Plus NHMRC perseveres with gender equity in research

James Cook U exploring its options

Who knows where James Cook U would have been in the Times Higher ranking of the world’s top 100 universities under 50 if it had participated –probably well up the order. But JCU declines to participate in ratings, which include anecdotal evidence (CMM, Friday).

However, next year might be different. JCU VC Sandra Harding (at a tropical medicine conference in Texas) says she is aware THE is improving its methodology, “so participation in future rounds is being reviewed.”

Of course being in the THE or not next year will not make a blind bit of difference to JCU on anything that matters – be it student recruitment or research funding but there is not a VC alive (except, up to now, Professor Harding, who can resist their institution’s name up in lights).


Be afraid, be very afraid

Chris “the fixer” Pyne says there will be “a surprise” in the budget. When it comes to surprises this bloke thinks big (remember what was sprung in last year’s budget?). But what is it? It can’t be the plan to chase émigré graduates who have shot through without paying their HECS debt – he announced this is going to happen on Saturday. Gosh, could it be what he has worked out to fix funding for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy for another year? Or finding a way to keep the funding cut proposed by Labor education minister Craig Emerson in April 2013, which was deducted from money given to universities, but is still not through the Senate.  Or does he have another fixie in mind? CMM is not thinking bicycles.

Department of Prime Minister and Confusion

Despite its polite tone there is a frisson of frustration in the Innovative Research Universities submission to the Senate committee inquiry into the tendering process the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is using for indigenous funding in education.

“The lack of reference to higher education highlights that the higher education programmes do not sit well with the focus of the government on improving schooling outcomes and health and the desire to rationalise grants within each Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community. It also suggests the government does not appreciate the importance of effective higher education to successfully addressing the challenges facing our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities through educating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduates across all disciplines and professions,” the IRU argues.

The lobby points to bureaucratic problems, notably transferring funds between schemes without taking purpose and requirements into account. In essence IRU advocates that PM&C but out and leave it to the Department of Education, with all available funds allocated based on sensible, known, formulas.”

Doubtless Prime Minister Abbott was trying to help when he brought indigenous programmes into his department but it seems his officials haven’t.

It’s not just the IRU that struggled with PM&C speak. As the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education put it; “the funding processes and guidelines were constructed from a western mindset and do not adequately represent or understand indigenous communities or culture. Indigenous culture is holistic and does not artificially fall into the types of silo-type programmes against which applicants were asked to seek funding.”

ANU new 5

Mild on Miles

Labor’s Kim Carr has long tried to help the Cooperative Research Centres by slamming the government for taking its time in releasing the Miles Review of the programme, and more pertinently its response. And last week Opposition Leader Bill Shorten got into the act at a Vision CRC event at the University of NSW. This left CRC Association chair Tony Peacock in a tricky spot, having to be nice to the Opposition for its support but not in a way that will upset the government. Word is the Miles Review recommendations could be a good deal worse and we will know what the government will do with them around budget time. Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane is also down to address the CRC Association Conference at month’s end and it seems unlikely that he would be turning up only to detail bad news.

Dr Peacock managed to complain, but only very mildly; “Yes, it is frustrating. But in fairness to the government, there are a lot of other things happening. … The Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda announced late last year is a means of bringing science and industry closer together, which is something CRCs are very keen on.” Neatly done.

Moving on

The University of Western Australia has heeded Foreign Minister and state favourite daughter Julie Bishop‘s urging that Australians should “move on” after the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. The university has announced that former Indonesian president Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono “will soon be welcomed” as a visiting professor. Dr Yudhoyono was down to speak at UWA on Friday but cancelled. Vice Chancellor Paul Johnson also announced that next year’s The Zone conference would also convene in Jakarta as well as Perth.

  NHMRC on gender equity

Researchers have until the end of the week to register for the National Health and Medical Research Council’s May 25 Melbourne workshop on women in health sciences. It will consider a bunch of issues, including metrics that account for career disruption, as well as encouraging part time research and assessment of Re-entry Fellowships. As for anybody in the Independent Medical Research Institutes system who hoped the NHMRC gender-equity push would go away when Warwick Anderson left, no such luck. The workshop results will feed into a gender equity strategy.

Ranking that would really rate

While loathe to recommend yet another league table CMM wonders why details of the quality of teaching does not rank among what universities measures. Especially, as a policy wonkette points out, the criteria for such a ranking already exists in the seven domains of the Higher Education Standards Framework, student participation and attainment, learning environment, teaching, research and research training, institutional quality assurance, governance and accountability and representation, information and information management. And if people start working on quantitative measures now they could have a new ranking ready for when the government finally gets around to formally adopting the HESF, which does not appear imminent.