Plus Kim Carr and Todd Walker: big winners this week

Confusing Nemo

Last month researchers at the University of Wollongong announced Finding Nemo does not accurately represent clown fish behaviour (Campus Morning Mail June 18). Now James Cook University announces, “Baby Nemos finding their way home.” I suppose it depends in whether they listen to Marlin or Dory.

Winners of the week

Kim Carr did very well indeed. The Opposition education spokesman had a ripper of a week, organising Senate numbers to defeat a Government move to get funding cuts through without the bother of a money bill – which is why the Senate could throw it out. He did it again late yesterday saving what is left of the Education Investment Fund in a Senate vote that blocked a Government move to transfer the capital to the Asset Recycling Fund. It’s an inconvenience for the government but a win for Senator Carr who is running hard against deregulation, while his shadow cabinet colleagues run dead in the Reps.

Which is why the new Labor higher education spokeswoman in the RepsAmanda Rishworth used Facebook to get into the fight on Wednesday with an online forum. A delayed but solid start, with Ms Rishworth playing the cuts as an equity issue.

Australian National University VC Ian Young was also in the action, making the case for deregulation in a fighting oped in the Fairfax papers, arguing that deregulation is the only hope, given government will never properly fund universities. Professor Young also had a big week at the office, with two ministers saying nice things on campus visits and local National Tertiary Education Union chief Stephen Darwin suggesting he had displayed “a clear failure of leadership.” Being denounced is better than being ignored

Vaughan Stibbard, responsible for the new University of Sydney student system also did well with the launch of the third stage of the new student administration program going live. People from the Circumlocution Office designed the previous systems in the 19th century, and the replacement is long overdue.

But for energy and enthusiasm it is impossible to beat Federation University DVC Todd Walker, presently walking the Kokoda Trail with colleagues and students. Now there’s a bloke with the lung capacity for politics.

Nothing new under the higher education sun

When it comes to raiding capital funds intended for education Lenore Taylor (The Australian May 13 2009) reported Labor doing something similar in the 2009 budget, moving $2.5bn from the education investment fund established by the Howard Government. Labor moved the money to fund its clean energy investment program.

Parker’s pals

Stephen Parker opened the University of Canberra Sporting Commons yesterday, which he says is a resource to make UC “the leading university in Australian sports scholarship and research.” According to VC Parker, “academic work may be moving into the cloud but university campuses can be reinvented as special places where the good and healthy things in life come together around the central themes of learning and fairness.” As a strong critic of the Pyne plan I wonder if that last bit was intended for anybody in particular. Another interesting aspect of the launch was the presence of ACT Labor Senator Lundy and Warren Snowdon, Labor MP for the Northern Territory seat of Lingiari plus a bunch of local Labor and Greens representatives- but no government members. This contrasts with the way cabinet ministers love to open things at ANU (three in the last fortnight).

No fear of flying

CQU VC Scott Bowman says “he really enjoyed” delivering a professorial address to students at the university’s residential college on Thursday night. It was, by a number of accounts, a frank speech, ranging from his early lack of academic achievement and passion for flying through to the way luck and circumstance took him to the top, leading the country’s largest regional university. It was quite a week for Professor Bowman, what with the way Christopher Pyne, called him “a dynamic vice chancellor” in parliament. Professor Bowman tweeted the video in case anybody missed it.

 Star system

Curtin University has announced (again) its five-star rating in the QS Stars for 2014. Funnily enough the university did not mention that participating universities pay a fee for the audit the award is based on.

League of losers

Its league table time, with the Centre for World University Rankings getting in early yesterday. No, I don’t know anything about the JeddahSaudi Arabia based outfit but the methodology it cites is no worse than many of the big rated rankers. The WUR uses eight metrics to rank an institutions overall performance, including staff/alumni who have won major academic awards, graduates who run big companies, patents granted, journal publications and citations. Standard stuff, which generates results much like all the others. Harvard is number one, followed by Stanford and MIT. Overall 15 of the top 20 are from the US. The other five are Cambridge (4), Oxford (5) followed by and this is a little unusual, the University of Tokyo (13), Kyoto (16) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (18).

Australia does not do as well as in other rankings. Unusually, Uni Sydney is first (95th in the world) followed by Uni Melbourne (97th), it is often the other way round. They are followed by the rest of the Group of Eight. The next two are Macquarie (486) and Wollongong at (506th in the world). So much for our world-class system. The best to be said is that the 17 other institutions that make the cut are in the world’s top 1000. Not, you understand that these ratings matter, as any low ranking institution will explain. But it does make me wonder why universities are so ambivalent about the EU’s new u-Multirank, designed to compare similar universities on an enormous amount of data, surely an improvement on a top to bottom list based on summing a handful of variables.

Cash injections

The medical research establishment is very pleased with the National Health and Medical Research Council’s new Advanced Health and Research Translation Centre program. This is designed to assist strong research institutions, which apply their work in patient care. Research Australia, which represents 160 health and medicine organisations, is promoting the program. And the Group of Eight is praising it. “A large part of Australia’s health and medical research is conducted in universities, and we are fully aware of the potential game-changing benefit that the additional funding foreshadowed with the Medical Research Future Fund could have.” If the fund happens at all.