Wild times in the tropics

Exciting news. JCU’s Cairns and Townsville campuses are going plastic straw free! “ James Cook University, via Facebook yesterday.

CSU excludes/suspends students  

Charles Sturt U has variously excluded and suspended students who partied in a Wagga pub last month kitted out as Klu Klux Klan members, a concentration camp prisoner and a plantation slave from the antebellum US. “Individuals, community groups, fellow students and those involved will all have differing opinions on the penalties. As a university we will not tolerate or condone this behaviour,” VC Andrew Vann said yesterday.

Robinson returns to higher education

Not that she was gone for long. Just weeks after stepping down as CEO of Universities Australia, Belinda Robinson is set to join the University of Canberra. She starts next week as the part-time vice-president for partnerships and strategy.

This is a big win for the university, Ms Robinson speaks fluent university which she fluently translates into the language of policy and profit respectively used by government and business. VC Deep Saini has a plan to make his UniCanberra a campus for its city and Ms Robinson will provide  advice and experience to help the university create and make its case.

It’s not only UniCanberra that has invited her on-board. Ms Robinson is the new chair of both the Cooperative Research Centres Association and Western Sydney University’s pathways subsidiary.

Where to spend the MRFF

Consultations have commenced on what the Medical Research Future Fund’s next set of priorities should be. Round two priorities kick-in when the first expire in November. Oversight body the Australian Medical Research Advisory Board is looking for  advice on new ones and/or continuing those in round one.

The ’16-’18 priorities include, anti-microbial resistance, communicable disease control, drug effectiveness and repurposing, national infrastructure sharing, clinical trial network and biomedical translation.

Sheil calls for more resources for basic research

Margaret Sheil has called for increased investment in research, lest the national effort becomes, “the CD in the age of Spotify.”

However the QUT vice chancellor also warns, at length, that spending on basic and applied research is now out of whack.

With the first national report on engagement and impact due at year’s end, Professor Sheil speaks out in favour of basic research that can be the basis for applied outcomes. She urges a return to a research culture of; “core talented scientists building their skills and pursuing basic discovery research in environments that were not overly prescriptive; and teams working in collaboration or in parallel with more targeted goals in mind,” in an opinion piece for  Universities Australia.

This is a calculated intervention by a VC with credibility in both camps.

 QUT is best known for its applied technology approach, it bills itself as “a university for the real world” but Professor Sheil was chair of the Australian Research Council way before way the applied research push.

Professor Sheil warns that; “basic discovery research is undervalued and the appetite to fund it in decline, and we see a major turn towards applied research producing a substantial imbalance in the system.”

She points to funding for basic research dropping from 40 per cent to 23 per cent between 1992 and 2016, with money for “strategic basic” research (high-science with a specific target) contracting 5 per cent to 19 per cent. In the same period, applied research’s share grew from 30 per cent to 49 per cent.

Professor Sheil proposes six measures to address the in-balance;

Understand “it takes a long time to build innovative capacity and networks, and that the pipeline between discovery and product may be long and unpredictable.”

Attract, support and mentor the best talent from around the world.

Recognise the role of institutions in supporting talent and infrastructure, and balancing short-term demands with long-term strategy.

Make long-term investments in infrastructure and research and development institutions.

Ensure “consistency and predictability when it comes to research funding models.”

Provide “a plurality of approaches” via the ARC, NHMRC, CRCs and science agencies – “they all contribute to the common stock of knowledge, by coming at problems in different and complementary ways. And we need all of them.”

Deakin masterclasses build to MBA

Deakin U is getting into the micro-courses market, but to protect, not replace its MBA. The university is offering 12-hour “masterclasses” which students can stack to makes the equivalent of two electives in the 12-unit MBA. This can deliver a discount on the course cost (sneer not, MIT is doing it) with four short courses costing $6000 compared to $8430 for two electives. But the big benefits are that Deakin can bring MCs to market faster than a conventional subject and that they are new content, not just existing subjects stripped down.  Five subjects will be available this year, with more to come.

The name explains

A learned reader reports to the business plan of journals-mafia.com (yes, that’s the business name) which has plans to create a monopoly on scholarly publishing in Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. All researchers need do is pay journals-mafia and it will handle editing, place papers and split the cash with editors.  So much more convenient than having to go through all that tedious peer-reviewing.  “It provided me with a mix of amusement and cold chills all at the same time,” the LR remarks.


Win for staff and Slee at RMT

RMIT management and the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union have agreed on terms for a new enterprise agreement. University COO Dionne Higgins announced the deal yesterday, which will now go to all staff for approval. Low-key negotiations have produced terms at the upper-end of the band of agreements in the present bargaining round. There are 2 per cent pa pay rises through to 2021, signing bonuses of $400-$800 for staff according to employment terms, 17 per cent super for fixed term workers and improved partner and parent leave. “This new agreement will enable us to create the workplace we want to be known for, and recognise everyone who works hard to live our values every day,” Ms Higgins said.

This is a good result for union branch president Melissa Slee, who is running for state secretary of the NTEU. She is expected to argue this is the sort of result that activist leaders can deliver.

Appointments, achievements

Tanya Monro is appointed to SA Premier Steven Marshall’s economic advisory council. Professor Monro is DVC R of the University of South Australia. Bill Spurr, chair of the international student marketing agency, Destination Adelaide, is also appointed.

Christopher Rowe from Austin Health (hon chair at the University of Melbourne) is the foundation chief investigator of the federal government’s new Australian Dementia Network.

Prescription for med research pre-press

While the big for-profit journal publishers are not abandoning their core business of model of paying no research costs but privatising the profits they are attempting to undercut open-access arguments. As in Elsevier’s move to pilot a pre-press for The Lancet, to run “early stage health and medical research.”

The proposed site will come via preprint server, SSRN, which Elsevier’s owner Relx bought in 2016 (CMM May 20).

This goes some way to addressing a common criticism in fast-moving medical research that the publisher’s ponderous processes delay access to new findings.

It’s a no-lose for the publisher, if they decide the pilot works and it becomes permanent Elsevier will be able to claim it is moving with the market. If they pull the project they will be able to attribute it to lack of demand for research papers before they are peer-reviewed and published.