Innovating officialdom

So what chance Chief Scientist Chubb’s plan for an innovation agency (CMM yesterday)? The CS ‘s STEM strategy proposes an Australian Innovation Board to oversee programs and distribute money. It’s an idea insiders say Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane likes, on the basis of an equivalent UK agency, which is generally considered a success. And with broadly defined innovation programs spread across 13 agencies there is a case that a new agency could reduce bureaucracy, although a new board hardly fits Mr Macfarlane’s rejection of a “government knows best” approach. As to empowering an innovation agency, that would take authority over money, say the $2.43bn in R&D tax concessions, plus university block grants. They are “the levers to force change” one policy watcher says. The problem for Mr Mcfarlane he only has his hands on the first, the second lever is Minister Pyne’s to pull.

Foursquare Fahey

John Fahey is the new chancellor of Australian Catholic University. Talk about taking the governance quadrella, first a premier (NSW) followed by federal finance minister (Howard Government) then head of an international organisation (global sport anti-doping agency) and now a university chancellor.

Inflated assumption

The Medical Research Future Fund is looking sick, with Health Minister Peter Dutton saying it will go ahead but be much smaller if the proposed Medicare co-payment contribution is knocked off in the Senate. (I wonder what the three other funding sources for it he alludes to are?) This all upsets the Medical Research Future Fund Action Group (CMM Tuesday), which argues, “our medical research spending lags many other western nations. Australia will fall behind if this funding gap is not addressed.” And it should know, the MRFF Action Group, “ comprises members from organisations representing all of Australia’s medical researchers.” Um, not quite. While it certainly speaks for medical schools and the research institutes, universities accounting for an estimated 10 per cent of National Health and Medical Research Council funding are not signatories. “You can only hope the action group’s research is generally of a higher level of precision,” one analyst suggests.

Meeting did not meet

The University of New South Wales yesterday cancelled its “town hall meeting” to discuss the Pyne package on just two hours notice. “We have been advised this morning by police and security that the meeting was being targeted by protest groups, which we understand were predominately external to UNSW. Our advice is that the intention was to disrupt the town hall,” acting vice chancellor Iain Martin told staff. It was a late, but unsurprising call. Last week’s meeting at the University of Sydney turned into a shouted denounce-a-thon, as much directed against VC Michael Spence as Christopher Pyne.

Admin accolades

The Association for Tertiary Education Management has announced its annual honours with the president’s award going to Joanne Austin, business faculty manager at Swinburne. The National Tertiary Education Union award for community engagement went to admin officer Jennifer Grew from medicine at UWS. Jessica Lightfoot, executive director, financial management at Monash received the award for managing money. The presentations were made at the association’s joint conference with the tertiary facilities managers, held in Cairns.

Optimism and opportunism

Chris Pyne will work with whatever he has got, demonstrated by his Question Time response yesterday to an inquiry on Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s commitment to voting against all of the deregulation legislation. Mr Pyne explained all the positives Labor presumably approves which would be lost by blocking the bill (more Future Fellows, money for NCRIS, funding for sub bachelor places and so on). But, he added that on Tuesday night Labor education spokesman Kim Carr, “let in a chink of light” by saying the Opposition could support parts of the package. Was the Opposition realising its responsibility to cooperate in the national interest, Mr Pyne asked, as the Coalition had with the Hawke-Keating governments and Kim Beazley led-Labor with John Howard. Nice try. All Senator Carr suggested is the government present procedural changes and routine funding increases for the Australian Research Council in separate legislation, which could pass parliament. And speaker after Labor speaker in the Reps yesterday made it plain there is no substantive deal to be done. Opposition members will do it again today. As to the agreed issues, word is Labor could present them as a private members bill, which would place the government in the hilarious position of having to find a reason to reject the unremarkable.

or a desperate hope

But is Mr Pyne setting a trap for Labor, encouraging it to dig in so that it will look irrelevant and recalcitrant if some on the Senate crossbench do a deal on deregulation? Yesterday there was much speculation of a change in the wind on help for low income students. The National Party is listening to the Regional Universities Network on helping bush students and there was talk yesterday that providing protection for low income people who want to study might sway Senate votes. But Kim Carr was not having any of it. “Look, I’ve heard this talk before. This is a government that constantly refers to these compromises. This is despite the fact that there have been written propositions put back to the government which highlight the fact that the crossbenchers are not supporting these measures. Now we’ll wait and see what the minister comes forward with but I don’t for a minute believe what the minister is saying about what people are prepared to compromise on,” he said. So that’s that. Not quite, because Senator Carr immediately added, “no matter what others do Labor is saying no to these propositions because they are morally bankrupt, they are rotten to the core.” “Opposition leader Bill Shorten spelt it out at the same doorstop, “do you really think the future of our universities should be sorted out in some late night deals with Clive Palmer? I don’t trust that.” But the government game plan does not involve winning Mr Shorten‘s trust. It all depends, as ever, on Mr Palmer and the PUP senators. Without them Mr Pyne has no trap to spring.

Celtic symmetry

Last night the former president of Ireland Mary McAleese accepted the offer of a University of South Australia honorary doctorate from its Irish VC David Lloyd. Good thing that he had already issued his challenges after doing the ice bucket thing last week.

Consulted into exhaustion

The long process required to restructure journalism courses at the University of Queensland continues. Back in June CMM reported a discussion paper made a case for combining the schools of Journalism and Communication and English, Media Studies and Art History, which were in the same faculty following the creation of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. Yesterday Executive Dean Tim Dunne formerly proposed disbanding the journalism school and moving all academic staff into EMSAH, with the key bachelor of journalism continuing. Four administration jobs, one of which is fixed term, and one vacant will go. The two existing manager posts will be replaced by a single position running the expanded school and it seems that the academic head of the School of English and etc will run the new show. The combined school will have a new, yet to be agreed, name to “one that is more concise and a better reflection of the new balance of disciplinary strengths” – that should give everybody something to debate for months. The proposal requires management endorsement but looks a textbook restructure, with Dean Dunne consulting everybody into agreement or exhaustoion.

Open access endorsed

The International Council of Science (152 NGO members) concluded its 31st general meeting in Auckland yesterday, with a strong position on open access.

“The mechanisms for achieving open access will vary by discipline, and for some fields of research there may be legitimate ethical or legal constraints on providing access to research data, and, in very limited cases, research findings themselves. However, openness should be the norm, which is deviated from only in clearly justified circumstances.”

A shot heard round the world it isn’t but it does put more pressure on the existing for-profit scholarly publishing model.