What’s on the AI menu

SA’s public universities join with IMT Atlantique and industry partner Naval Group to research how humans can work with robots and autonomous systems. The CROSSING project uses the French National Centre for Scientific Research’s International Research Laboratory model.

How to get French AI to do anything during the three-hours of lunchtime is not named as a research project.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Pru Mitchell (ACER) on the great Australian open access resource for leaning and teaching and how to make it greater. New this week in Commissioning Editor Sally Kift’s CMM series, “Needed now in teaching and learning.”

Plus, Merlin Crossley (UNSW) on the place for micro-credentials (it isn’t at university). “Many introductory micro-credentials can be delivered by teaching-only private providers that have lower costs than universities and better systems for gathering short, repeat bookings. I have a micro-credential – my driving licence – but I did not go to Harvard and pay their fees to get it.”

Desirable digital real estate

There are four things universities need to digitise campuses for “COVID-normal” life. Cisco and Optus set them out in CMM 

“The priority given to digital does not mean that physical campuses will drift into the background, but campus design will almost certainly change. For example, the campus will increasingly become a place for collaboration and peer-to-peer learning. This will drastically reduce demand for traditional spaces such as lecture theatres and create more demand for technology-enabled hybrid learning spaces,” they suggest.

Needed now: an independent HE agency

The higher education system is driven by rules, processes and controls. The national interest needs it to change

In Features this morning John Howard (UTS) argues Commonwealth governments have failed to provide leadership and Australia needs an independent agency to do it. “A new higher education body would advise on policy, strategy and the allocation of funds. It would draw on the existing players, but more significantly, its work would be based on partnership and trust with providers,” he argues.

It’s an argument drawn from his new book, Rethinking Australian higher education .

Murdoch U two deans down

Just before semester started yesterday, Murdoch U’s College of Science, Health, Engineering and Education lost its dean, learning and teaching, Mark Israel and dean, academic operations, Graham Hardy. CMM understands both left last week. The university confirms the two “are no longer working at Murdoch U.”

Science’s big budget chance

The government should seize on pandemic-driven community support for science and establish a $2.4bn fund to translate research into practical applications

“With the crucial role of science front and centre in the public mind, it’s time to secure the science capabilities we need to face the crisis after COVID – and the ones after that,” says Misha Schubert from peak-lobby Science and Technology Australia.

STA’s budget submission says such a commercialisation fund, “would drive deeper collaboration between universities and business, create new local jobs, and boost sovereign capability.”

“As we come out of the pandemic, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enable science and technology to boost our economy, secure Australia’s intellectual property rights, and prepare us for whatever crisis comes next. A research translation fund would do all of this and more.”

STA points to the Abbott Government established, Medical Research Future Fund which has reached its $20bn target, as a successful precedent. The lobby suggests funding a much more modest science version either from savings to the Research and Development Tax Incentive or via an endowment.

It’s a proposal that may suit the budget times. The government kicked $1bn into university research last year, to compensate institutions for the collapse in income from international student fees – former education minister Dan Tehan was a big supporter of research. But it will not be enough to keep labs open until or if, the internationals come back. And so university lobbies and now a peak research organisation, are asking for more research money.

Which could be an opportunity for the government. Creating a commercial-focused research fund would make a plausible case for the government to claim to be supporting universities, without actually increasing their overall funding. There is no need for an political microscope to notice that universities in general are not especially popular with all coalition MPs.

There was a hint a translation fund come happen in last year’s budget, $5.8m for scoping a University Research Commercialisation Scheme, “to better translate and commercialise university research outputs.”

Ask not just what you did for ANU but what ANU did for you

The 2021 staff survey asks how people coped last year

Last year ANU surveyed staff as the country was on the way into deep pandemic crisis, with staff working and students learning from home. There was a sense that the university community was working together, “I am very proud that in a time of anxiety and uncertainty, so many of our staff felt supported and cared for,” VC Brian Schmidt says.

But times have changed, the survey now underway is occurring as the university makes savings and sheds staff.  There are certainly questions that read like HR insisted, “are you aware of your health and safety obligations while working from home? There are others that will help ANU work out how remote working went.

The survey also includes a question which will generate interesting answers; “what has been one thing you did to make you proud to work at ANU.”

And then there is a question which includes something of an assumption, “in thinking about the 2020 working year, what was one thing the university did to make you proud to work at ANU.

School for (absolutely no) scandal

Starting July, mandarins will have their own “new, networked model for learning and development,” the Australian Public Service Academy

It will offer, “a new, networked model for learning and development in the APS,” Assistant Minister for the Public Service, Ben Morton announces.

Although based in Old Parliament House, it will also offer on-line programmes and “develop external networks with academic institutions and specialist providers.”

And it will design and deliver programmes in cooperation with agencies that have “known strengths” in a bunch of areas. One of which is, “continuing to promote a pro-integrity culture.” Bit of a worry if they all aren’t on that list.


Geraldine Mackenzie has a second four-year term as VC of the University of Southern Queensland. She joined in 2017 from Southern Cross U, where she was DVC R.

“International leader, academic and change-maker” Tim Marshall joins RMIT as DVC, Design and Social Context. He moves from The New School, in New York.