Plus union promises more of the same and fonts of wisdom

Picture paints 140 characters

TAFE NSW welcomed students back to class yesterday with a tweet including a photo of a flock of young goats. At least they’re open about what they think.


Present uses for future funds

The government’s plan for the Medical Research Future Fund will allow it to support pretty much whatever the advisory board proposes, (CMM June 24). This has catalysed curiosity in the Senate with an inquiry underway by the Community Affairs Legislation Committee. Among the mass of medical research institutes submissions those from the Group of Eight and the Innovative Research Universities stand out for doing more than demanding more money because, there is still no cure for death.

The Eight argues the MRFF must invest in research beyond medicine. “There is a need to ensure that ‘medical’ research is defined in such a way that it enables the fund to support the full range of disciplinary, interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research that has the potential to produce new and improve existing interventions and services which lead to better health.” Fair enough, but be warned, never stand between the Group of Eight and a hospital trolley-load of new funding.

The IRU argues the MRFF should emphasis translation research, turning discoveries into treatments and warns against the fund feeding the insatiable demand for National Health and Medical Research Council grants. “Previous doublings of NHMRC funding have created a substantial health research workforce which puts forward significantly more applications than can be funded, pushing success rates down. Additional funding would allow higher success rates in the short term but also likely engender further demand.”

Instead, the IRU suggests, “the fund should be used to add a distinct new approach to how we invest in health and medical research.”  Of course everybody is planning to spend money that isn’t there yet, making the MRFF a medical magic pudding, an infinite source of now imaginary funds. While the original idea was for the MRFF to have a $20bn principal  the government kicked in $10m in the budget, with $400m to follow by 2019.

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For-profits prepare

Word is the McKenzie Review on Victorian VET funding will be released on Thursday. While the state government has made clear it is keen on TAFE this report will set the tone for the debate on funding private providers and how hard to hammer them around the country. 

No open access

Registrations open today for the national Scholarly Communications Forum at ANU in early September. Chief Scientist Ian Chubb will deliver the keynote and there are panels on journal status, the future of the monograph and how to rate research published in new comms formats. CMM is especially interested in the discussion among journal editors, “what reward for academic collegiality?” It’s a good question, one panel member, Professor Stephen Leeder (University of Sydney) is well equipped to address. Professor Leeder was removed as editor of the Medical Journal of Australia when he protested a plan to move production to Reed Elsevier. But don’t try to book to hear his experiences, it’s invitation only.

Spot the flaw

University of Wollongong’s condom breakthrough” was the headline on an Illawarra Mercury yarn yesterday. CMM suspects that it does not mean what it says, given the university has developed a new skin-like material for use in prophylactics.

New foundations for the UofQ brand

When universities talk about re-branding they generally mean a new TV spot but not the University of Queensland, which is focusing on marketing platforms and comms channels as well as launching new creative. There is a new industry and government focused mag with its own website, a future student contact site and centre and a redesigned university homepage. This is serious work, there is more to brand building than new creative.

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Economists applaud

Bruce Chapman (ANU) is this year’s Economics Society of Australia’s Distinguished Fellow, CMM guesses the creator of income contingent loans was chosen by acclamation. University of Adelaide visiting professor and ex Productivity Commission economist Jonathan Pincus was also honoured by the Society.

News from the front

National Tertiary Education General Secretary Grahame McCulloch has debriefed members on the 2013-15 round of salary negotiations, all but concluded. It is a frank statement of how the union stuck to a strategy designed for good times when public funding fell and still won pay rises for university staff well ahead of community norms. “We can count the round generally a success,” Mr McCulloch says pointing to a 3.2% p.a. minimum wage outcome, 17% superannuation, enforceable general staff classifications and 26-36 weeks paid parental leave. Certainly the union did not accomplish all its objectives, with a “patchy outcome” on academic workloads, on general staff career claims and too wide a spread of agreement dates. But overall “against the standards of the economy and trade union movement as a whole, these are exceptionally high outcomes.” With 3.2 per cent pay rises annually for three years being the base he could say that.

In a guide useful for managements as much as members planning for the next bargaining round, Mr McCulloch makes plain the importance of good deals early at Curtin and CQU as laying a foundation for agreements across the country. And he is pleased with the mix of “high visibility public campaigns buttressed by limited but effective low level industrial action.” CMM suspects the next negotiating round, due in 2017 will see more of the same strategies and pursuit of more scholarly teaching fellowships, improved Aboriginal employment and defence of workloads and job security. That and another hefty pay rise. After all the union did not have to push too hard before managements across the country folded, sorry, saw reason, even as times got tougher.

Guess Who

“The government should stop funding colleges where almost no one graduates and where most students accumulate a lot of debt but can’t get the jobs that would allow them to repay their loans. In the months ahead, I will be laying out specific ideas and proposals on how to increase accountability in the for-profit sector.”

Kim Carr sticking it to bodgy private providers? Perhaps it is the NTEU’s Jeannie Rea backing TAFE. Wrong on both counts, it’s part of Hilary Clinton’s response to questions, which won her the American Federation of Teachers 2016 presidential endorsement.

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Horrible headline

Yes, it is only Tuesday but the horrible headline of the week will surely end up with University of Queensland’s “more to water skiing than towing the line.” In any case what is this doing at UofQ? Surely water skiing is a competency and belongs in voced.

Fonts of wisdom

“Academics and policymakers must join forces to ensure that the existing and emerging evidence regarding the practical implications of ‘processing fluency effects’ can be exploited for maximum benefit in a wide range of contexts,” the University of Manchester’s Dr Debbie Smith, Dr Andrew Manley and Professor Dame Tina Lavender, write.

On the basis of research in the UK health system they conclude that to get people to read, understand and act on information we should all use sans serif fonts like Arial and Verdana. However “more research is needed to explore the use of different font type and the impact on perceptions on different written documents.” CMM suspected a prank but no, this is real research.