Infrastructure Australia backs U Tas VC Peter Rathjen’s transformative vision

plus Uni Wollongong’s charm offensive

Federation U looks north

and everyone’s a critic: what medical researchers don’t want

 Poster person

If the University of Melbourne needed reminding that they will miss marketing director Lara McKay, off to manage marcoms for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, the Outdoor Media Association is reminding them. The university’s outdoor campaign promoting research “made possible by Melbourne” has just won the 2016 grand prize for outdoor advertising.

Rathjen’s big picture

On Friday the Hobart Mercury backed the University of Tasmania plan to move its STEM sites into the Hobart CBD. “STEM jobs are, simply, the way of the future … we believe actively pursuing educational excellence is a major, major part of the future for Tasmania,” it editorialised.

The paper has certainly consumed the campus kool aid. In November it named Vice Chancellor Peter Rathjen number two on a list of the top hundred people in the state. His strategy “could prove transformational for this state … all sides of politics listen when Rathjen says education is the future of Tasmania,” (CMM November 21).

Later Friday Infrastructure Australia backed the Mercury’s judgement adding the university proposal to its priority list, the first education project to make it.

“Experience both in Australia and abroad suggests that investment of this scale can also help attract new industries to the CBD which could in turn support economic and population growth—enabling Hobart to better adapt to the State’s changing economy, IA chair Mark Birrell says.

When added to the university’s big building programme in the north of the state and its new associate degree programme, designed to address the state’s unemployment and skills shortage, this new proposal confirms U Tas as central to the state’s prospects. As Professor Rathjen puts it; “we are pursuing the economic and social benefits which flow to university cities, including the creation of new knowledge-based industry clusters, and delivery of globally relevant, regionally-specific applied research programs, in such a way as to drive a new, better future for Tasmania.”

Want to know how to put universities centre stage in society? Watch Peter Rathjen.

Not app of the day

The Department of Employment has created Career Quiz, designed to help job seekers work out what they might enjoy doing for a quid. CMM wonders if consultancy Brown Beige Cardigan worked on the project – there is ample information presented in a format which will undoubtedly appeal to first-time app users – in their 60s.

Federation U expands north

Alexandra Elibank Murray is joining Federation University as director of its Brisbane Centre, which is scheduled to open in November, offering a masters and two bachelor degrees to international students. She joins Fed U from the Challenger Institute of Technology.

The Brisbane venture is part of the university’s strategy to expand its base. In November Fed U announced a new joint-venture campus in Kuala Lumpur teaching degrees in business, IT and hospitality and management. The campus at Berwick, on Melbourne’s southeast fringe, which it took over from Monash is expected to be the largest in the network in five years ( CMM November 7 2016).

No snooping

Western Sydney U provides first year students with free textbooks, via Proquest which says that part of the package allows academics to “see the depth with which students actually engage with content.” CMM wondered whether WSU would actually allow staff to snoop on students. The answer is it wouldn’t.

“Only a small amount of anonymised, high-level information is recorded, such as the total number of downloads. The system’s administrators will mange this and there is no general access to these data,” a spokesman says.

Charm offensive

The Mudgee and Gulgong communities of central west NSW are recipients of a University of Wollongong community fellowship award for the support they give to UoW medical students training there. Vice Chancellor Paul Wellings says there is a “clear alignment between the community and UOW’s commitment to improving rural and regional health.”

This is well-timed diplomacy, with the region right in the heartland of Charles Sturt U which wants to establish its own Murray Darling Medical School, a proposal that all the universities whose med schools place students in rural NSW communities think is a very bad idea.

On the way

Sam Huang has joined Edith Cowan U as a professorial research fellow. The expert on outbound Chinese tourism moves from the University of South Australia. Professor Huang is the 11th of the 20 senior researchers to be appointed in a programme announced in 2015. He follows HR management researcher Stephen Teo who joined from RMIT earlier this month.

Upset DET

The Department of Education and Training’s media profile is generally less low than subterranean, which means officials are either acutely annoyed at Mark Warburton’s critique of the new VET student loan system or the minister’s office has suggested they should sandbag the scheme against Mr Warburton’s deluge of detail (CMM February 15.

Whatever the reason, DET has responed to the Warburton paper with details on specific issues and claims the new system is working well. While too detailed, even for CMM, the department would serve the public interest by publishing its paper.

CMM understands Mr Warburton has a line by line response. He has also sent his original report to all MPs and senators, urging them to keep an eye on the application of the department’s new loan legislation, suggesting that the previous Vet Fee Help system became a disaster “principally because (the department) did not fully use its powers to protect government revenue and the powers under the Higher Education Support Act 2003 to prevent abuse of the VET FEE-HELP scheme were not used.”

Trophy rooms

Daphne Habibis and Lyrian Daniel have won the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute’s annual awards. Dr Daniel, from the University of Adelaide won the Federal Minister’s Award for Early Career Housing Researcher. Associate Professor Habibis from the University of Tasmania received the Professor Mike Berry Award for Excellence in Housing Research.

Dolt of the day

Is CMM who confused his Lesleys. The new GM Academic Services at Your Tutor is Lesley Halliday.

All unique

“It is unreasonable for colleges and universities to ignore their special features and rush to become comprehensive institutions for accreditation and access to more resources.” Simon Birmingham (finally) unveiling his universities plan? No, its Xu Fei, president of Southwest Jiaotong University, approvingly quoted by Chinese Ministry of Education.


In medical research everybody’s a critic

On Friday the National Health and Medical Research Council discretely mentioned that the review of the way it allocates funding is “nearing completion.” Don’t expect it to settle everything.


The problem: The NHMRC acknowledges “feedback from the research sector indicates that the work required to prepare and evaluate the high numbers of grant applications that will not be funded is placing an unsustainable burden on applicants and peer reviewers. Concerns have also been raised that many researchers, especially those at early and mid-career stages, are also becoming discouraged from pursuing research and that there are disincentives to exploring new areas of research.”

With success rates for National Health and Medical Research Council research grants below 15 per cent chair Anne Kelso says “we can do better” and that 20 per cent is possible. (CMM AugUst 23).

Some solutions: Last year the Council put three new funding models out for consideration by the research community: An integrated team approach with cross discipline researchers funded for year to work on a substantial problem. A lab leader focus with a single grant “providing flexibility to collaborate widely and enter into partnerships to achieve commercialisation, translation and implementation.” A second stream would fund researchers with big ideas but not the experience to sell them. And finally, five-year funding for chief investigators to run a range of projects. “The driver of this structure is simplification of the grant program, while continuing support for a breadth of research to create new knowledge and promote the translation of research into policy and practice.”

Everyone’s a critic: The NHMRC road-showed the ideas, to less than universal acclaim for any of them, and has now released and reported on the 330 or so responses to the inquiry.

According to the Council’s report on submissions: “there was no clear preference for a team or individual-based grant scheme. Similar benefits and concerns were identified for both approaches, such as the effects (both positive and negative) on collaboration, multidisciplinary research, funding the best research and early and mid career researchers.”  The idea grants in options one and two were more popular than not, although some commentators were concerned; “the de-emphasis of track record would be detrimental to research outcomes and peer review conservatism in track record assessment would mean that innovation was not achieved.” As for research support grants in option three; “there were many different views ranging from those who considered the model would offer simplicity to those who considered that the apparent simplicity was misleading.” And there was nothing that even looked like a consensus on capping grants, or how to do it.

So what’s next?: As the report makes clear, everybody knows what they don’t want and the possibility of getting researchers to agree on a particular proposal is not strong. “The feedback provided was diverse with no clear preference for one of the alternative models. In most submissions, there were both positive and negative comments made on each of the models. Often there were opposing views on whether a model would strengthen or weaken an outcome.”

Which means there is one thing that is certain when the next report of the review is published in April – whatever the review proposes people will protest.