Really useful research

If the Engagement and Impact metric was to survive at the Australian Research Council, Uni SA has a project that will really rate for service

It’s Taking Stock, an on-line resource, “for rural communities and farmer well-being.” It comes from a research project by Lia Bryant and colleagues, on strategies to prevent suicide among men in farming.

In Features this morning

There’s more in the Mail

Merlin Crossley (UNSW) on when managing fast works but why people like to take time.

plus Nicholas Fisk (UNSW) on reforming research integrity oversight – what Australia needs is a light touch – but with teeth, HERE 

with If the success rate for the to be announced MRFF early and mid-career fellowships is as bad as expected Adrian Barnett (QUT) wonders whether researchers should waste their time applying for the next round.

and Maree Meredith (Uni Canberra) calls on university communities to speak up on the Voice to Parliament. HERE

New Science Priorities: “benefits for all Australians”

In September, Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic promised “a national conversation that will inform development of the revitalised priorities and science statement,” (CMM September 28 2022). Chief Scientist Cathy Foley is on to it

There’s a paper on process and participation to, “identify what are the biggest national challenges are and what are the opportunities that we could seize.”

The final statement is scheduled for September.

“The priorities and the accompanying statement will provide the vision and direction for science in Australia. They will align efforts and investments in science to deliver social, economic, and environmental benefits for all Australians,” the paper, released by Mr Husic’s department, states.

Not, it is careful to make clear, that the priorities will, “identify all science and research that should be undertaken in Australia nor preclude investment in other areas, particularly for basic or blue-sky research.”

And universities have “autonomy to invest outside the priorities” via the flexible funding of research block grants.  (There is no mention of the ARC or NHMRC).

The new priorities will replace the 2015 one, developed when Ian Macfarlane was coalition Industry and Science Minister. But yesterday’s discussion paper states that since then, “much has changed,”  nominating the pandemic “accelerating” climate change and  “emerging technologies.” Nor did they “acknowledge or recognise First Nations science and knowledge systems appropriately.”

Good-o, but Mr Macfarlane’s view still seem relevant to present thinking on science as a national resources.

“Science is at the heart of industry policy, and we are investing in science and industry infrastructure to ensure that science and research are driving growth in productivity and competitiveness,” he said at Monash U (CMM May 8 2015).

WA inquiry into “structural change” for unis

The states VCs already know what they think

The state government announces an independent review, “to consider how structural change could strengthen the local university sector and delivery for students.”

why? Premier Mark McGowan and Education Minister Tony Buti point to a declining share of  Commonwealth research grants, “relatively” low enrolment growth and the state’s 5 per cent share of Australia’s international student revenue.

 “To attract world-leading academic staff and to gain a technological edge, universities need to be at the forefront of research and innovation. These all contribute to better learning outcomes, technological advances and greater student attraction”

yeah, but really why?: the idea that all would be well, or at least better, if some/all of the four public universities merged comes up in the west every 20 years or so. Most recently, WA Chief Scientist Peter Klinken raised it with a state parliament committee a couple of years back and it got a big run in  Perth’s paper, The West Australian (CMM September 20,21 and November 16 2021).

The idea is that a big uni would have the scale to really rate on research rankings, which would attract international students whose fees would fund more research, and so on.

but why now?: That SA Premier Peter Malinauskas has the same idea might have something to do it with – he campaigned on a merger at last year’s state election and Uni Adelaide and Uni South Australia got the message, (CMM December 9 2022). They are working on a merger prop, with a plan due mid-year and Commonwealth minister Jason Clare (who would undoubtedly have to stump up to help it happen) has made positive noises.

Will a big WA U  rate ?: As so sadly often, CMM has no clue but smarter people than he do. Nicholas Fisk and Daniel Owens (UNSW) suggest a merger in SA could give Adelaide University (the name is already agreed) a research ranking lift but point out that UWA already ranks higher than Uni Adelaide and Curtin U is above Uni SA (CMM, HERE) This may encourage merger boosters in WA to consider what a merger of their top-two could do.

Which still leaves the question: whether a research ranking lift will deliver the growth expected. Before anybody starts selling research reputations to international students they will have to explain where Perth and Adelaide are.

The people to answer it: The WA Government has hired top talent to advise, Sandra Harding (“lead reviewer” and ex VC James Cook U),  Peter Shergold (ex head of PM and C and recently retired chancellor of Western Sydney U), Ian Watt (also former secretary of PM and C) and John Williams, an executive dean at Uni Adelaide.

They are scheduled to report 2H ’23.

Reaction: Curtin U VC Harlene Hayne was quick to respond, with a statement that was short and to the point. She welcomed the review and the opportunity to, “detail Curtin’s successes across a range of activity.”

“Each WA university has its own unique value proposition and culture, and students benefit from the opportunity to choose the university that best fits their needs and interests,” she added.

Murdoch U VC Andrew Deeks made the same points, just in more words, stating, in part, that while the state government can review whatever it chooses, “WA students benefit from having diversity of choice, from which they can find a university that suits their character, circumstances, and ambition. This review is an opportunity to capture and consolidate the unique role each university plays and to enhance the productive cooperation that already exists between our universities.”

And Edith Cowan U’s Steve Chapman was of the same view, “the universities in Western Australia serve a diverse population, and it is our diversity that is one of our greatest strengths. We will ensure that this is acknowledged in the review.”

However UWA  VC Amit Chakma sounded relaxed and comfortable, “the University of Western Australia welcomes the State Government’s focus on WA’s higher education sector, in the interests of maximising education opportunities and the integral knowledge, expertise and research-driven contribution that our universities make to the State’s current and future society and economy. The University looks forward to engaging proactively and constructively with the review panel.”

ANU and Macquarie U to partner on access to each other’s courses

International undergraduates at one will be able to take a for-credit semester at the other

The exchange programme has exclusions, notably in medicine at both.

The offers build on a 2021 agreement to cooperate on international recruitment with MU looking to grow UG numbers and ANU expanding postgrads.

Plus, the two universities will offer 10 per cent off postgrad course costs  for all of each other’s alumni.

Ed Husic to do a Ben Chifley

The nation is in the mood for modern manufacturing heroes

The AFR’s Paul Smith  reports Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic complimenting Malcolm Turnbull for his innovation policy investment in quantum computing  

The minister is  right – like him, Mr Turnbull believed in science and technology to grow the economy.

But Mr Turnbull had a problem as PM, when science spruikers said “innovation” some voters heard “job losses”. The excellent ANU Poll reported in 2017 that 74 per cent of people with Year Ten education thought “technological change happens too fast to keep up with” (CMM April 20 2017).  And so Mr Turnbull reduced the rhetoric after his near-electoral death experience in 2016, when it became clear that as priorities went Medibank mattered more than NCRIS (CMM July 6 2016).

But what Mr Turnbull could not sell then, Mr Husic can now – due to the pandemic.

For a start, just as interruption of WWII supply chains made the case for car manufacturing then, risks to off-shore supply of drugs during Covid makes investment in R&D and manufacturing a straightforward sell now. And the way the Commonwealth spent up to keep the economy afloat during the virus-crisis increased Australians’ appetite for the big-spending state. Which is why Mr Husic’s National Reconstruction Fund will be popular, at least until the dud investments show up

Pics of Mr Husic standing next to a quantum computing device won’t have the impact of Ben Chifley in the first Holden, but the politics will work just the same.

Dolt of the day


Who yesterday got speculation wrong on the release of the Sheil Review of the ARC Act. It is submissions to the review that are about to be released – although the actual review can’t be that far away – it is due to government at end March.



Brendan Lyon is appointed first professor of practice at Uni Wollongong’s business and law faculty.

Alison Ross (now Monash U) is appointed ED, Humanities and Creative Arts at the Australian Research Council. She will join former Monash U colleague Christina Twomey who was appointed the ARC’s inaugural chief research officer, in December.