Plus Peter Murphy’s manifesto for an academic uprising

Who knew?

Researchers from Monash, UoQ and the University of Groningen have studied MRIs of the brains of politically engaged individuals as they read statements from politicians they do and don’t agree with. They found “people process information in a biased way,” and that, “leaders need to build a sense of community with those they seek to inspire.”


Workers uprising

“The last refuge of a Soviet-style command economy is university systems across the OECD. It makes no difference whether a university is public or private. They all spend vast amounts on the production of gratuitous functions, labyrinthine administrative processes, pointless marketing, failed competition, spurious plans, useless strategies, vacuous documents, inane branding, dysfunctional databases, needless committees, tendentious grant seeking, comic institutional ambitions, vain rhetoric, inaccurate metrics, shell game budgets and brittle self-justification. Today seventy cents in every dollar that a student or the taxpayer hands over to a university goes to the nomenclatura and its myriad of offices.” From Peter Murphy‘s (James Cook U) forthcoming, Universities and the Innovative Economy (Ashgate)This book is going to intrigue some people, amuse others and infuriate a few. The debate it deserves is going to be fun.

Not on the money

There is talk of a qualifying exam for financial planners to replace the existing knowledge test administered by ASIC. But don’t bet your super on it, this is an idea around for years – there was a push for it back in 2009 with the parliamentary inquiry chaired by Labor’s Bernie Ripoll. The arguments before a current Senate committee have not much changed; you don’t have to be the full quid on investment expertise to qualify, supporters of a more rigorous national standard say. Opponents argue higher qualifying standards will only push up the cost of advice. But it seems the case for credible qualifications is strong, with at least one of the major banks accepting it. So what would this mean for the universities who offer financial planning majors/degrees, will they teach to the test or leave accreditation to industry associations? And would they add extra units on ethics –most of the recent scandals involving planners misusing client money have more to do with greed than incompetence? Who knows? As far as I can tell no university made a submission to the Senate inquiry – it seems financial planning in universities is where it was six years ago, an embarrassing child of a loveless marriage between accounting schools and business deans who like the income but do not want to spend too much time the people who provide it.

“And the award goes to …”

I wonder if it is too late for the information alchemists at the Australian Research Council to include public influence rankings in ERA 2015. Rick Hess from the American Enterprise Institute has just released his PIR league table of US education academics who get their research out to the general community. While bibliometricians may not marvel at his methodology, Mr Hess certainly shows what it takes to present research outside the academy. The basis for his ranking is book presence on Amazon, Google Scholar citations, trade and general press coverage, web visibility and Klout Score (mentions on Twitter, Facebook and other social media).

The Hess PIR passes the league table acceptance test in that people who do not score high say they ignore it, while their institutions say it does not prove anything, but universities that do well issue bragging media statements. What interests me is the way Hess tracks who is generating attention for their ideas. Want an impact measure? This isn’t it – profile is not the same as power when it comes to ideas. But knowing who is getting their work into the marketplace is a start.

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True local

When Caroline McMillen took the University of Newcastle out of the Innovative Research Universities lobby just before Christmas she said it was to focus on building Newcastle’s regional reputation as a research-intensive institution, which also serves a community with low higher education attainments. So far so good, demonstrated by a less glowing than gushing editorial in yesterday’s Newcastle Herald. It bangs on about accommodation expansion on the suburban campus, which gets less attention than the flash CBD scheme. “The contribution of both can not be underestimated, not solely in educational terms but in their impacts on the regional economy.” According to the paper, there are more locals employed in education than mining. In the end opinion makers in the bush always assume education is about employment, an idea wise VCs encourage.


Then there are statistics

That students stick with soft subjects rather than studying STEM disciplines in the educationally decadent west is all but universally assumed, but something interesting appears to be happening in the United States. According to new numbers from the Society of Statistics undergraduate enrolments there soared between 2010 and 2013 in a range of maths-rich disciplines, by 66 per cent for experimental psychology, 92 per cent for IT and 95 per cent for, um statistics. Can’t argue with the numbers.

Grace and favour publishing

Scholarly publishing giant Elsevier has a fight on its hands at home in Holland where the government and universities are jacking up at journal publishers charging up for content they receive gratis, courtesy of the taxpayer. It is yet another front in the campaign for open access to scholarship which Elsevier and its equally profitable peers are resisting as if their P&Ls depend on it (because they do). But to avoid accusations they are obdurate the publishers regularly offer concessions that embrace open access, just not in reality. The latest from Elsevier is the on-line open access journal, Atlas which runs research already published in Elsevier subscription serials. An editorial board selects what to run on the basis of “high societal relevance … and (Atlas)  presents the science in a lay-friendly, story format to reach an as wide as possible global audience,” Elsevier advises. Good-oh but given the company publishes 2200 journals Atlas will not be much use for researchers in developing countries or at western universities where subscription budgets have taken a hit looking for new work in a specific field. And it avoids the core open access issue – that taxpayers should not have to pay to read the results of work they funded. A few years back a British report urged journal publishers to make their content free to anybody who logged on in their local library. This scheme is along the same, impractical and patronising lines.