How do whales warn “incoming!” ?

“New population of blue whales discovered with help of bomb detectors,” UNSW research announcement, yesterday

It’s not like it sounds. The detectors were used to pick up whales singing, not blow their cover.

Go8 on-line opinions

The ever-understated Group of Eight announces its own podcast series featuring “Australia’s academic leaders and decision makers” who will “tell the stories that Australians want to hear”

Including Australians in the Min Wing of parliament. “There is nothing in the government’s federal budget that does not need universities to make it happen … we are part of the narrative, we are a really essential part of government policy,” Go8 ED Vicki Thomson says in the first episode.

First-up in the fortnightly series is Ms Thomson talking about allegations of foreign interference in universities.

Smart stuff – another way for the Go8 to present itself as the voice of the universities that do the serious work in research and policy. And it will intensify the policy podcast content race – the Australian Technology Network already produces its own Perspectives.

UNSW people astutely exited

“The reason UNSW and other universities managed to balance their budgets in 2020 was because of rapid and astute financial management,” UNSW VC Ian Jacobs, told staff yesterday. “Rare to see staff cuts described thus,” a learned reader remarks.

QS ranking success: enjoy it while it lasts

QS adds to the (differently derived) evidence in the Shanghai subjects and Leiden research rankings, that pre-pandemic Australian unis enjoyed an absolute Sinatra of very good years

The new QS rankings (ignore the 2022 branding, they are not from the future) are released this morning.

At the top of the heap there is marginal movement for locals in the global top 100, with seven of the Group of Eight moving up or down (mainly up) by a couple of places. ANU is first at =27th in the world, up from =31st last year. Uni Adelaide is the Eight’s outlier, at 108, down two places on last year.

And for plaudits of peers, Uni Melbourne really rates – 17th in the world in a reputation survey of academics.

All up, 37 Australian universities make the world first 1300, with 25 either improving their position or stable.

But much of the success may not last. QS reports that eight Aus unis had perfect scores for international faculty and twelve rated 80 per cent or above for international student ratios – and the latter won’t be as good next year. The research that international fees funded also supports Australian scores – eleven of the world top 100 by citations per faculty are locals. UWA is 40th and UNSW is 44th.

Tomorrow Angel Calderon dissects what QS means in (really detailed) detail 

“Unforeseen circumstances” delay Charles Sturt U’ annual report

It is due to “on-going discussions with the NSW Audit Office,” Interim VC John Germov tells staff

The report was not tabled in the NSW parliament, along with other universities (CMM May 31) but Professor Germov says it, “will be published in the coming weeks” and “will show that our 2020 operating results have favourably exceeded earlier forecasts and as previously reported, we remain on track to return to a balanced budget by the end of the year.”

So, what is there to discuss? Maybe the Audit Office does not like the font, CMM has no clue. All the university says is that there have been “unforeseen circumstances,” (CMM June 8)

But if discussions about said circumstances become robust, Professor Germov could always follow Peter Lee’s lead when the then VC of another regional, Southern Cross U, was unhappy with an Audit Office judgement. “Southern Cross University accepts that the Auditor General is developing its understanding of the sector and the nuances of performance reporting,” he said (CMM June 4 2014).

An Australian way for mission-driven research

The wild bunnies are back where CMM lives and he would like them gone (they scare the dog). But Tony Peacock explains working out ways to contain wildlife numbers isn’t easy – which has lessons for mission-driven research 

The former CRC Association chief, and invasive animal expert reports the ways researchers, including a succession of cooperative research centres, have worked on ways to contain populations. “I am pretty sure the series of CRCs was the biggest, most intense and best funded effort anywhere” he  writes

And there are successes, containing fox numbers in remote Australia, ideas for controlling carp based on knowledge about their breeding. But, “to my knowledge, no one has cracked the issue of widespread population control and all current fertility control is limited in scope.”

There are lessons here for the present debate on a national “mission-based” research effort. For a start, specific missions must be part of a bigger policy process, “it is vital to establish goals, to take a rounded approach beyond just the technology and to respond appropriately to shifts in the legal, community or actual landscape.”

And missions must be managed, “researchers will want a complete solution, funders will settle for progress.”

“The problem I am seeing develop in the Australian push for mission-driven research is that we look to be going down the track of putting all our effort into developing the missions. In a well-balanced innovation portfolio, there should be high risk work. The nature of research means we don’t know what is going to happen,” he tells CMM.

“We should be putting about one-third of our effort into mission selection, one-third into mission management and one-third into mission dissemination. If we have the balance right, we would actually be shutting down some missions before their anticipated completion because they haven’t worked well enough and the money is better spent elsewhere

Worth watching: TEQSA and ASQA in Senate Estimates


Both regulators faced tough questions on serious issues

While not nearly as popular as the latest Netflix hit or Stanford University’s Machine Learning MOOC (3.7 million learners), Senate Estimates hearings are nonetheless important viewing.

Last week we learned that both TEQSA and ASQA are dealing with serious staffing issues.

Australian Skills Quality Authority officials faced a range of difficult questions about staffing (watch online, starts at 16.07.47). The questions were particularly concerning given they come at the same time that ASQA is implementing a very different self-assurance regulatory model.

Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency officials were asked about staff reporting higher than average levels of workplace bullying and witnessing of corrupt behaviour when compared with other Commonwealth agencies (watch online, starts at 10.36.16).

Both CEOs gave explanations and undertook to provide further answers to a raft of questions on notice.

For TEQSA these questions come at the same time they are introducing a new fee schedule. Regrettably, particularly for smaller providers, we also learned in the hearings that TEQSA has not modelled the financial impact of the charges.

A small, not-for-profit, CRICOS provider offering five qualifications faces fees for re-registration and re-accreditation of up to $200,000, in addition to a new annual levy.

There are four not-for-profit CRICOS providers with re-registration currently “pending” because TEQSA has been unable to conclude their audits on time. Three have been pending since 2020, indicating significant delays.

While there is no regulatory issue for a provider in having their re-registration “pending” – the delays signal that TEQSA can find audits of small not-for-profit providers to be complex; hence providers cannot assume they will not pay the maximum in the new fee regime.

To afford the increased fees smaller providers will need to scale up, potentially by offering fewer niche courses and switching to more popular/generalist degrees, which seems extraordinary when the minister wants to open a conversation about “greater differentiation and specialisation in the university sector”.

TEQSA’s new fees could end up reducing diversity in the higher education sector.

With COVID-19 bringing significant stresses to the international VET and higher education sectors and billions in government subsidies going to domestic VET students – now more than ever Australia needs well-functioning, well-resourced regulators to ensure the quality and diversity of the sector.

Claire Field is an advisor to the tertiary education sector. She was contracted by ASQA in late 2020 to facilitate preliminary consultations with VET sector stakeholders on ASQA’s new self-assurance model

Appointments, achievements

Cassandra Cross becomes Associate Dean, Teaching and Learning of QUT’s new faculty of Creative Industries, Education and Social Justice.

Hannah Power, marine scientist, Uni Newcastle is named a NSW Young Tall Poppy

Appointment, achievement

Cassandra Cross becomes Associate Dean, Teaching and Learning of QUT’s new faculty of Creative Industries, Education and Social Justice.

 Hannah Power, marine scientist, Uni Newcastle is named a NSW Young Tall Poppy.