Plus CRCs survive and Capling to leave Murdoch

Mass metrics

Thanks to the reader who forwarded an article on a subject CMM is too thick to understand but involves the Higgs Bosun. It’s by G Aad from Aix Marseilles University and 5153 (give or take) colleagues, including three from Australia. The reader points out that this is about one word each of the article in Physical Review Letters. OK Australian Research Council, show us how ERA 15 will allocate credit.

ANU new 3

CRCs Survive

And perhaps even prosper. Serious people had serious doubts whether the Cooperative Research Centres programme, at least as we know it, would survive the Miles Review. David Miles could have listened, for example, to the Commission of Audit, which wanted the CRCs gone and their funding given to the Australian Research Council for Linkage grants. And research policy people suspected Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane’s Industry Growth Centres (which are to focus on very applied research) were intended as a replacement model. But Mr Miles was not having any of it, stating: “retaining the CRC programme as a stand-alone programme serves to put science at the centre of industry policy.” And he suggested using the CRC model in other areas of government activity; notably defence technology.

But, and it is no inconsiderable qualification, Mr Miles does call for change. CRCs, and funding for them, should focus industries in the government’s nominated growth fields and industry must be more involved with funded programmes. CRC applications should also have identified industry priorities and “articulated and tangible goals” including commercial potential.

Mr Miles additionally calls for an end to public good funding, “because CRC Programme funding inherently delivers public good by enabling industry focused research on key issues. There is no need for a separate mechanism.”

He also wants a ten-year maximum life for centres, which will upset some. The Antarctic CRC was founded in 1991 and the bushfire research CRC, with a name change, will be a couple of years over the old absolute limit when its latest funding runs out.

But while the programme is praised individual CRCs are not off the hook. Mr Miles wants a review of all of them; “to ensure that they are performing in accordance with their funding agreement and are likely to deliver against their stated outcomes, as well as to determine any potential linkages with the Industry Growth Centres. Only those that are on track to delivering against their stated outcomes should continue for the period of their current funding agreement.”

Yes there could be casualties but the CRC concept has survived yet another review.

The CRC Association welcomed the review with chief Tony Peacock saying he is “very pleased.” However he questioned a ten year ceiling, arguing merit, not duration should be the decider and he criticised abandoning the public good as a CRC purpose. “We agree with Mr Miles’ concerns that ‘public good’ is a difficult and misunderstood term. We prefer to use a term like ‘national benefit’ to describe some CRCs where the ultimate goals are not necessarily commercial goods or services.”

Miles gets the Macfarlane tick

Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane backed the Miles Review quick smart yesterday. “CRCs have made an important contribution to diverse and high quality research, but more can be done to ensure the valuable research done by CRCs is translated into practical and commercial outcomes,” he said last night. The small (well quite large actually) matter of the cut in last week’s budget was not mentioned but overall Mr Macfarlane is keen on more industry-focused research. And he sees the CRCs as the engine room of the government’s five industry growth centres.

The minister also announced action on one of Mr Miles’s proposals, a smaller oversight committee, thanking the outgoing members and announcing the new one, chaired by businessman and research infrastructure expert, Philip Clark. The other members are Chief Scientist Ian Chubb, (also working with Mr Clark on a review of research infrastructure), former CSIRO chief Megan Clark and businesswoman and Charles Sturt U chancellor Michele Allan.

Fair Work explains fair go

Hooray for the Fair Work Ombudsman who intends to use social media to explain workplace rights to 100 000 of the 340 000 international students in Australia.

Quite right too. Apart from stopping exploitation of people who do not know how the system works this will protect Australia’s reputation. The best advertisement for international education is a satisfied graduate. But what about the other quarter million?


Dolt of the day

Is CMM. Yesterday the email edition named the parliamentary secretary for science as Karen McPherson. Wrong. Karen Andrews is the parly sec and McPherson is her seat.

Swinburne asks staff for more

Swinburne University set out the case for productivity improvements in a comprehensive package sent to staff. The core of the case is the need for some academics to do more and different work – the university makes clear that slugging professional staff is simply not possible. “Only a handful of universities have a lower ratio of professional to academic staff. This means that we need to look at how productively we are using our academic workforce, not just at efficiencies in our professional support services.”

The university adds it cannot rely on increasing sessional teaching. “The university’s current workload models strongly support research. While this is a good thing, we also need to ensure that we are, devoting sufficient resources to teaching; and reducing our reliance on sessional teaching staff,” Vice Chancellor Linda Kristjanson says.

According to the VC, on-campus student numbers are up 1 per cent since 2011 but permanent academic staff costs are 19 per cent higher. And casuals are taking on a bigger share of the workload with the cost of employing them up nearly 18 per cent.

The cause, Swinburne watchers say, is some of the university’s multiple academic workload models don’t require a lot of staff. One faculty has a ratio of one teaching hour to four for support. Fair enough for writing original lectures, not so much for repeating classes.

However having presented its case don’t expect Swinburne to start insisting on change. If there is one thing university management knows it is that the campus branch of the NTEU is profoundly suspicious of change and that to make anything happen staff will need to feel they own the decision. Thus Provost Jennelle Kyd proposes a range of workload profiles for discussion, setting out varying hours for teaching and learning, research and scholarship and leadership and service. Teaching and research staff, for example could take classes for a minimum of 31 per cent and a maximum of 54 per cent of their time. This is based on a long analysis of work practice, a detailed statement of procedural change and an overt commitment to teaching, not as something second to research. “Teaching our students holds equal prominence, pride and importance with performance and excellence in research,” she says.

Is this a sign that Swinburne’s imminent re-branding reflects a strategic emphasis on teaching?

Capling resigns from Murdoch

Provost Ann Capling has resigned from Murdoch University. She will leave at the end of June for a job at the University of Melbourne but is not expected to spend much time at Murdoch before then. Murdoch optimists say her departure marks the end of a turbulent time, commencing in September when the university referred former vice chancellor Richard Higgott to the WA Corruption and Crime Commission. Professor Higgott resigned in October when the CCC set up its own investigation, which is not yet finalised. Professor Capling, a close colleague of Professor Higgott went on personal leave late last year and then research leave from February, while the university investigated an unnamed issue.

Professor Capling enjoyed strong and vocal support among senior university staff, notably people who believe Professor Higgott and his supporters were making necessary changes. However her popularity was not universal and suggestions that Murdoch was divided between Higgott-Capling supporters and an old guard are less incorrect than overblown.

So what now? “People are fed up. They have a sense of foreboding and are tired of out-of-towners running the place,” one observer of the Murdoch mood said yesterday, adding the best thing that can happen now is for the recruitment of the next VC to get going, (acting VC Andrew Taggart, is widely assumed to have no interest in staying on.)

But it seem the university’s difficulties are not over yet. Last night the university responded to written questions from CMM, stating that the internal inquiry involving Professor Capling was complete but that while its outcome is not related to her resignation the report will not be released. However when asked whether any other staff are still being investigated by the university and/or have been referred to the CCC the response was a firm “no comment.”

However things improved, for senior staff at least, last night with news that long stalled pay rises, to match increases agreed for the bulk of employees under the Enterprise Agreement, will be paid to all whose performance is rated good, or better, by line managers. CMM guesses a bunch of overdue performance reviews will now happen fast.

Fast fade to white

The University of New South Wales is holding an open staff and student forum to discuss management’s green paper on planning. It’s on at 11am today in the 945 seat Sir John Clancy Auditorium. VC Ian Jacobs says this paper is to gauge campus opinion, which will inform planning of a directions white paper (Campus Morning Mail, Monday). Given the green paper’s upbeat approach it’s hard to see any opposition today. That will come if the university has to find savings to pay for the vision.

Changes at NCVER 

After seven months in the top job at the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research Craig Fowler has made two key executive appointments as part of what he calls “NCVER’s push to sharpen the applied relevance of our national research program and the expansion of our research partnerships and evolution of statistical products and services.” Jodieann Dawe becomes head of research and business development and seven year NCVER veteran Mette Creaser is promoted to stats and analytics head. They replace Sue Ferguson (stats) and Sandra Pattison (research).

On March 20 CMM reported that NCVER staff were feeling the strain of data management for TAFE and the expanding for-profit sector plus the new Unique Student Identifier programme. The MySkills website is not as useful as originally intended and Training Minister Simon Birmingham signalled on March 12 that he sees it as crucial to an informed training marketplace providing, “transparent information for people to make a choice about what training providers appear to have the best outcomes in terms of people getting jobs or having improved employment prospects or having satisfaction with their course.”

Show them the money

Science and Technology Australia, in conjunction with Professionals Australia is running its tenth annual salary survey, here. The survey is an important tool for scientists negotiating pay and for people contemplating a career in science, STA says – which has nothing to do with the long section asking responders what discipline societies they belong to.

Unmentioned Melbourne

Another day another ranking, today’s is the second MBA league table for the week. Yesterday there was the Financial Times, which had the University of Melbourne Business School at 35th in the world. Today’s is from The Economist, which has the University of Strathclyde in that spot and Uni Melbourne nowhere in the top 60. I wonder when that last happened?