Plus Labor plans for uni funding and UWS cancels researcher cull

Sleep can kill

This morning’s “the rules are for your own good” award goes to Security and Traffic Management at the University of New South Wales, for a warning about sleeping in the office. For a start, “deep sleepers can sleep through fire alarms.” What is more, “people sleeping are more vulnerable to assault, theft and other crimes.” Even worse, “people suffering a medical emergency resulting in unconsciousness can appear asleep.” “Honestly… if all the staff who fell asleep every day were laid down end to end… they would be a lot more comfortable!,” CMM’s health and safety correspondent writes.

Day for special dads

Warren Bebbington marked Fathers Day in the Adelaide Advertiser by speaking up for dads with special needs children. Dads like him. The University of Adelaide VC wrote about his life of helping a son with Asperger’s Syndrome. “Being an ASD dad is many things: love and delight, concern and worry, and small victories hard won. Above all you strive for your child to overcome his obstacles and have a fulfilling life, something you would do anything to make possible,” he wrote. Good on him, most blokes are not comfortable admitting to vulnerability but hopefully some Adelaide fathers in the same circumstances did not feel quite as isolated yesterday.Akolade

Compact solution

Nature abhors a vacuum so in the absence of government policies the Senate will pass people are speculating about what Labor will do if it wins the election. There was a bit to speculate about on the weekend as people pondered Sarah Martin’s story in The Australian stating, Labor “would pursue a tied funding approach to lift the quality of university education.” CMM hears Labor leader Bill Shorten said this at a business conference in Perth. But what does it mean? Kim Carr’s office did not respond to requests for information but some say it refers to the shadow higher education minister’s commitment to compacts, the tying of funding to objectives agreed between Canberra and campuses, which Senator Carr introduced as minister. However one especially astute observer warns that it could be something more devilishly detailed, involving linking funding to individual student progress and outcomes – this would be a way of enforcing a soft cap on places, penalising universities for student failures and deferrals without actually abolishing demand driven funding. As a way of selectively cutting funding without walking away from Senator Carr’s calls for better resourced universities this would be politically sellable, cynical but sellable, at least in the electorate. But it would drive university managements nuts – VCs from all interest groups are on the record opposing Senator Carr’s commitment to compacts. The emerging challenge for them is less to talk crossbench senators into deregulation than to talk them out of supporting re-regulation, especially Senator Nick Xenophon who opposes deregulation but has acknowleged something must give if universities are to be sustainable.

In breaking news …

RiAus (“Australia’s Science Channel“) reported Friday “Galileo’s name was Galileo Galilei,” that was it. No CMM does not know why they bothered either.

Now they tell us

For a year CMM has watched as Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane and Chief Scientist Ian Chubb have made the case for a funding focus on applied research in areas where Australia has a comparative advantage and wondered when the lab legions would don their white coats of combat and come out in defence of pure science. The Group of Eight has spoken up but not loudly and not often. And a few research leaders have made the case for researchers being left alone, without much impact outside their communities. But on Friday serious scientists spoke up for research that may never deliver dividends, in the Australian Financial Review, of all places. Jan de Gier and Tony Guttman, who both run ARC maths centres at the University of Melbourne, wrote the piece, with contributions from colleagues. They point to apparently esoteric research, which ends up transforming life through products like WIFI and GPS. And they suggest that if the feds want to save money they should look elsewhere than basic research budgets.

“An approach where public investment is moved from long-term basic research to research with short-term goals is fundamentally wrong: it will result in only modest returns. Public investment in basic research can be enhanced by a reduction in research administration and reduction of expensive assessment exercises and red tape,” they argue. Good-oh, but this argument, at least until there is a change of government, looks lost.

ANU June 4

E-intruders @ UNSW

UNSW VC Ian Jacobs will address staff and take questions on the university’s proposed strategic plan, tomorrow 10-11 am in the Clancy Auditorium. Questions in advance are invited. CMM anticipates there will be quite a few from staff with Gmail accounts, such as Professor Elsa Arendelle from climate science and Dr Musafa from African studies. I wonder if whoever hacked the university’s Facebook page with posts on issues other than research and learning on Saturday will contribute? “All avenues were tried internally to regain access to the site, but administrators had been locked out altogether, and we deleted the posts as soon as we regained access,” the university advised with embarrassment 6pm Saturday after (ahem) inappropriate comment appeared.

Expert action

The ever-energetic Rodd Camm from the Australian Council for Private Education and Training will host a Perth visit this week from the Indonesian Private Higher Education Association. TAFEs never seem all that interested in exporting VET so good to see the for-profits looking to expand industry income.

Less fun than serious run

It’s survival of the fittest at Edith Cowan U where staff are seeking sponsors for three, six and 12 km runs on Sunday. Proceeds will go to Health and Wellness Institute research on whether tailored exercise can “improve the lives” of people with mesothelioma. And yes CMM asked the obvious question, is VC Steve Chapman running? Apparently not, but he has a halfway plausible excuse – broken bones in a foot mean he is getting around ECU on crutches and wearing a moon boot. “It hasn’t slowed him down too much but a fun run may be a step too far,” an ECU observer says.

Slow process begins 

Western Sydney University is taking seriously campus community concerns over its research threshold framework, (CMM August 31). Last week, not one but two DVCs, Scott Holmes (Research) and Denise Kirkpatrick (Academic) met with staff representatives who argued that the proposal for taking research rights away from academics with the least output on papers, higher degree supervisions and external income breaches multiple conditions of the WSU enterprise agreement. Whatever management really thinks, the DVCs listened and the university now says that it will consult over the new policy. What was intended as coup de main that would summarily send staff to teaching only jobs will now require a slow siege to breakdown the boundaries of long established practice.

Passage from India

There is a new business school ranking, from 2012 MIT student startup LTG ExamPrep (its big on the GMAT). Forbes reports LTG asked users for their universities of choice. The result is not standard stuff. While Harvard, Stanford and MIT are the top three and 14 other US institutions are on the list so are three Indian schools. There is also an Australian presence but not any of the schools you would think of. In fact, it’s a campus of one of the Indian institutions, the S P Jain School of Global Management, based at Olympic Park in Sydney. CMM had never heard of it, but TEQSA has and says it ticks all the boxes for undergraduate and masters business courses. S P Jain also has campuses in Mumbai, Dubai and Singapore. Yes an Indian business school has a campus in Sydney, which is more than any Aus biz faculty has there.

Bad VET numbers

If VET enrolments are any indication, the economy is in terrible shape, demonstrated by new numbers from the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education and Training. Early figures from the June quarter put trade and non-trade commencements at 50 000, little more than half the 97 000 in March 2012. In March this year there were 319 000 apprentices and trainees, down 16 per cent on March 2014. However in one positive sign March ‘15 starts were up 7 per cent for trades and 9 per cent for non-trade on first quarter ’14. And in good news for people who complain that while there are lots of business students they can never find a plumber, trade commencements exceeded non-trades, for the first time in 18 years, by 12 per cent.

criterion update

NHMRC asserts itself

Since Warwick Anderson departed for a job in Strasbourg the National Health and Medical Research Council has maintained a dignified silence as its critics celebrate the arrival of the new competitor for cash, the Medical Research Future Fund. However there is quite a hint the Council wants to keep the MRFF in the tent in the annual plan released Friday, “strategic alignment between the funding priorities for the MRFF and those of the NHMRC is essential to ensure the efficient and effective allocation of funds from both sources.”

And if the Medical Research Institute lobby hopes the Council will leave all the profitable stuff to the MRFF, forget it;

“In some cases, commercialisation of new ideas is essential to provide the necessary investment for development of new drugs, vaccines, devices and programs. It is therefore important not only to the Australian economy but also to the delivery of health benefits from research that we support and build researcher capacity in innovation and commercialisation. This will be an area of strategic focus for NHMRC over the period of this Plan. NHMRC will also take a leadership role in improving the clinical trials environment in Australia, working with the Department of Health, the Department of Industry and Science, states and territories and other stakeholders to develop a nationally consistent approach to clinical trials.” Everybody clear that Council, not Fund will do the leading?