Economics grounded

Assistant Education Minister Susan Lley promotes trade trading, Perth Radio 702 Friday; “I’m a qualified pilot and I did that in the TAFE setting – at least I did the theory for it. That gave me something that I could apply in the real world but is unsurpassed when you compare it to say a qualification in economics which doesn’t exactly enable you to walk into a job the next day.”

Cuts, what cuts?

Labor’s cuts to higher education spending proposed last April are up in the Senate this week. The bill passed the Reps late last year but got stuck in the upper house when the Greens and Labor announced they would knock it back. And if they do this now what will happen? The Government could wait until July when it should have the numbers in the new Senate. Unless, of course, Labor’s original efficiency dividend disappears altogether, to be replaced by something bigger and badder in the budget. Whatever happens Christopher Pyne will cop the blame for something Craig Emerson started.

Close but no cigar

In one of his last acts as DVC research, unless it is one of his first as provost, the University of Queensland’s Max Lu has committed UoQ to open access for research. This brings the university into line with ARC and NHMRC requirements that taxpayers should be able to read research they paid for. There is just one problem, as the university statement sets out, researchers must provide research accepted for publication to UQ eSpace “taking account of any restrictions imposed by publishers.” And restrictions are what one big journal publisher is imposing on these sorts of requirements. Elsevier is demanding universities and academics overseas take down/not put up papers that are going to appear in its journals. (I have not heard of a local case of this yet). The company is entirely within its rights, according to its terms of publication (there is also talk that this demand applies to early drafts of a paper which authors often make freely available). But even so this perpetuates the existing situation where the cost of research is born by the public while profits from its publishing are privatised. This provides Professor Lu with an excellent opportunity to strike a blow for open access, he could instruct staff to deposit and be damned what the journal publishers do. But UoQ researchers who publish in elite journals would not thank him. Nor would his colleagues who value the ERA points brought by publication in top journals (which are generally produced by Elsevier and its ilk).

They would know

Monash University researchers have identified Melbourne postcodes “with extreme heat vulnerability,” which include Clayton – home to um, the main Monash campus.

Doctor, doctor gimme the news

Health Minister Peter Dutton must wish somebody would diagnose a lobbyectomy for advocates of new medical school on both sides of the continent.
The cold war continues between Charles Sturt and La Trobe universities, which want to establish the Murray Darling Medical School, and its numerous opponents – notably the universities, which now teach in rural NSW and Victoria and medical students who worry about more graduates competing for scarce hospital placements. One or other of the opponents regularly turns up in the trade press and/or bush media (for example, on Friday) but it does not appear a coordinated campaign. On the other side Dr Kim Webber (former head of Rural Health Workforce Australia) is employed to make the MDMS case. This fight will run until the school is established or the health minister tells National Party MPs representing the MDMS catchment that their constituents do not need it. Either way Dr Webber will be busy for quite a while.
In the west Curtin University’s push for a medical school continues with a report finding that “a lack of doctors is robbing WA of $500 million a year in Medicare-funded medical services and adding to pressure on state-run public hospitals.” Of course cynics might suggest the conclusion is predictable, what with the report being commissioned by Curtin. But what can you expect from cynics?

No Asia express

The University of Tasmania was talking up its new Asia Institute on Friday following signing an MOU with the state government.  “The Institute will play a lead role in strengthening Tasmania’s international relations with Asia in the Asian Century,” according to Vice Chancellor Peter Rathjen. Trouble was, he was talking as the government was announcing discussions with a Singapore shipping line to establish a direct freight service. The island state lost its direct link to Asia three years ago.

Set text

The Country Education Foundation supports young people from rural and regional areas who need support for post school training and education (it partners 30 universities no less). It’s new “uni survival guide,” for young men and women who are leaving home for the first time is full of sensible advice on study and life in shared digs and not just for country cousins – lots of city kids forget to back up their work and have no clue what washing powder to use in a top loader.

No bureaucratic blowout

From the United States Jon Marcus reports, “the number of non-academic administrative and professional employees at U.S. colleges and universities has more than doubled in the last 25 years, vastly outpacing the growth in the number of students or faculty, according to an analysis of federal figures.”
A local contrast is instructive: In 1996 there were 33000 full time and fractional full time academic staff (42 per cent) at Australian universities and 45 000 (58 per cent) others. In 2013 there were 51 000 academics (44 per cent) and 64 000 (56 per cent) professional staff. When it comes to bureaucratic blowouts we don’t compete.

Plot that fizzled

For the last couple of years the NTEU has warned university managements are anxious to break the teaching-research nexus and send staff who are not publishing enough to the outer darkness of teaching-only positions. Well it seems the plot is off to a slow start. According to the feds, last year there were just 2300 FTE and fractional FTE staff across the country – down 5 per cent on 2012. Granted there was a big jump from 2010 to 2011 (52 per cent) but teaching only staff still only account for under 5 per cent of the academic workforce. This of course excludes the mass of casuals who would settle for any sort of permanent academic employment.

Listen up people!

Now I understand why science communicators were so upset at their conference last week at the way ordinary people are not paying attention. According to a CSIRO  survey, “more than 80% of respondents thought climate change was happening, similar to previous surveys. On average, respondents estimated that human activity accounted for about 62% of changes to the climate.” But, and it is quite a big but; “respondents ranked climate change as the 14th most important concern among 16 general concerns, and seventh out of eight environmental concerns.” Gosh I wonder why that is; CSIRO includes a clue; “roughly one in five respondents had heard of “climate mitigation. ” But did they have a clue what it means? Not to worry, it could be worse. According to the US Science Board while a majority of Americans worry about climate change, “they are more likely than residents of other countries to say they believe that any apparent change in temperatures is the result of natural rather than man-made causes.”

 Best feet forward

University of Queensland research “could spark a change in the design of running shoes.” According to Dr Glen Lichtwark, researchers have focused on how muscles move in legs, rather than those in feet, which are also important. Good-oh, but isn’t the best way to work out how running shoes perform is to test them in the field? The last time I checked , while there is a mass of bio-mechanical studies, there not many road tests –like the long-term survey  Craig Richards from the University of Newcastle started last year.