Lions of the lab

The Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes wants it known its members out-performed the sector as a whole for success rates in four of the new NHMRC grant categories, introduced last year. If there was an award for modesty in funding announcements it AAMRI would probably win that too.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning, Paul Farnhill (Curtin U) on equity in HE – it’s not happening as expected or intended. It is a new essay in Contributing Editor Sally Kift’s series on what we need now in higher education.

Plus Frank Larkins (Uni Melbourne) on how (really, really) exposed Group of Eight unis are to COVID-19.

And on Friday Merlin Crossley (UNSW) on the ideal PhD supervisor (and the six others).

Pandemic makes China student entry nothing but political

At yesterday’s COVID-19 briefing Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy was asked the regular question about allowing students into Australia from overseas. The context has changed

He said the committee of state and commonwealth medical officers was going to look at it.

But Professor Murphy added, “I think the feeling is that provinces outside of Hubei and China are seemingly more under control, but we have to be very confident about the data before we accept that. So, if there’s any more relaxation it would be very gentle and under the supervision of the state public health authorities, but that’s a decision for the government to make, on the medical advice, would be that we should be fairly cautious at the moment.”

Good-o, but on the day when “pandemic” started turning up in commentary, with suggestions people start stockpiling tinned food, the community might not be ready for opening access to students from China. It is indeed a decision for government.


Uni lobby says academic freedom understood

The Innovative Research Universities says legislation definition not needed

Education Minister Dan Tehan proposes to amend the Higher Education Support Act to include a definition of academic freedom, (CMM January 22).

But the IRU does not think this is needed.

“It is a well-known concept with a variety of specific definitions in university policies and enterprise agreements. … A legislated definition would place heavy weight on a specific set of words, not the evolving application of the core concept,” IRU states.

The lobby specifically opposes including a provision specifying; “the freedom of academic staff, without constraint imposed by reason of their employment by the university, to make lawful public comment on any issue in their personal capacities.”

IRU argues this, “conflates and confuses the separation of the two key concepts under discussion: academic freedom and freedom of speech. As such, it has the potential to create some highly undesirable employment disputes, should a member of staff wish to test the meaning of the wording to its limits.”

This is a flare-up in what looked like sector-wide support for the legislation as part of Mr Tehan’s wish that all universities adopt the French model code of free speech on campus. As yet, no other university or lobby has broken cover but word is further critics may appear after this week’s Universities Australia conference.

Needed: coherent systems for post-school study

The Full Service Six speaks up for all post-secondary students

The six dual sector universities are calling for the Commonwealth and states to implement the Noonan review of the Australian Qualifications Framework, “as a matter of urgency.”

“Students need more flexibility in combining vocational and higher education to access skills and knowledge they need to be successful.” The problem is, that rather than a “more coherent tertiary education system,” over the last decade, “connections between the vocational and higher education sectors have instead weakened due to increasingly entrenched differences between systems of governance, funding and regulation,” Victoria U VC Peter Dawkins told the Universities Australia conference yesterday.

This is the second time the informal alliance has made a policy case, speaking out in April for AQF reform (CMM April 10). The group is VU plus CQURMITFederation USwinburne U and Charles Darwin U.

Labor running on its record

Tanya Plibersek to tell the Universities Australia conference how great things could have been

Labor’s education spokesperson will make the party’s case to be the natural ally of universities at the UA conference today.

Ms Plibersek is also expected to reprise its commitments in last year’s election and to commit the party to “guiding principles,” * “boosting university attainment,” * “making sure all Australians who get the grades have the opportunity to study at university,” and * “stimulating collaboration between universities and industry.”

Ms Plibersek’s text also calls on universities to stand up to the government.

“Elections have consequences. Sadly for us – and sadly for you too, I think – we were not given the power to implement our vision. There is an important lesson here. I know it is sensitive, so I will not harp on it. But you should not be afraid to campaign for your interests as universities. You shouldn’t feel reluctant to make your views clear – and you should not feel reluctant to express them with force.  I am not asking you to be partisan or overly political. I understand the position you are in. But you have enormous credibility with students and parents and with business – and you should use it. As I said, we all need to fight for our universities.”

Who decides an engineer is one

Engineers are engineers because they say they are – but some states want registration

The NSW Government proposes following Queensland and WA, with legislation requiring engineers to be registered for practice.  This strikes the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering as a splendid idea.  The voluntary National Engineer Register, “has served society reasonably well, but with low visibility outside the profession,” ATSE president Hugh Bradlow says.

Good-o but the NSW legislation proposes a registration board, which will also oversight, “approval of assessment schemes conducted by an assessment entity in areas of engineering.” The feds have a view on industry bodies sticking their bibs into university courses (CMM February 28 2018), so who is on the NSW board will matter. The legislation proposes, “some members of the board are to be professional engineers,” which isn’t exactly limiting.