Fewer fillings, more gold

Dentist and University of Queensland PhD student, Arosha Weerakoon wins Universities Australia’s Pitch It Clever Competition for 2019. She is https://www.thinkable.org/submission_entries/48d6Kyq1 researching how to improve the match between dental fillings and people’s teeth, thus extending the life of the former once attached to the latter. UA says it is “clever research to spare people the dentist’s drill”. Not to mention wallet-pain.

Finkel’s innovation solution: the answer is already out there

The feds are funding a forum on challenge-based innovation, as in “creating opportunities for business, research and government to work together to solve real-world problems.

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel suggested yesterday a solution is out there, the Small Business Innovation Research programme, created by the Reagan Administration and still going in the US

SBIR ticks boxes: it’s quick to approve, uses small amounts of existing R&D money, does not tie-up applicants in process and if an idea does not work, so be it.

“SBIR is regarded as a fundamental pillar of US and global innovation, it enjoys near-universal support, Dr Finkel says.

He should know, he had a small grant in 1986 ($160 000 in present dollars) for technology that ultimately sold for $140m.

On the outside looking in

Our million-dollar VCs and senior managers are arriving in Canberra for their annual get-together. Congratulations to NTEU members who gathered to remind them of the consequences of their choice to employ 40% of uni staff as casuals,” National Tertiary Education Union president Alison Barnes on an airport protest, via Twitter.

Tehan speaks up for regions but has nothin new for other unis

What he says: Universities ignore improving access to higher education for Australians outside cities according to Education Minister Dan Tehan. “We could not find one university research project that investigated lifting regional/rural attendance at universities that had received Australian Research Council funding going back to 2001,“ Mr Tehan is expected to say in a speech to be delivered today at the Universities Australia conference.

And in a rebuttal of funding cut claims Mr Tehan says universities had a combined operating surplus of $2bn in 2017, up 28 per cent on the previous year. “Universities spent $327m on advertising, marketing and promotional expenses,” the minister’s text states.

In a fighting speech, Mr Tehan focuses on government policies to meet the education needs of rural and regional communities, adding “there is still work to do, both for the Federal Government and the higher education sector, to make a lasting and real difference to the opportunities offered to regional, rural and remote students.”

And he signals the government’s continuing interest in increasing the 3 per cent of international students that now study in regions.

“We need to promote our regional universities better – including a lower cost of living, smaller class sizes, and a different experience of Australia. Regional universities have also been successful specialising in courses where they hold a competitive advantage – such as marine biology or mining engineering.  Basing specialist courses in regional areas is another way to support a diversified offering for students.” Mr Tehan says.

What it means: If Labor wins the election, Mr Tehan will be celebrated by the incoming finance minister. By signalling indifference to the funding concerns of the higher education community outside the regions Mr Tehan will make it possible for Labor to reduce the cash-size of promises.

With the government signalling it has nothing for city universities, whatever Labor promises will be enough to lock in higher education support.

Giveaway of the day

In contrast to the government, Labor keeps making carefully calibrated funding promises, at least for now. Yesterday education shadow minister Tanya Plibersek promised Curtin U $3m for virtual reality equipment for teaching and research. The money would come from a Labor government’s University Future Fund.

Uni Queensland Ramsay deal not done yet  

It seems the University of Queensland is not just on-track to establish Ramsay Western Centre funded degrees, it is steaming hard toward the terminus, a learned reader remarks (CMM yesterday).

The University Senate did more on Monday than approve continuing talks, it delegated chancellor Peter Varghese and VC Peter Hoj to sign a memorandum of understanding, “consistent with the university’s policies and principles, including autonomy over the curriculum, academic appointments, academic freedom, and governance arrangements.”

But this may not be enough. On Tuesday HASS dean Heather Zwicker told staff the contents of any Ramsay-degree would still need to go to the faculty’s board of studies and then on to the university-wide academic board. “Colleagues will still hold this proposal up to rigorous academic scrutiny every step of the way,” humanities academic and National Tertiary Education Union branch president Andrew Bonnell said yesterday.

Just one job

Mike Brooks is standing down as University of Adelaide DVC R, but he will keep his other job as provost.  Professor Brooks added the provost role to his DVC responsibilities in May ’18. He will stay DVC R until a successor is appointed.

Stellar communicators to shine at Macquarie U

Macquarie U has won the 2020 Communicating Astronomy with the Public conference. Science and Engineering Associate Dean Richard de Grijs says (via Twitter) it will bring “400-500 of the world’s astro-communicators to Sydney.”  Macquarie U is a bigger deal in astronomy than it used to be (CMM June 27 218). Last year, when the feds transferred its astronomy programme to universities Macquarie U picked up the national astronomical instrumentation, which “brings to Macquarie a world-wide reputation in telescope instrumentation.”


Hon doc for Andrew Norton

Higher education policy paladin, Andrew Norton, has an hon doctorate from Deakin U, announcedTuesday.

Accepting it, Mr Norton spoke about his work and made a passionate (well, as close-to passionate as he is ever likely to get) case for demand driven funding, “without it this graduation tonight would well have been smaller than it actually is.” He added, that he is working to have it reinstated – CMM wonders with whom.

New QS discipline rankings

The QS discipline rankings are out, for whatever they are worth – which is a bunch for people who find positives to promote. And with hundreds of universities and dozens of subjects it is a rare university that cannot find a win.

However the global position of the top ten ANZ universities by broad discipline category looks like pretty much every other league table.


Humanities: ANU (=16), Uni Melbourne (20), Uni Sydney (23), UNSW (= 45), Uni Auckland (=48), Monash U (=50), VU of Wellington ( =73), UoQ (=78), RMIT ( =122), Macquarie U (=125)


Engineering and technology: UNSW (=38), UniMelb (40), Monash U (=50), Uni Syd (56), ANU (=61), UoQ (=75), Uni Auckland (=116), UTS (=118), RMIT (=125), UWA(=135)


Life sciences and medicine:  Uni Melbourne (21), Uni Sydney (=23),  UoQ (=33), Monash U (34), UNSW (=68),  UWA (=84), Uni Otago (=94), Uni Auckland (=101), Uni Adelaide (=104), ANU (=120)


Natural sciences: ANU (33) Uni Melbourne (38) Uni Sydney (54), UNSW (=68), UoQ (77), Monash U (= 86), Uni Adelaide (=115), UWA (=132), Curtin U (=175), Uni Canterbury (=227)


Social sciences: Uni Melbourne (20), ANU (23), Uni Sydney (27), UNSW (=30), Monash U (=32), UoQ (=48), Uni Auckland (=53), UWA (=115), UTS (=118) Victoria U of Wellington (=131)

Appointment, achievements

Ben James is incoming director of the University of Queensland Press. He starts in March.

The Academy of Science this morning announces its 2019 career awards.

Lifetime achievements: Peter Gill, ANU. Alan Welsh, ANU. Dietmar Müller, Uni Sydney.  Chennupati Jagadish ANU.  Richard Manchester FAA, CSIRO.

Mid-career awards: Nicholas David Huntington, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and Monash University. Jacqueline Batley, UWA.

Early-career medals: Isaac Santos, Southern Cross U. Geordie Williamson, Uni Sydney. Laurie Menviel, UNSW. Daniel Falster, UNSW. Laura Mackay, Doherty Institute. Changbin Yu, ANU and Westlake University (China). Anna Giacomini, Uni Newcastle. Elizabeth New, Uni Sydney. Lars Goerigk, Uni Melbourne. Kim-Anh Lê Cao, Uni Melbourne. Stephen Leslie, Uni Melbourne. Steven Flammia, Uni Sydney. Justin Wong, Centenary Institute of Cancer Medicine and Cell Biology.