Ore-some !

“New way to date rocks,” Uni Queensland announced yesterday. No, it’s not a new personal advice site – researchers have a technology to identify the age of mineral deposits.

There’s more in the Mail

Bret Stephenson (La Trobe U) on ghost students – you better believe they are real. It’s a new  essay  in contributing editor Sally Kift’s series on what’s needed now in teaching and learning.

Plan to empower professors

There’s a new national association of professors – it’s members are keen to help

The Uni Sydney association of professors kick-started the national body, with a conference last year that considered the possibility of a national association “that government could consult” (CMM October 16 2018).

The national body now has chapters at Deakin U, James Cook U, Macquarie U, RMIT, Swinburne U, Uni New England – and Uni Sydney.

It is circulating a proposed ten-point manifesto to members, which includes, student support, the teaching and research nexus, public funding to ensure university autonomy and peer review of research productivity.

The draft also emphasises leadership by professors, for example; “universities should be led by a distinguished and respected scholar who regularly consults with the professoriate on the running of the university” and “academics should be effectively engaged in university governance, with the professoriate providing leadership of disciplines, acting as mentors, and promoting academic values.”

The idea of a freedom of expression statement is also suggested.

Sign in the skies

“Is there life on other planets? We may soon have an answer with the world’s largest optical telescope signing a major new contract,” ANU announces a new project.  Presumably the telescope will send a handwritten note if it finds anything.

Ticks for changing student places plan

The government’s idea for universities to swap sub degree and masters on load places (CMM yesterday) is deep in the weeds, as experts work out how it would work what’s in it for their institution

But big-picture policy people like the vision.

Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson is positive about “more flexibility for universities to meet student demand by moving designated places between categories.”
“It makes sense to give universities greater freedom to shift places between categories to meet demand from both prospective and current students. We look forward to continuing discussions with government on the detail of these proposals.”

Conor King from the Innovative Research Universities is open to the ideas; “university swops and deals. Who knows – let’s test this out, focus our minds at the possible advantages – and avoid the silly options. In a ministerially driven system, the best minister is one who thinks systemically, not locally. Letting unis drive use of places allocated ensures better use,” he tweeted yesterday.

Hard history of casual academic employment

A survey of historians employed as casual academics includes a question about positive experiences, ““there are no positives to exploitation,” one replied

Romain Fathi and Lyndon Megarrity surveyed 153 historians employed as casual academics at 32 universities and four colleges for the Australian Historical Association.They report people find satisfaction in teaching and use casual employment to get their foot in the departmental door but overall, the negatives are numerous.

Insecurity: summers without paid work, last-minute jobs and its hard to chart a career path

Conditions: “The vast majority of casual staff are unable to access sick leave, annual leave or university parental leave; there are no guarantees of further employment; and no institutional acknowledgement that the casual staff member has career plans that might need guidance or nurturing”

“Invisible” work, unpaid hours: “in order to maintain high standards, many casual staff spend unpaid time conducting necessary academic tasks.”

Ignored or undervalued: “With institutional attention and policy firmly focused on permanent staff, there is little social or cultural recognition of the skills and long-term experiences of casual employees.”

Stress: “In the age of casualisation, keeping alive your dream of being an historian involves juggling many balls in the air  … while maintaining a heavy casual workload, as well as constantly living with a sense of insecurity and precariousness..”

They propose 11 measures to make less miserable casuals’ lot, including;

* more permanent part-time jobs

* pay for all work done

* research hours

* permanent staff and institutions acknowledge casuals’ commitment, experience and knowledge

Lobby leaders back talent brain-gain

The feds announce launch fast-track immigration for the super-skilled backed by peak uni bodies

The Global Talent Programme is a fast track to permanent residency for aspiring immigrants with skills in ag tech, fin tech, med tech, cyber security, energy and mining, space science and advanced manufacturing, and quantum information/advanced digital/ data science and ICT.

And a good thing too, according Universities Australia, which sees the scheme as a source of research talent, “it complements (universities) efforts to recruit the best minds globally.”

Vicki Thomson from the Group of Eight welcomes the scheme to expand capacity in the eight specified areas, “the reality is that our skill base is too small to take full advantage of these opportunities. …  It is critical that we keep supplementing our domestic knowledge base with the best and brightest from overseas. “

Recruiting cyber sentinels

Blanket cyber security is not possible so Australia should be ready to bounce back from attacks says the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering

The Academy’s submission to the feds’ cyber safety review includes, “development of a top-class professional cyber security workforce and a comprehensive education program for its citizens.”

“The Academy believes that cyber security must be a common thread through various science and technology programs, and that a strategic focus on digital business, data management and cyber security vocational training and university education would support the development of a highly skilled workforce of cyber security professionals,” the submission states.

Universities are already on to this (CMM September 10) but a dedicated resource might be needed to implement the Academy’s idea. Perhaps like the Naval Shipbuilding College which is intended to liaise with industry and universities/colleges to train the workforce for the RAN building programme (CMM February 9). Or perhaps better ask advise from people with established industry-policy expertise. The cyber security CRC at Edith Cowan U might be an idea (CMM September 25 2017).

Appointments, achievements

Felicity Davis (Mater Research, Uni Queensland) and James Hudson (Queensland Institute for Medical Research Berghofer) win the National Stem Cell Foundation’s Metcalf Prize for research.

Aliza Hunt (ANU) wins the Helen Barlett prize for innovation in ageing research, awarded by Emerging Researchers in Ageing.

 Belinda Tiffen will become Macquarie U librarian in January. Dr Tiffen will move from UTS.

Kylie Walker is the new CEO of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering. She leaves Science and Technology Australia next month.