Putting science into politics

Science and Technology Australia announces its new STEM advisors for MPs

This is a great idea – providing science-curious politicians with access to a dedicated (as in available and committed) scientist, who brings, “their science expertise and networks to assist evidence-based policy-making.”

When the scheme started Labor members and senators predominated in putting their hands-up for help, with 16 from the ALP, two Libs and one Nat and an Independent (CMM May 3 2018, March 6 2020).

But not now, of the 17 scientists assigned to an office six will go to Labor, seven Liberal, one to a Nat, and two to Greens.

Margaret Shanafield (Flinders U) is assigned to Independent senator for South Australia, Rex Patrick. Dr Shanafield is a freshwater ecologist but CMM is sure she is across submarines.

This is a great way to ensure an independent source of science expertise in receptive political offices.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Merlin Crossley  likes podcasts that roll out weekly and create a sense of community  – maybe they could work for lectures.


 Michael Tomlinson explains how TEQSA came up with its proposed fees. Providers set to be slugged, can keep the costs down, he suggests, by ensuring everything is squeaky-clean. “Quality should not only be done, it should be seen to be done, viewed from the perspective of the external observer (TEQSA).

Jo Caldwell-Neilson (Deakin U) on eight essential elements of digital literacy. “Ultimately, it needs to be fit-for-purpose … it is a mind-set and an attitude, not just a skill set,” she argues. It’s Contributing Editor Sally’s Kift’s new selection for her CMM series, Needed now in teaching and learning.

Donald Wlodkowic (RMIT) on teaching in virtual labs. Simulation technology make it possible to teach students advanced techniques, “too dangerous or too expensive to implement on campus.”

Group of Eight’s right message in a terrible time

The Group of Eight has managed well the politics of the pandemic, demonstrated by yesterday’s statement on India

Despite taking huge hits from the loss of international students the Eight has not been seen to put members interests above the community always supporting government and only getting cross at bureaucratic confusion (CMM March 23).

Chief Executive Vicki Thomson was on-message yesterday, expressing sympathy with members’ (mainly PG) students, stating solidarity with partner research institutions in India and setting out how its research can help with the crisis.

Who knows what we need now in teaching and learning

The dozens of speakers at Sally Kift’s “Needed Now” conference, on in three weeks are CMM’s pick

But who could put five days of big ideas in context, setting out where higher education is and where it needs to be? That would be TEQSA Chief Commissioner Peter Coaldrake – who wraps the conference in conversation with Sally K. Details and bookings here.

Nothing exclusive about Uni Super

From July, the fund will let anybody open a personal account

Who knows why: anybody who relies on the fund’s explanation might struggle, “legislative changes and market disruption are just some of the factors making it more important than ever for funds to evolve.”

But bigger will be better: “Opening to a larger group will allow the fund to grow, which in turn will allow us to deliver to our members the benefits of increased scale.”

Which are: “Increased scale will also help to ensure we remain competitive in the wider market without compromising on the exceptional standard of products and services”

Good-o, but UniSuper’s is pretty big already. A market report put its assets in December at $85bn (fifth in the market)

But whatever the reason, chill: “While we will be welcoming a broader audience, we will continue to act in the best interests of all our members not just today, but tomorrow and well into the future.”

Dirk Mulder on international enrolments: really bad for business


February international commencing and enrolment stats were released earlier in the week – the bad news keeps coming

CMM looked at the top-line and VET results earlier this week and now a year into the pandemic it’s time for a deeper dive into where HE is suffering.

Bad for bized: “Business and Management” was the biggest loser over the past year. Nationwide enrolments are down 9,975 (17.6 per cent). NSW, down 3,777 and VIC down 3,625, bear the brunt of the loss. 74.2 percent of it.

Commencements are down nationally 3939 (45.1 per cent). With commencing numbers down so dramatically there is more pain to come as these lower starts work through the system. With “accounting” taking the second biggest hit business deans will need to find funding alternatives. Enrolments in accounting programmes are down 8,308 (33.5 per cent). NSW down 4,301 and VIC down 2,545 again take the pain, accruing 82.4 per cent of the national figure. Commencements are down 995 (53.8 per cent).

Awful for engineering and IT: The “Other Information Technology” narrow field of study is third worst overall, with a drop of 5,226 enrolments (down 30.9 per cent) NSW and VIC account for 84.3 per cent of the enrolment downturn. Commencements are down 772 (40.7 per cent). “Engineering and related technologies” is down 2,744 enrols (17.7 per cent). NSW and VIC account for 89.3 per cent of the enrolment downturn. Commencements are down 639 or (36.7 per cent).

Rounding out the terrible top five is “Other Engineering and related technologies”’ down 1,872 enrols (20.7 per cent), NSW and VIC account for 70.9 per cent of national enrolment decreases. Commencers down 751 (59.8 per cent).

Small wins: “Human welfare studies and Services” grew by 630 enrolments (up 15.3 per cent) but with commencements down 134 (12.4 per cent) the win is but temporary. “Economic and econometrics” is up 218 enrolments (5.6 per cent) but down 358 commencers (40.7 percent). Teacher education is up 152 enrolments (3 per cent) but down 246 commencers 920.5 per cent). It is a very similar story with the rest of the top ten enrolment growth fields of study with the exception of ‘Education’ which grew both enrolments and commencement numbers, from a very low base.

What it means: Is more pain to come, much more. If these commencement numbers continue in a negative 20-50 per cent range then post mid-year exits without new students to support the enrolment base the situation will become much, much worse.

CMM thinks being a dean of business, IT or engineering in NSW or Victoria will particularly hard yakka over the next 12 months.

Dirk Mulder is CMM’s international education correspondent.

Open access: it works best when enforced

The NHMRC is considering responses to its proposal to make research it funds way more open access. OA experts Danny Kingsley and Arthur Smith suggest improvements

Last month the National Health and Medical Research Council sought submissions on going immediate OA on publication. If publishers refuse the council suggested authors’ accepted manuscripts could be made available by named institutional repositories (CMM April 16).

Which is good, but Drs Kingsley and Smith (both ex Cambridge University’s Office of Scholarly Communication) suggest tighter wording to make intent impossible to ignore.

And they call for checks, which institutions could use to make sure OA actually occurs. “There is evidence that even ‘light touch’ compliance checking results in significant behavioural change,” they write. Especially if “there is a significant consequence for non-compliance,” – which could be tying grants to OA rules.

What the NHMRC decides matters. For a start, it would provide a base for Chief Scientist Cathy Foley to work with. Dr Foley says she is “closely considering” an OA strategy (CMM March 18). And whatever the NHMRC does will be hard for the Australian Research Council to ignore.

Unis not unis without academic freedom

The Commonwealth’s campus free speech law has not assured a professoriate group that academic method is protected

The Australian Association of University Professors warns there “are serious issues” with the government’s law. It wants a distinction between free speech and academic freedom And it wants academic staff to be able to contribute to public debate, not only in their fields of research and study.

The association points to Murdoch U suing staffer Gerd Schröeder Turk (the case did not get to court) over criticisms he made of university policies and James Cook U sacking scientist Peter Ridd, an outspoken critic of some research there. Dr Ridd’s case will be heard by the High Court in June.

“The importance of academic freedom cannot be overstated. Academic freedom is essential for the exercise of the academic method upon which the daily life of a university depends. In contrast, university management in the fulfilment of its subsidiary functions is not beholden to the academic method and thus cannot legitimately issue codes of conduct that limit academic freedom, the AAUP states.


Appointments, achievements

Of the day

 CSIRO’s Marine Data Analytics Team wins the Blue Marine Foundation’s 2021 Innovation Award for its low-cost tracking system which can detect “dark” fishing vessels at sea.

Michelle Eady (Uni Wollongong) is appointed Asia-Pacific VP of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

 Jolanda Jetten (Uni Qeensland, School of Psychology) is appointed a foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Bronwyn Myers is inaugural director of Curtin U’s enAble Institute (physical and mental health and “challenges of ageing.”  She moves from the South African Medical Research Council.

Of the week

David ‘Tarnda’ Copley becomes Indigenous Academic Advisor at La Trobe U’s Rural Health School. He joins from Flinders U,

Andrew Garnett (Uni Queensland) wine the inaugural Industry Legacy Award at the Surat Basin Energy Awards.

Karyn Kent (Study Adelaide) is appointed to a new Commonwealth-appointed panel to advise on recovery in the visitor economy.

Peter Liesch (Uni Queensland) is inducted as a fellow of the Academy of International Business

Andy Marks is the new CEO of the NUW Alliance (unis of Newcastle, New South Wales, Wollongong and Western Sydney U). He keeps his existing roles at Western Sydney U (Assistant VC and Director of the Centre for Western Sydney).

At Monash U Andrew MacIntyre becomes PVC and President (Indonesia). He joined M U from RMIT in 2019. The university has a long-term investment in Indonesia, expecting to start enrolling PG students at its local campus in October (CMM April 6).

Sam Robertson (Victoria U) is announced as a member of the AFL’s new Game Analysis Committee which will consider game data, “for the future of the competition.” Professor Robertson leads VU’s sports performance and business programme.

 Across the ditch, the Royal Society Te Apārangi has inducted its new fellows.  Honorary Fellows are, Penelope Brothers (ANU) and Ravendra Naidu (Uni Newcastle).

The NSW Government appoints Roberta Ryan (Uni Newcastle, professor of local government) Independent Community Commissioner, “to help address the concerns of landowners in the Western Sydney Aerotropolis.” (It’s where the new airport will be).