Hint: it’s where you expect

ARC Grant update: where the money went

The Group of Eight accounts for $241m, or 70 per cent, as follows UNSW $45m, University of Queensland $37m, ANU $35, UniMelbourne $32m, UniSydney $32m, Monash $27m, UWA $18m and UniAdelaide $15. The five members of the Australian Technology Network totalled $31m, led by QUT with over $10m. The seven strong Innovative Research University group secured grants worth $33m, with the University of Newcastle receiving $11m. Of the unaligned institutions Uni Wollongong led with $9m, followed by Macquarie and UniTas, with $7m each and Deakin and Swinburne both above $5m. Only four of the six member Regional University Network won grants, worth $1.3m in total.

Confirming suspicions of PhD students at younger universities, who worry about opportunities, the Group of Eight blitzed the young researcher awards accounting for 146 of the 200 awards and $45m of the $70m in funding.

The $4.4m $10 Discovery Indigenous pool was divided between ANU (two) Australian Catholic University (two) Uni Newcastle (one) Uni Wollongong (one) Charles Darwin U (one) James Cook (one) QUT (one) and RMIT (one)

But more miss out on ARC grants

Education Minister Christopher Pyne will announce 941 Australian Research Council grants worth $354m this morning. The projects are in Discovery, Discovery Early Career Researcher, Discovery Indigenous, Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities programmes. The success rate is said to be under 20 per cent, down from 1 per cent last year. Half of the drop is due to an increase in applications and half to the government’s reallocation of ARC funds to Abbott government priority projects last year.

According to The Australian, the University of New South Wales won most grants, with 84 projects funded to $45m. Other Group of Eight institutions followed; the Australian National University and the universities of Sydney and Melbourne.

Dealing with the mess at Murdoch

With Murdoch University deans lining up behind Deputy Vice Chancellor Ann Capling (who was close to now former vice chancellor Richard Higgott) acting VC Andrew Taggart (who wasn’t) will meet with National Tertiary Education Union members today at lunchtime. Chancellor David Flanagan will address staff tomorrow to confirm Senate’s support for the existing research focused strategy. And about time too – Professor Higgott’s resignation (he is now being investigated by the state Corruption and Crime Commission) was enormously disruptive. What Murdoch needs now is stability – it would make a nice change.


Parker points to a new problem

Stephen Parker is the only vice chancellor who publicly opposed the Pyne plan from the start and he shows no sign of stopping – prophesying ruin if any of it passes the Senate. In essence Professor Parker (University of Canberra) predicts deregulation will not create a price-based market that serves students instead fees will rise, standards will fall, increased interest rates will hurt graduates in low-paying professions and those who take years out to raise families and “bad” private providers will get in the on act. As jeremiads go this is now standard stuff but it wasn’t in the days after the budget when Professor Parker began prophesying doom.

But what is especially interesting in his latest warning is the way Minister Pyne is not the only villain, Professor Parker also doubts the motives of university managements. “There is nothing in the measures to ensure that any of the extra debt which students incur will be used in the courses they study. In fact, I predict that few students will see one cent of direct academic benefit. The money will go into research, general infrastructure and so on.” This is not as blunt as Clive Palmer, who warns university managements want fee income, “to increase their salaries and employ more academics on tenure.” (CMM October 29) Or Kim Carr, “it has often been said that getting between a vice chancellor and a pot of money is a dangerous business. But that is what Labor will do. Because there is more at stake than the performance bonuses of university managers,” (CMM October 30)

But although more restrained than those two, Professor Parker has put a big issue on the agenda – that universities will use students as cash cows. If this gets traction it is a big problem for vice chancellors, they have always presented themselves as demanding more money in the public interest. If they lose this reputation then universities are just another industry demanding public funding.

I’ll drink to that

ABC radio reports Harvard scientists have reversed the ageing process in mice – and the red wine molecule nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN to its mates) did the job. Now that’s a case (or perhaps a barrel) for research funding.

Peace prevails at UWS

The Nous Group’s review of UWS administration is complete and the news is not what was widely expected, which was wholesale sackings this side of Christmas. But no, Vice Chancellor Barney Glover assured staff yesterday the university does not intend to advise or implement “major staff changes” before the end of the year. It seems Professor Glover got the message that people feared a repeat of 2012 cuts, which were around Christmas. Certainly it looks like there are cuts to come but UWSers briefed on what to expect say there are no known redundancy lists and that the reform process will roll out over just about all of next year. The VC is also said to want teaching focused roles, which are part of the university’s new enterprise agreement, implemented from central administration, rather than left for deans to do, one of whom is not that keen.

Parker signs

I was wrong (CMM November 3) when I predicted it would take to the end of the week for the National Alliance for the Public University to pick up its 1000th endorser. Professor Stephen Parker (above) signed up yesterday – I wonder what took him so long

CRCs wonder what’s next

Friends of the Cooperative Research Centres wondering if it is something the centres said. First Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane’s context setting paper for a review of the program includes questions that encourage criticism, for example, “does the programme represent the best approach to supporting collaboration between business and researchers.” And then the review guidelines encourage submissions in a tick the box format – hardly calculated to encourage considered, comprehensive responses. And rhetorical questions are being asked in the corridors of power about why the industry portfolio is funding CRCs in health, the environment and agriculture. At least reviewer David Miles is reported as saying submissions do not have to follow the terms of reference, which is good. But given Mr Macfarlane announced his Industry Growth Centre plan last month CRC observers worry the ground is being laid for a considerable cut to the long established programme.

Endorsing the obvious

The estimable National Centre for Vocational Education and Training is running an online survey asking, “what aspect of quality in education and training is most important to you?” The choices are, provider quality, teacher quality, assessment quality or other. Um, isn’t this rather like asking people whether they support motherhood, motherhood or, motherhood?

Super-duper Clive computer

Chris Pyne launched Laureate Fellow Michelle Simmon’s new journal on quantum computing at UNSW yesterday. By manipulating matter at the level of single atoms the hope is to increase computing power to levels now inconceivable, but how it might be done is only understood by a handful of people around the world- including Professor Simmons and her team. Perhaps the minister is across it or maybe he is in as much awe as I am of Professor Simmons but wanted to know whether a quantum computer could decode what Clive Palmer is really planning.

Later not sooner

With parliament up strategists in chancelleries across the country are talking nervously of Carruther’s Effect (as in “I don’t like it Carruthers it’s too quiet out there”) and what it means for their Pyne plans. The consensus among astute observers is that the PUPs are genuinely not for turning, at least not during the three remaining sitting weeks this year, which makes a 2016 start for fee deregulation very tight indeed, the Senate is not scheduled to sit until the first week in March. If so it is very bad news indeed for university funding, the government will look for higher education savings wherever it can for next year’s budget – which is not that far away. Certainly the Senate can block cuts, but as the increase in fuel excise via customs duty demonstrates, desperation is the mother of deception. Without the government’s planned reduction in public funding per CSP look for a cut to research programs, equity funding, even the abolition of government functions. Do we really need both Austrade and the Department of Education sticking their bibs in the international education industry, one export veteran asks.

As to how much Mr Pyne will give to get the deal done, most astute observers answer almost anything. However central agencies, which were not that keen on demand driven funding in the first place, may not be willing to see a fair swag of a reduced increase in student fees disappear in lower than intended HELP interest and transition funding for any university that can claim with a straight face to be in regional “thin markets.” But one grizzled (the grizzliest) observer suggests more money for universities is not the fight that matters, that what worries senators is how increased costs for students will play in the electorate. Look, the grizzler predicts, for a less onerous interest rate and for the fees university’s set to be subject to approval by an independent tribunal plus caps on course for nursing and teaching degrees. Coherent policy it is not. But the popular debate stopped being about policy a while back.


For whom the poll tolls

Last night’s Essential poll demonstrates how electorally unpopular the prospect of increased student fees is. The poll swung 53 per cent against and 22 per cent for. Opposition from Labor and Green supporters is unsurprising but what isn’t good for the government is that 30 per cent of Coalition voters disapprove (27 per cent of them don’t know). Overall just quarter of the poll has no opinion.