by the quality of the courses their kids study.


Liquid lecture

The University of Sydney is in a shout with Raising the Bar, “a worldwide initiative aimed at making education a part of a city’s popular culture.” On October 20 academics will speak in watering holes around town. Most are sold out but there are still tickets for some, here . And CMM will certainly not make a cheap joke about needing a drink after listening to a lecture.

Chris sticks to the script

When CMM was a lad there was balance of payments crisis to which then prime minister Malcolm Fraser responded by urging everybody to jolly well pull their socks up and jolly well start exporting. To make his point he quoted the case of a manufacturer exporting television parts to Germany, not many it turned out when hacks checked.

There is a similar approach in Industry, Innovation and Science Minister Chris Pyne’s big speech this morning to the Australian Technology Network’s advanced manufacturing forum – with a list of Australian achievements but exhortations that we must do more.

But what is interesting is that Minister Pyne sticks to the script written by his predecessor Ian Macfarlane. There is the same emphasis on applied research, the same call for increased STEM study and standards and the same push for closer industry-university links. The nine science priorities are there as is a big wrap for the Cooperative Research Centres, although Mr Pyne makes it pretty clear that he expects CRCs to be a resource for the new Industry Growth Centres. There is also an assurance that CSIRO is “refocussing its commitment to build stronger connections with industry.” This mostly continues Mr Macfarlane’s work, and no, there is not a word about submarines.

Hail fellow thrice

The Australian Academy of Science reports that its fellow Scott Sloan fellow Scott Sloan is now also a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society. This, the academy reports with commendable understatement, “is rare.” Professor Sloan is Director of the Australian Research Council Centre for Excellence in Geotechnical Technical Science and Engineering at the University of Newcastle. He joins the RAE for his work on predicting load capacity of geostructures, such as dams and tunnels.


ANU Sep 15 3

Return the call damn it!

With programmes like Catapult the Brits are a bit of a beacon for industry-university collaboration. But from a UK perspective things don’t sound much different to here. According to Ben McLeod, writing for the London School of Economics, the biggest barrier for businesses wanting to collaborate with universities is finding the right partner. Apparently 75 per cent of firms only approach one university and presumably scarred by the experience give up if it does not work out. “Universities should be more proactive with reaching out to businesses whose technology bases and values align with those of their research capabilities,” he says.

Passage to Wellington

Indian media  report outrage among Melbourne students at Victoria University’s decision to retire academic Jay Shaw, who is 74. Professor Shaw, does not want to go and students want him to stay. Just not in Melbourne. The controversy is occurring at Victoria University of Wellington, across the Tasman Sea from Victoria University (of Victoria). This must drive the Kiwis nuts.