Stacked in the stacks

“Did you know that the National Centre for Vocational Education Research online library has 80,000 items? (the estimable) NCVER via Twitter yesterday. Presumably covering reports, inquiries and working parties on VET reform from 2009 to 2011 (A-M).

Forlorn hope on ending student services fee

From a coalition perspective, the barbarians are not just over the castle walls of government, they are discussing what colour to repaint the keep. But this is not stopping man of his word Senator James McGrath, (LNP-Qld). When first elected, the senator promised a bill to ban the compulsory student services and amenities fee (CMM July 21 2014). He renewed the promise in December (CMM December 11) and yesterday he introduced the bill in the Senate.

Senator McGrath’s second reading speech was incorporated in Hansard, arguing the compulsory fee imposed on students, “is levied on all students, regardless of their need, willingness and ability to access the services and activities they are paying for.” It is, he adds “unfair, unpopular, undemocratic, unnecessary, burdensome, politicised and wasteful.”

There was not a peep of protest from Labor or the Greens, presumably because there is no hope of the bill passing this parliament and even less in the next. Unless Labor senators were in a meeting with the parliamentary colour consultant and missed it altogether.

Western Sydney U news definitely fit to print

When it comes to announcing its achievements Western Sydney U is not crippled by modesty – so it is passing strange that it does not promote a great success. For the third straight year WSU is giving first year students free digital textbooks (CMM November 15). And if there aren’t digital editions they can a free print copy from the library.

And no, there are no catches, the university does not raid student amenities fees to pay for texts. The generality of universities bang-on about caring for student welfare. With WSU estimating the average 2018 textbook cost $100 it demonstrates that it actually does.

Researchers saved from Defence overreach

Vivienne Thom’s review of the Defence Trade Control Act (2012) is being universally praised (although the Defence Department can’t be pleased).

This makes a change: Last July the Department of Defence surprised the research community with an unanticipated supplementary submission to the review which suggested amending the act so government “could more effectively control” access to any technology, “that may be used to prejudice the security, defence or international relations of Australia.”

You don’t need an over the horizon radar to realise that this would mean anything officials wanted it to mean and universities and research groups said so (CMM July19).  But soothing words followed and things went quiet with everybody waiting for what Dr Thom would say and how the government would respond.

Which has happened: The government, has tabled in parliament the Thom review and its supportive response.

The good news for the researchers is that Dr Thom said nothing doing to DoD’s ambit claim; “The review recognises that changes in the national security environment require that the legislation be amended in order for it to remain effective, but does not support the broad approach implied by the recommendations in the Defence submission.”

The bad news, at least to CMM, is that her recommendations will surely encourage DoD to try. While Dr Thom calls for transparency and measures against official over-reach, her review “was persuaded” that DoD have powers to investigate researcher compliance and refer cases to the Federal Police. And the review rejects researcher calls for the “basic scientific research” category to be more like the UK and US equivalents.

Overall however she proposes researchers and DoD consult.

Everybody’s happier now: There is a consensus that this is a good result for researchers. “Dr Thom has delivered a measured and practical report,” Universities Australia says. The peak body approved her recommendation that “a consultative process to develop a practical and proportionate response to gaps identified in export control legislation.”

The Group of Eight’s Vicki Thomson said she was glad that researchers would not “be disenfranchised” by DoD’s “over reach” and welcomed Defence Minister Christopher Pyne’s support for the report.

“For the Go8 that is a win for common sense. Successful research is global. It has no borders. But, at the same time we always take national security seriously and this report reflects that view.”

The Australian Academy of Science was also pleased, “concerns have been heard and believe that the recommendations in the review strike the right balance in Australia’s national interests.”

Labor research spokesperson Kim Carr is “relieved to see that Dr Thom has led a fair and balanced review of the Defence Trade Controls Act.  An Act which all scientists, researchers, industry and universities need to abide by. … Labor is pleased to see the establishment of a working group of government, universities, industry and research agencies to further work on practical proposals to strengthen the Act.”

Victoria U applauded

Victoria University has won an excellence award from learning technology provider D2L, for its “highly successful and acclaimed” block learning model. D2L should know what the new model does, Victoria U uses D2L’s Brightspace cloud-based learning management system.

The unis speaking up for teachers

The 83 submissions to the House of Representatives committee inquiry into the status of teaching are released, with contributions from unions, discipline bodies, professional associations individual experts and citizens who made an effort.

But the teacher education establishment is not particularly well-represented. The national and Queensland deans of education made submissions, as did some universities – U Sunshine Coast, UoQ, Uni Adelaide, Deakin U, QUT, Charles Darwin, Flinders U, Macquarie U, Griffith U, ACU, RMIT, Uni Melbourne. Good-o but the Australian Council of Deans of Education has 41 institutional members.

Education Minister Dan Tehan commissioned the inquiry in November.

Date TBA

Early career researchers with Australian Research Council funding will have collaboration opportunities in Europe under an arrangement between the ARC and the European Research Council. Interested? Well, you will just have to wait. The ARC says the connection will open “late” this year and “further information will be provided closer to the date,” whenever that turn out to be.

Fortunately, the Europeans are chattier, revealing the deal was signed in Brussels on Wednesday, with Chief Scientist Alan Finkel attending. It will allow Australians to join ERC-funded teams and is open to scientists working on frontier research in any field.

There are 41 Australian early career scientists working in Europe who already have grants.   Australia is the 13th partner in the programme. The Euro agency adopted a similar agreement with the National Health and Medical Research Council last October.

Appointments of the day: Caroline McMillen back at UniSA

Caroline McMillen returns to the University of South Australia as a member of council. Prior to becoming VC of the University of Newcastle in 2011 she was UniSA DVC R. She is now back in Adelaide as state chief scientist.

Uni SA also has a new pro chancellor, banker Jim Hazel and deputy chancellor, John Hill a sometime state Labor minister.


And of the week

Shamit Saggar is the inaugural director of UWA’s Public Policy InstituteProfessor Saggarjoins from the University of Essex, where he Associate PVC R. He is a former policy advisor to Tony Blair and most recently head of the UK Academy of Social Sciences advocacy group.

Megan Smith is new science dean at Charles Sturt U.

Chris Stoltz becomes a professor of practise in engineering at La Trobe U.  The La Trobe U graduate is founder and MD of specialist engineering and geospatial IT company Spatial Partners.

ANU has awarded an hon doc to alumni Peter Garrett.

Helen McCutcheon will move to Curtin U on May 20, to become a deputy PVC. She is now head of the school of nursing, midwifery and social work at the University of Queensland.

Nick Zwar becomes dean of health sciences and medicine at Bond U. He moves from theUniversity of Wollongong, where he was dean of medicine.

Megan Fisher is La Trobe U’s new PVC Industry Engagement. She will join from the University of Melbourne.

Jodie Bradby is the new president of the Australian Institute of Physics. Professor Bradby is at ANU.

Gareth Evans will step down as ANU chancellor at year end, completing ten years. His decision to go then was announced in 2017 and confirmed yesterday by Vice Chancellor Brian Schmidt yesterday.

UoQ announces “multi-award winning writer and Indigenous rights champion” Anita Heiss is joining as professor of communication.

Curtin U has awarded an hon doc to Cisco executive Irving Tan.