Plus Vann’s Law of Explaining Outcomes

Pleasure of his company

Universities Australia is in Perth, where Education Minister Christopher Pyne is due to address a vice chancellors’ plenary session this evening. This will provide UA with a rare opportunity for unity – what with most at the meeting disliking Mr Pyne’s plan more than they dislike each other’s ambitions.

Tough numbers

The Academic Ranking of World Universities ranks institutions from 100-500 in bands of hundreds after the first century, presumably to avoid upsetting the underperformers. But this is hardly enough if universities are to ever ask for more money from students. So good on Kylie Colvin from the Higher Education Consulting Group for running the numbers on all Australian universities that made the ARWU cut. Ms Colvin took the category scores of the 19 Australian universities listed and weighted them according to the ARWU’s methodology. The resulting figures are hers, but on the basis of previous experience are likely to align with the unreleased outcomes from ARWU.

In general the news is good –showing Australian institutions increasing standing. As CMM reported yesterday, Curtin led the field with an extraordinary 100 plus improvement, 126 places according to Ms Colvin. She also records some other spectacular successes, just not as incredible as Curtin. UTS is up 46 places, to 382. The University of Adelaide breaks into the 100-200 group with a 28 place improvement to 183. Three universities rose 24 spots, Macquarie (to 237), James Cook (to 302) and Wollongong (to 329). But while the overall trend was level pegging to improved, some universities slid spectacularly. According to Ms Colvin’s analysis the University of Sydney’s departure from the top 100 is dramatic, with a 20 place decline from 97 last year to 117 in this. But the worse drops were Flinders, which dropped from 332 to 379 and La Trobe, which fell out of the 500 altogether.

Selective praise

Griffith University overall dropped in the ARWU, but this did not deter business school head Michael Powell, who said it rates as “one of Australia’s best performing business schools and among the top 2 per cent world wide.” And don’t listen to anybody who suggests the ranking is not reliable.

“The ARWU index is based on objective data relating to research performance, so the ranking is absolute testament to the remarkable work being done by the entire Griffith Business School,” Professor Powell said. And presumably the not so remarkable work elsewhere in the university that led to the decline. For business and economics Griffith rates behind Melbourne, UNSW, Monash, ANU, the University of Queensland and U of Sydney.

A new era

At the University of Sydney DVC Research Jill Trewehella yesterday explained to staff the reasons for the ranking decline. Only the primary affiliation of researchers was counted this year – which reduced access to the performance of many medicos who work first at a hospital and/or research institute and secondly at Sydney. But not to worry, Uni Sydney “is well positioned to have a complete and verified data submission for ERA 2015 and we have every reason to expect that our top standing among Australian universities will be affirmed in that assessment.”

Explains everything

Charles Sturt VC Andy Vann postulates a new law of academic ranking based on responses of universities that climbed/declined the AWRU. “Up is brilliance, down is methodology” 

The tweets you need to know

An admirer of Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane celebrates his social media popularity. Apparently he picked up some 10 000 new Twitter followers when his account moved from to Cynics suggest that some of these new followers are phantoms but I reckon they are real, following the minister to find out all that is going on in his portfolio what with the way it is very difficult indeed to find anything on the department’s new “single service” website.

Don’t miss this

“Time capsule, speed dating and free plants.” Macquarie U starts promoting its September 13 open day. Plus you can get your name written in hieroglyphics – so handy if you get asked to star in the next The Mummy movie.

Tale of two Sydneys

The struggle to restructure library services at the University of Sydney is on the edge of escalating, with management extending the consultation period in the light of the two unions representing staff lodging notice of a dispute. Management says that in other changes processes at the university 89 per cent of staff whose jobs went were successfully redeployed. This may not reassure library workers who worry they could end up the 11 per cent.

Up the road at the University of Technology Sydney, academics who are members of the National Tertiary Education Union are striking tomorrow over working hours and any agreement that “individualises our working conditions.” The union urges students not to cross campus picket lines and instead head straight for the rally protesting budget cuts in the afternoon. “Our working conditions are your learning conditions,” union suggests striking staff tell students.

 Credit to go round

Liberal member for Bass, Andrew Nikolic has spoken out against the Pyne package and geography explains why. Mr Nikolic’s electorate is in northern Tasmania, Senator Jacqui Lambie’s stamping ground. With Senator Lambie on the record as opposing university funding cuts in general and presenting as a fierce champion of Tasmania in particular it’s easy to see why Mr Nikolic has spoken up against cuts. If, more likely when, there is a higher education deal for Tasmania you can bet Mr Nikolic will want to be able to claim credit.

On their bikes

Somebody should send new Liberal senator James McGrath a copy of Deakin University’s budget for the student amenities fee. In his first Senate speech Senator McGrath promised a private members bill to stop student fees funding political activity. But Deakin demonstrates the days of ordinary students funding political fun and games are gone, not least, because doing so is illegal. On the other hand, if mundane practicality was against the law Deakin’s student administration would be in a deal of strife. The biggest share of this year’s $6.6m budget goes on capital works, recreation, catering facilities and the like. Sport gets $160 000 and legal advice nearly twice that. In fact the most political purpose I found is money for “bicycle facilities” – storage, change rooms and shows. Yes the Greens are very keen on bikes, but then again so is Tony Abbott.