There’s more in the Mail

In Features, David Myton talks to Monash VC and Universities Australia chair Margaret Gardner.

Plan locally, brag globally

The University of Sydney sponsored the Tuesday night dinner at ranking agency QS’s “reimaging education” event in Philadelphia. CMM hears UniSydney was at the conference promoting its new degree structure. “A great setting to celebrate innovation in education & introduce our new curriculum,” DVC Duncan Ivison said.

This must have been just what people from the University of Sao Paulo, 18 US universities and the Jordan University of Science and Technology, among others, wanted to hear about. And ANU, Monash and QUT people attending must have loved going all that way to hear about a local competitor.

Where campuses are cosmopolitan

International students at on-shore Australian university campuses reached 21.1 per cent of student populations last year, up 1.4 per cent on 2015, to 269 000.  Universities well above the national average include the universities of Sydney (31.2 per cent), UNSW (29.7 per cent), UTS (28.4), Melbourne (33.7) plus ANU (31 per cent) and Monash U (29.4 per cent). Outside high-status inner-city institutions Federation U stands out with internationals making up 35 per cent of student.

Universities who do not attract big proportions of international students include; UNE (5 per cent), University of Newcastle (11 per cent) and Murdoch U (11 per cent). At least managements at these three need not live in fear of Australia falling out of favour in Beijing or New Delhi. “I could not open the doors without international fees,” a big-metro uni VC tells CMM


Group of Eight wins big in competitive medical research grants

The National Health and Medical Research Council announced and re-announced a bunch of grants yesterday. Most of the money was new but a big-ish bucket was  already out there, from previous rounds and courtesy of Health Minister Greg Hunt, Aged Care Minister Kern Wyatt and Assistant Health Minister David Gillespie announcing local funding, notably in Perth and Newcastle, over recent weeks. Commendable productivity – as a learned reader points out, given the amount of money involved these grants need regular reporting for maximum political benefit.

Overall competitive grant announcements for all of 2017 were given out on a predictable path. The Group of Eight needed pantechnicons to transport their funding while other institutions did it on a fixie with a shopping basket.

Monash University drove away in a mighty rig, carrying off $103m, it was followed by the University of Sydney ($97m), University of Melbourne ($95m), UNSW ($83m) University of Queensland ($67m), UWA ($32m), University of Adelaide ($31m) and ANU ($18m). All up the Group of Eight accounted for $546m, a touch under 65 per cent of competitive grants.

The NHMRC has also addressed with impressive pragmatism the endemic problem of women winning less grants than men – stumping up fresh funding for 34 projects that have female chief investigators. This brings the funding rate for projects with women leads to 15.3 per cent compared to 17.1 per cent for those with men.


Eye witness

Elizabeth Rakoczy from UWA’s Centre for Ophthalmology and Visual Science received the Florey Medal in Canberra last night. The medal honours lifetime achievement in human health and/or biomedicine and comes with a $50 000 award.

ARC sets rules of engagement and impact

No charge of frivolity against the Australian Research Council will ever stick. Last month the ARC announced fine-tuning changes to the engagement and impact profiles which universities must submit next year (CMM November 1). And now the ARC has codified the whole process in four just-the-thing-for summer-beach-reading handbooks on who in universities must do what to meet requirements.

People who have followed the debate over engagement and impact in research assessment for the last five years recognise the need to ensure the terms are tight and the process isn’t gamed.

Impact and engagement appal advocates of basic-research orthodoxy who hope the first run falls in a heap of generalities. Supporters of the process would like to see industry-linked metrics more important in setting status and securing funds than publishing prestige in Excellence for Research in Australia. The ARC has to keep everybody happy.

Free kicks for Birmingham in SA TAFE troubles

Simon Birmingham has not had many free kick chances lately but the federal minister for education and training still knows them when he sees them. Like the continuing debacle in South Australian TAFE, where federal regulator ASQA found 14 out of 16 courses were crook.

It looks part of a years-old pattern. Back in 2015 then state minister Gail Gago gave TAFE a near-monopoly on publicly, (some of it federally) funded courses while it worked out “how to better respond” to community and industry needs.

Yesterday Senator Birmingham called for a Senate inquiry into SA TAFE and the chamber agreed. With a state-election imminent this is very good for South Australian Senator Birmingham’s local Liberal colleagues but it is good for him as well. All year the federal opposition has used TAFE as a synonym for training, arguing that all will be well if only there was more money for public providers. This mess gives Senator Birmingham a point to make, that across higher and further education, giving out money without competition and regulation does not work.

Open borders in on-line study

An international group of eight universities will allow students to do three to ten of each other’s online courses for credit and no additional tuition cost. The pilot scheme starts next March. Participants are ANU, UniAdelaide, UoQ, Delft, Leiden and Wageningen in the Netherlands, the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Rice U in Houston.

This is not Rice ‘s only recent Australian connection, its football team played the season opener against Stanford U, in Sydney in August.

Peak bodies back rules Medical Research FF

The federal government is said to be ready to endorse 16 principles to govern Medical Research Future Fund spending. Health Minister Greg Hunt was expected to back them last night, creating a context for MRFF spending, expected to reach $1.2bn by 2022.

The principles focus on applied research, innovation and avoiding, “any ongoing operational or maintenance dependencies.”

Principals seven and eight require the fund to: “appreciate the role of competitiveness in the research sector as a means of identifying great potential and innovation, and raising Australia’s international research reputation” and “encourage partnerships in merit-based collaborative research to engage lateral and fresh thinkers and ideas, and enhance skill and knowledge combinations.”

Last night Group of Eight CEO Vicki Thomson backed the principals, saying the they will “ensure the integrity and success of the MRFF, which will benefit every Australian.” And Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes president Tony Cunningham says, “the application of these principles will ensure MRFF funding is contestable, rigorously peer reviewed, strategically targeted and integrated into our world class research sector.”

The 2014 budget established the MRFF, funded by savings from health spending, with a capital target of $20bn. CMM fool that he is, thought then it would never happen.

CRC Project winners announced

Winners of the fourth round of CRC Projects are announced, all with university participants engaging with industry. They are as applied as applied research can get – CRC P’s are limited time and address specific projects with immediate outcomes. The programme “is addressing a significant gap in the Australian innovation system and the high number of applicants putting up very significant resources of their own is fantastic,” Tony Peacock from the Cooperative Research Centres Association says.

Dr Peacock is especially-impressed with the water-pipe lining project, “the potential for savings” are “staggering.”

The fourth round, with university participants is:

# advanced manufacturing for exosome therapy (vesicles used for drug delivery). La Trobe University

# dairy goat vaccines, University of Melbourne

# stem cell cancer immunotherapies. Monash University

# smart home energy management. UNSW

# brain scanner for stroke detention/monitoring. University of Queensland

# energy storage alternatives to lithium ion batteries. Swinburne and Flinders universities

# detecting inattention in children. Monash University

# innovative electricity generation. UNSW

# mixed waste remanufacturing. UNSW

# automated assessment of chronic wounds. University of Melbourne

# resistance to Fusarium wilt in Cavendish bananas. QUT

# selective fish breeding. James Cook University

# next gen hydrogen energy. Monash University

# graphene in high-strength polyethylene. Deakin University

# smart linings for pipes and infrastructure. Monash University