Hair of the Dog

Recycled dog fur is, “particularly good at cleaning up crude oil,” UTS researcher Megan Murray  finds. Sounds like a job for the CMM news floor border collie, Buzz (the jazz) Dog. He sheds an Exxon Valdeez clean-up of fur daily.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Merlin Crossley (UNSW) on teachers learning. “Many enthusiastic and inspiring teachers are already reaching out and forming their own communities. With just a little effort it is possible for universities to establish stable frameworks and opportunities that will enhance and sustain these collaborative networks.”

Fernando Padró, Megan Yih Chyn A. Kek and Henk Huijser  on supporting students as consumers and learners. It is this week’s selection by Commissioning Editor Sally Kift, in her series, on what we need now in teaching and learning.

Union to Uni Melbourne: “show us the money”

Management warns it needs staff-cuts to help meet a $335m-$385m COVID-19 shortfall next year and says staff savings are needed (CMM MAY 27)

The campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union responds management must “open the books” to set out the university’s financial circumstances.

“If the vice chancellor wants staff, alumni, donors and funding partners to trust him and his management on the response to the financial pressures facing the University of Melbourne, he must commit to financial transparency,” union branch president Steve Adams says.

It appears the union is looking to build on its win when it opposed a management proposal to cancel a pay-rise in return for reducing head-count by voluntary redundancies before any sackings. Staff voted down the required variation to the enterprise agreement 5190 to 2879 (CMM June 12).

Without staff agreement, cuts to wages and conditions must be in accord with the university enterprise agreement – which the union could contest in the Fair Work Commission.

Preparing for the best

Charles Sturt U tell students it plans to resume “normal activities” for third session, which starts on November 2. Subject that is, “to government restrictions being eased.” No faulting CSU for optimism,

Queensland MPs: cross one day, cross the next

Coalition backbencher George Christensen tells James Cook U that he “will actively oppose” any requests it makes for federal funding. He’s the second MP this week to sail into a Queensland university

Why this happened: Mr Christensen (LNP) responded on Facebook yesterday to the full bench of the Federal Court allowing James Cook U’s appeal against a judgement that it should not have sacked scientist Peter Ridd.

Last year Judge Vasta found Dr Ridd’s vigorous criticisms of research at JCU were covered by the university enterprise agreement that then applied and which accordingly protected him from dismissal for breaching the university’s code of conduct, (CMM April 17, 18 and May 30 2019). But this week the full bench rejected this.

Mr Christensen, who represents the seat of federal seat of Dawson, adjacent to JCU’s Townsville campus. yesterday called on JCU to reinstate Dr Ridd. Mr Christensen shares Dr Ridd’s scepticism of scientific research that concludes the Great Barrier Reef is in an extremely poor state.

 What it followed: On Wednesday, independent MP for the Queensland seat of Kennedy Bob Katter called for a “full-bloodedparliamentary inquiry into Chinese Government influence in Australian universities. He singled out Uni Queensland’s misconduct investigation and findings against undergraduate Drew Pavlou. Mr Pavlou is an outspoken advocate of human rights in China and fierce critic of the university’s links with the Chinese Government.

And why both matter: Connections between Australian universities and the Chinese state attract critical attention, in ways they did not a few years back. And there are coalition MPs and senators who believe free speech is not always protected on campuses – which may be a reason why Education Minister Dan Tehan established the French review.

It isn’t great for any individual university to become a specific target for criticism on either broad issue.

And both these MPs can be specific in what they criticise. Yesterday Mr Christensen said he “would strongly back” the other north Queensland university, CQU, “which is a strong supporter of academic freedom.”  Mr Katter has also favourably compared it with James Cook U, (CMM April 30 2019).

Medical Research Future Fund in the money

The MRFF is completely cashed-up, with a $3.2bn credit yesterday taking it to its target $20bn

This is what the government promised would happen when the fund was legislated (CMM August 13 2015).  CMM doubted it at the time, being “sceptical of treasurers to come respecting the fund’s virtue” (CMM May 14 2015). But the government has done what it said it would do, by when it said it would do it.

Let us pause for that to sink in ……

Health Minister Greg Hunt says the MRFF’s capital is “preserved in perpetuity” although with interest rates just above zero the way earnings won’t be paying for a bunch of new research. The MRFF nominal return in the current financial year to the March quarter was -1.9 per cent.

CMM expects demands to start Monday for more money for medical research.

Shergold review points to paths more travelled

State and federal education ministers commissioned Peter Shergold and colleagues to propose new pathways to post-school education and training

They set out what they were likely to conclude in context setting papers (CMM September 23 2019) and now they have delivered proposals designed to deliver eight outcomes which include.

The foundation for their expansive and ambitious ideas is that the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank isn’t everything.

“The heavy focus on scholastic performance is seen by students to pay too little regard to the other skills and attributes that they require for successful adulthood. The general characteristics of students need to be given greater weight in the final years at school. The ATAR should be regarded as just one important measure of success. We need to educate for and assess the diverse learnings that make the whole person. We need to open doors, not narrow pathways.”

Core proposals are;

* secondary schooling to provide: universal foundation skills, “work exploration,” “learning areas selected by students” and personal growth

* “E Learner profiles:” recording student achievements in, and out of, school. The ATAR will likely, “continue to play a role in university selection processes, although many education providers now wish to also assess a student’s performance in a range of subject disciplines. But this ranking score will increasingly be enhanced by a greater recognition of the value of the broader set of skills, capabilities and experience that a student has gained by the time they leave school.”

* respect for all pathways: “While higher education will remain an aspiration for many young people, academic pathways will no longer enjoy more privileged access to school resources than apprenticeships, traineeships or other forms of vocational education and training.”

* career guidance: “coordinated and overseen” by the federal government’s new work-information provider, the National Careers Institute.

* strong school-industry partnerships: “Industry-led organisations will provide a focal point for engagement between industry and education, providing up-to-date advice on skills needs. They will collaborate in developing and adapting qualifications in a fast and flexible manner.”

* education passports: a working-life record of achievements starting at school, to, “assist individuals to communicate their qualifications, learnings and experience as they move between pathways and change career directions”

* Genuine” equality of opportunity: “Accessible alternative education settings and innovative flexible learning approaches  … to ensure that vulnerable and at-risk students can benefit from education settings and approaches that are tailored to their individual interests and goals”

* Evidence-based policy: based on “nationally consistent data collection arrangements”


While the report has to go to education minco, Commonwealth minister Dan Tehan says, its recommendations, “worked in conjunction with the government’s plans to improve higher education and vocational education and training.”

Appointments, achievements of the week

The ANZ Society of Nephrology have awarded the T J Neale Award (for a significant contribution) to two researchers, Meg Jardine (George Institute) and Angela Webster (Uni Sydney).

University of Canberra appoints Alice Tay and Dan Bourchier to its council. Chris Faulks is reappointed.

At Uni Newcastle Natalie Dowling (Engineering and Built Environment) is elected to the university council.

Jenny Fisher (Uni Wollongong) moves up to associate dean, equity, diversity and inclusion in the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health

Jessica Kasza (Monash U) steps up from VP as new president of the Statistical Society of Australia.

Peter Leggat (James Cook U) is the new president of the Australasian College of Tropical Medicine

John Thwaites (Monash U) is a member of The Lancet’s COVID-19 Commission.

Barbra Timmer (Uni Queensland) wins the British Society of Audiology’s Jos Millar Prize (best article).

Stephen van Leeuwen takes Curtin U’s first Indigenous Chair in Biodiversity and Environmental Science.