There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

Merlin Crossley (UNSW) on finding the excellent teachers universities need

plus “It is a prime national interest – of all nations – that politicians, the masters of the here and now, avoid interfering with research,” Ofer Gal (Uni Sydney) on the dangers of the government’s National Interest Test.

and Margaret Lloyd (QUT) on how she became one of “those” mature-age students. This week’s selection by Commissioning Editor Sally Kift’s celebrated series, Needed now in teaching and learning.

The NHMRC’s old bloke problem

For years the National Health and Medical Research Council has not succeeded at quelling criticism of gender imbalance in grants – now it offers serious suggestions

The NHMRC presents a new paper outlining achievements and setting out stats to show agency funding rates by gender “have been close to equal since 2017.”

But, and it is a very big but indeed, it acknowledges an issue with Investigator Grants, the foundation of a comprehensive restructure in 2018, which allocate salary and support funds to “highest performing researchers” at all career stages (CMM May 26 2017).

As the NHMRC now puts it, in the first three years of Investigator awards, “more men than women applied for and were awarded … and higher overall funding was awarded to men than to women.”

But not just any men.

“The predominance of male applicants at the most senior levels of the scheme, where budgets tend to be largest, is a major factor underlying the award of more grants and more overall funding to men than women.”

So what is to be done?

NHMRC states “it does not have a settled position … and is open to considering a range of possible changes, some of which would be more feasible than others.”

But one way or another they all involve actions to increase grants for women researchers, including, * quotas, * separate competitive grant budgets for men and women, * equal funding rates and * requiring institutions to submit equal numbers of applications from men and women.

“The challenge for NHMRC is to find a path that provides the greatest possible opportunity for women, early and mid-career researchers and others who are currently missing out on funding, at great cost to the research sector, without risking a significant loss of experience and expertise at the more senior levels where progress towards gender equity in the sector is slow.”

It’s a challenge the agency will have to meet. Having put quotas on the agenda there is no way it can take them off.

Tech unis budget bid: more culture than cash

The Australian Technology Network’s submission is way more about policy than payments for its members, presenting education and research as accelerating the economy, to benefit all Australians

Thus the bid calls for funding universities to teach Indigenous, regional, low income and first-in-family students and for “shorter, flexible courses co-created with industry for “upskilling and reskilling.”

The lobby also wants to entrench applied research as a national foundation with an all of government “comprehensive research strategy,” using the Medical Research Future Fund as “a good model for such an investment.”

“It would guarantee long-term funding stability, but also be responsive to emerging and developing government research priorities.” (The ATN carefully keeps the research peace by suggesting government should “preserve” research block grants, the ARC and NHMRC).

Overall, this is a bold call for a culture change, which may be why the ATN also suggests the budget, “enshrine the newly announced research commercialisation programmes in legislation … to meet the challenges of new idea development and supporting business-university partnerships.”

Training for hard times

Employers and trainers are “remarkably adaptable and innovative” in dealing with the pandemic, according to new research from the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research.  

A “sizeable proportion” of employers also include training in their post COVID-19 recovery plans, with 69 per cent of a survey responders looking to re-skill existing staff on the job, ahead of employing experienced people (57 per cent) and employing apprentices and trainees (54 per cent). Employing skilled migrants  is the least popular plan, nominated by 7 per cent.

“The challenge will now be for the VET system to provide training services in a responsive way — one that meets employers’ evolving skill needs,” Ian White and Toni Rittie  suggest.

And while “a large proportion of employers” are satisfied with accredited training, White and Rittie suggest the reasons consistently cited by others are, relevant skills not taught and need for improved training.

VET must also meet challenges, in COVID-19 operating requirements, the “accelerating digitalisation of the workforce” and blending on-line and practical training.


Uni Tas apologises for underpaying staff

But how many or how much is not announced

Management says external consultants have identified penalty rates not being “correctly applied” and staff not being paid specified time for tasks, regardless of how long they actually took. Problems are due to, “historically inconsistent practice across the institution and varying interpretations of complex staff agreements,” Chief People Officer Jill Bye says.

The university does not mention numbers or categories of staff. However if Uni Tas is in-line with universities across the country which have already identified underpayments, professional staff may not have been paid penalty rates and casuals in general could be owed for minimum-hour payments not made in full.
However, the National Tertiary Education Union rejects management’s “complex staff agreement” suggestion, responding “ensuring correct payroll systems and processes is business 101.”

Union state secretary Pat McConville warns that with “around half” the university workforce casually employed, identified problem areas “may be just the tip of the iceberg.”

According to Ms Bye identifying underpayments will take “well into this year” but all owed money back to 2014 will be paid, plus interest, “we will be open with people and put things right,” she says.

Appointments, achievements

Of the day

Marie-Louise Ayres has a second five-year term as DG of the National Library of Australia.

Allen Ross joins Charles Sturt U as founding director of the Rural Health Research Institute. He moved from Bangladesh’s International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research.

The Royal Society of NSW reports its 2021 awards. Cook Medal (contributions to science). Rose Amal (UNSW). Research excellence: * John Aitken (Uni Newcastle) * Arnold Lining Ju (Uni Sydney) * Dean Rickles (Uni Sydney). Lectureships: * Geraint Lewis (Uni Sydney) * Noushin Nasiri (Macquarie U) * Richard Trethowan (Uni Sydney)

Of the week


Australian Institute of Physics awards go to, * Walter Boas Medal (research), Howard Wiseman-Griffith U * Bragg Medal (PhD thesis), Timothy Gray-ANU * Laby Medal (masters/hons thesis)-Ethan Payne (Monash U) * Outstanding service, Bruce McKellar (Uni Melbourne), Marc Duldig (Uni Tas).  Katarina Miljkovic (Curtin U) is the 2022 women in physics lecturer.

The Australian Pancreatic Cancer Foundation announces $500 000 total grants to research teams led by Claudine Bonder (SA Pathology and Uni SA’s Centre for Cancer Biology), Marco Falasca Curtin U), Chamini Perera (UNSW), John Rasko (Uni Sydney) and Anubhav Mittal (Uni Sydney).

Tania Brown, COO of Uni Wollongong’s SMART infrastructure research facility is elected deputy mayor of Wollongong (the city that is). She is a Labor member of its council.

Andrew Condon becomes industry professor for veterans and their families at Australian Catholic University. Mr Condon served 27 years in the army.

 Economic Society of Australia’s 2021 awards go to, * Public policy fellow: Stephen King (Productivity Commission) * Honorary fellow: Russell Ross (Uni Sydney) *Young economist:  Stefanie Schurer (Uni Sydney) * David Throsby (Macquarie U): Distinguished fellow.

Natalie Ellisdon is confirmed as La Trobe U’s Chief Marketing Officer. She has been acting since last March. Prior to that she was RMIT marketing director.

John Evans becomes Swinburne U’s inaugural PVC Indigenous Education. In April he will move from UTS, where he is professor of Indigenous health.

As of April Vicki Flood will lead Uni Sydney’s Northern Rivers Rural Clinical School, replacing Ross Bailie who moves to research. Professor Flood is an internal appointment.

IDP announces Matt Toohey is its new Chief Information Officer. He joins from all digital ME Bank. Jeremy Mocek becomes head of technology and innovation for the company’s International English Language Testing System business. His is an internal appointment.

Chris Lonsdale steps up to act as Deputy Provost at Australian Catholic U. He covers for Meg Stuart, now Interim Provost following the unexpected resignation of Belinda Tynan.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians presents its Susman Prize (internal medicine) to Flavia Cicuttini and Stephen Nicholls (both Monash U).

Janet Wallace becomes professor of oral health at Uni Sydney’s School of Dentistry.

CSIRO COO Judi Zielke becomes acting CEO of the Australian Research Council this morning. She replaces Sue Thomas who announced in December she would leave the ARC end January, five months before her first term expired.