Yo ho-hum

Flinders U provides the year’s first example of the Grinch Law of Media Comms (a Christmas connection months ahead is inversely related to the significance of the story). The university headlines a campus healthy eating initiative, covering meetings, events and Christmas parties, “Push for ‘hearty’ Christmas parties.”

Not so top class for 2018 teaching awards

It seems Universities Australia has found enough cash for this year’s awards for university teaching to go ahead, but with no prize money. UA took the awards on when the federal government closed the Office of Learning and Teaching.

UA advises nominations for the Australian Awards for University Teaching open on November 5 with awards in four categories, contributions to student learning, programmes that enhance learning, teaching awards and university teacher of the year. With 72 awards all up, people at UA are up for a busy summer – winners will be announced at the Universities Australia annual conference at the end of February.

This year’s event was always going to be a struggle. In May UA’s Mike Teece advised the teaching and learning community that limited funding provided” by the feds meant no prize money and a modest programme (CMM May 14). But somehow or another UA found a way to keep them going.

“There’s a passionate view in the sector – and quite rightly so – that this sort of public recognition is incredibly important, both to honour our outstanding educators and to share their expertise with others. It is true that the government has not funded the awards at the same level as in previous years – and this is challenging.” UA CEO Catriona Jackson says.

Oarsome result

“Live from the Australian Boat Race!  The old rivalry between the University of Melbourne and the University of Sydney lives on. Who will win this year?” – sponsored space on Facebook yesterday. Um, the rowing races were last weekend. In case you can still get odds, UniSydney won both the men and women’s races.

Setting standards: what will define an Aus university

Peter Coaldrake will undertake the review of higher education provider standards announced in March.

What’s going to happen: Education Minister Dan Tehan named the recently retired QUT vice chancellor yesterday. This will be a big job, with the potential to put non-research universities and sub-degree issuing institutions which provide pathways to universities on the policy agenda. Certainly, Mr Tehan has a shakeup of the system in mind. “It’s important the provider categories can accommodate changing practices in higher education and encourage choice of educational offerings to students, while continuing to provide the quality education the Australian community expects,” he said.

A discussion paper is expected before year end, to be followed by consultations and a report to government in the second half of 2019.

Professor Coaldrake’s appointment was welcomed yesterday, he is widely considered an astute analyst of higher education policy. His most recent book on the future for HE (with Lawrence Stedman) set out the challenges all providers face (CMM August 14 2017).

For anybody interested in his initial thinking on the issue he is on a panel discussion at the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency conference next month

Why this matters: This review was first announced in the 2017 budget papers which called it “an opportunity to ensure a coherent tertiary education sector with clear but permeable demarcations to reflect changing VET and higher education requirements and expectations. Even if no change flows from this examination, it is timely to consider the effectiveness of the provider category descriptions,” (CMM February 9 2018).

There is a bunch to examine but the issue which will attract attention is how Australia defines a university. To be a university under the existing rules as well as teaching an institution must undertake original research in a minimum of three disciplines. Dropping the requirement would make it possible for teaching-focused institutions to get on with what they are best at with no loss of title or for now non-university providers to lift their branding. This would not happen quickly, there isn’t a vice chancellor in the country who would willingly give up a research programme. But it might over-time if private providers titled universities started to take market share from public institutions where research investment reduces teaching quality. As Stephen Parker and colleagues put it in their recent KPMG Reimagining tertiary education report, “There is no reason why Australia … might not have a university predominantly devoted to teaching but also with a single world-renowned research institute attracting Australian Government research funds. There is no reason why it might not have a university devoted to teaching excellence or mastery in a field such as music, engineering or design.”

R&D spending data released as PM science prize announced

In the worst timing since CMM last danced, officials released Commonwealth science, research and development  data just ahead of the prime minister’s science prize.

Labor’s innovation, industry, science and research shadow Kim Carr was quick to point out that total outlays this financial year are $9.6bn, down from $10.4bn in 2017-18. According to the official estimates, spending as a per centage of GDP is expected to 0.51 per cent by June next year, way down on the 0.67 per cent in 2012.

Science and Technology Australia’s president Emma Johnston (UNSW) used the figures to renew the case for a translation fund to apply and commercialise “discovery research” for non-medical science. Such a fund would be run by the Australian Research Council and be an equivalent of the Medical Research Future Fund.

“The government speaks very highly of the STEM sector and understands the value of research and its potential to change the world for the better – it’s vital that this is backed up with the public investment and policy levers necessary to make this a reality,” she said.

Hard work for not much money: the case for postgrad income-support

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations has renewed its call for PG students to be eligible for Commonwealth income-support. “Expanding Australia’s income support scheme to include all postgraduate students would enable more students to complete their courses, facilitate timely completions, and allow access to postgraduate education regardless of socioeconomic background, thus promoting social mobility for low-income Australians,” the Council claims.

CAPA makes its case in a new discussion paper which points out that only a third or so of the 300 000 plus Australian higher degree students have a Commonwealth stipend.

The council calls for means-tested income support for domestic PG coursework postgrads and the same for research students without scholarships.

CAPA also argues Research Training Programme stipends should be a minimum four years and research masters two, pointing out that only 36 per cent of PhD students complete in four years

Last year then CAPA president Peter Derbyshire suggested extending student payments to postgraduates was a necessary response to “qualification creep.”

““It is becoming clearer however that the employability of students will be linked to obtaining qualifications above that of a Bachelor’s degree. As qualification creep continues there will be a future need to ensure students are supported to obtain the postgraduate qualifications needed for employment and this system will allow for that expansion in the future as it is needed.”

To let new ideas happen and grow: Marnie Hughes-Warrington returns to writing

Marnie Hughes-Warrington is standing down as DVC A at ANU to return to research at the university. She explains why here. This is a disappointment for those who were fascinated by her blogging fascinations, first with managing university budgets and developing teaching and learning strategies and then with her Pepysian chronicle of constructing a new ANU. But an inquiring author’s engagement with ideas can matter as much as the subjects so let us see where she leads us now as she writes about the writing life and how, new ideas happen and  grow.

Achievements: Prime Minister’s science prizes announced

PM’s Science Prize: Kurt Lambeck from the ANU receives $250 000 for “transforming our understanding of our living planet”

PM’s Prize for Innovation: The Finisar Australia team (Simon Poole, Andrew Bartos, Glenn Baxter, Steven Frisken) are awarded $250 000 for, “creating and commercialising technologies that underpin the global internet.”

Frank Fenner Prize for life scientist of the year: Lee Berger (James Cook U and University of Melbourne) receives $50 000 for “solving the mystery of frog extinction”.

Malcolm McIntosh Prize for physical science: Jack Clegg (University of Queensland) is awarded $50 000 for “creating flexible crystals and new separation technologies.”

The $50 000 new innovators prize: Geoff Rogers, Wintermute Biomedical for a “robotic guidewire that cardiologists can steer with a joystick through the body to reach a damaged artery.”

Primary Science teacher: Brett Crawford, Warrigal Road State School, Brisbane wins the $50 000 award.

Secondary Science teacher: The $50 000 goes to Scott Sleap from the Cessnock Learning Community.