ARC and NHMRC appointees decide defining research misconduct is just too hard

Why regional students struggle to stay in study: leaving home for a distant campus costs more than families can afford

Think tanks: how Australia rates (it’s not great) but there is good news for UTS and Bond

Nothing palatial

“Students get a great discounted rate to the Living Versailles conference…” ANU’s history department tweeted Friday. No, it is not for a faculty retreat, just an event attached to an exhibition at the NGA.

New chancellors

Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston will become chancellor of the University of the Sunshine Coast next month. He replaces John Dobson who is stepping down after a decade in the chair.

Maori businessman Michael Ahie is installed as the new chancellor of Massey University. He replaces Chris Kelly, who stood down after two years. Mr Kelly resigned in December following an uproar over remarks that female vet graduates were the equivalent of two-fifths of a male given time lost to marriage and children.

Ready to go

The University of Adelaide farewelled retiring vice chancellor Warren Bebbington on Friday night. “Thanks to all University of Adelaide staff who last night celebrated with me five years of learning transformation and rankings success,” he responded via Twitter yesterday. They do not stand on extended ceremony on North Terrace. Professor Bebbington announced in December he wanted to be gone by April and it seems that he is on schedule. DVC R Mike Brooks will act until a new VC is announced.

Distance lends expenses

There is the standard sniping about the need for a new inquiry into why remote and regional Australians are less inclined to engage in education than urbanites. But a lot has changed since the last one, back in the 90s, and why government investigating before spending is necessarily a bad thing eludes CMM. As Regional Universities Network chair Greg Hill puts it; the review can “lay the groundwork” for improvements in participation. “Not only does education enrich the lives of individuals, their families and communities, better educated regional Australians will help regional economies transition and diversify. It will benefit the nation as a whole,” he says.

But a learned regional reader, with two children who have had to move hundreds of kms from home to study law and medicine wonders, whether an inquiry is needed to identify the obvious. The biggest reason for lower levels of rural/regional university enrolments, she writes, is the $25 000 a year it costs families to feed and clothe kids on campuses far from home. “Simply put, a lot of regional folks on regional salaries can’t afford it especially as all aid/subsidies are based on financial need. The only financial support accessible to students depends on parents providing their CentreLink statements …… even then the financial subsidy wouldn’t keep kids above the poverty line.”

Wizards of wonkery

The Australian Institute for International Affairs is the top Australian think tank in the University of Pennsylvania’s 2016  global ranking of policy centres, rated 46th in the world, down two places on the previous year. It is followed by the Lowy Institute for International Policy at 57 (down three) and the Centre for Independent Studies, which is 106th (down one). So that’s the country’s top three sources of policy-focused research all independent of a university.

The Think Tanks and Civil Societies Progamme at UniPa  collects data and surveys 1900 institutions and individuals to create its annual ranking.

The top ten in the SE Asia and Pacific region are; the AIIA, the New Zealand Centre for Strategic Studies, Singapore’s Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Malaysia’s Centre for Public Policy Studies, Indonesia’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies, the Lowy Institute, the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at ANU, the Institute of Strategic and International Studies in Malaysia and the CIS.

Of the top 90 university-affiliated policy research centres around the world the ANU’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre rates 28, the University of Sydney’s Centre for International Security Studies is 35th, Victoria University of Wellington’s Centre for International Security Studies is 39th, the Globalisation and Development Centre at Bond University is 47th, the Australia China Relations Institute at UTS is 79th and the National Security College at ANU is 84th. These are good results for Bond U, which established its centre a bare decade back and UTS where the centre is just three years old.

The global top ten in all categories are: the Brookings Institution, Chatham House, the French Institute of International Relations, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (US), the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Bruegel (Belgium), Rand Corporation (US) the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, Fundacao Getulio Vargas (Brazil) and the Council on Foreign Relations (US).

Lorrelle Burton honoured

Lorrelle Burton is recognised by the Australian Psychological Society with its 2016 Distinguished Contribution to Psychological Education Award. The University of Southern Queensland professor is the author of a first-year psychology text set at 20 Australian universities, now in its 4th edition, with a 5th scheduled.

Raft of accords

All is amity between the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Authority and the Australian Council for Private Education and Training, which now have an MOU. There is even a photo from Friday, of the first officer of the former, Anthony McClaran shaking hands with the leader of the latter, Rod Camm. Another accord, between TEQSA and the Council of Private Higher Education, represented by Simon Finn is also now in place. Comparisons with the Franco-Russian-Prussian discussions leading to a brief peace according to the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807 are inappropriate – this time the meeting wasn’t on a raft.

It was a big Friday for TEQSA, which also signed accords with Professions Australia and English language learning quality assurer NEAS.

What to do about research misconduct (even if no-one knows what it exactly is)

New rules are on the way: A learned reader points to rumblings among researchers as peak bodies prepare an update of the 2007 edition of the responsible conduct of research code.  Submissions responding to a draft closed at the end of February and the absence of a definition of misconduct is said to upset some.

The authors are: The Australian Research Council, the National Health and Medical Research Council and Universities Australia are sponsoring the project which is being managed by a committee chaired by University of Tasmania provost Mike Calford and includes Mike Brooks (DVC R UniAdelaide), Andrew Davidson (Murdoch Children’s Research Institute), Toni Makkai  (former ANU dean of arts), Philip Mitchell (head of the school of psychiatry at UNSW), Janice Reid (former VC, WSU), Paul Taylor (director, research integrity RMIT), Mandy Thomas (dean, creative industries QUT) and Karolyn White (director, research integrity, Macquarie U).  The new code is expected to apply in the second half of the year.

Identifying misconduct, or not: The  2007 edition describes research misconduct, at length, as including;

fabrication, falsification, plagiarism or deception in proposing, carrying out or reporting the results of research, and failure to declare or manage a serious conflict of interest. It includes avoidable failure to follow research proposals as approved by a research ethics committee … It also includes the wilful concealment or facilitation of research misconduct by others. Repeated or continuing breaches of this code may also constitute research misconduct. … Research misconduct does not include honest differences in judgment in management of the research project, and may not include honest errors that are minor or unintentional.”

But the update doesn’t describe misconduct at all. According to the committee they took their lead from a Canadian inquiry and decided it was all too hard.

“The decision to not include a definition of research misconduct was based on the fact that there is no internationally agreed definition of research misconduct, and that the definition in the current code has been problematic in its application to an investigation outcome and findings, particularly in relation to enterprise agreements and current approaches to the management of behaviours that may require corrective action.”

It sounds like US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s judgement in a trial involving a obscenity in a film. While he could not define it, “I know it when I see it.”

No to independent over-sight : So why not establish an independent tribunal to address allegations of misconduct? Some suggest that funding agencies can investigate how their money is spent and the police can intervene. And others just want misconduct off the agenda, basically because, as with defining it, proving it is just too hard.  As the 2007 misconduct policy explained why it did not establish an independent authority; “there is much to recommend such a body but many steps are required to create it, and complex issues in the Australian constitutional and other legal environments must first be addressed.” They haven’t been and it seems they won’t be in the new edition of the code, which dismisses the idea of a disciplinary tribunal. “any disciplinary action taken as a result of a finding of breach of the code should be dealt with appropriately by the employing institution.”

Gosh, thanks: So, it is left university research managements, and ultimately the courts to decide what it constitutes misconduct, and even harder, what to do about it.