Non-sequitur of the day

“The benefits of having a city campus means Sydney is our playground. So wherever you spot a jacaranda, you can probably see us in the background somewhere! That’s right University of Sydney. We have jacarandas too.”  UTS, via Facebook, yesterday.

Go8 warn: research university achievements and values under attack

“The erosion of trust in a post-truth society,” is undermining universities, the Group of Eight warns in a briefing for the annual meeting of the international umbrella body of associations of elite research institutions, in Brisbane next week.

“In a world where alternative facts, fake news and unsubstantiated opinion permeate the virtual landscape, expert opinion and the authority of an evidence-based approach is undermined. … Suspicion and distrust towards experts has increased significantly with a hard core of anti-intellectualism on the rise,” the Go8 warns the nine-member Global Research-Intensive Universities association.

And the Eight observes that this erosion of earned authority translates into a populist aversion to university objectives and ideals, generating an obsession with the utilitarian so that, “university research is judged as indulgent; an activity that takes lecturers away from their core purpose and function of teaching. This is a frequent trope in current Australian government commentary and further fuels the beliefs of the broader community that universities are self-serving institutions.”

The danger of a reaction against university purpose extends to undervaluing basic research, with the Go8 fearing a focus on market-ready work will reduce Australia’s contribution to “the generation of knowledge.”

“Trying to encourage innovative, breakthrough products without the basic knowledge required to create them, however well-intentioned, is like attempting to build a cathedral without first laying foundations.”

Hapgood moves up

Karen Hapgood will step up to be executive dean of the faculty of science, engineering and built environment at Deakin University, starting in July. She is now head of Deakin U’s school of engineering. Professor Hapgood joined Deakin in March, moving from Monash U where she spent 11 years, five as head of chemical engineering (CMM September 23 2016).

UniNewcastle dean of arts says “no case for studying western civ above all else

Hanrahans of the humanities gathered in Sydney on Monday night to launch the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, which will team with universities to teach undergraduates “the establishment and development of western civilisation.” An announcement of the universities that will share project funding was expected but the news is said to be delayed until the new year.

However it seems there is one, the University of Newcastle, that does not want a piece of the action. Dean of arts Catharine Coleborn argues in The Conversation that; “the ‘civilisation’ model of history, which suggests peoples and empires existed separately from one another, and rose or fell over time, is now viewed as deeply flawed.”

Given UniNewcastle has just cancelled independent courses in philosophy and two of four ancient history teaching positions are gone, this is not surprising.

The university says it has “no intention to downgrade the humanities,” (but and it is quite a big but for supporters of western civ,) “the current levels of staffing in the humanities disciplines simply cannot be sustained, and we’re looking at ways of becoming smarter about our delivery of courses to students needing flexibility in their programs of study.”

In October the university told CMM, “our research shows that students are seeking degrees with applied aspects and with a focus on careers in social assistance, human services and social impact and innovation.”

A provost for ANU

Back in 2015 CMM wondered when Australian National University VC Brian Schmidt would get himself a provost, to implement all the Nobel Prize winner’s intergalactic ideas. And now he has, with the university appointing Mike Calford, now provost at the University of Tasmania. Professor Calford will stay at UTas until new VC Rufus Black arrives in March.

IRU innovator to LaTrobe

Jessica Vanderlelie is appointed PVC student success at La Trobe U. Associate Professor Vanderlelie is presently the Innovative Research Universities innovation fellow. She is the creator of the IRU’s open access case study collection “across 2o high level themes”, developed “to encourage broader collaboration across the sector and provide a powerful means through which to prevent institutions ‘reinventing the wheel’ “.

There’s more in the mail: BHERT announces award winners

In Feature’s today David Myton report on this year’s Business Higher Education Round Table award winners.

With the government’s committing to the transformative power of its new impact and engagement metrics the BEHERT achievers are an intriguing mix, demonstrating the power of relationships over rhetoric.

Relationships like that between the University of Western Australia and Chevron, which BHERT CEO Peter Binks says is based on a mutual commitment by senior staff at both. It demonstrates how convenient claims on both sides of the industry-academy divide are plain wrong in the case of campuses and companies which have long term relationships. “BHERT company members understand the challenges universities are going through and the unis understand the challenges and are developing skills.”

But to bridge the divides that do exist Dr Binks says we should consider the contrast between Australia and Canada. Here, most new PhDs want to work in universities, while close to 70 per cent of Canadians are in industry. Dr Binks own career makes the point, a theoretical physicist by training he has worked in research roles for McKinsey, BHP, Telstra and on a nanotech launch. “I admire entrepreneurs who go from start-up to scale-up,” he says.

The challenge for BHERT, he adds, is to match the existing success of alliances between business and university in established Australian industries, agriculture, minerals, energy, for example, with emerging research and product/service development, in artificial intelligence, health and medicine, for example. It is a task that appeals to his experience and inclinations; “I admire entrepreneurs who go from start-up to scale-up,” he says.

Three out of four isn’t bad

In the golden west three out of four public universities have new enterprise agreements, with staff at UWA, ECU and Curtin U ratifying deals negotiated between managements and the National Tertiary Education Union. The stand-out is Murdoch U where negotiators are at no-speaks.

Students accept ok-ish training outcome

VET policy resembles a Jacobean tragedy acted by the Marx Brothers and yet students are endlessly forgiving of what it leads to. The estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research reports that data collected mid-year shows 87.3% of graduates were satisfied with the overall quality of the training, up 1.3 percentage points from 2016 and 90% of people who took individual courses were happy. And before the TAFE lobby starts, yes these figures cover all training, including private providers.

This is students being very generous indeed given just 56 per cent of people who complete a course “had an improved employment status” and barely half the people not working before study had jobs after completing.

US science awards

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has announced 396 new fellows. Two Australian academics made the cut; Andrew Holmes from the University of Melbourne (natural and non-natural synthetic targets in chemistry) and the University of Sydney’s Dacheng Tao (artificial intelligence).