Finding your gravitational wave keys

Researchers used 6000 hours of computer time searching for the hum of gravitational waves emitted by neutron stars. Not knowing where to look they took a best-guess approach and focussed on a particular space in space. “Just like guessing that your missing keys will probably be close to your handbag or wallet,” ANU explains on their behalf.

They did not find a wave – perhaps they should wait until Apple releases a long range AirTag.


There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Jo Caldwell-Neilson (Deakin U) on eight essential elements of digital literacy. “Ultimately, it needs to be fit-for-purpose … it is a mind-set and an attitude, not just a skill set,” she argues. It’s Contributing Editor Sally’s Kift’s new selection for her CMM series, Needed now in teaching and learning.

Plus, Donald Wlodkowic (RMIT) on  teaching in virtual labs. Simulation technology make it possible to teach students advanced techniques, “too dangerous or too expensive to implement on campus.”


 It’s enterprise bargaining time!  Elizabeth Baré, Ian Marshman, Teresa Tjia and Janet Beard (Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education)  present six ways new agreements can make universities better places to work and learn.

Equity in education: absent, overdue and who knows what to do

What will convince the community that educational equity is a national priority and how do we turbocharge Indigenous students access and success? CMM has no clue but the four experts speaking at Needed now in teaching and learning (the conference) will have ideas. Check the panel out, here.


PhDs: longer-lasting than the business cycle

With applied research where the federal funding interest is HE lobbies are spruiking their commercial credentials. Simon Handley (Macquarie U) isn’t enthusiastic

“A university is not just a means to an end; its purpose should be linked to more than the delivery of outcomes that may have value in the present, but with no intrinsic importance independent of the objectives it delivers. Instead, the value of a university lies in engendering, developing and supporting reason, inquiry and open debate, where scholars and students are free to speculate and explore ideas and thoughts independent of application, opinion or direction,” the PVC HRD Training and Partnerships, told the Macquarie U community yesterday,

“Whilst the future for universities will undoubtedly involve a renewed focus on innovation and industry engagement that will extend to research degrees, a PhD will continue to be judged solely on the unique contribution it makes to our understanding of the world.”

International starts: getting worse

VCs reporting better 2020 financials than expected keep saying this year will be not-great. Here’s  a reason why

Year to date international student commencements in February were 30 768, down from 48 429 last year and 57 913 in ’19. VET isn’t as bad, 36 227 this year, compared to 39 713 in ’20.

As for ELICOS it’s as awful as the industry has warned. YTD commencements in February 2020 were 19 462 (down 130 on ’19) – this February it was 6102.

All commencements from China were down 30 per cent (to 19 124). HE starts were 22 per cent lower (12,454). VET dropped a couple of hundred, (to 2340) and ELICOS was 40 per cent lower (at 1334).

As to students from India – YTD higher education commencements for February were 4343, down from 8955 last year. But VET went up, 8107 this year compared to 7092 last. As  CMM international education correspondent Dirk Mulder suggested last year, this may be due to Indian students moving from higher education to VET (CMM June 15).

More women studying STEM: it’s not as good as it looks

The number of women enrolled in STEM undergraduate courses increased annually 2015-19 but only at much the same rate as men (And that’s the good news)

The Commonwealth’s new STEM equity monitor (that’s a report, not a person) finds that while there were 11 000 more women enrolled in undergraduate STEM in 2019 over 2015 they accounted for 34 per cent of enrolments in 2015 and 36 per cent in ’19.

The gender divide: Women dominate HE agriculture-environment and natural-physical sciences enrolment numbers but while they are up a bit in engineering and IT they made up just 18 per cent and 19 per cent respectively in 2019.

But this is all better than VET – women accounted for 15 per cent of overall enrolments in 2015 and 15 per cent in 2019.

The pattern of VET enrolments is not the same as HE – while women make up less than 10 per cent of enrolments in engineering they were a third of IT enrolments in 2019.

How come?: There’s data in the study that suggests how all of this happens. When kids are aged 12-13, four times as many boys (55 per cent) think they aren’t smart enough for STEM than girls (12 per cent). By the time they are 18-21, 29 per cent of males say they aren’t bright enough, compared to 41 per cent of girls.

Where they get that idea is complicated: A clear majority of parents think it is easier to engage boys in STEM subjects at school than girls. But 61 per cent of them don’t think boys are better suited to STEM-based careers than girls.

As to teachers, 60 per cent think boys are more confident than girls in engineering, there are large, albeit smaller majorities favouring boys in technology, maths and science.

But the end result is pretty clear: Many, many women who graduate in STEM don’t work in it. In 2016, just 10 per cent of women with a STEM qualification were employed in “a STEM qualified industry,” compared to 21 per cent of men.

Helping the people in international education who really need help

Among all the demands for industry assistance, Study NSW is doing what it can to assist students

The state government agency has an employment advice programme for international students. There’s a new ZOOM event next Tuesday on personal branding via LinkedIn.

It’s the sort of help the agency delivers – like funding HE providers to connect international students with harvest work and warn them about scams (CMM November 17).  It may not have much overall impact but it will help some and show others they are not altogether abandoned by government.

Understanding the neighbours

With universities cancelling Asia language-learning (morning La Trobe U, hi Swinburne U) the state of research and learning on our region should surely be a big issue

It isn’t – at least if the number of submissions to a Senate inquiry is any indication.

The Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade is inquiring into funding for public research into foreign policy issues.

Its report (due mid-June) should not be long – what with the committee receiving just 21 submissions.

Among them is the Group of Eight’s, which makes a point so important it should not need making, but clearly does – that while “Asia-capability” is broader than languages, a “key requirement in developing greater Asia-capability and cultural awareness is ensuring more Australians can fluently communicate in Asian languages. … Given Australia’s geographical location and the ever-changing geopolitical challenges emerging in our region, open and transparent communication is critical to our nation’s security and economic development prospects. The decline in Asian language study in Australia is an issue that could benefit from dedicated investment in public research.”

The Go8 also does what it always does – state its members’ credentials and explain why universities, particularly the Eight are best-equipped to assist.

Unlike, in this case, it suggests, un-named organisations, “The flow of public money to non-university think tanks should be closely scrutinised and subject to regular value-for-money evaluations, as this funding is ordinarily not subject to competitive tender, review, or performance appraisal – unlike research funding support to public universities.”

In contrast, the Lowy Foundation makes the case for independent organisations advising government and informing the community.

“As government agencies are called on to deliver a broader range of services in an increasingly complex domestic and international environment, policy functions are often stretched. In this context, we believe government funding of independent policy research is crucial to Australia’s national interest. The sustainability of independent sources of policy research depends on meaningful government support.”

Lowy rates 76th in the world on the University of Pennsylvania’s 2020 ranking of think-tanks, just behind local front-runner, the Australian Institute of International Affairs (71st), (CMM February 1).