Features

What, little us?

Science and Technology Australia welcomes the announcement today of a science and technology council,” STA greets news (scroll down), yesterday.  “We urge the government to include independent voices on the council, “ STA adds. Anybody in mind? Well there’s “STA – Australia’s most democratically representative organisation,” STA modestly tweeted.

A really good news story

Philanthropist Judith Neilson announces $100m to establish a Sydney-based centre for “journalism and ideas.” Yes, $100m, to “celebrate and encourage quality journalism in Australia and the world through education and grants and by hosting lively events on the big issues of the day.”
Early priorities will include reporting on Asia, and journalists engaging with peers in the region.

The Judith Neilson Institute will be based in the hipster homeland of Chippendale, across the road from UTS, where there is journalism school which might be happy to help.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features today, ICT expert Hugh Bradlow casts a quizzical gaze over the latest tech developments

Feds big tick for TEQSA

The government has accepted almost all recommendations of the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency review, commissioned from consultants Deloitte during the War of the Bavarian Succession (well 2015 seems like 240 years ago in politics).

The review’s success is due in to the fine-tuning elements of most proposals, dealing with operational issues emerging over the last two centuries. However, the government is also at pains to make it plain that the agency is operating appropriately. “The government considers that TEQSA has matured both as an organisation and as a regulator. … This is demonstrated through a more risk-based, proportionate and stakeholder focused regulatory approach.” Compared to what? Perhaps the way the agency was operating before the 2013 Lee Dow – Braithwaite review (CMM August 6 2013.

Recommendations not accepted are: a reduction of a quorum for decisions without commissioner meetings, and two recommendations for review process, which TEQSA decided it did not need.

Enough with the ATAR already says Greg Craven

Greg Craven was wearing two hats to one purpose when he defended teacher education in a Canberra speech on Tuesday.

Hat One was as VC of the Australian Catholic U, which has 7500 teacher education students. Hat Two was that of chair of the teacher education ministerial advisory group, which reported in 2015, to then minister Chris Pyne.

His purpose was to warn that arguments for escalated ATARs for teaching courses take attention away from the already in-place answer to the teacher quality question.

For a start, the ATAR is not the selection basis for 75 per cent of teacher education entrants, he said. And it has sod-all to do with what initial teacher education graduates can do when they complete their degrees.

But the TEMAG reforms do. TEMAG did not let education faculties off lightly, in fact it demanded change on 20 or so issues ( CMM February 13 2015), notably teaching graduates having to pass performance tests before they can be registered for classrooms. And three years on TEMAG’s work is rolling out.

“The ‘solution’ to the ‘problem’ of teaching quality has already been found. It is being implemented. Our job now is to keep pushing, to ensure that everyone involved meets their commitments, in full and on time,” Professor Craven said.

Pay to read rankings

UK business media reports Macquarie (bank, not university) is overseeing an auction of the Times Higher group – purveyors of news and rankings to the academic gentry. Sky News says stg 100m is a ballpark price. One bidder is said to be RelX, owner of journal publisher Elsevier. Good-o, but is the market ready for subscriber-only uni rankings?

Government revamps science advice

The federal government has sunk one science council and launched a new one.

The Commonwealth Science Council is no more, replaced yesterday by the National Science and Technology Council, which will, “create jobs and drive economic growth.”

The prime minister will chair the new council, with industry, science and technology minister Karen Andrews deputising. Chief Scientist Alan Finkel rows over from the old vessel of knowledge to continue as executive officer and CSIRO chief Larry Marshall is an ex officio member. Additional members will be “up to six scientific experts.” Word is that they will all be your actual scientists, rather than industry-based experts who the government thinks are better placed on the complementary Innovation Science Australia Board.

Other people who have a big interest in science and were on the old council are missing from the new one – the ministers for education and health, who between them manage a couple of billion in annual outlays.

But not to worry, Chief Scientist Finkel says this is “a strengthened role for science in national decision-making.”  And Group of Eight CEO Vicki Thomson said she “looked forward to the new council providing strong oversight of Australia’s science and research system, including to ensure that investments were coordinated, strategic and carefully balanced to ensure appropriate weight across the spectrum from basic to applied science. “

The new body is expected to have four meetings a year, up from two on the old council.

Safe as houses

The University of Melbourne is partnering with an AMP infrastructure trust to expand student accommodation. The partners will refurb a Royal Parade site and construct a new building, funded by philanthropists Jane Hansen and Paul Little.

Perhaps AMP did not get the memo about Australian investors not liking student housing investment (CMM October 25).

Shorten’s pitch to science community

Days after the government released its national interest test for research applications, Labor has moved to position itself as the party of science. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says a government he leads will, “end the Liberals’ war on science, restore trust in scientists and put science back at the centre of government, by resetting the relationship between government and Australia’s science and research community.”

In a speech at the Academy of Science last night Mr Shorten committed to;

* commissioning former ANU VC and chief scientist Ian Chubb to lead a “once in a generation inquiry into the Commonwealth Government’s research system

* “reversing the decline in Australia’s R&D performance over the last five years”

* establishing a charter setting out government and scientists respective responsibilities

* creating a PM council for science and innovation to replace the existing government’s advisory body (which the government replaced today)

* legislating “an Australian interpretation of the Haldane principle,” – “that politicians should not pick and choose individual research projects based on political whim. Ministers will also be required to explain to parliament a rejection of an ARC funding recommendation”.

This is a strategy for Labor to engage with the research establishment. Professor Chubb will be assisted by, Christobel Saunders (UWA) Emma Johnston (UNSW), Karen Hussey (UoQ), Glyn Davis (ex UniMelbourne VC) and Phil Clark (JP Morgan Advisory Council and leader of the 2015 research infrastructure review).

Mr Shorten also shares some commitments with the Academy of Science. On Sunday, it called for an increase in R&D spending to 3 per cent of GDP over ten years and a science-government charter, “built on trust, respect, and mutual obligation.”

PM announces VET review

The prime minister announced a review of the vocational education and training system last night, at a Canberra business dinner. The brief was not released but with a March reporting date the intention is clear – claw back Labor’s advantage in training. The Opposition is committed to a comprehensive post-compulsory education review once in government and has run hard for years on funding TAFE. The coalition’s review will give Scott Morrison time to make funding promises before the election.

Appointments, achievements

Rongyu Li is conformed as DVC external engagement at the University of Queensland. He has acted in the role since March. He joined UoQ as PVC future students in January, moving from the University of Canberra where he was DVC students and partnerships.

Chris Rudd is James Cook U’s new DVC for its Singapore campus. Professor Rudd will join from the University of Nottingham, where he is provost of its Ningbo campus, in China.