There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning a leading metrics maven addresses the four big ERA issues

*  Can we trust the results?

* As an instrument of public policy has ERA done its job?

*Will the ERA framework serve our needs into the future?

*Do we even need another cycle of ERA?

ERA responses: national superlatives reserve empty

All Australian universities are research-excellent in their own unique ways

There was good news of varying amounts for all unis in yesterday’s Excellence in Research for Australia results. But by lunchtime yesterday the national superlative supply must have been exhausted because all announcements started reading the same to CMM.

However the various institution lobbies managed to address big, if member-flattering, pictures.

Universities Australia: ““Australian university researchers are some of the best in the world. Once again, this proves it,” UA’s Catriona Jackson said. However, “the stellar results follow cuts of $328.5 million to research funding announced last year. The quality of Australian research is only possible when research is adequately funded,”

Innovative Research Universities: The IRU stated, “investment in higher education research is being used wisely and efficiently, and that achievements demonstrates the government’s folly in cutting research base funding.  It added, the coming engagement and impact assessment will indicate how good research is translated into action by government, industry and community. And IRU added ERA and engagement/impact assessments should alternate over six years, to balance workloads and “maintain the focus on public measurement.”

Regional Universities Network: “RUN research contributes to the international links that makes regional universities the most internationally-connected organisations in their communities.

Group of Eight: Chief Executive Vicki Thomson had a bunch of good news to work with, for example, 55 per cent of ratings of units at evaluation at her members had top ratings – up 10 per cent from ERA 2015. But she questioned the point of ERA, given no funding is attached. “We need a review which includes addressing the current distorted funding model for research and as part of this broader context, consideration should also be given to not only accountability for research excellence but also rewarding it.

“We also believe accountability for research excellence could be delivered more efficiently by a modified ERA using publicly available data. Extending the period between iterations of ERA would also increase efficiency while potentially not impacting on accountability,” she said.

Karen Andrews has science covered

There was harrumphing yesterday about the need to have a science minister in cabinet. What, like cabinet minister Karen Andrews, whose portfolio is Industry, Science and Technology?  Harrumphers would have made more of a point if they had deplored the absence of innovation in her top-level brief. – it went when the government decided not to upset anybody opposed to old industries being replaced by new ones.

UTas gets the giveaway of the day

Labor promises $5m for U Tas at Burnie

Shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek was out committing more of Labor’s promised University Future Fund yesterday. If elected, her government will provide $5m for the University of Tasmania’s Burnie campus to train “around” 60 students, “for jobs in equipment design and manufacture.” The money would go to infrastructure to, “simulate a real manufacturing workshop.”

U Tas says the facility will serve its associate degree in equipment design and technology, and the bachelor of advanced manufacturing and design.

Moving future foods fast

For f… sake – there’s a new CRC

The first CRC of round 20 is announced, Future Food Systems. The CRC will focus on developing food products suited to specific regions and creating supply chains to get them quickly to market.

“The CRC will work with food hub stakeholder to develop plans that create a knowledge base and shared targets for future industry growth.  These plans will connect farmers, regional manufacturers and logistics and other service providers to create transparent supply chains for value added products.”

The project was started by the NSW Farmers Association in consultation with the National Farmers Federation and the federal government’s agribusiness growth centre, Food Innovation Australia.

University partners are, UNSW, Murdoch U, Western Sydney U, UNE, QUT and Charles Darwin U.

Industry, Science and Technology Minister Karen Andrews says the government will provide $35m over ten years with partners contributing nearly $150m in cash and kind.

A learned reader suggests the CRC might want to adjust its name to Food Futures CRC, given the colloquial expression FFS abbreviates.

Peak science lobby’s election-ask

Science and Technology Australia wants four big issues on the election agenda, all of which are easily delivered

The peak lobby’s priorities are; a whole of government science and technology plan, a workforce STEM skills plan, “strong investment” in fundamental and applied research and a commitment to evidence-based policy.

It is on the impossible side of hard to see any politician not committing to generalities like these. But STA has specifics in the weeds, which require real responses, notably;

* scoping a research future fund, “to complement” the Australian Research Council (presumably as the MRFF does with the NHMRC)

* reversing last year’s cuts to research block grants and other funding

* CPI as the minimum increase in funding for research programmes

* no cuts to CSIRO, Bureau of Statistics and Bureau of Meteorology


Gluttons for policy punishment step up

Labor announces science greats to review research resources

A Labor government will convene a review on strengthening all of government research capacity. Opposition science spokesman Kim Carr announced the review at a Science and Technology Australia event yesterday.

“Australia needs a new direction for science and research that brings scientists together instead of dividing their efforts,” Senator Carr said.

Former chief scientist and sometime VC of Flinders U and ANU, Ian Chubb would chair.

Other members of the review would be; Christobel Saunders (UWA), Emma Johnston (UNSW and president of Science and Technology Australia) Andrew Holmes (president, Australian Academy of Science), Karen Hussey (Uni of Queensland), Phil Clark (lawyer and industry policy expert) and Glyn Davis (former VC Uni of Melbourne).

Professor Chubb and Mr Clark in particular are gluttons for science policy punishment. Mr Clark chaired and Professor Chubb was a member of a comprehensive research infrastructure review which the coalition government did not give the attention it merited (CMM December 16 2016).

VC appointment, VC extension

A new VC at the University of Notre Dame Australia

Francis Campbell will become VC in January, joining from Saint Mary’s University in London, which describes itself as a “Catholic institution of higher education.” Professor Campbell is a former diplomat, UN, EU and UK official and political advisor, to Tony Blair. He will replace Celia Hammond who recently brought forward her long announced resignation to contest the next election for the Liberal Party.

Kristjanson stays a little longer

Linda Kristjanson has agreed to extend her second term at Swinburne U. The vice chancellor’s contract expires April 2020 but the university advises she has agreed to continue until later that year.