Plus Uni SA to partner UC London

Acronym applauded

Education Minister Christopher Pyne made positive noises about the REA yesterday,” CMM wrote on Friday, leading Paul Kniest from the National Tertiary Education Union to respond, “that is our national president Jeannie Rea, I presume! About time too me thinks!” Only a curmudgeon would suggest that perhaps the minister meant the proposed Research Engagement for Australia metric.


Business as usual

It seem Universities Australia has lost all hope in the Pyne deregulation plan. Chief executive Belinda Robinson reports to members that the board has “agreed that UA should work to position the sector in the lead up to the next election including through the development of a high-level, principles-based policy document in the form of ‘Advice to an incoming Government’ and a reference document on university and research funding.” Presumably as distinct from all the existing UA documents that already do this.

UCL allies with UniSA

University College London will maintain a South Australian strategy after it closes its Adelaide operation in 2017, through a teaching and research partnership in minerals, energy and advanced manufacturing with the University of South Australia, being announced this morning. The partnership will focus on research through UniSA’s new Future Industries Institute. According to Tanya Monro, UniSA DVC Research, the Institute signals a switch from research in mining and “traditional” manufacturing to “more efficient and sophisticated minerals processing, developments in biomaterials and new sensing technologies, and exploring new approaches to support sustainable future energy production and the protection and care of the environment.”

UCL will fund six five-year fellowships, with UniSA establishing a dozen. A minimum half dozen are reserved “for outstanding women researchers at early and mid-career levels.”

Research measurement debate hots up

The debate over how the government can encourage universities to undertake more applied research in cooperation with industry is hotting up. Last week the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering proposed a new Research Engagement for Australia metric, based on existing data collections (CMM Friday). This was widely supported, notably by supporters of the Australian Research Council’s citation based research measurement scheme Excellence for Research in Australia. The 2015 survey is about to commence and supporters fear a push for an entirely new measurement, notably the case study approach used in the UK, would challenge’s ERA’s credibility.

But this is exactly what is happening. The Innovative Research University group slammed the idea of an applied research metric, saying ATSE’s assumption that a qualitative measure of applied research is not feasible is incorrect. And now the IRU is going further, calling for a new study of industry linked applied research, to occur after the imminent ERA but before the following one and perhaps independent of the Australian Research Council.

“ERA’s reinforcement of traditional assessments of standing has been major. Industry driven research clearly has less standing in university culture than research that achieves great recognition amongst other researchers. Altering those priorities, without diminishing the importance of investigator led research, will not be easy, ” the IRU explains in a new paper released today.

ANU new 5

IRU calls for industry engagement

IRU also calls for universities to engage more with business. “It is important for universities to enable researchers to work with industry and for individuals to forge careers that move between academic and industry roles. There continues to be significant impediments for academics to transition to industry including the risks to defined benefit superannuation entitlements and long-service leave accrual. An effective means to maintain employment benefits across different employment bases is needed,” it announces in today’s paradigm shifting paper.

The IRU does not call for an end to existing funding programmes, “given Australia’s success in terms of producing high quality fundamental research.” However; “the real challenge is support for translating new ideas into commercially viable ventures through proof-of-concept development, making opportunities which are ready for more risk-averse businesses to invest in.”

It also advocates an industry emphasis in research funding;  “Government should continue to support industry research centres, such as the Cooperative Research Centres, to target important industry wide needs. Government should target research support to industry distinct from research for public and non-profit organisations with a commitment to expand programs for industry driven research over time in line with demand.

This is a major statement by the IRU, also recognised as such by Tim Dodd’s report in the AFR this morning. As such it challenges the ARC’s intellectual authority, which will appeal to universities with industry links that are not reflected in journal citations, such as the IRU’s members and the Australian Technology Network. The ATN has previously made a strong case for a case-study measure of research output.

Outrage at UWA

For the third time in the week UWA VC Paul Johnston fronted a campus meeting about the Lomborg appointment on Friday. Monday lunchtime he met students at a meeting convened by Student Guild president Lizzy O’Shea and its environment officer Jessica Cockerill and then in the afternoon faced student representatives at a university senate meeting and then on Friday he talked to a 150 staff in a packed lecture theatre. The university has agreed to a second meeting to accommodate staff who were turned away for want of space. The discussion was “robust” one observer says. It seems certain to stay that way.

Inviting criticism

“Have your say on the draft strategy for international education, Department of Education Secretary Lisa Paul invites. I wonder if she sent Four Corners and ICAC copies.

Hawking honoured

Stephen Hawking, at least a hologram of him (his fleshly form is in the UK) appeared live at a UNSW event live on Saturday. And then yesterday Professor Hawking and daughter Lucy received the university’s second annual Medal for Science Communication, established last year by UNSW’s media-astute dean of science Merlin Crossley. The first winner was geoscientist and TV presenter Iain Stewart (from Plymouth University).

Green for go

Macquarie University’s green paper on learning and teaching (CMM April 7) seems less about discussion than a done deal. The paper outlines an ambitious strategy to have staff use their research in teaching, students undertake research and for all undergraduates to take an employment placement. “Priority areas” for teaching and learning MU research grants now align with the green paper

Keeping the citers honest

Last September citation metrics mavens at a conference in Leiden came up with ten principles for citing papers. This might sound as entertaining as a musical comedy about league tables but while it would be a bugger to score, the way research publishing makes and breaks careers means the Leiden Manifesto really, really matters. “The problem is that evaluation is now led by the data rather than by judgement. Metrics have proliferated: usually well intentioned, not always well informed, often ill applied. We risk damaging the system with the very tools designed to improve it, as evaluation is increasingly implemented by organisations without knowledge of, or advice on, good practice and interpretation” Diana Hicks from Georgia Tech and colleagues write in Nature.

The principles include; (1) quantitative evaluation should support qualitative, expert assessment, (4) keep data collection and analytical processes open, transparent and simple, (8) avoid misplaced concreteness and false precision and (9) recognise the systemic effects of assessment and indicators.

Good stuff for sure – which ambitious scholars and research managers will already be working out how to game.

Praise on the cheap

The Australian Law Reform Commission is running a student essay competition; explain in 1000 words – “why is an ALRC good for Australia?” The prize is an internship at the commission. Did the ALRC fire its PR people and now needs some low cost creative?


QU caution

Queen’s University in Belfast is not top of mind at CMM, so the statement sent to the “it’s all terrible misunderstanding” desk on Friday was a mystery.

“Building on the statement from Queen’s University yesterday and contrary to widespread comment, the vice-chancellor, Professor Patrick Johnston wishes to reiterate his commitment to academic freedom saying: ‘Queen’s is, and will remain, a place where difficult issues can be discussed.’ In line with due process, the university has commissioned a full risk assessment to be completed. The report of this assessment is expected by Friday. The report will then inform the university’s decision,” the QU  announced. About what pray? Turns out the university cancelled a conference on the Charlie Hebdo massacre citing ‘security concerns’ which led to suggestions of censorship. Ye gods, if there is one place they know how to deal with security risks it is Ulster. It couldn’t be that management feared somebody saying something controversial, could it?