A suitable subject

Here is humanities-study Simon Birmingham will probably approve of. ANU offers undergraduates a for-credit trip to ANZAC battlefields at Gallipoli and the WWI Western Front.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning David Myton looks back at a very mixed week for the humanities.

La Trobe VC challenges ARC over research cancellation

LaTrobe VC John Dewar has challenged the Australian Research Council over the ministerial veto on research projects, uncovered by Labor’s Kim Carr in Senate Estimates. Former education minister Simon Birmingham cancelled a range of humanities grants, including one for an LT U academic.

In a message to staff, Professor Dewar and DVC R Keith Nugent condemn the minister’s action, writing they are, “greatly alarmed that a research application from one of our outstanding emerging academics, that was judged in a competitive process to be excellent by their academic peers has been rejected in this way.

However, they hold some of their ire for the ARC.

“More concerning, however, is the fact that the minister’s actions were concealed, both by the minister himself and by the ARC. The feedback to the applicant stated that the application was not highly ranked. This was untrue, and profoundly misled the university and researcher involved. … This is a deeply unsatisfactory state of affairs, that has the potential to undermine the ARC’s system of peer review.”

They add La Trobe U will, “press the government and the ARC for an adequate explanation of this sorry state of affairs.”

ARC chair Sue Thomas responded that, the decision on funding was the ministers to make and that he is not required to provide reasons for decisions. “The ARC cannot comment in matters regarding the minister’s decision but will investigate the feedback provided to these proposals.”

Scroll down for reaction and comment to the Birmingham veto controversy.

On the house

CMM’s irony correspondent reports giant for-profit publisher hosted an Open Access event, Friday in Amsterdam. There is no word if participants had to pay.

MOOCs of the morning: innovation at Uni Newcastle and UniWollongong

A year back the University of Newcastle cut some humanities courses, but said there was “no intention to downgrade the humanities,” ( CMM October 30 2107). UoN has certainly delivered, announcing a full BA next year via FutureLearn. The three-year course includes 24 programmes. Anybody interested needs to inquire to find out what it costs and what specific subjects are on offer.

With universities piling into the business masters market via MOOC providers this is an ambitious approach which assumes there is a general market for arts degrees that DE providers are not already reaching either alone, or via Open Universities Australia.

The University of Wollongong’s “The Power of Podcasting for Storytelling,” starts today, via Future LearnCreator and scholar of podcasts Siobhan McHugh and UoW graduate, Grace Stranger teach content and creation. “It might also be useful for people working in media and communications,” Future Learn understatedly announces.

Business as usual for Charles Sturt U mcomms course

It’s business as usual in marketing comms courses at Charles Sturt U with a team making the finals of the International Advertising Association’s national campaign challenge. CSU has been a competition winner 12 out of 13 times.  How do they do it, you ask. Lecturer Anne Llewellyn who has worked with CSU teams right through might have an idea.

Sydney beats Melbourne in new research ranking

Management will be instructing casual tutors to dance in the streets at the University of Sydney this morning, with news is has knocked off the University of Melbourne in a ranking.

UniSydney, comes in first in the country and 23rd in the world, ahead of UniMelbourne at 26th , in the new nations-edition of the academic performance league table produced by researchers at the Infomatics Institute of the Middle East Technological Institute, in Ankara.

The University Ranking by Academic Performance measures research performance on six sets of data, all extracted from InCites, which measures citation data from Web of Science. A learned reader wise in the wise of performance metrics, rates URAP, saying, “it measures research performance based on a finely tuned balance of volume and quality and has deleted the bottom 25 per cent of publications to emphasise the quality of research recorded.”

After the universities of Sydney and Melbourne the six other members of the Group of Eight follow; the University of Queensland is third in the country and 39th in the world, ahead of Monash U (46), UNSW (52). However, there is a big gap to the remaining three, none of which make the global top 100, UWA (107), ANU (129) and University of Adelaide (146). The last two in the national top ten are Curtin U at 249 and Griffith U at 279. While all publicly funded Australian universities appear, the last seven are out of the world top 1000; U Sunshine Coast, Charles Darwin U, Southern Cross U, CQU, Federation U, Notre Dame Australia and Bond U.

The new URAP ranking follows its June discipline table, which produced a similar result, UniSydney(26th in world), UniMelbourne (30), UniQueensland (40), Monash U (53), UNSW (60), UWA (106), ANU (130), UniAdelaide (157), Curtin U (272) and Griffith U (269) (CMM June 18).


Appointments, achievements

William Locke will become director of the University of Melbourne’s Centre for the Study of Higher Education in February. He will move from University College London where he is now director of the Centre for Higher Education Studies and deputy director of the Centre for Global Higher Education.  Dr Locke replaces Gregor Kennedy, who continues as the university’s PVC Teaching and Learning.

The PVC digital learning appointment QUT announced in May is filled. Kevin Ashford-Rowe, moves from Australian Catholic U.

UTS dean of arts and social sciences, Mary Spongberg is moving to Southern Cross U where she will be DVC Research.

Monash U is establishing a robotics research facility to be led by Dana Kulic. Professor Kulic will move from the University of Waterloo in January.

To observe government priorities, follow the funds

Learned readers wondered on the weekend where the $3.9bn allocated to the new drought future fund the prime minister announced Friday would come from, suggesting it could include the $3.8bn from the closed Education Investment Fund that the feds moved to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. No, the government has emptied another Labor hollow-log, the Building Australia Infrastructure Fund, demonstrating that present political need in the present trumps long-term planning. Despite demands from university lobbies the EIF is never coming back.

Outrage all over: higher education responds to vetoed ARC grants

There was uniform outrage at the Australian Research Council evidence at Senate Estimates that Simon Birmingham rejected approved humanities research grants. Universities whose researchers were vetoed spoke out, as did individuals and organisation across the HE spectrum. Here’s a cross-section;

Natasha Abrahams (Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations): “this is a sad day for Australia’s research community – including research students – as it has become apparent that the government values pushing its own agenda over innovation, intellectual robustness, and transparency.”

Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering: “the integrity of the research funding system relies on a robust, independent peer-review process. Such a process needs to be transparent and trusted by all who engage in the process of applying for grants.”

Alison Barnes (National Tertiary Education Union): “NTEU members and other researchers expect the minister to uphold the principles of academic freedom and to not directly interfere in the allocation of research grants. …  The NTEU is calling on the government to apologise to the affected researchers and immediately reverse their decision and fund these projects.”

Joy Damousi (Australian Academy of the Humanities): “The Australian research funding system is highly respected around the world for its rigour and integrity. … This interference damages Australia’s reputation on the world stage. Withdrawing funding by stealth threatens the survival of a strong humanities teaching and research sector, something no democratic society can do without.”

Mike Ewing (Australian Business Deans Council): “the intervention disregarded, and undermined the integrity of, a world-class peer-review process in favour of a politicised agenda. … Research outcomes based on merit and peer-review are the lifeblood of academic progress.”

Catriona Jackson (CEO, Universities Australia): “the current system is internationally-recognised as the best-practice process for awarding research grants. Political interference in funding decisions undermines the integrity of the system.”

John Shine (Australian Academy of Science): “Much of the value provided by research to policy makers and the public is due to its unbiased and independent nature and this should not be eroded.”

Colin Stirling (Flinders VC and chair, Innovative Research Unis): ““We have heard many calls in recent weeks for universities to defend intellectual freedom on campus. This includes the freedom for academics to pursue and express ideas without fear of political interference or retribution. It seems that we must redouble our efforts in defence of the humanities, arts and the social sciences.”

Vicki Thomson (CEO, Group of Eight): “this is a government that demands freedom of speech on campus but at the same time walks all over academic freedom; a government that, without transparency or explanation secretly vetoes some $4 million in research projects that have undergone a rigorous peer review process and have been judged worthy for recommendation to the minister by the ARC.”

Comment: Birmingham cancelled research – strike two in alienating universities

When conservatives want to make fun of scholarship they point to projects they don’t understand – remember Jamie Briggs? Perhaps Simon Birmingham did not want to do this, he certainly cancelled Australian Research Council grants quietly, may be because he knew outrage would ensure if he did it publicly, which is what occurred when Labor’s Kim Carr asked a question in Senate Estimates about vetoed grants.

But once ARC officers identified the universities where the projects were based that  Senator Birmingham stopped as education minister he went the full Jamie, “I‘m pretty sure most Australian taxpayers preferred their funding to be used for research other than spending $223,000 on projects like ‘post orientalist arts of the Strait of Gibraltar’.” Do you disagree, Kim Carr, would Labor simply say yes to anything?”

This is dumb. It makes Senator Birmingham look a Hansonite ranter, quick to assume research with a purpose not immediately obvious is irrelevant. This rarely works out well. One of the studies the senator stopped, “music heritage and cultural justice in the post-industrial legacy city” was to examine Elizabeth, in his home-state of South Australia and included the impact of the GM Holden plant closure there. Such prejudice is also selectively stupid – every year the ARC funds plenty of pure STEM research with purposes that only scientists understand, but politicians never complain.

What is dumber is that this is now a second strike against the government in higher education. The veto of ARC grants is insignificant compared to the effective end of the demand driven system, but it will add to the assumption on campuses across the country that the government is less indifferent and more actively hostile to education and research. Perhaps coalition strategists assume higher education is a lost electoral cause – if so, there are now two reasons why that will be self-fulfilling.