No wonder Ed Byrne is off to London

Novel experience

Later this month Universities Australia will hold a workshop on the government’s proposed changes to the HELP loan scheme – at last, something all UA’s members  can agree on what they want done.

Optimistic all-over

University of Western Sydney VC Barney Glover says the fate of Minister Pyne’s package in the Senate will not be known for months but in the meantime the university is pushing on with its previous plans. The university council has agreed to continue planning for a major development in the Parramatta CBD, with a final decision in “the next couple of months.” As for any idea of changing direction in the face of deregulation, Professor Glover told staff yesterday that council is briefed “on the importance of building research funding from business and non-government sources.” For all the talk of deregulation encouraging universities to compete in new directions UWS shows no sign of switching from the generational strategy of teaching plus expanding research.

Tassie times are a’changing

So what’s about to go down at the University of Tasmania? The university has issued a media alert for 10am when Vice Chancellor Peter Rathjen and Chancellor Michael Field will make a “significant announcement about senior leadership.” Two guesses about who it involves.

Timetable clash

The NSW Deans of Education conference starts today at Southern Cross University in Lismore, as the Office for Learning and Teaching symposium rolls on in Sydney. Bad bit of timing or do people in the two silos think what they do is that different? The OLT conference theme is “learning and teaching for our times” and was opened by Andrew Norton, who spoke on the impact of deregulation and suggested that non-university/private providers can deliver good teaching. This did not go down well with everybody in the audience, although one TAFE representative spoke up in support. There is also said to have been tension between casuals, “the teaching slaves” as somebody said, and people who do not have to worry whether they will work next semester and if they do how they will find time to work on their thesis. Otherwise the day was spent with specialists talking to each other on subjects that would certainly interest people who are at the deans’ meet. The teacher education meeting will focus on NSW experience and requirements, with the state school system well represented. There is no mention in the program of Minister Piccoli’s plan for literacy and numeracy test for teacher education students before they take their last pracs – but I’m guessing it will come up.

Inconsequential innovation

Swinburne is inviting tenders for “human resources services,” including recruitment of executives and academics and (ominously) “the provision of outplacement services.” I wondered whether this is a first step to outsourcing all of HR but the university assures me it is just refreshing its list of preferred suppliers of services outsourced for years. “No current internal processes or tasks are being outsourced,” a spokesman said.

Interminable innovation

CRC Association chief Tony Peacock is upset with the government’s discussion paper on the proposed Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Programme, basically because it looks like the decisions are already made and it is merely less of the same, $845m less to be precise. He also isn’t happy with the plan’s reliance on advisors to link academics with industry. “Australia has a chronic problem of our businesses and researchers working in different circles and we should be working more on the overall culture, in my view. I have real trouble seeing how government funding of business advisers is the answer to that problem,” Mr Peacock argues. The irritation is understandable coming from a bloke whose members stay in business by connecting researchers to industry. But the connections are not always as easily made. Here’s how the feds explain why entrepreneurs need help; “too many businesses may not fully understand the value of research, or how to engage a researcher, where they start, who they talk to, or how to negotiate agreements. It’s generally not as simple as picking up the phone.” Why not? Why can’t university technology transfer offices chase business while the research administrators organise ERA metrics. Rhetorical question really, answered by last week’s report from the Australian Council of Learned Academies, “The role of science and technology in lifting Australia’s productivity,” which explains why research partnerships are essential, details why they aren’t occurring enough and calls for more government supported programs. As for university staff, there is a long explanation of why TTOs find collaboration difficult to organise, rather than suggestions that they lift their games. No wonder Mr Peacock sounds irritated. The recommendations of the imminent review of the cooperative research centres will be interesting.

Gold digger

There was a bunch of media comment yesterday on the feds plan to raid inactive bank accounst which maybe did not make it the best occasion for Tony Peacock, to point to research into, “smarter ways to tap into deposits.” It’s about mining.

They should have asked Ed

Outgoing Monash Vice Chancellor Ed Byrne (he’s off to run King’s College London) was quick off the mark, first in fact, with a personal submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Economics’ inquiry into the innovation system. He includes practical proposals that don’t leave universities waiting for consultants to explain to business what researchers do. Yes, he suggests government needs to help attract basic research from international companies plus encourage start-ups. But he also argues for new approaches, like the German Feldenkrais model which, “involves one university with great strength in a particular area partnering with a particular company around a targeted series of objectives” and the UK Catapult programs, “these involve a small number of initiatives drawing together a capacity across a range of universities and endeavouring to capture much of national capacity in given areas and partnering with a range of industrial partners around really broad themes.” Short and to the point, which makes a nice change.

Exit array

Yesterday Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane was spruiking the strengths of Australian radio telescope technology for use in the Square Kilometre Array, just as news was filtering out that Germany is leaving the project. The official SKA line is the agency “understands” the German decision is “driven by difficult national financial circumstances” and does not “reflect a lack of confidence,” in the project. Who knows? But for the Germans, the Germans! to decide they can’t afford a project is not a good sign. I wonder if the SKA decision to locate most of the satellite dishes that make up the array in southern Africa rather than Western Australia is relevant to the decision.