Plus UWS staff survey success

Pets and the City

Flinders U researchers Heather Fraser and Nik Taylor say women have stronger bonds with their dogs than their blokes, what with the former often being more loyal than the latter. So that was Carrie Bradshaw’s problem.


Pitch doctors in demand

Vice Chancellor Michael Spence has sent University of Sydney researchers a clear and confronting message: do better.

“In many parts of the university, our performance is good but also under pressure, as our national and global competitors are improving at a faster rate than us and the prospects for research funding are changing, with governments and other funding agencies refocusing their priorities.”

Dr Spence sets out the problem in a second discussion paper to inform the four-year plan due in 2016. And he sets out processes to measure research output and impact. (Everybody who remembers the protests in 2013 when the university tried to redeploy researchers it said were poor performers to teaching only roles will wish him luck.) What will terrify researchers in disciplines that are not top of the impact pops or who never get around to submitting journal articles is the idea of “a strategic fund for investment in research excellence focused on enabling disciplines, in accordance with our agreed criteria, to become nationally and globally pre-eminent in their fields and support the aims of our research strategy more generally.”

What will delight those who are prolific, especially if they are in the discipline areas on the government’s priority list, (food, soil and water, transport, cyber security, energy, resources, advanced manufacturing, environmental change and health) is Dr Spence’s suggestion that researchers could make their case for priority funding through; “expressions of interest for the next set of multidisciplinary initiatives aimed at tackling national and global challenges in which the university would make additional strategic investments over the life of our next strategic plan.”

In the absence of unlimited resources research priorities are inevitable. PhDs (as in pitch doctors) will be in demand.

Mindhive 1

UWS improves

It’s survey season with universities reporting (or not) what staff tell them about their working lives. Last week CMM reported a good result for CQU VC Scott Bowman and a devastating critique of management by James Cook U staff.

Now UWS reports good news, with significant improvements on the somewhat less than stellar 2012 results. Back then the university was rated average overall but with areas of weakness including internal comms. Just a third of responders said information was shared across operating units and less than half thought senior management were good role models. This year under Barney Glover’s new leadership the rating for senior management sharing information is up 15 per cent and the overall staff sense of the way the university is run has improved by 20 per cent.

Low base

Training Minister Simon Birmingham is off to China and Korea to promote voced. Apparently there were 35,000 people enrolled with Australian VET providers in China in 2013. As for Korea, if the government knows it is not telling Given there are ten million students in tertiary VET institutions in China, things can only improve.

Where character building is no cliché

Federation U staff and students are just back from the university’s annual Kokoda Trail expedition. This year 11 students and seven staff slogged over the Owen Stanley ranges. For three of the undergraduates it was a break from teaching – they had just completed placements at local schools, a relationship begun by previous Fed U trekkers. Marketing Director Jamie McDonald says he rows three times a week but that he found the walk a stretch, But then again, he adds, so did students half his age. “Everybody has their days.” The party’s pain was put in perspective by a meeting at the start of the track with Alan “Kanga” Moore, a veteran of the 39th battalion, which under the command of the iconic Ralph Honner fought the Japanese on the track in July-August 1942. Mr Moore asked the Fed party to visit the grave of one of his mates who died fighting on the trail.

ANU June 4

On home ground

Victorian Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie led for the government in two separate Senate inquiries into the Pyne deregulation package, making the case that it would be good for country kids while Greens and Labor senators warned of woe. But she will be on safer ground discussing the cost of education for regional and remote students this week, chairing a community forum at La Trobe Bendigo. It’s the first of 15 she will run around the country.

Public appeal

Kim Carr tied Labor’s industry pitch to its education appeal on Friday when he addressed a furniture makers meeting. “If Australia is to have a high-wage, high-skill future, it is essential that we continue to make things. The relevant question is not whether we should invest in manufacturing. It is how we can make Australian manufacturing competitive in a world of low-cost imports,” the shadow higher education spokesman said. Part of the solution is to “resist changes” to higher education, specifically to industrial design courses as taught in 21 universities. “A Labor government will not walk away from public provision of higher and vocational education,” the senator assured his audience. The key word is “public” – the debate has moved on from the cost of courses to who provides them, government agencies or for-profits. That is all. (And you were all expecting a line about Senator Carr, an ally of Labor leader Bill Shorten, and cabinet making.)

The high impact of research metrics

The academic equivalents of death and taxes are the end of the lecture and the arrival of research output assessments, issues as unavoidable as they are onerous. Last week the Innovative Research University group proposed a new research performance measure, distinct from both the peer based Australian Research Council ERA approach and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering proposal for an engagement metric based on existing data sets. And now the Brits are adding to the argument with a major new report by James Wilsdon (Uni Sussex) and colleagues for the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

Their report supports the status quo, suggesting metrics are gamed, deliver different outcomes to peer review (this apparently is a bad thing) and definitely should not replace the qualitative component for impact review in the Research Excellence Framework. “Peer review is not perfect, but it is the least worst form of academic governance we have, and should remain the primary basis for assessing research papers, proposals and individuals, and for national assessment exercises like the REF.”

CEF June 15 3

And they dislike league tables; earnestly (but probably pointlessly) urging publishers to provide more nuanced information on article impacts, “that provide a richer view of performance.” They also call for a Forum on Responsible Metrics, which would “coordinate UK responses to the many initiatives in this area across Europe and internationally – and those that may yet emerge – around research metrics, standards and data infrastructure.” CMM wonders how long before it occurs to ambitious research administrators that “coordinate” can mean control.

Research measures are the currency of prestige and funding and those who decide on the metric effectively control the cash flow.