At last!

“The long wait has ended. The Seventh International Yeast 2.0 and Synthetic Genomes Conference has begun,” news from Macquarie U yesterday, via Twitter. Because nothing says anticipation like yeast.

Reps research inquiry: engagement and impact is too much too often

The much-anticipated House of Representatives committee report on administering research funding (ex NHMRC) was tabled in the Reps yesterday.

While the committee’s work was well underway when Education Minister Tehan raised the idea of a national interest test, the report carefully, if distantly, touches on the broad issue.  The committee makes an unequivocal commitment to peer review as the foundation of funding, but it also calls for “greater oversight and coordination of Australia’s research investment,” by government. This should require “a broader strategic review of Australia’s research and development investment to identify key research priorities, better coordinate national and international research efforts, and ensure adequate investment across the research pipeline.” Then again, the committee appears less than impressed with existing instrumentalist mechanisms for assessing research in the national interest, the Australian Research Council’s engagement and impact metrics, recommending these assessments not require new information and should only occur every five years.

Overall, the committee makes 15 recommendations, around four themes.

* reduce information funding agencies require for applications

* “make use of” existing information and data on researchers and institutions

* establish document uniformity across funding schemes

* “level the playing field for under-represented research groups,” being “early and mid-career researchers, women, minority groups, Indigenous researchers and rural and regional universities”

Notable recommendations, in whole or part include,

* using ORCID IDs in the whole-of-government research data system

* agencies should fund “smaller scale research projects across disciplines”

*  a review of research block grant administration, “to provide more timely and adequate support for the indirect costs of research”

* a parliamentary inquiry into improving university and other public research agency cooperation with industry

* a research translation fund for non-medical research.

 And the Elpis goes to

The November award for hope goes to Catriona Jackson from Universities Australia who calls on the House of Representatives to stop the government slugging universities for admin costs of the student loan scheme. Improving receipts means the government does not need the money. The legislation is scheduled for the Reps today and it could get knocked off – the government does not have the numbers (morning Dr Phelps). But it won’t – Labor senators have signalled that they will let the bills through the Senate and members will do the same.

Talking tactics at Monash U

Union members at Monash U meet tomorrow to talk tactics on enterprise bargaining, which seems set to drag on. The university has given staff a 2 per cent pay rise, outside the bargaining process, suggesting management does not expect a deal done soon.

From software to soft-skills with Siemens

Industrial giant Siemens is co-designing and delivering units in Swinburne’s HR management masters, starting next year. Apparently, the course will, “address gaps in HR education as emerging technologies such as big data change the way organisations operate.”

Siemens is already active with Australian universities, including Swinburne – giving them access to industrial software valued at $1bn plus.

Bad news, worse news, grim news in maths education

Geoff Prince warns of a maths teacher shortage, again. His Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute regularly sets out stats showing a shortage of school maths teachers and this morning he adds that despite recruitment strategies it will not improve soon.

And now he and Michael O’Connor warn that it would take 13.5 years for new maths teaching graduates to equal retirements of maths teachers, and teachers who take maths classes. To reduce the number of teachers who are not maths trained but teach the discipline to 10 per cent it would take 21 years.

This really really matters;

Out-of-field teaching in mathematics not only affects the learning outcomes of students, it limits our schools’ ability to mount the intermediate and advanced subjects at Years 10 through 12 which lead to degrees in science, engineering, medicine and so on. It is worst in regional, remote and mid to low SES communities and is therefore an equity issue, not only limiting educational access but driving down adult numeracy. From an economic view-point it chokes the supply of mathematically and statistically capable professionals in an era of increasing demand.”

That’s the bad news. The worse news is that there is no way we can make-do without out of field teachers who retrain; for every thousand maths-teaching grads Australia needs to retrain up to 600 out of field teachers.

The grim news is AMSI’s estimate that there are 1500 third year maths undergraduates in a given year and not many of them will take up teaching, “with many more heading into further study or lucrative employment in an economy hungry for data science, optimisation and algorithms.”

“Clearly, our universities must increase undergraduate numbers in mathematics and statistics to restock the teacher workforce. We leave the reader to ponder how this might be done when the social demographic which produces school teachers is so poorly supplied with in-field teachers of mathematics!, ” Prince and O’Connor warn.

So, what’s the good news? There isn’t any.

“Australia is not alone in having a severe out-of-field problem in mathematics. However, the combination of multiple jurisdictions and institutions which train, employ and register teachers has made our problem almost intractable. The time for shouting at the issue has long passed, what we need now is leadership.”

That hopeless maths feeling

There’s a problem in producing more maths teachers (AMSI above), the subject worries school students sick. The Australian Council for Educational Research has crunched PISA data on schoolwork related anxiety to find the Australian experience is about in the middle of the OECD experience. ACER also digs into previous PISA surveys to find in 2012 students everywhere worried about maths and females more than males. In Australia, the gender split on maths anxiety issues was pronounced with 70 per cent or so of girls agreeing that they “feel helpless when doing a mathematics problem” compared to 58 per cent of boys.

Wonder why more women don’t study maths at university and go on to teach it?


Triple R advisers named

Dan Tehan continues his campaign to improve highed education in regional Australia. The education minister has announced the members of the Napthine advisory group, which is charged with presenting priorities for the government in responding to the Halsey review of region, rural and remote education (CMM November 12 2018). In addition to Dr Napthine members are, former Southern Cross U VC Peter Lee, Caroline Graham, Regional Skills Training CEO,  and Meredith Wills, director of the Geraldton Universities Centre.

ACPET goes big on optimism

With Labor using TAFE as a synonym for training the for-profit lobby is preparing to get back into the policy game.

Private providers are lower cost and increasingly popular according to Troy Williams, new chief executive of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training. Mr Williams says ACPET commissioned research, to be released in the new year, shows, “it costs government $1,400 per student trained by independent VET providers, and $4,400 per student trained by the public VET sector”.

“This difference demonstrates the efficiency of value the independent sector returns from public investment.”

Mr Williams adds, student numbers at private higher education providers are up 10 per cent since 2014. “This suggests that students, and their employers, are increasingly seeking quality alternative and highly specialised higher education outcomes through the independent sector.”

ACPET’s election-year message is “the independent sector,” “offers a quality solution that’s more cost-effective and nimble to meet the changing needs of students and our growing economy,” he says.


Jenine McCutcheon (University of Queensland) has won ANSTO’s Stephen Wilkins model for research with the Australian Synchrotron. Dr McCutcheon explored using “microbially controlled cementation” as a way to protect Great Barrier Reef islands.

Hamish Graham has won the CSL Florey Next Generation Award. Dr Graham is a paediatrician working to extend in Africa the use of oxygen in treating pneumonia in children. Dr Graham works with the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Royal Children’s Hospital, and the University of Melbourne.