Bigger than Ben Hurr

The Cooperative Research Centres Association and the Australasian Research Management Society are presenting a six part series, “Managing a CRC bid.” Can’t wait for the TV adaption

Worth remembering

The new DFAT trade in services statistics include nothing to surprise the industry – still, that sales to international students (study fees and living expenses) earned Australia $14.46bn in 2012-13 is worth mentioning. Yes, it was down a bit on the year before. Yes the voc ed export sector is still in shaky shape, nevertheless $14bn plus is a big bucket of money. It never ceases to surprise me that among the examples of Hawke-Keating economic reform the creation of this enormous export industry is often ignored.  Quick, who was the minister for higher education when the foundations for export education were being laid in the early ‘90s?

Nice little earners

What should it profit publishers selling research other people paid for? Quite a bit actually. Reports from some of the major journal publishers show profits last year were up 2 to 3 per cent – not bad given the big US and European markets are not exactly booming.  But for big bucks it is impossible to ignore the newly announced annual results from Reed Elsevier. While revenue growth is around the industry standard it’s the operating profit that impresses. The company earned 2,064m Euros on revenues of 7,121m – a 28 per cent return.  It demonstrates just how healthy a business can be when it does not pay for labour – in this case academics’ research and writing.

Eat for free

Nobel laureate in medicine Sydney Brenner on journal publishers (in King’s Review, from King’s College Cambridge): “Scientists and academics have handed over to the editors of these journals the ability to make judgment on science and scientists. There are universities in America, and I’ve heard from many committees, that we won’t consider people’s publications in low impact factor journals. … And everybody works for these journals for nothing. There’s no compensation. There’s nothing. They get everything free.” Maybe there is such a thing as a free lunch, after all.

Discussing building a barricade

Another day, another announcement of industrial action. This one is at UTS where union members met to consider a campaign for protected industrial action to try and push management along on enterprise bargaining. According to the National Tertiary Education Union talks began last June but nothing much has happened. Over at Curtin University the union is alarmed by restructure plans and the way some academics are being are  being encouraged to consider teaching only positions. I asked Curtin management about the NTEU’s concerns on Friday and they promised a response – which I am sure is coming. 

High hopes

The peak humanities and social sciences lobby is promoting a seminar on, what else, how its constituent subjects “might situate themselves in an increasingly globalised higher education system.” The Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences event (University of Melbourne March 18-19) appears to involve scholars talking each other up about what an important job their disciplines do and how they can “thrive in an internationally competitive environment where the natural sciences take the lion’s share of scarce resources.” Good luck with that. In a world where the British Government has simply stopped funding English universities to teach liberals arts to undergraduates the question could become how to manage with no public resources at all.

One bloke who isn’t on the Melbourne program but should be, if only to shake everybody up, is Simon During, from the University of Queensland who the end of the humanities isn’t imminent, if only because what they study (fiction and film for example) will survive. “The parasitic nature of many of humanities disciplines means that they are unlikely to disappear so long as their objects persist. They are not under present existential threat. Further: their shrinkage, were it to accelerate, is likely to be less culturally significant than many of us believe. For instance, academic literary criticism could fade while literature itself (and its effects on the world) prospered.”

Which is rather like arguing that history will continue even if history departments don’t.

Data in the detail

Help is at hand for researchers working on Australian Research Council submissions. The Australian National Data Service has produced a guide to creating the required data management plan. But why can’t the ARC do this itself? Surely completing the forms is not a screening test to knock out applications from researchers not especially adept in the dark arts of grants personship.

Learning dead

The Australian Academy of Science tweets last night: “”Are we assuming zombies don’t learn?” Good question! Here’s another one; since when was the science settled that they actually exist?