Another episode in the R&D tax saga

It’s a saga that seems like it started before Gwen Meredith chose a colour for her hills.

The research and development tax incentive debate continues, with a Monday hearing by the Senate committee reviewing legislation. The proposal dates from a review of the existing system that filed in 2016, suggesting existing concessions were exceeding generous, (CMM July 7 2016).


There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

UNSW DVC Merlin Crossley’s  full-throated praise for Australian universities and why we dare not put them at risk.

Nigel Penny  warns universities won’t be resuming normal-service. The time to be working on new business models is now.

Michael Tomlinson asks, what are the jobs the government wants graduates to be ready for?

Nina Fotinatos on five team functions for learning and teaching success. It’s Contributing Editor Sally Kift’s new selection in her series on what is needed now in teaching and learning.

Uni Melbourne sticks to its model

Uni Melbourne stays committed “to broad and comprehensive education” 

The government’s proposed new undergraduate funding model could cost Uni Melbourne $3m, which Vice Chancellor Duncan Maskell says is a “small amount,” compared to the $900m the university expects to be down over three years due to COVID-19.

Uni Melbourne’s model has undergraduates taking a general first degree followed by a profession-focused specialisation. As such it does not appear especially suited to Education Minister Dan Tehan’s plan for students to focus on job-focused courses, with huge hikes to what students will pay for HASS courses.

However, Professor Maskell says, “we are well set up to offer our students maximum flexibility because of how our curriculum works and we remain committed to ensuring that they are well-equipped to take their place as future leaders in a time of rapid transformation.”

And he sticks to the inspiration for the Melbourne model, “Our educational principles remain unchanged – we value broad and comprehensive education and all the disciplines, including arts, humanities and social sciences are the threads that are woven into our fabric.”

Uni Melbourne doesn’t always pay heed to ministers when it comes to its model. Back in 2017 then education minister Simon Birmingham suggested phasing out its funding and while his legislation was before the Senate the university launched a student recruitment campaign based on the MM. The Senate knocked the bill back (CMM October 23 2017).

La Trobe U on-target for voluntary departures

The next set of staff savings will be more painful

At La Trobe U 239 people have had their application for voluntary redundancy approved with a net saving that is the financial equivalent of 160 FTE, just ahead of what management expected.

The VR result comes a week or so after staff voted decisively for the university’s proposal for temporary cuts to wages and conditions, in part to save the “financial equivalent of around 225 jobs.”

But anywhere between 215 and 415 involuntary departures could still be required. Vice Chancellor John Dewar has long warned the university community that LT U’s financial circumstances are such that it must make staff savings (CMM May 13), including voluntary redundancies (CMM June 24).

Lists not a league table

Historians of Australia have long argued about rating the journals where they publish and now they have decided not to

This was an issue back in 2016 when the AHA decided, albeit with no overwhelming enthusiasm, to create its own journal ranking. “We are conscious above all that historians in Australian universities are currently disadvantaged in promotion, grant and job applications by the lack of rankings that take account of the discipline’s professional standards and expectations for publications in history,” the association announced.

Longue durée history this wasn’t – with the plan quickly called off. Word was historians of Australia feared their journals would be lowly rated, (CMM October 17, 18 2016).

But a way to rank research output was required and after three years it is done. Last month the AHA announced it has compiled a list of existing journal metrics, “to provide members with numerous existing measures to argue the quality of their journals to their university if needed.” That’s list – not league table.

RMIT knows who it wants to keep

The university is consulting on voluntary redundancies – some staff are waiting for an unwanted tap on the shoulder

Despite savings, the university is still short $200m this year. So, Vice Chancellor Martin Bean is asking staff and unions about a VR programme, that could occur, “before we consider forced redundancies,” (CMM June 24).

But the VR proposal restricts who can apply. People with strong performance ratings, who teach in growing courses, are research leaders can’t ask. Nor can anybody else who “RMIT otherwise determines … it is not in (its) interest to grant the application.”

Good-o, the university gets to decide who it values. But learned readers suggest tight definitions of who can’t go ups the risk of the university not making enough savings and going to a compulsory round.

Now or later: which higher degree researchers to help

Macquarie U HDR researchers are doing it tough, what with COVID-19 caused loss of income and research delays

So, students and supervisors are calling on the university to help, by offering a six-month extension of candidatures and stipends. “We are asking for compassionate, equitable, and long-term solutions that reflect the invaluable position Macquarie HDR students are repeatedly told we hold within the community.”

The feds have no problem with extensions for people with Research Training Programme funding, “whose research activities have been materially adversely impacted by coronavirus restrictions.” As long as Canberra does not have to cough up – institutions are to roll-over existing RTP funds from this year to next, (CMM May 11).

So, if Macquarie U has some spare cash it wants to spend on HDR extensions all is well, otherwise it’s a choice between supporting existing students and delaying/reducing the next intake.

Another tough task for TEQSA

Universities gaming the new course model to increase income from UGs is baked-into Education Minister Tehan’s new funding structure, (CMM June 19).  So is the way officials won’t be able to stop it.   

There are reports the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency will be resourced to stop universities gaming student enrolments, presumably to stop them piling students into high-fee HASS degrees. And a great job TEQSA would do if any institutions did.

But universities keen to keep the foundation disciplines of education in business won’t have to do that.  Instead, they could create new units taught by humanities academics that can legitimately belong in the government’s preferred degree categories – ethics in AI, history and philosophy of science in, well science, social theory in teaching degrees, and so forth and so on.

Such subjects could attract a higher rate of government funding and a lower cost to students than for the same sort of study in humanities degree – CSP funding is to be allocated at unit, not degree level.

Government policy wonks are probably already on to this, working on ways to stop it happening.

But that could create another issue. TEQSA got into all sorts of strife in its first incarnation, with an overly interventionist regulatory approach (CMM August 6 2013). For the agency to be kicking metaphoric doors in searching for humanities units sheltering in STEM could upset universities again.

Appointments, achievements

Of the day

Anna Nowak is appointed Associate Dean (Research) and Deputy Executive Dean of UWA’s Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences. She moves from the National Centre for Asbestos Related Diseases.

Of the week

Fara AzmatHarsh Suri and Kim Watty from Deakin U win an excellence award from the UN supported Principles for Responsible Management Education.

Gemma Carey is to continue as acting director at Griffith U’s Queensland Conservatorium of Music.

Nicole Crawford becomes senior research fellow at the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education. She moves from Uni Tasmania where she works in pre-degree programmes.

Peter Eastwood is in-coming director of Flinders U’s Health and Medical Research Institute. He joins from UWA’s Centre for Sleep Science.

Facebook’s Ethics in AI in the Asia Pacific announces funding; successful bids include, Sarah BankinsDeborah RichardsPaul Formosa, (Macquarie University) with Yannick Griep (Radboud U, The Netherlands) for research on “interactional justice perceptions” and Robert SparrowMark Howard and Joshua Hatherley (Monash U) for work on AI in emergency medicine. Facebook does not state how much is awarded but Monash U says Sparrow and colleagues have $42 000.

Scott Harrison is confirmed as PVC for arts, education and law at Griffith U. He has been acting in the role for a year.

John Hattie (Uni Melbourne) has a third term as chair of the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership.

Bal Kama (ANU) wins the Hank Nelson Prize for best dissertation at a university anywhere on Papua New Guinea history and society.

Larry Marshall has a new, three-year, term as chief executive of CSIRO. Dr Marshall joined the organisation in 2015.Barbara Miles (VP, Advancement ANU) receives a distinguished service award from US based, comms and fundraising industry association the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. “In less than two years at ANU, she has elevated the strategic importance and profile of advancement across the university and significantly grown its advancement capacity,” the citation states.

Conservation Scientist Amelia Wenger (Uni Queensland) is the Australian nominee for APEC’s Aspire prize – for young researchers cooperating with scientists in other APEC members.

Kourosh Kalantar-Zadeh (UNSW) is awarded the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Robert Boyle Prize for Analytical Science.