Optimists of the day

The University of Newcastle  frocks-up in a media release: “Fashionistas-flock-to-central-coast-for-fashion-week.”

 Majority rule

Universities Australia’s election wish list yesterday (more on which below) includes one apparently innocuous but in fact important line, “UA supports retention of the demand driven system.” That will be the demand driven funding system that Group of Eight vice chancellors, notably Fred Hilmer from the University of New South Wales disliked for the way it funded students ostensibly ill-equipped for university. Yet here is UA, speaking for its members, presumably including Go8 institutions, supporting the status quo. Looks like a win for universities who do not get their pick of prospective students. Not surprising given they outnumber the eight.

Poll prediction of the morning

Narelle Miragliotta from the University of Western Australia sees (@ The Conversation) the seat of Perth as a sure thing for Labor with Alannah MacTiernan set to replace the retiring (in more senses than one) Stephen Smith.

 Doctor, doctor, delay the news

If there is one thing a university without one wants it is a medical school. And if there is something that health insiders aspire to it is to stop them getting one. Over in the west Curtin University would like a medical school, which Premier Colin Barnett thinks is such a splendid idea, that he is prepared to stump out $22m to make happen. Not so, says the Australian Medical Association, which argues there are not enough training places in the system for the doctors pumped out by the University of Western Australia and the small school at Notre Dame. Across the country, Charles Sturt boss Andy Vann has had a win in his push to create a bush medical school (in partnership with La Trobe), with the Nationals including the plan in their election platform. But here as well critics mount the same argument, suggesting the system cannot cope with existing graduates. In both cases it will come down to what the federal government decides. If shadow health minister Peter Dutton has a view he isn’t sharing it – at least not until after the election.

Make them an offer

The National Tertiary Education Union is raining on David Battersby’s parade. To date the Vice Chancellor of the University of Ballarat has had a smooth run in organising the take over, sorry merger, with what was Monash University’s Gippsland campus and the renaming of the expanded show Federation University Australia. But while this integrated project has run well enterprise bargaining has dragged on and now the union is using the merger as part of their case for better wages and guaranteed conditions, with staff sending a standard letter to the VC. “The merger with Gippsland means we will have to understand and provide for differences in work culture, programs, systems, workloads, expectations and working conditions, as well as collaborating with new colleagues at a distant campus. Many people at UB are already struggling under high workloads and dealing with complex issues. This development will add to these, yet the university has not indicated how these extra expectations and demands are going to be recognised and acknowledged,” individuals write. CMM suspects meeting the union’s wage claim and dropping demands productivity improvements for general staff will qualify as adequate acknowledgement.

Coldly calculating

Antarctic researchers are relentless in making their case for money. Hobart scientists warn of Australia being frozen out (sorry) of important research by an 8 per cent cut to the federal government’s Antarctic Division. Funnily enough though there is no mention of the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre which had its funding continued, yet again, in June. The ACE CRC was one of the first, being founded in the early ‘90s and has now exceeded the duration of exceptional circumstance support.

ANU pats itself on the back

The Australian National University is home to Britain and the World the 34th “best history journal in the world,” (and note the quotes ‘best’ is ANU’s term).  The suggestion is supported by the Thomson-Reuters Citation Index for social sciences that has the six-year-old journal rocketing into the rankings at 34 for the first time. According to its editor, the ANU’s Gregory Barton, it even outranks the Journal of Australian History! Good-oh, but CMM is not sure what this proves. A journal that covers Britain’s global reach will, by definition, interest many more scholars who can cite it than one that focuses on Australia. And as for it being an ANU product, the journal is sponsored by the British Scholar Society and published by Edinburgh University Press.  Sure the (current) March 2013 issue includes an article by Dr Barton. But there are also pieces from historians at Kings College London, American University, the University of the Highlands and Islands (as in Scotland) and the universities of London and Texas.

UA on the (unspecified) money

Universities Australia is scrupulously a-political, which makes a change from the National Tertiary Education Union, which is less supporting than spruiking for the Greens. This ensures the minister’s office returns the peak university lobby’s phone calls after the election. And to ensure there is something to discuss UA has left ample room to negotiate in its election wish list. There were only two specific calls for cash yesterday. The lobby wants the $2000 cap on self-education expenses dropped instead of deferred for consideration.  And it asks for 50c in the dollar (now 30c) in funding for indirect research costs. Otherwise, the demands are general enough for governments to be able to claim they are being met at varying expenditure levels. For example, “participation and equity targets and funding to ensure students from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to a university education,” can be benchmarked to suit any amount of funding. This is a sensible strategy, designed to keep UAs issues on the agenda.

Hope with a use by date

Management at the University of Sydney is said to be “hopeful” that staff will sign off an enterprise agreement by Friday, including a 2.9 per cent pay offer, which Vice Chancellor Michael Spence says is the top dollar he can offer.  If no deal is done the offer to backdate the rise to July 1 will be revoked. Somehow CMM can’t see that alone encouraging the staff EB team to sign.

Wisdom of cashed-up crowds

Amanda Franklin is using a fundraiser to collect the cash she needs for her research. The University of Melbourne graduate is on a Fulbright Fellowship at Tufts University, studying reproduction in the mantis shrimp. She needs just under US$3800 to fund a field trip and has turned to Microryza to raise it. This is an online agency that helps researchers crowd source money for projects.  Donors not only know they are supporting work they believe in they are briefed on progress by the researcher. Commendable indeed, but what is in it for Microryza?

Money, that’s what, 8 per cent of what they raise (3 per cent to cover credit card) payments. If the project does not reach target no money is collected.  They claim to have raised $300,000 for 40 projects to date.

This strikes CMM as a cracker of idea (but feel to free to explain to me why it isn’t) for small-ish scale projects that will require more time and money in formal grant applications than they are worth.  As for the argument that crowd sourcing even with professional marketing support is a lottery – noticed the bad, and often apparently arbitrary odds of picking up public or institutional support?   Ms Franklin has 25 per cent of the cash and four weeks for people to donate the rest – CMM will keep an eye on how she goes.