Keep calm and scuba on

James Cook U reports research on the venomous Olive sea snake which can charge divers when mistaken for a rival or potential mate. Staying still and letting a sea snake “investigate” them with its tongue means a diver is unlikely to be bitten. Unless it’s a plain mean one.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

James Guthrie on why the NSW Auditor-General should examine the performance of the state’s public universities

plus  Frank Larkins and Ian Marshman analyse all uni financials  (ex SA) to find 2020 could have been worse (2021 will be).

and Angel Calderon (RMIT) on the strong Australian showing in the new Academic Ranking of World Universities. Want to know how it happened? Mr Calderon explains how the rankings work in CMM (August 12) here.

with Margaret Lloyd (QUT) on the sameness of happy on-line classes and the individual misery of those that aren’t. Sally Kift’s new selection for her celebrated series, Needed now in teaching and learning.

as well as Kim Carr warning why it is wrong for the government to say no to a parliamentary science office.

Uni Wollongong stays with savings

Management briefs staff on the state of the books but assures them “our priority is not to reduce our workforce”

The university expects international student revenue this year to be $89m this year, down from $171m in 2019. Overall income in 2020 was down $44m on ’19 and will drop $86m in 2021.

COO Damien Israel warns that while UoW is “on the path to recovery” “our financial outlook continues to be challenging.” This means “savings measures” now in place to 2022 should stay. “Prematurely bringing the end of these arrangements forward could place the university in financial difficulty,” he states.

The backstory to this is a university agreement with the unions last year in which staff accepted savings (including no pay rises as scheduled) in return for job protections (CMM July 17, 20 2020).

UoW states “no staff member has been forcibly retrenched or engaged in redeployment,” however 56 academic and 80 professional staff have taken voluntary redundancy.

The deal required management to report finances to the campus unions – which has now happened, albeit after more poking than prompting from the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union.

One particular issue management has had to address is $350m increased debt (CMM April 28), needed, in an unspecified part, to buy out a student accommodation partnership which built 800 new beds.

The good news in the university’s staff briefing is, “this also means all student accommodation revenues are returned to Uni Wollongong and these will be used to service the cost of the additional debt raised to terminate the project.”

No faulting management for optimism.

ARC sticks to its rule on funding application

There is consternation in the research community over DECRA applicants being excluded for including or referring to a pre-print in their bid

It appears that this is indeed an Australian Research Council requirement that applied to the recent Discovery Early Career Research Awards.

The ARC advises that the exclusion is in the grant guidelines, application and twice in the applicant instructions. It adds that research offices were told in webinar briefings on grants.

“The inclusion of a pre-print in an application results in the application being ineligible. This provides fairness to all researchers who do act in accordance with the eligibility criteria, and the rules applying to the scheme.”

Which explains what the ARC did – but not why the rule is needed. In a world where journal research is still behind publisher paywalls pre-prints are important for open access.

Public VET providers do least worse

2020 enrolments in “nationally recognised” voced courses were 3.9m students, down 6.4 per cent on 2019

But the public sector’s share increased – students in government funded training was up 4.3 per cent to 1.3m (of a total of 3.9m).

The estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research reports short-courses and stand-alone subjects drove the public provider growth.

As for private providers, Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia estimates a 9.1 per cent decline.

“Throughout Covid-19, we have had millions of Australians essentially locked in their homes unable to attend training colleges or work placements required as part of their training,” chief executive Troy Williams says.

“It is very disappointing that, in this environment, state and territory governments failed to allow funded skills training to be undertaken fully or partially online.”

More UTS jobs to go

Management has the process for the next round of savings underway

There are change proposals circulating in five faculties, including arts and social sciences, business, engineering and IT and the Graduate School of Health. While they are still in the consultation phase, staff have a fair idea if their jobs are in-scope. Savings targets in circulation include $3.5m in FASS (CMM August 9) and $5m in FEIT.

An admin review separately underway is said to be process not people focused, which UTS observers suggest means academic jobs are likely to account for most of these savings.

UTS states  ”around 60” FTE positions will go and it “regrets any job losses.” Some 375 staff have already gone under a voluntary separation programme.

James Guthrie analysed the university’s 2020 financials for CMM here.


Stay in and influence at UniSuper

The fund’s John Pearce warns that Australia could be excluded from trade agreements if the government does not commit to zero net carbon emissions by 2050.

As for companies that don’t meet climate risk standards, “divestment is always an option for us,” he told ABC Radio’s AM. But, there was a but, “once you divest, you do lose your influence with the companies … the most influence we hold is when we own stock of a company.”

This may, or may not, convince UniSuper members who have run grassroots campus campaigns against the fund investing in old energy. The NTEU which has two seats on the board, calls for all directors to agree to exiting fossil fuel providers by 2030 (CMM April 26).

Appointments, achievements

Appointments, achievements

 of the day

Jennifer Deger joins Charles Darwin as professor of digital humanities. She moves from James Cook U.

Andrew Lynch is confirmed as dean of law at UNSW. He has acted since George Williams moved up to DVC Planning in July 2020

of the week

 Robyn Gallagher (Uni Sydney), Theresa Green and Claire Rickard (both Uni Queensland) become fellows of the American Academy of Nursing.

 Ilana Bolingford becomes centre manager at QUT’s Centre for Robotics.

Lachlan Clohesy is elected ACT secretary for the National Tertiary Education Union

Debbie Silvester-Dean (Curtin U) receives the Royal Society of Chemistry’s 2021 Emerging Investigator Lectureship.

Jenny Dodd becomes interim CEO of TAFE Directors Australia. Ms Dodd was CEO of TasTAFE 2018-2020. She replaces Craig Robertson who becomes inaugural CEO of the Victorian Skills Authority.

 Southern Cross U names Peter Harrison a Distinguished Professor for his work on coral reproductive ecology and restoration.

Hamish King will join the MRI formerly known as Walter and Eliza Hall Institute as a laboratory head, focusing on epigenomics and gene regulation. He will move from Queen Mary University of London.

James McLaren has a one-year appointment at Australian Catholic U as Interim DVC in the new portfolio of DVC Research and Enterprise. He moves from PVC R. But why just a year? “In the current environment, however, circumstances made it difficult for us to make a long-term appointment,” VC Zlatko Skrbis tells staff.  DVC R Wayne McKenna left last month.

 At UWA Colin MacLeod (Psychological Science) wins the Philippa Maddern Award, awarded by the academic staff association to “pay tribute to exceptional academics.”

UWA announces three new fellows funded by the Forrest Research Foundation, Jessica Kretzmann (School of Molecular Sciences), Sam Starko (marine biology) and Neil Robinson (Fluid Sciences and Resources). The fellowships are open for researchers at all five WA universities. They are funded by Andrew and Nicola Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation.

Carl Rhodes becomes dean of the UTS Business School. He moves up from deputy dean.

 Lan Snell is the new head of Uni Southern Queensland’s business school. She moved from Macquarie U.

Uni Adelaide’s new cancer research institute has a director, Chris Sweeney will join from Harvard Medical School. He will be joined by Luciano Martelotto (also Harvard U) and Jose Polo (Monash U). The centre is formally known as the South Australian immunoGENomics Cancer Institute.

Michelle Trudgett becomes Western Sydney U’s inaugural DVC Indigenous Leadership. She steps up from Pro Vice-Chancellor Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education, Strategy and Consultation at WSU.

The WA Premier’s Science Awards are announced, including. Scientist of the year: Eric May (UWA). Early career scientists: Edward Litton (UWA, Fiona Stanley Hospital), Arman Siahvashi (UWA). Student Scientists: Liam Scarlett (Curtin U), Niamh Troy (Telethon Kids Institute, UWA). Aboriginal STEM student: Daniel Curran (Curtin U). Science Engagement Initiative: First LEGO League (Curtin U).