Look! In the sky! (It’s not a plane)

“Victoria’s protection plan for Gliders falls short,” ANU warns

Fear-not pilots of engine-less aircraft – these gliders are threatened species, Leadbeater’s Possum and Southern Greater Glider.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

The skills musicians need include coping in the gig economy and being future-ready for the opportunities and otherwise that turn up. Diana Tolmie (Griffith U) reports on preparing students for the challenges of this most precarious of professions, and for jobs in general. “Don’t call it a career plan – our post-normal world does not work that way anymore,” she writes in Commissioning Editor Sally Kift’s new selection for her celebrated series, Needed now in teaching and learning, HERE

plus Merlin Crossly (UNSW) reminds us technologies are nothing without great teachers, HERE

AI research creators: we ain’t seen nothing yet

In CMM’s Expert Opinion Tim Cahill sets out where we are and where we are heading

While much of the academic argument around ChatGPT and its emerging ilk is about the impact on teaching and learning, Tim Cahill (Research Strategies Australia) points to extraordinary changes in research.

Not all of it is good – ask a question of a probability based language programme and it will respond on all the information it can access – and create nonsense. Dr Cahill points to a case where an AI tech created references to articles in journals by authors he knows, with “titles completely plausible and on point.” “But they are entirely fictitious. Cross-check them against them against the listed authors publication records. They do not exist.”

That’s some of the bad news – some of the extraordinary news is what can happen as developers build on ChatGPT-type technologies.

Like AI’s inventing patentable products and taking 18 months to predict the structure of every protein catalogued by science.

The good news for researchers, Dr Cahill suggests is that their work will be “future-looking,” work  “that only humans can do – and that’s a really exciting space.”

But the challenge for research leaders is how to harness the new tools, “to accelerate their agendas”
“Whoever can harness these technologies first is going to as an order of magnitude advantage over everyone else.”

The complete interview with Dr Cahill is HERE.

What to do with old academics

With 29 per cent of Level D and E researchers 60 and older – there are multiple challenges for uni managements

“If universities are going to continue to rely on the productivity of older staff, changes in culture, adaption of workplace safety equipment and new approaches to engagement are likely to be required, Tim Winkler and colleagues argue in a paper for the new HEJobs recruitment site.

“This would involve reimagining the role of older academic staff and even redefining what we mean by the term ‘senior’ academic – so that they are valued and respected, but also provided with the chance to morph into jobs that focus more on their core expertise and less on roles at the front of the staff room, provides opportunities to improve the lot of older staff, reduce their exposure to the humdrum administrivia that blights the modern academic workload, and consider fewer working hours.”

It is but one of a range of staff challenges for individuals and universities as the system ages and changes, including;

* more staff required to teach international students, as student numbers grow

* changes to labour laws requiring conversion of at least a portion of casual and contract roles into ongoing positions

* potential changes to federal regulation and support for higher education

* resumption of initiatives to drive growth, engagement and impact, resulting in more employment

Winkler’s overview of the issues is in Features this morning HERE

Uni Melbourne in court over casuals’ pay

The FWO alleges the university underpaid casual staff in the Faculty of Arts

The Ombudsman specifically alleges that the university, “failed to record all hours worked by the casual academics, and further that the University made and kept records known to some managers within the Faculty to be false or misleading.”

This is separate to the FWO’s Federal Court action against Uni Melbourne, launched in August, alleging the university “coerced and take adverse action” against two casually employed academics to stop them claiming for work performed.

FWO Ombudsman Sandra Parker has long stated the agency’s concern, “about the allegations of systemic underpayment in many universities.

“Our current investigations have uncovered a trend of poor governance and management oversight, a lack of centralised human resources functions and inadequate investment in payroll and time-recording systems.” (CMM October 1 2022.

University of Melbourne responded Friday to the FWO announcement of the new case, telling CMM “staff affected by this historical issue have already been backpaid” and “the university has publicly acknowledged and apologised to past and current employees who have been paid less than they were due for work that they had performed.”

Good-o but properly paying casuals has become part of the overall question of careers for casuals and how universities across the country rely on them for low cost labour. As Uni Melbourne VC Duncan Maskell famously put it, there has been a, “systemic failure of respect from this institution for these valued, indeed vital employees,” (CMM November 15 2021).

In an email to Uni Melbourne staff Friday, advising the FWO’s court case, DVC People and Community Pip Nicholson  stated, “we are working to reduce our reliance on casual employment and we are discussing this important issue with the NTEU in the enterprise bargaining process that is currently under way.”

To which David Gonzalez, National Tertiary Education Union branch secretary responds to members that Uni Melbourne management  will not agree to a “legally-binding target for secure employment.”

As of January the university’s enterprise bargaining log of claims included a provision that offers of further employment to casuals to be at a minimum of 0.4 FTE (CMM January 23).

Tas law reform back on the case

The Tasmanian Government has backed the recommendations of a U Tas review into the state’s law reform commission (CMM July 25 2022)

It’s intent is to rejuvenate the commission where work had ground to a halt,

The government has accordingly quadrupled its contribution, to $200 000 and endorsed Jeremy Pritchard’s appointment as director (CMM December 7 2022).


A fund for the future of science research

Research lobbies want access to the proposed National Reconstruction Fund (CMM February 6,7 and 8) but Science and Technology Australia wants a resource for researchers to call their own

STA’s budget submission calls for a science equivalent of the Medical Research Future Fund, “a long-term strategic investment pool that would ‘level up’ Australia’s capacity for science breakthroughs, and secure Australia’s economy and ability to address future challenges.”

Good o- but how much? STA is silent on a sum, although it does refer to a science future fund, “created at the scale and proven model of the Medical Research Future Fund.”

That would be the $20bn MRFF created from years of savings from the health budget.

“Establishing a similar scheme to back fundamental science breakthroughs would be a game-changer. This is a prudent and proven model to deliver long-term sustainability and an immediate uplift,” STA suggests. The lobby adds an SFF could build with stepped investment over time,

No harm in asking,

Other STA ideas for the budget that are even more prudent include;

*  unspecified budget boosts to the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Australian Research Council

* a “bolder commitment” to the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy and,

*  an investment in research and development to push outlays closer to 3 per cent of GDP.

Appointments, achievements

Sarah Henderson (Lib, Victoria) becomes the coalition’s shadow education minister. She replaces Alan Tudge who retires from parliament. Senator Henderson moves from shadowing the communications portfolio.

The (US based) Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers announces its 2023 fellows, including: *Mark Billinghurst *(Uni SA) * Jinho Choi (Deakin U) * Daoyi Dong (Australian Defence Forces Academy)  * Christina Lim (Uni Melbourne) * Pierluigi Mancarella (Uni Melbourne) * Kashem Muttaqi (Uni Wollongong) * Michael Negnevitsky (Uni Tasmania) * Ying Tan (Uni Melbourne) * Pierre Verlinden (Amrock Pty Ltd (McLaren Vale SA) * Jingling Xue (UNSW) * Shui Yu (UTS) * Xiangyun Zhou (ANU)