plus the R&D funding review: doing more with a bit less

Aus scores nothing on innovative uni index

and Uni Sydney sticks with Howard

Youth and enthusiasm v age and experience

“Will you choose a university with a big history or a big future”? Deakin U asks prospective students. Gosh, which competitor could DU possibly mean? Surely not the University of Melbourne, where they think they have both.

Let sleep the dogs of war

It appears Western Sydney University and the National Tertiary Education Union have made peace. The university had announced it would take an enterprise agreement offer to staff at its subsidiary pathways provider The College, without the NTEU’s agreement after negotiations stalled (CMM September 26). However late yesterday management and union are said to have agreed to the makings of a deal which gives both sides enough for honour to be satisfied and to leave intact everybody’s image as tough negotiators. CMM understands staff will receive the 2.5 per cent pay rise per annum over three years management wanted but with improved superannuation benefits, an extra 1.5 per cent pa, that the union is prepared to accept. “The dogs of war are taking a nap,” an observer of all things WSU suggests.


UniSyd sticks with Howard

University of Sydney staff, outraged that the university is awarding John Howard an hon doc tomorrow, demand a new ceremony for people graduating at the same event (CMM yesterday). Graduands could feel the former PM’s presence, will spoil their day, the staff say. Management’s response is a list of other PMs previously honoured, with Bob Hawke to join them “later this year”. CMM guesses this means nothing doing on a Howard-free event.

On the Hunt for a better R&D deal

The long awaited Ferris, Finkel, Fraser review of the federal government’s $2.95bn research and development tax incentive, released yesterday is much as expected, supporting the existing scheme but urging better use of less money.

“A smaller amount of expenditure focused more tightly on the areas of improvement identified in this review would be more likely to provide greater benefit to the Australian economy,” Bill Ferris (Innovation Australia chair) Alan Finkel (Chief Scientist) and John Fraser (Treasury Secretary) suggest.

And they warn that as its stands the refund of R&D expenditure is, “impacting the programme’s long-term sustainability.”

The reviewers accordingly call for a $2m cap on refunding the tax offset which is intended to improve the cash flow of companies with products in early stages of development but may have “unintended behavioural responses.”

They also recommend a threshold for R&D spending before large companies can qualify for the incentive. And they warn that half of the scheme’s compliance cost to industry, some $199m, is spent on consultants.

In one of few spending measures they propose a 20 per cent collaboration premium for expenditure on joint research with publicly funded agencies.

Initial responses from research policy experts were generally supportive yesterday however all expected a backlash from business against the cash cap.

Industry, Innovation and Science Minister Greg Hunt also liked lots of it, telling David Speers on Sky News that with the review, “my view is that I think we can get an even better outcome.”

The minister was careful to point out that review was now out for consultation but while he was not endorsing anything he certainly put ideas he liked up in lights. Like the proposal for incentives for industry to hire STEM PhDs, “we are brilliant at creating new ideas. What are we not as good at? We’re not as good at collaborating. … this is a proposal to drive the private sector and the universities closer.”

And like a cap on refunds. While the minister made it clear cashback should continue “the question is whether or not there should be a reasonable cap or limit and that’s what not just the secretary of the treasury but two of Australia’s great researchers, innovators, and businesspeople in Alan Finkel and Bill Ferris have recommended.”

The minister didn’t think rewards for industry-research collaboration was a bad idea either; “one of the things that is an extremely impressive proposal is the idea of a collaborative premium … now that has enormous prospect for driving overall R&D, and R&D means one thing – investment that creates jobs. In other words, we become more productive.”

The big neon “yes” is ready to go on all three, we just have to wait until the consultations are over for Mr Hunt to turn it on.


Unis talking in Tehran

The universities of Sydney and Melbourne are reported to be in a trade delegation to Iran. Here’s hoping this is about attracting more Iranian students here (there are 3500 or so now) rather than sending Australians there. As Amnesty International reported in 2014, “the Iranian authorities have waged a ruthless campaign of repression over the past three decades against students and academics who are routinely harassed, detained or barred from studying or teaching because of their peaceful activism, views or beliefs.”

No local heroes

Thomson Reuters has released its list of the world’s 100 most innovative universities. Its based on measures such as patent filings and research paper citations. Nearly half are from the US and as many as none are Australian.

Goings and comings at Swinburne

Vice Chancellor Linda Kristjanson has transformed her management team at Swinburne U, with some senior staff leaving and others moving up. The exits include major achievers, such as Stephen Beall, who secured an enterprise agreement with the campus union, which had eluded other managers for years (CMM September 1 2015). Jennelle Kyd who created a new workload structure (CMM May 20 2015) is also going. Corporate affairs chief Andew Dempster had already announced his exit.

Stayers include Andrew J Smith taking on an enormous portfolio as VP students, Andrew C Smith expanding his engagement role and Andrew Field becoming chief operating officer. In appointments that are Andrew-absent Rita Cincotta, now HR director becomes VP People and Culture and the CEO Sarawak, Janet Gregory will report direct to Professor Kristjanson. Professor Kyd will be replaced by a new hire as DVC Academic.


Jain – note the name

A learned reader interested in the super competitive Sydney business school market was curious to see which one students rated. So he consulted QILT, the federal government’s admirable quality indicators for learning and teaching website, which produced surprising results. The leader on skills development was the S P Jain Business School. For learner engagement it was, by a thumping margin, um S P Jain. And the top school for teaching quality, with a clear 5 per cent margin on the second place school, was, again, S P Jain. SP what? It’s an Indian-founded business school with campuses in Mumbai, Dubai, Singapore and Sydney’s Olympic Park, where it opened in 2012. Catering for expats, it has a low profile in the local market – which CMM suspects is the way the local market leaders like it.

App of the day

Farhad Fatehi is managing a University of Queensland clinical trial of a mobile app which helps people with diabetes and their medical advisors monitor blood sugar levels. Readings from a glucose meter are bluetoothed to smart phone, which sends the data to a monitoring site. Patients also get immediate information on their real-time condition diagrammatic data on their phones.

Course set to clean water

Barry Ninham is the Australian Academy of Science’s Matthew Flinders medallist. The award honours a researcher in the physical sciences. Professor Ninham is an emeritus professor at ANU working at the interface of physical, chemical and biological sciences. With colleagues he has developed simpler and “substantially cheaper” technologies for desalination and to clean recycled water of everything from arsenic to nuclear waste.