Triffid alert at Uni Adelaide

Plant protein food initiatives ate the University of Adelaide,” the Waite Research Institute announces its first research seminar for the year (Friday), presumably for any survivors.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

 Judie Kay and Sonia Ferns on why we need a national approach to Work Integrated Learning. Commissioning Editor Sally Kift’s selection this week for her series, Needed now in Teaching and Learning.”

Marnie Hughes-Warrington (Uni SA) and friends on the PhD as start-up, the doctorate is just starting to hit its stride.


Science deans join push for translational research fund

The Australian Council of Deans of Science calls for a $2.4bn fund, “to translate research outcomes into community benefits”

The council speaks in support of calls for a translational fund in the budget, including from Science and Technology Australia, (CMM February 23).

Such a scheme, “will enable the great work by university science … to contribute to global challenges like food and water security, climate change, renewable energy and smart materials.”

A translational research fund would also “encourage better coordination of currently available schemes,” the deans suggest, mentioning CRCs, rural R&D and the Industrial Transformation Training Centres.

Good idea, unless of course the government rebadged some of the funding for such schemes as translational funding – which would mean such a scheme could exceed the $2.8bn the science community wants without all that much new money.

Perhaps this is why the CRC Association has not joined the translational research pile-on in its budget submission (CMM February 25).

Dirk Mulder on international student providers: there are losers and bigger losers


The news is least-bad in VET

International student data for July-November is out and the numbers aren’t as good as the previous quarter (CMM 19 Jan) and way worse than a year ago. Commencements were down 35 per cent on the same quarter in 2019, dropping from 234 880 to 152,965.

The feds match commencements with student visa data to estimate that between 21 per cent and 32 per cent of July-November starts were by people outside Australia.

Of the 21 per cent that can be confirmed as ex-Australia the majority were in China, 24 393, up from 22 468 to 24 393 in the immediately preceding quarter.

By sector the divide is between losers and bigger losers.

HE commencements were down a third, to 50,540 (33.8 percent). New commencers, or those who had not previously studied a course in Australia, were down 62 per cent to 15 114. 

ELICOS was down 61 per cent in total commencers and 80 per cent in new commencers. Schools dropped 77.1 per cent for total commencers and 86 percent for new starters. And non-award took a huge hit, 79 per cent lower in total and 85 per cent for first time starts.

There was good news, albeit not much for VET. While new commencements were down 70 per cent, total commencers dropped 6.7 per cent, an improvement on the previous quarter.

It’s another indication students are moving from other sectors into VET as a way to stay in Australia.

Overall, there will be more declines to come while the border stays closed and ELICOS and schools have fewer students to send into the system. The feeder systems need urgent attention and support so they will still be in business when students return.

 CMM would love to report any distinctions between subject areas but the feds response to a request was that, “detailed data on international student field and level of study isn’t released publicly.”

Not helpful.

Dirk Mulder is CMM’s international education correspondent

Friendship is best medicine

If there is one lobby that does not need any help in making its case it’s medical research (check recipients in every Order for Australia list)

But needing and knowing how to use more help are different things and the industry will undoubtedly welcome the launch of the Parliamentary Friends of Medical Research. It’s co-chaired by Clare O’Neil (Labor-Victoria) and Katie Allen (Lib-Vic) who knows of what she shall speak. She is a food allergy scientist, formerly at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

End of story for ranking glory

The government wants research that makes it in markets but is less fussed about international research reps

Sticking to plan: On Friday Education Minister Alan Tudge set out what the government wants from researchers. “We want academics to become entrepreneurs, taking their ideas from the lab to the market. We want them to be properly rewarded for their breakthroughs and their engagement with business. … We know that more innovation activity will lift our nation’s productivity.”

Which is much the same as what his predecessor Dan Tehan thought, “Australia must get better at turning university research into new products and innovation that helps power Australia’s economic recovery, “(CMM November 12).

A win for researchers with ideas to sell : This is good news for the applied research community, indicating no policy change and  perhaps-maybe-possibly, new money for translational research in the budget.

The likely winners appeared pleased. “The Australian government’s commitment to a funding strategy that maps research and commercialisation will deliver gains for universities, business, our economy and most importantly the Australian population,” the Group of Eight announced.

Ditto the Australian Technology Network, “Minister Tudge’s vision for the future of the higher education and research sector is an endorsement of the way ATN universities work.”

But less sunny for blue-sky research: There may not be much room in the funding life boats for pure research teams  across all disciplines who can’t think of way to sell the potential of their work.

“We want our universities to play a bigger role, to not just produce brilliant pure research, but to work more with businesses and governments to translate this research into breakthrough products, new businesses and ideas to grow our economy and strengthen our society,” the minister said.

And it’s rotten for rankings: Lest anyone miss what this means, Mr Tudge made it plain that rankings driven by research metrics, will not be the main game.

“For more than a decade, the focus on international rankings has led to a relentless drive for international students to fund the larger research volumes that are required to drive up the rankings,”

To be clear, we want and need international students in Australia. They have been great for our society, our economy, our diplomacy, and thousands have stayed and become outstanding citizens,” he said. And the minister added;

“COVID presents us with an opportunity to reassess the impact our universities can have, and to refocus on the main purpose of public universities: to educate Australians and produce knowledge that contributes to our country and humanity.”

Smart politics:  Mr Tudge is bomb-proofing the government on higher education. An applied research focus makes it harder for conservatives to attack the government over HE funding. It also gives ministers something to point at when critics complain about levels of funding for teaching and HASS research. And applied research focus that invites STEM lobbies and research-powerful uni alliances into the policy tent makes it harder for them to complain.

And if, or when, Australian universities start to slide in the more serious rankings, due to less international student revenue to resource all research, VCs will be able to avoid the heat, by blaming the government for its applied-focus.

As for the government, ministers will be able to point to Mr Tudge’s plan and say they have made it plain that rankings no longer rate, that universities are tasked with teaching and research that have practical benefits for Australia.

End of an industrial era at La Trobe U

LT U’s Job Protection Framework ends in June

VC John Dewar advised staff Friday.

This means pay rises on hold since staff approved the JPF last year will now be paid.

The framework was negotiated by Professor Dewar and three other VCs with the National Tertiary Education Union, as a response to the then imminent pandemic-impact last year (CMM May 13 2020). It included a union-management agreed trade-off, temporary cuts to conditions and pay freezes in return for job loss reductions and it included over-sight by union representatives of savings measures.

Professor Dewar declares the JPF a success, “saving at least 225 jobs.”  Plus, “it also gave the university time to prepare strategically for the post-pandemic environment.”

Which is happening now – with the possibility of new cuts to come, to meet management’s expectation that the continuing loss of international student fees will mean 2021 revenue will be $170m below pre-pandemic forecast (CMM February 19).

The JPF allowed a committee with union representative to over-sight temporary measures only, so restructures and retrenchments are  covered by the usual  processes in the LT U enterprise agreement. 

Still, management must have enjoyed the industrial calm while it lasted.

Excel-ent outcome for Macquarie MOOC of many mornings

Coursera lists Yvonne Breyer and colleagues’ Excel skills for business specialisation as a “most-popular all-time offerings.” How popular?

Try 2.258m “recent views” and 536 000 people already enrolled. The course is a huge and continuing hit for Associate Professor Breyer, Nicky Bull and Prashan S M Karunaratne, (all Macquarie U) – growing from 60 000 starters when it won a Macquarie U teaching award in 2018 (CMM December 7 ‘18).

The next run is just starting.

If the trio ever form a band they have a ready-made fan base.

Appointments, achievements

ANU is short-listed for the Digital Humanities Awards, in the best blog post or series category for its Metodhology   site, (“detailed information about digital methodologies across disciplinary boundaries”).

Curtin U announces nine John Curtin Distinguished Professors, Craig Buckley and Tele Tan (Science and Engineering), Donna Chung, Phil Della, Zhonghua Sun, John Mamo (Health Sciences) Alan Duncan, Marylene Gagne (Business and Law), Rod Ellis (Humanities).

Wendy Scaife (QUT) receives the Lifetime Achievement award from the Fundraising Institute of Australia.