Plus China trains Aussies in IT and the vision thing in research impact

Shades of grey

Diana Le Duc from the Max Plank Institute and colleagues report research showing kiwis are colour blind. This explains why their rugby team is All Black and their soccer squad the All Whites.

UNSW to reward work well done (except in silos)

The University of New South Wales staff survey is in and VC Ian Jacobs is very pleased indeed, what with a 62 per cent response rate and a plethora of positives. But there are, he tells the university community, things management “can and will do better.” People want more consultation and staff (including him) want to break down silos (which is very bad news for the school of silo construction). Professor Jacobs added the survey also showed “we need to review our policies so you feel properly rewarded for a job well done.” And won’t he have that quoted back to him in the next enterprise bargaining round.

CEF August A

Free trade in training

Training Minister Simon Birmingham launched a training centre in Sydney for Chinese tech company Huawei the other day. The minister said the centre will ramp up to 6000 students within a couple a years, at which point CMM suspected an errant nought on the number. But no, Huawei will train 6000 Australians every year in its technology, 6000! It makes warnings about under-skilled Chinese tradespeople working in Australia under the new free trade treaty look ridiculous. Without a free exchange of skilled workers, in a couple of years time comrades in Beijing would be complaining about Huawei taking jobs away from local techs by bringing in their own IT trained Aussies.

Assessing impact

Metrics mavens are more ambivalent than exulted at the news the Australian Technology Network is working on a research impact measure (CMM Friday). That the proposal is being designed to work with the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering’s model for a Research Engagement for Australia (CMM April 24) does not universally impress either. Not that people dispute the politics –the government wants more applied research involving industry-it’s just the practicalities they wonder about. For a start, some suggest that rewarding universities which already attract industry funding with more public money will not change the status quo, that universities doing well on the existing Excellence for Research in Australia measures will do well on industry links (what with the way that ERA already includes them). They also argue that impact cannot be isolated from research quality and that combining the two is much harder than assumed. The ATSE model just counts heads and cash raised, which hardly tracks embedded industry engagement, critics claim.


As for tying funding to commercial engagement, it could create perverse incentives. If Block Grant Funding was changed to give more weight to business links universities could look offshore. Australia lacks the entrepreneurial medium sized enterprises that make such a contribution to Germany’s R&D. It all goes to demonstrate the strength of ERA, advocates argue, “if you want one indicator it is research quality,” a supporter of the existing research assessment model says.

Clear vision

Here’s one for the impact modellers; Professor Brian Holden’s Vision group (closely associated with the Vision Cooperative Research Centre, just ended) will receive $10 for every pair of Revo sunglasses, endorsed by singer Bono. The money will fund treatments for avoidable blindness and vision impairment. Looks like industry engagement to CMM.

Walking dread

For a while it looked like July would see no big deal in that fundamental of HASS research, zombie studies. So hooray for UNSW, where professor of educational psychology Andrew Martin is delivering his inaugural lecture, “Adaptability in the 21st Century: Exploring its role in climate change, academic success, personal wellbeing, workplace effectiveness – and surviving the zombie apocalypse.” It’s on Thursday at 6pn, details here. Mind you don’t get bitten on the way in.

Mindhive 1

Labor locks on with TAFE

Labor launched its long announced electoral offensive on training at the party’s national conference at the weekend, opening a second front in its war against deregulation. Just as Labor adamantly opposes creating competition on undergraduate fees between universities it is also intent on protecting TAFE from private providers. Shadow training minister Sharon Bird summed it up in her conference speech;

“For too long we have seen our great public institution of TAFE undermined and had the capacity to deliver to the people we most need it there for destroyed in so many regions across Australia and this must stop. Our platform puts TAFE back at the heart of the vocational education and training sector – where it should be.”

The party plans to “to rebalance the contestable funding model to ensure that priority funds are allocated to TAFEs so that quality training can be delivered in the regions, to disadvantaged groups, in key sectors such as aged care, and in STEM-related fields. Labor believes there is a place for contestable funding but we must get the balance right.”

This will please the public education unions and most voters who pay any attention to voced will probably approve; the mess in Victoria under the first deregulation model, where unethical private providers manipulated underprivileged and under-qualified students, is known nationally. It is now be up to federal training minister Simon Birmingham to argue his reforms will clean the industry up, that the private sector is cheaper, and more student focused than TAFE and should be allowed to compete for a big share of students. This will not be as hard as the Pyne proposal to deregulate higher education but it still will not be easy.

Exploring beyond James Cook U

James Cook University management copped a horrible hiding in the recent comprehensive staff survey. As CMM reported, a couple of weeks back; “less than a quarter of permanent Australian-based staff believe administration is improving, that change is handled well, workers are effectively consulted and that senior management listens to people.”

So is this why senior JCU Cairns scientist Steve Turton was talking up independence down the track on Friday in the Cairns Post? Apparently not, Professor Turton was musing about the way Townsville headquartered JCU itself split from the University of Queensland when enrolments made independence possible. But his timing was not terrific, demonstrated by JCU’s clipped and clear response to CMM asking what was going on. “The Cairns campus is an integral part of James Cook University, and there are no plans for the campus to become a separate entity, (it) is the university’s fastest growing campus and is critical to the future of JCU.” But if anybody with popular courses and research funding does want out Scott Bowman, who’s CQU is expanding in Cairns, will undoubtedly be happy to talk.

Open Day of the day

Swinburne will use Open Day on Sunday to show (it hopes) future students what past and present ones have done with their degrees. A vet grad will display his furniture, chemists will be awash with soap made from beer hops, plus authors and consultants will present their intellectual wares. But surely the star will be the astro tour by staff who will work on the new international search for ET. And if this all sounds too serious there is a flight simulator and a games arcade.

ANU June 4

Record redacted

Life is never dull for University of New England leaders. A few years back previous VC Alan Pettigrew and chancellor John Cassidy were at daggers drawn and now present chancellor James Harris is having a frank exchange with staff elected Council member Professor Margaret Sims over her role on it. Professor Sims says the chancellor excludes her from council matters involving staff because she is acting president of the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union. Sections of council papers are redacted in her copy, she told CMM on her way into a council meeting on Friday. The university has not responded to CMM’s request for comment but the union says the chancellor is stopping Professor Sims, “exercising her democratic duties.” According to the NTEU’s Genevieve Kelly, the chancellor, is meant, “to facilitate open and free discussion and this sort of behaviour in shutting down the important voice of educators on councils cannot be allowed to continue … (it) has implications for all universities in Australia.

Nice work if you can get it

Publishing giant Pearson has sold the (London) Financial Times to focus on its education businesses. Predicting that 20 years ago and newsrooms would have laughed. Back then the rivers of fold flowed from newspaper advertisements.

But now it is education.

It is less rivers of gold than oceans of income over at content giant Reed Elsevier (RELX) which has declared a 3 per cent increase in first half revenue earnings to £2 964m with 5 per cent underlying profit growth to £909m. That’s a 26 per cent margin.

The scholarly journal division did even better, with sales up 13 per cent to £1 184m and profits rising 12 per cent to £425m, a 35 per cent return.

Of course it helps that RELX does not pay anybody who publishes in their journals, in fact it’s the reverse, authors or their institutions pay the publisher. But these figures demonstrate why the company is so opposed to the green open access movement that wants taxpayer funded research reports to be available free for all to read.

Dolt of the morning

Is CMM. Friday’s issue included a report on the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education and Training publishing figures on all government-funded training. CMM edited out the key point, that this is the first time it has done this quarterly.