plus O’Kane engineers applied research strategy

ANU gets by with a little help from its friends

and why academics aren’t in it for the money

Hands on buzzers

Those whacky funsters at the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency have released draft guidance notes on 13 areas universities must address for registration under the Higher Education Standards that start in January. A TV game show based on them can’t be far away.

Wed August 24

UniSydney challenged on sexual violence

Within an hour or so of Universities Australia announcing the national survey of sexual assault and harassment on campus (CMM yesterday) the focus switched to the University of Sydney, where 15 SRC women’s officers past and present released a letter to Vice Chancellor Michael Spence.

“For an entire decade we have been raising the issue of sexual assault and harassment on campus with the administration. For an entire decade we have been met with resistance to change. It seems to us that the university has deliberately stalled action on sexual assault, assuming that once Wom*n’s (sic) Officers and other activists finish their term, or graduate from university, the institutional knowledge required for a sustained campaign on this issue is lost.

They called on Dr Spence to implement a range of awareness, assessment and protection measures against sexual violence and harassment, including:

“the university create a clear policy statement regarding its response to complaints about sexual harassment and assault, detailing how information in the complaint will be stored and who will have access to it; the timeline and method by which the university will communicate with the complainant; the university’s powers to discipline perpetrators; and the supports that the university is able to offer to survivors (for example, granting extensions and special considerations and providing counselling and counselling referral).”

Last night Dr Spence responded that “any suggestion the university has stalled action on assault on campus is untrue.” The vice chancellor pointed to assistance for staff who have to support students reporting sexual assault or “any other concerning behaviours,” among other measures.

“The university will continue to do whatever it can – including discussing many of the sensible recommendations outlined in the letter – to reduce the experience of sexual assault on campus.”

Big tip

The Quality Hotel in Auckland has donated $NZ450k to a University of Auckland health research institute. It’s part of a programme established by the pub’s now deceased founder to donate net profits to research.


Engineering applied research

NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer Mary O’Kane has assembled a university-government team to create a Smart Sensing Network for the state. Ben Eggleton from the University of Sydney and Justin Gooding (UNSW) will lead a team developing smart sensor technologies. The SSN will initially focus on five applications including, portable and inexpensive sensors to identify gas emissions, optical sensors in mobile devices to monitor users’ vital health signs and monitors to track native species in the wild.

This is classic O’Kane, who argues that while academic researchers are generally not especially entrepreneurial they are good at “making a dent” in “really hard problems.” As she put it in an AFR oped last year; “these problems could be coming from industry brokers, governments, communities, even from big world problems and universities themselves … to make this work really well we need industry and government partners who are intelligent posers of problems and intelligent absorbers of the results,” (CMM December 9).”

This is not a big budget project, the state government is kicking in 73 per cent and the universities the balance of $950k in funding – there are university research stars who don’t get out of bed for that sort of sum. But minds, not money are what this approach is about. Professor O’Kane recognises that once the challenge is identified and the talent engaged applied research can deliver dividends. “Researchers, when thrown complex applied problems are good at breaking them down to identify and solve the underlying fundamental problems … by capitalising on the very strong problem-solving abilities of our universities and research organisations we will realise big improvements to our way of life,” she said last night.

Plug for Monash to pull 

Back in 2014 medical doctor and critic of complementary medicine Ken Harvey resigned as an adjunct aspro at La Trobe over a deal it was considering with Swisse “Australia’s leading wellness brand,” (CMM March 4  2014). Dr Harvey moved to Monash – which is now in an advertising/branding deal with ABC International. So is Swisse. This is hardly the university’s fault, as Dr Harvey acknowledged on the ABC last night, But watch for demands today that the university bail, lest its adverts appear on the same platform as Suisse.

Admired ANU

Labor shadow minister (just) Andrew Leigh yesterday launched the new edition of the Australian National Dictionary, compiled at ANU. Perhaps this isn’t surprising, as a former staff member Dr Leigh is one of ANU’s own. But last week he also launched an ANU authored report, which recommended a Sino-Australian Fulbright-style commission, which the university wants federal funds to house (CMM August 17). Yes graduates love ANU, but has the university no friends on the treasury benches it can invite to launch things?

It certainly has powerful pals elsewhere, including Chief Scientist Alan Finkel who has written an encomium for his alma mater on its 70th birthday.  “Great universities make the change-makers of each generation. There will always be a need for institutions that play that role. So there will always be a reason for ANU to exist. … So I hope when the centenary of ANU rolls around that I’ll be invited back on campus. The pollen will be falling and the creek will be flowing. And this great human institution will be everything its founders wanted it to be, in ways they couldn’t imagine.”

Larkin leads

Steve Larkin is joining the University of Newcastle as PVC for indigenous education and research. Professor Larkin joins from Charles Darwin U, where he was the country’s first PVC I (CMM November 2 2015)


It had to happen

Scott Bowman has expanded his CQU onto James Cook U’s turf, opening campuses in Townsville and Cairns so it is not entirely unexpected that JCU has established itself in Professor Bowman’s Rockhampton redoubt. And impressive oneuppersonship it is too. Instead of cheap and convenient business courses JCU has expanded its GP training programmes into Rockie. “The regional office is also a great opportunity to work collaboratively with local organisations … and to support local health professionals such as doctors and nurses to train and work in Central Queensland,” says Richard Murray JCU dean of medicine and dentistry. And there is not a thing CQU can do to counter the move, what with it not having a medical school.

Cash blowing on the wind

The University of Adelaide has sold its Thebarton site. The money will go to the university’s $230m medical-dental building at the new Royal Adelaide Hospital ( CMM June 15) which VC Warren Bebbington just happened to mention yesterday is close to complete. But how much will the Thebarton sale contribute? The university is not saying but it has to be a fortune considering one real estate agent claimed it included “a heritage wind tunnel.” (Sadly it turned out not be that old.).

Back where they started

At first the University of Sydney wanted to merge its College of the Arts with the rival outfit at UNSW. That did not go down well with staff, students and arty-types in general. So UniSyd called it off and said SCA could stay but it would have to move from its elegant waterside plein-air premises onto the main campus. To which students responded yesterday by occupying the college’s administration offices. The university branch of the NTEU is backing the occupation, saying the proposed move and accompanying course changes will cut SCA staff by 60 per cent.

Voice of plenty of people

A learned reader reports receiving a message from their university’s grants office with the greeting, “dear business partner.”

“This term of address, which some might consider benign corporate speak, bothers me,” the reader reports. They have previously consulted to a mining company and fear that working “for a profit-seeking entity intrinsically compromises my capacity to be objective and honest.”

Which means the reader worries about the university’s choice of salutation; “how is my role as a ‘business partner’ for a university, which is being aggressively and relentlessly reconstructed as a profit-seeking corporation, different from the much maligned role of ‘compliant’ consultant to a mining company?

“I did not join the academy to get rich. I joined in order to be able to conduct research on problems I consider important without fear of censorship if my findings threaten the profits, or indeed contradict the ideologies, of the rich and powerful. The preoccupation of my own institution’s leadership with profits, and the pervasive neo-liberal ideology that results in the proliferation of corporate language throughout a public institution, is increasingly as much of a threat to my intellectual freedom as that of any other ‘vested interest,’ “ the reader tells CMM.

The party-line in most chancelleries is that greed (or at least income from industry) is good. In labs and lecture theatres many academics do not agree.



UofQ structural engineer Sritawat Kitipornchai becomes the fifth Australian elected to the European Academy of Sciences and Arts.

Obscure advice

The NSW government runs service centres where one can interact with administrators, renew your driver license, register your wombat, that sort of thing. And now the government has extended the assistance and information they provide to help international students. This is smart thinking, locals have trouble enough dealing with the state but imagine how difficult it must be for new students from offshore. The NSWG has also created a really useful webpage for them. Or it will be for those who actually find it on online.