Worldwide top tens in research for UofQ with UniSydney close behind

Flinders’ U counting-Kookaburra has cracked a huge maths problem

Opponents of Victoria U plans for staff cuts and a new college say they could cost western Melbourne a “viable” university

Lights, camera, sonnet

Seen at Adelaide U yesterday a shoot for the forthcoming AdelaideX MOOC on Shakespeare’s plays. CMM hears ‘tis wonderous rich in digital magic.

Tons of top tens for UoQ

The University of Queensland rates first in the world for research in biodiversity and conservation in the Centre for World University Rankings, released last night. Overall UoQ is 42nd in the world and number one in Australia in the first subject ranking from the CWUR which uses journal citation data from Clarivate Analytics (Thomson Reuters as was). The United Arab Emirates based organisation rates 13 UoQ disciplines in the global top ten, including marine and freshwater biology (third place), environmental science (sixth) and tropical medicine (tenth).

“To be ranked so highly by a centre that bases its results purely on research output reinforces other measures such as the Nature ranking,” UoQ VC Peter Hoj said last night.

UofQ is just ahead of the University of Sydney which is in 50th place, with eleven top ten subjects. Monash U follows at 64th with nine top tens. The University of Western Australia is 76th with seven top tens, ahead, for a change, of the University of Melbourne which is ranked 88th globally with six subjects in the world’s first ten. The remaining Group of Eight members, ANU and the University of Adelaide have four top tens each.

James Cook U is second in the world, behind the University of Queensland for biodiversity and conservation. The University of Tasmania also makes the top ten for marine and freshwater biology, rating one place behind UoQ.  UTas was seventh placed for both fisheries and oceanography. In mineralogy ANU rates 3rd, Macquarie 5th and Curtin 6th.


Profit motive

Last month a report for the feds identified global markets for Australian skills-training, which the Australian Council for Private Education and Training is already on to. Remarkable the way the need to pay the bills encourages entrepreneurs which might explain why TAFE systems do not appear as interested.

Super stumbling block

With enterprise bargaining underway at universities across the country the delay to deals appears to be managements pushing for simplified employment conditions. But veteran IR observers suggest superannuation is the sticking point. The National Tertiary Education Union wants the 17 per cent management superannuation contribution extended to cover casuals and people on contracts less than 12 months. The demand is a hold-over from the last bargaining round and it makes sense for the NTEU, which wants to give generally younger casualised staff a reason to join the union. But managements are not for moving, apart from the cost now, a super hike would take away a slice of the savings from increasing the number of casual staff. “If the NTEU drops the super claim, I can see a few quick deals being struck around the place,” a negotiation watcher predicts.

From BC to WA

Dirk Zeller is joining the University of Western Australia as professor of marine conservation. He is now executive director of the University of British Columbia’s Sea All Around Us project, which researches global fisheries and their impact on marine ecosystems.

Curtin honours its own

Curtin U has announced six new and two continuing recipients of its “highest academic honour’ the John Curtin distinguished professorship, awarded for academic success and contributions to the university. The title is awarded for a five-year renewable term. Newly honoured are Nikos Ntoumanis (health science), San Ping Jiang (electro-chemistry and fuel cells), Suvendrini Perera (social justice), Adrian Baddeley (statistical science), Pete Kinny (geochemistry), Andrew Putnis, (geoscience). Anna Haebich (cross-cultural research) and Moses Tade (chemical engineering) continue as John Curtin professors.

Kookaburra on course

Flinders U researchers claim “an optimal solution” for the famous Travelling Salesperson Problem, which looks for the optimum way (say quickest and cheapest) to travel between a number of places and return to the start. With just 15 locations there are billions of possible options. It’s an oft-used example of what a super-fast data crunching quantum computer could quickly do to solve now all-but impossible problems. As UNSW quantum computing researcher Michelle Simmons points out, UPS estimates that saving each of its US drivers a mile a day would reduce costs by $50m a year.

Now Flinders maths scientists say their Kookaburra algorithm is a breakthrough, identifying the best possible solution to 20 Travelling Salesperson Problems listed on a dedicated University of Waterloo site. This is a big call with potentially huge results.  “In a resource-restrained world, optimal solutions are increasingly necessary in ever-more-complex processes … we hope this TSP solver could become a world leader in highly competitive market of solving difficult logistics and many other industrial problems by the virtue of its highest quality outcome,” Associate Professor Vladimir Ejov, director of the Flinders Mathematical Sciences Laboratory says.

If’s he’s right the Flinders’ kookaburra will definitely be laughing, all the way to the bank.

Flat battery

Curtin U is trialling an electric driverless bus, taking people between two campus buildings, but what to call it? The best ideas the Curtin community has come up with are Kip, Cerebus, Electra or Bento. It’s enough to flatten a bus’s battery, perhaps it’s not too late to adopt Bussy McBus Face.


VU’s frank friends

The tocsin has sounded and the Friends of Victoria University are assembling, as they do whenever management tries to cut costs – they were out in force in 2012 when VU managers wanted to reduce VET programmes. Now, the un-named FoVU are calling on communities in the university’s western Melbourne heartland to oppose proposal to reduce costs by cutting 115 academic positions and to meet the learning needs of large numbers of students, with a first-year college staffed by teaching-only academics. “Cutting a large number of well-rounded academic staff, replaced with fewer teaching-only academics who carry intense teaching loads, does not sustain a future ‘university of excellence’, ‘opportunity’ or other VU marketing slogans. … We understand there are financial shortfalls at VU, and student numbers are not healthy in some areas. This is partly due to … forces beyond VU control, which affect Australia’s higher education sector as a whole (but affect each institution differently). However, we are also convinced that action on pending VU council/management decisions will exacerbate VU’s declining sectoral position, to the point that, in the near future, ‘the west’ may no longer have a viable university,” the friends warn in a Facebook post.

Accounting for attrition

For a year or so Simon Birmingham has less hinted than lit-up a flashing neon sign that the government intends to tie some university funding to student outcomes, undergraduate attrition, graduate outcomes and the like. And now five weeks out from the budget higher education policy people are finally starting to respond – generally along the lines of why data driven rewards and punishments are variously impractical and unfair. But data delivers so many ways of ranking education providers that there is no way of avoiding new sorts of scrutiny. Like a new (at least to CMM) US performance listing from consultants Eduventures which measures institute performance by first year retention and six-year graduation. As a way of indicating how students fare an attrition/completion ranking would be a quality addition to the excellent Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching.