At least in Antarctic research and the UWS business school

Less frosty than frigid

It seems the mood in the Antarctic research community is glacial over the aborted climate change research project in Antarctica, which ended when the Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy was trapped in ice late last month. People in the Hobart faction (the Antarctic CRC, the federal research institute there and University of Tasmania academics) are said to be upset with the University of New South Wales’ Chris Turney and friends because important research will not occur as equipment was being moved on board the aborted mission.  It is said this will set back research projects which were bigger on serious science than media exposure. Not to worry though, the CRC is still in business, meaning all sorts of great southern science isn’t on ice. Established in 1991, an extension last year means the Centre will exceed even the exceptional circumstances lifespan under the rules for centres.

Announcements on ice

In contrast, other CRCs can’t even get warm enough to start up. An announcement of the winners in the last round for new and extended centres was expected before Christmas but there is no word I have heard on when it will be made.

That will have hurt

The University of Queensland copped it sweet on Friday when it admitted mistakenly offering 400 people an UQ-Link Access scholarship – on Christmas Eve! The university stated prospective students were notified of the error on Thursday and the university was “attempting to make individual contact” on Friday. “The University regrets any disappointment or distress caused by this error,” it stated – but not I’m guessing half as much as the 400 deflated applicants. Still, UoQ played it by the book – admitting and apologising. It is a vast improvement on the way management dealt with another mishandled scholarship matter, when Paul Greenfield was VC.

Country practices

All last year Andy Vann laid siege to existing medical school  in the southeast Australian bush. The Charles Sturt University VC wants to create, in cooperation with LaTobe University, the Murray Darling Medical School, to be the jewel in the crown of his health empire. CSU already teaches dentistry and a bunch of health science subjects. The astute Andy’s arguments include pointing out to politicians, not least National Party senators, that the shortage of medicos in rural and regional areas is best addressed by training them in the country – because they tend to stay there after graduating. This drives nuts existing medical schools active on the patch – because they already run country practices. The University of New South Wales was in the argument intermittently last year, pointing to expanded med school facilities in the country and now the University of Sydney has got into the fight, promising to expand the number of places for second year medical students in Orange and create a new stream for first years in Dubbo. The university argues this will increase the number of doctors experienced in bush medicine without growing the overall number scrambling for internships. It’s an argument calculated to appeal to Health Minister Peter Dutton, who ultimately pays for more med school places. But don’t expect it to shut up Professor Vann, or I am guessing, his National Party pals. They like to look after their own in the bush and the University of Sydney’s name is obviously unhelpful in making its case.

Not what the doctor ordered

There is “too much focus” on employment and training when what the Illawarra region needs is more jobs for young people, says University of Wollongong PhD candidate Dr Scott Burrows. Fair enough except his comments appear in an  Illawarra Mercury piece which is part of a series, “on cutting-edge research by UoW PhD candidates”. This does not make Dr Burrows ideas the strongest endorsement of his institution, especially in a series which sounds like it is intended as a free kick for the university. And why is he described as a doctor, does he already have another doctoral qualification or is journalist Gemma Khaicy a bit hazy on academic titles?

Bad to worse in research

The long departure of of business school academics at the University of Western Sydney finally ended on December 30 when Fair Work Australia decided the fate of Professor Satya Paul and two colleagues. They were the last of a couple of dozen staff targeted to either go or have their conditions of employment changed. Previous departures include perhaps the best-known economist in the country, Steve Keen and respected scholar Professor John Loderwijks. The National Tertiary Education Union went to FWA to defend the holdouts from either being dismissed or having their working conditions changed. In one of the cases Vice President Lawler determined the university could retrench the academic if he did not accept the conditions on offer. In another the same applied, subject to UWS allowing research time. As for Professor Paul; “the university is not obliged to offer Professor Paul an ongoing full time position based on a tutorial teaching workload presently undertaken by casual employees in the Lecturer A or B classifications. On the proper application of the agreement the university has discharged its redeployment obligations and is now entitled to retrench Professor Paul on the grounds of genuine redundancy.” While he was surplus to the university’s teaching requirements UWS will miss Professor Paul’s substantial research performance. Even with his work the Australian Research Council rated UWS as below or well below world standard for economics research in the 2012 ERA study.

Unlocked but not open

India will open its doors to overseas investors this year to encourage economic growth, according to Commerce Minister Anand Sharma. But, and I know India watchers will be shocked to here this; education is not named among industries ranging from railways through telcos to supermarkets. “Ah” say admirers of the Indian policy process, “that is because there is already an open higher education market in India.” “Horsefeathers!” I reply. Legislation to allow foreign universities to set up shop in India languished in party and parliamentary committees for years before the ministry got sick of the stalling and in October used regulations to let international institutions in. But only the world’s “top 400” are allowed to set up shop without a local partner (as previously applied). Why will the top 400 (whatever the ranking) be interested given they are not allowed to repatriate profits? Damned if I know. The curious thing is that the prestigious institutes of technology aside, there is no way India’s enormous but ordinary higher and further system cam meet demand. So why protect a local industry which would benefit from access to international talent?  
CMM’s summer edition appears in January. Full service resumes next month