Reading the infrastructure roadmap 

Chief Scientist’s electric address

Group of Eight questions capping R&D tax cash-back

and Heads Up for the week’s winners at work


Ask if you dare

“Is it possible to be too risk-adverse for financial management in the public sector,” V Ramiah (UniSA) and A C Walters (NT Parks and Wildlife) ask in a new article. Not if you design VET student loans.


Group of Eight questions R&D cap

In a setback to the Ferris-Finkel-Fraser review of the research and development tax incentive the Group of Eight has declined to back the proposed $2m ceiling on tax cash backs (CMM October 31). The Eight argue the cap would harm the sort of small medical research enterprises that collaborate successfully with universities. “The report insufficiently substantiates its claim that refundability is likely to provide fewer tangible benefits for SMEs with large R&D expenditures and that these SMEs would be able to find alternative sources of finance.”

The Eight’s opposition to the cap is founded on its foundation argument that researchers need funding certainty for the long haul. “Programmes that drive an innovation agenda and therefore productivity and jobs, have one thing in common – they are allowed time to succeed, quarantined from political vagaries and changes of government, Go8 chief executive Vicki Thomson says.

However the Eight is broadly sympathetic to other review recommendations, notably the 1 per cent or 2 per cent of big company expenses devoted to R&D intensity test. It also “strongly welcomes” the 20 per cent premium to foster collaboration between business and publicly funded research organisations and proposes extending it the cost of employing STEM PhDs for their first three years in work.

“Maar waar is het jacaranda?”

The king and queen of the Netherlands visited the University of Sydney yesterday, being escorted across the quadrangle by the chancellor and VC. According to the university it was a “perfect day” for a visit – not if their majesties wanted to see the famous jacaranda that died on Saturday.


Toward journey’s end

There is progress in mapmaking for the National Infrastructure capabilities plan. The feds say work is “well underway” and release of the draft roadmap is expected before year’s end. The expert working group, chaired by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, certainly has had a heap of help with making the map, there are 325 written submissions and 500 plus people attended consultations.

The Department of Education and Training has released the submissions, which come from all sorts of organisations making cases for kit, ranging from AARNET to Wildlife Health Australia. There are even two from NASA.

But as Oliver and Young’s Law of Infrastructure Management holds, “it ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it (that’s what gets results)” and submissions argued good governance is necessary to keep new thingatrons running in top gear. Thus Tony Peacock from the CRC Association submitted; “is our experience that more of the NCRIS facilities could have more outward-looking boards to encourage management to seek new users and increase participation by existing users. As a general comment, the experience of CRCs is that some NCRIS facilities are quite naïve of the needs of end-users in their particular sector. The use of an NCRIS facility is a means to end, not an end in itself. We therefore suggest more independent end users be part of the governing structure.” It’s an idea that could go down well with the government to ensure research is industry-engaged.

Commercial careers for STEM scientists

While the R&D tax review proposes funding for science-industry collaboration, CSIRO is already funding STEM graduates to work as researchers in residence at SMEs, to develop and implement ideas with commercial potential. There is up to $105k per annum for three years for enterprises that will match the money. To qualify businesses must demonstrate “capacity and capability” to benefit from engagement with the research community.

Finkel’s electric address

Last night Chief Scientist Alan Finkel delivered his first speech since being appointed to chair the national electricity market review. The 2016 Zunz Lecture for UTS was his usual elegant effort so expansive in ideas that it is easy to miss how discrete the chief scientist always is. This was important last night given one of his themes was the way electricity consumption changes. But there was one remark that anybody with energy storage research in need of funding will remember. This, Dr Finkel, said, was “the first topic that the prime minister and the other members of the Commonwealth Science Council opted to consider.” Got a plan for a research centre? Time to power it up.


Not much interest in Asia

The University of New England says it has three federal politicians studying Asian languages (but not which ones). This is excellent, UNE announces, what with the way “our northern neighbours are growing in population, influence and wealth.” Um, tell that to the Australians  who were awarded Endeavour Grants to study overseas yesterday. Some 80 per cent are going to North America or Europe.

Alpha Auckland

The Royal Society of New Zealand, which administers the Marsden Fund for the government, has announced NZ$65m for 117 STEM and HASS research grants. Among the universities the University of Auckland won 38 grants, Victoria University of Wellington 26 and the University of Waikato 22.

Happy birthday NCVER

The estimable National Centre for Vocational Education and Training commenced operations 35 years ago this month. But what would the the super sober agency like for a  birthday present? A nice new OECD dataset on apprenticeships comes to mind.

Honi on the record

The University of Sydney library has digitised student newspaper Honi Soit for 1929-1990. It’s available here. CMM can see theses coming on.


Dolt of the day

Is CMM who referred to Belinda Robinson on Wednesday as chair of Universities Australia, of course she is CEO.

Heads Up

Winners at work this week


UNSW has announced the first 15 Scientia Education Fellows, to provide teaching and learning leadership and “support UNSW’s commitment to be a teaching as well as a research intensive university.” They are Chinthaka Balasooriya (medicine), Martin Bliemel (business), Richard Buckland (engineering),  Gigi Foster (economics), Sami Kara (engineering),  Michelle Langford (HASS), Benson Lim (built environment), Louise Lutze-Mann (biology), Simon McIntyre (art and design), Cathy Sherry (law),  Alex Steel (law),  Chihiro Thomson (HASS), Chris Tisdell (science), Gary Velan, (medicine).

Architect and University of Newcastle professor Peter Stutchbury’s practice has won a Royal Institute of British Architects award for international excellence. It’s for the Invisible House, in the Megalong Valley west of Sydney, which was the 2014 Australian house of the year.

Jon Whittle from Lancaster University in the UK will become dean of IT at Monash U next May. “IT is everywhere, and should therefore be a fundamental part of any successful university’s core offerings,” he says

The WA Government has appointed five heads to lead its restructured TAFE system, now organised as regions. They are: Terry Durant – south metro, Michelle Hoad – north metro, Duncan Anderson, southern region, Bill Swetman – central region, Kevin Doig – northern region.

Michael Spence (VC UniSydney) and S Bruce Dowton (VC Macquarie U) have become city ambassadors forBusiness Events Sydney. The urbane Dr Spence will be charm personified and Professor Dowton undoubtedly do well in a role that surely will lift his subterranean media profile.




Monash marketing maven Margot Burke is off to show the Brits how it is done. The woman behind the new “Question the answers” corporate campaign (CMM April 11) is moving to the University of Leicester.

The winners of the University of Queensland’s teaching excellence awards are engineering academic Vincent Wheatley and the School of Psychology’s Blake McKimmieBarbara Masser and Mark Horswill.

Professor Karen Reynolds from Flinders U has received Engineers Australia’s Dewhurst medal for biomedical engineering.

Saul Cunningham is the new director of the ANU’s Fenner School of Environment and Society. The biodiversity expert joins the university from CSIRO. He replaces Steve Dowers who is stepping down after two terms as school head.

Bruce McColl, recently retired as chief marketing officer at Mars (as in bars), has joined the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute at the University of South Australia as an industry professor.