Plus Gail Gago armours-up and Parkes set to star in search for ET

All together ooky

Indeed they are at the University of South Australia where scholars are very interested in the achievements of US actor John Astin. Yes that John Astin, aka Gomez Addams, now a professor of drama at Johns Hopkins, interviewed by UniSA’s Professor Anthony Elliot in Baltimore, here. The focus is on the excellent Addams Family, which was indeed creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky. But where is Professor Astin’s masterwork, Evil Roy Slade?

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No strength in numbers

The CASA sessional staff blog has nailed the issue in the Federal Court decision that only casuals actually being paid by Swinburne University when the vote occurred were eligible to vote in its contentious enterprise agreement ballot, CMM yesterday. “The takeaway from all of this is that while institutions minimise the scale of casualisation by counting in full time equivalent (FTE) terms, it’s headcount that really counts at voting time. So if insecurely hired employees are at or near a majority in your institution, you can be sure that both management and unions are thinking hard about their potential as a voting bloc.”

Quite. Wonder why casual staff are so easily exploited?

Astro active listening

Venture capitalist Yuri Milner is committing US$100m to searching for extraterrestrial intelligence. A share of the fund, announced last night, will pay for 25 per cent of CSIRO Parke‘s radio telescope time for five years to scan the million closest stars to earth, plus others in 100 more galaxies, for electromagnetic signals emitted by aliens. Mr Milner‘s Australian astronomy connection started last year when ANU vice chancellor in waiting Brian Schmidt and colleagues won his $3m Breakthrough Prize, for work on the way the universe is accelerating that also won the Nobel Prize. The project at Parkes will be led by Swinburne’s Matthew Bailes. CMM suspects that this project does not fit the applied research category the government favours but for this sort of industry engagement Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane will make an exception. Between this and the Australian component of the Square Kilometre Array all of a sudden Australia is doing a lot of the world’s star gazing.

Bigger than burgers

The Open Day offer of the day goes to Murdoch U, which is promising users new to UBER $25 vouchers, good for rides to campus for the big event on July 26. Not as flashy as drones transporting burgers at Monash Clayton’s August 2 Open Day (CMM, July 16) but the UBER, sorry open ended, offer certainly is a bigger budget risk.

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Read for free, pay to publish

For-profit journal publisher Reed Elsevier works very hard to present as open access friendly. Its new initiative is an indicator in its Scopus abstract/citation database of peer-reviewed articles of whether content is pay for view or free. Good-o, but the move does not address the fundamental problem; that the publisher’s idea of open access involves institutions paying “article processing charges” in journals that are free to read.

Gago armours-up

One thing South Australian Training Minister Gail Gago does not need is a Certificate III on making a politically thick hide. In the state budget 90 per cent of funding under a new skills programme was reserved for TAFE basically because it cannot compete against private providers. At least that is what Minister Gago’s explanation of the move sounded like to CMM (May 22 ) “TAFE SA has an important role in vocational education. So we are supporting TAFE SA while it transitions to more innovative and flexible training provision that better responds to community and industry needs and is more sustainable in a competitive market.” This led to anger, anguish and outrage among private trainers, SA industry and Adelaide radio (including the ABC) but Ms Gago has not budged. And then yesterday TAFE officials told a parliamentary committee 500 jobs are to go over three years. If this is Minister Gago in supportive mode imagine if she decided to get tough with the stumbling agency.

Bad news out early

The estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research projects contract completion rates for apprentices and trainees starting in the December quarter of ’14. The agency expects 35 per cent attrition (up from 29 per cent in 2012) and 37 per cent (31 per cent in 2012).

From another age

Hugh Stretton, dead at 91, was a public intellectual when the label required more than a Twitter account. There is a link to some of his publications, via the University of Adelaide here . He was a thinker of the age of Whitlam, passionate about education, committed to social reform, game to apply his ideas in public service and above all determined to make cases for change.


Aid for Apollo

Alexander Grossman, president of gold open access publish Science Open, says Greek researchers supported by the nation’s Research Institutes can publish free with it until the end of the year. Having budgets stripped means Greek research bodies cannot pay publication fees. It won’t have much impact on austerity, but it at least means papers ready to publish can still appear. Science Open also reminds Greek researchers whose libraries cannot pay commercial journal subscriptions that its 1.5 million open access aggregation service is available. Apollo, god of knowledge, is reduced to relying on the kindness of strangers.

Not for profit

The big criticism of the failed Victorian experiment in deregulated training is that for-profit providers charged up for courses that did not deliver the jobs students expected. Just like the US, where for-profit providers are under political attack for encouraging students to borrow big from the government to pay for courses that do not generate the incomes needed to cover study debts. New research by Stephanie Riegg Cellini finds that people with good work histories who complete an associate degree over 2.6 years pick up 10 per cent more in pay compared to peers who end their study at high school. Not good enough, because completing an associate degree via a public community college pays a 12 per cent plus premium. Worse still, to break even after foregone earnings, tuition costs and debt payment students at for profits need an 8.5 per cent per annum pay rise. The situation for students who run up debt by completing subjects but drop out before finishing a course is much worse. For profits, which are supposed to be more efficient and flexible, are worse deals than their public competitors for many of the students that need them most.

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