She’s got to get out more

“So excited to have the National Association of Steel-Framed Housing on board,” Uni Wollongong VC Patricia Davidson, via Twitter yesterday. The association has joined a UoW research hub.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Rowena HarperKatrina Strampel, and Ratna Selvaratnam on how Edith Cowan U used an institution-wide approach in professional learning to meet the COVID-19 teaching challenge. This week’s selection by Commissioning Editor Sally Kift for her series, Needed now in teaching and learning.

plus, Merlin Crossley (UNSW) on finding the excellent teachers universities need.

Greens act on research independence

Senator Faruqi proposes legislation to prevent political interference in funding decisions

It’s the Australian Research Council Amendment (Ensuring Research Independence Bill) which Senator Faruqi (Greens NSW) previously introduced in 2018 – the bill lapsed at the end of the previous parliament. But yesterday the Senate sent it to committee.

The Senate’s decision yesterday will be popular with critics of Acting Education Minister Stuart Robert vetoing six Discovery Grants approved by the Australian Research Council.

Mr Robert’s Christmas Eve decision that funding the HASS projects would not be in the national interest, started an uproar that continues across the research community-the Australian Council of Learned Academies has just deplored the minister’s move (CMM February 7).

Senator Faruqi made the case for the minister’s critics in her  second reading speech back in 2018,

“the reality is that it is entirely possible under the current system for the minister to reject a research grant, which has been approved by the ARC, on almost any ground including disagreement with the subject matter or even the political leanings of the researcher. It is not hard to imagine that if we continue down this road, any number of research areas could be vetoed. If the minister is a climate denier, defund all climate work. If the minister is a coal hugger, defund all renewables work. If the minister hates non-Western culture, bam there it goes.”

If the Education and Employment Legislation Committee now holds hearings before the election it will be an opportunity for Mr Roberts critics to make similar points.

But after the poll, perhaps not so much. Labor education shadow Tanya Plibersek says if she became minister she would be , “committed to approving all ARC grant applications that are recommended by a rigorous ARC peer review process and that meet the conditions set out in the call for applications” (CMM January 20).

“Immediate action” takes 12 months at Uni Adelaide

Last June the university adopted all 22 proposals in a consultant report to improve the way it dealt with reports of sexual assault and harassment, including establishing “an independent integrity unit” (CMM June 25 2021).

The unit, to help students and staff, is also “prioritised for immediate action” in the university’s present strategic plan update.

So how’s the prioritising going, CMM asked the university, which replied yesterday, “a broad-ranging programme of work has been underway to design the implementation of the report’s 22 recommendations, including the process to recruit a director for our Integrity Unit which is currently underway. We expect the unit to be operational by the end of quarter two, 2022.”

ARC to do more with more

The government’s University Research Action Plan includes three new fellowships

They will support 800 over ten years early career, mid-career and “laureate” fellows, “to develop cutting-edge innovations and apply their research to addressing industry challenges”.

The Australian Research Council reports it is working with the Department of Education, Skills and Employment to have fellowships ready by July but for now details, including on applications, “will be made available closer to the commencement date.”

As to funding, the ARC  says the fellowship schemes “will be supported through additional funding for the ARC’s flagship Linkage Programme.” As to how much, the plan specifies $296m for the fellows and 1800 industry PhDs.

But how “additional” is additional? “The funding is additional to the ARC’s current allocation … final allocation will be advised as part of the consultation process,” the council tells CMM.

NCRIS explains itself

Members break cover to explain what a great job it does

The National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy announces a consultant’s report which found that “based on economic theory and evidence from the time of the GFC to present, we can think of few approaches to providing additional stimulus to the Australian economy that are more cost effective than increasing investment in NCRIS.”

“The impact of NCRIS is clear, however the programme itself is not often centre stage.  It is time to shine a light on NCRIS,” which a member of the heavy-duty tech-kit consortium, the National Imaging Facility, duly does.

The last time CMM remembers NCRIS people being this public was in 2015 when then education minister Christopher Pyne suggested that NCRIS was a nice programme and  it would be shame if anything happened to it (CMM February 2, March 5 2015) and members appeared at a Senate Education References Committee hearing, explaining what important work their kit made possible. (CMM March 9 20125).

So why now?

It can’t be because of the Government’s new applied research strategy, – the plan for which says positive things about NCRIS.

Although, ministers made clear last year they wanted an applied research emphasis in the new NCRIS plan through to 2028-29 (CMM June 1 2021). And a survey of industry last year found that of the 30 per cent of responders who did not interact with NCRIS half did not know it exists (CMM November 22 2021).

Good for research: accessible ideas – and a lottery

Stirling Griff is keen on research and has improving ideas

In the Senate yesterday Senator Griff (Centre Alliance SA) welcomed the government’s new industry-linked funding. But applying for grants take so much time, “the government could significantly increase our research capacity by reforming the application process and progressor or by even introducing a lottery.”

And “too little” spent on basic research means, “there is nothing for industry research to draw on; and without making research outputs freely available, allowing new ideas to spread, the benefits are captured by one or two big corporates and don’t flow through to workers and the broader economy.”

Which jobs went in pandemic sackings

The early impact on university employment is now apparent, up to a point

Those speedy stats staffers at the Department of Education, Skills and Employment have provided March 2020 and 2021 FTE numbers.

Full-time employment, for the first time in reported data here (since 2012) was down 7 per cent on 2020 to 92 000 . Fractional FT jobs dropped by 6 per cent to 16 800.  As for casuals, there were 15 per cent fewer FTE positions – which is undoubtedly 100 per cent accurate but 100 per cent useless, at least for those interested in how many actual individuals went.

Professional staff took the hardest hit. FT and fractional FT numbers were down by 8 per cent to 61 900. Academic employment was down less by 4 per cent, except for Level B positions, which were 6 per cent lower.

But researchers were almost exempt with FTE jobs down by under 2 per cent, compared to teaching and research (- 5.7 per cent) and teaching only (- 6.1 per cent).

Appointments, achievements

The Australian Academy of Science announces its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Scientist awards, * Jordan Pitt (Uni Adelaide) * Tamara Riley (ANU) * Vanessa Sewell (UNE) * Keane Wheeler (Uni Queensland) Luke Williams (RMIT)

Keryn Chalmers (Swinburne U) is the in-coming president of the Australian Business Deans Council, replacing David Grant (Griffith U). Professor Chalmers has been ABDC’s treasurer since 2016.

Uni Wollongong announces four  new members of council  * Lisa Kervin is elected by academic staff * Katherine McConnell is the NSW Government’s appointment * Natalie Piucco represents graduates * Eve Steinke is elected by professional staff