Plus Andrew Vann sticks up for applied science

While the government tries to pass Labor’s efficiency dividend (again)

 A free lunch

News that the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney, which researches treatments for obesity and chronic disease, is offering an $100 000 creative writing fellowship sent CMM’s irony meter to the max. Imagine, obesity researchers are welcoming a writer, an occupation so poorly paid that starvation is near certain.

All researchers are equal (and none are more equal than others)

The big Ls from L H Martin have had a go at the government’s innovation agenda (CMM yesterday) suggesting commercialising research is not core university business. Their argument generated debate but what many missed was the way Lynn Meek and Leo Goedegebuure also suggested a two tier research system, with universities that are not big on breakthroughs focusing on applied work that meets the needs of their regions (region, CMM suspects being the operative word).

One who didn’t miss the point was the ever-astute Andrew Vann, presumably because he does not like the idea of his Charles Sturt U being confined to research in and for its region, as charming as it is. But because VC Vann is far too smart to blue in public he let a quote serve as his response. It’s from Lord Snow’s Two Cultures, “pure scientists have by and large been dim-witted about engineers and applied science. They couldn’t get interested. They wouldn’t recognise that many of the problems were as intellectually exacting as pure problems, and that many of the solutions were as satisfying and beautiful. Their instinct – perhaps sharpened in this country by the passion to find a new snobbism wherever possible, and to invent one if it doesn’t exist – was to take it for granted that applied science was an occupation for second rate minds.”

ANU Sept 15

Go go Griffith

Griffith U and partner Navitas are about to rename joint venture, the Queensland Institute of Business and Technology, as Griffith College. Smart move. While pathway provider QBIT meets the university’s standards there is a flight to quality just now – and the Griffith brand is recognised.

Cut and come again

Assistant Treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer is sponsoring legislation to enact the funding cuts Labor proposed when last in government but then declined to support from the opposition benches in the Senate. The bill includes the Craig Emerson 3 per cent efficiency dividend which was to rip $1bn or so out of higher education.

CMM (November 27) thinks it is a stunt, which will disappear again in the Senate but it seems Universities Australia is not so sure. Last night UA urged senators to throw it out. “It would send the wrong message entirely for Australia to cut university funding at a time when we all need to get behind an ambitious new national agenda for higher education, research and innovation.”

A menu of metrics

With the Australian Research Council’s Excellence for Research in Australia 2015 report expected before Christmas researchers are sweating on this sine qua non of university achievement. This may not make it the best of times for the ARC to announce that it has looked at other ways of measuring research quality. According to the ARC’s 2014-15 annual report, just out, the council was “actively involved in a range of conversations around possible ways of evaluating research either differently or more efficiently.” Like what? Like work with the Department of Education and Training and unnamed universities on aligning ERA with the HE Research Data Collection. And like work on an impact model of research excellence. The ARC is not revealing anything but CMM suspects this project is designed to synch with an impact model, perhaps like the one developed by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, Research Excellence for Australia. Whispers reverberating along corridors of power suggest REA will be included in the government’s much anticipated innovation statement, if so it would be surprising indeed if there was not a place for the enormous anthology of data the ARC collects as well, not least because ARC chief Aidan Byrne was on the REA steering committee (CMM April 24).

ANU Sep 15 4

Dumb docs

Last week an Australian medical student was arrested in Bolivia for allegedly attempting to board a flight carrying a stick of dynamite, a souvenir of his visit to a “tourist mine” – apparently the Bolivian security services are not noted for senses of innocent fun. CMM made a note to enter the student in the dill of the year awards, thinking he would be unique among med students for dopiness. But that was before reading Christopher Barlow and colleagues’ study, “Unprofessional behaviour on social media by medical students.” On the basis of a survey open to students at all Australian medical schools they conclude; “posting of unprofessional content was highly prevalent despite understanding that this might be considered inappropriate, and despite awareness of professionalism guidelines.”

ATSE after Alan

With Alan Finkel starting as chief scientist in January the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering has replaced him as president. Vice president Peter Gray (UoQ) will serve as interim president until the Academy makes a permanent appointment. ATSE has also elected two new directors, Bruce Godfrey, chair of the academy’s energy leadership group and Margaret Sheil, now University of Melbourne provost and previously CEO of the Australian Research Council.

Ordinary ASQA

Relax everybody, the Australian Skills Quality Authority is on the case and will deal with exploiters of VET students and grabbers of public funds.

ASQA argues that it is doing everything its mandate permits to deal with the VET FEE HELP crisis. The regulator is monitoring providers who could be up to no good. It is cooperating with other agencies and “developing additional information for students”. That apparently is that but it is not good enough.

If this is in fact all ASQA can do it is time for a new agency to protect students and over-time restore the wasted reputation of private sector VET.

Easier suggested than done

The Washington Post has a Steven Pearlstein oped outlining “four tough things universities should do to rein in costs.” And (pray contain your awe and amazement) they are; “cap administrative costs,” operate five by 52, “more teaching, less (mediocre) research,” and “cheaper, better general education.” Good luck with introducing any of them there, or here, for that matter.

It only took a couple of days for the responses to start, notably Robert Kelchen‘s “Why is college so expensive? (Nearly) everyone is to blame – which is a really dispiriting read because what is everybody’s fault is nobody’s.