“Universities exist to create opportunities for young people,” he says.


NUW higher education policy powerhouse in tri-city super-Sydney


Group of Eight’s new river of research gold


Full list of new linkage grants: UofQ and UNSW lead 


ANU is Aboriginal country: Marnie Hughes Warrington reflects on her university’s heritage


Forgiving Flinders

Flinders University named for Matthew Flinders, imprisoned by France for six years but they are over it,” Tony Peacock on the France-South Australia education entente, yesterday, via Twitter.

Rathjen returns to UniAdelaide as VC

Peter Rathjen is the incoming vice chancellor of the University of Adelaide, replacing Warren Bebbington who left last month. The genetics scientist will leave the University of Tasmania, where he has served as VC for close to seven years to take over at Adelaide early next year.

The appointment is a home-coming to both university and state. Professor Rathjen is a 5th generation South Australian who studied at his new university and returned to work there for 25 years, including a term as dean of science. He moved to the University of Melbourne in 2006, first as dean of graduate science and then DVC Research.

At the University of Tasmania, he has crusaded for education and training, creating new sub-degree programmes to woo the under-skilled into study, expanding and transforming the university’s presence in the north of the state and starting moves to put teaching and research at the heart of Hobart. Above all, he has argued that the future of the state depends on lifting its lower than national average education participation.

“My vision for the future is based on education, human capital and innovation, he told CMM last night. Universities exist to create opportunities for young people.”

It is one he intends to apply at Adelaide. “I know the university very well and it is desperately important to the state.”

According to UniAdelaide’s chancellor, Kevin Scarce; “we are certain that in Professor Rathjen, we have found someone who will foster and build our external relationships to ensure we serve the community locally, nationally and internationally.

That Professor Rathjen is among the distinguished alumnus of the university is a very special connection.”


Now for the hard part

Thanks to Peter Rathjen the Tasmanian elite believe in the power of education to transform their state. Last year the Hobart Mercury named him number two on its most-powerful people list and state and federal governments have backed his plans with cash.

Now he wants to do it again in his home state, which is certainly in need of an infusion of ideas and enthusiasm. With a bigger economy and the resources of a group of eight research university the opportunities are substantial.

So are the challenges. One challenge is the University of Adelaide community which is not always keen on change or change agents – just ask Warren Bebbington who ran into repeated opposition for his plans. But one opportunity is the education leadership on the ground, the state is already home to two of the smartest VCs in the country, David Lloyd at the University of South Australia and Colin Stirling at Flinders U. If the three team-up they could attract resources to the state of Pyne-esque proportions to make Adelaide a city young people move to, not away from.

Brave NUW world

There is a powerful new lobby in higher education.

The universities of Newcastle, New South Wales and Wollongong have established an alliance to “initiate new, and intensify existing, teaching, research and innovation collaborations.” While informed sources say the new lobby will not have a higher education advocacy role, it will have a secretariat.

The NUW alliance focus will be set after a six-month consultation however the three universities nominate four areas; cyber security, smart cities technology “to improve the connectivity, productivity and liveability of our regional cities and coastal communities,” increased higher education access for rural and remote students, and engagement, “with partners in health services.”

It’s a list customised to the credentials of the trio, they all have medical schools, all are strong in engineering and IT and all are in Australia’s economic engine, eastern Sydney, and the distinct cities to the north and south, which now rely on research and education as they once depended on steel mills. And while there may be some two-way traffic between the Illawarra, where UoW is based and Kensington, the eastern Sydney home of UNSW, none of the three are in hot competition for students.

New the alliance isn’t – both Newcastle and Wollongong were founded under the auspices of what is now the University of New South Wales. However in its new form it has the policy mass to attract resources to the conurbation it serves. As NUW put it yesterday;

similar alliances internationally have delivered significant value for their communities through independent, research-intensive universities that are co-located in a geographic region, leveraging complementary strengths for public benefit.


A powerhouse on its patch

So how long before the opportunity for the NUW alliance to comment on higher education policy outcomes becomes irresistible? CMM gives it until thirty seconds after a Q&A producer calls.

With a secretariat in place, NUW will have the resources to speak out on research and education issues important to the super-Sydney conurbation and inevitably it will be asked.  Even with the most adamant of intentions not to enter the higher education political arena it will be very difficult indeed to stay out. The gap between commenting on the broadband needs of the most wired economy in the country and funding for IT research, even teaching is less narrow than non-existent. The same for health, ditto for university access and every other area where university purpose and community need intersect.

So NUW could quickly become another university lobby, like the various groups that already exist within Universities Australia. This would be a great outcome for the University of Wollongong, which is traditionally unaligned, increasing its leverage outside the Illawarra region. It would also be a win for the University of Newcastle, which withdrew from the Innovative Research Universities in 2014 to focus on representing its region (CMM December 19 2014). The university’s success in doing just that now means it needs a platform to make its case for metropolitan-level resources. As for UNSW, it is but one among the Group of Eight and at a national level benefits from this source of influence and authority.  But now it has a powerbase on its patch.

Always on-message and on-time

University of Tasmania announces Peter Rathjen’s move to UniAdelaide: 4.11pm yesterday. Group of Eight welcomes him: 4.16pm

 Bad day to make a case

Nationals backbencher Andrew Gee was out yesterday talking about the Murray Darling Medical School proposal, again. Last week he told the House of Representatives, “the universities running the current system are failing country Australia”. With Charles Sturt University, which sponsors the proposal, a big presence in his seat this is entirely sensible. The MDMS was ignored (for the third, or is it fourth time?) in the budget but CSU and partner La Trobe are not giving up.  But perhaps Mr Gee could have delayed for a day – CSU VC Andrew Vann was in the media yesterday, giving the government a Sam Groth size serve for cutting university funding in the budget.

Rivers of research gold

Group of Eight universities and Auckland U have $200m to invest over ten years in research that will generate spin-outs dealing in disruptive innovation. The money will come from a new fund created by UK intellectual property investor IP Group.

IP Group nominates new medical therapies, quantum computing and digital medicine as among areas of interest.

The deal, 18 months in the making (CMM November 26 2015), is a big win for the Go8, the first-time IP Group has invested in universities outside the US and UK. “It places Australia’s leading research universities in the distinguished company of IP Group’s existing partner universities – among them Oxford and Cambridge, Columbia and Princeton,” Go8 VC Vicki Thomson says.

The money comes from a new investor raising by IP Group.

 Bellwood’s Bleeker

David Bellwood from James Cook University has won the Bleeker Award, for his contribution to Indo-Pacific fish ecology. The award is made once in four years, at the quadrennial Indo-Pacific Fish Conference, to be held this October in Hawaii.

Acquire slammed in Federal Court

The ACCC prosecuted private training Acquire Learning, which used telemarketers to gull people into enrolling into VET FEE paying courses. In the Federal Court yesterday Justice Murphy found, among much else.
Acquire’s behaviour strongly points to the conclusion that it had little interest in assisting these vulnerable people out of unemployment and was instead largely, perhaps only, motivated by the fees it received for referring and enrolling the job applicants in courses provided by its clients. Each job applicant was deprived of the opportunity to give adequate consideration to the merits and suitability of the course which Acquire marketed to them. Its conduct, particularly in relation to those who disclosed learning difficulties, mental illness and limited education, was exploitative in the extreme.”

He ordered Acquire to pay the Commonwealth a penalty of $4.5m.

Another outcome from what must surely be the worse failure of public policy design and oversight in a generation.

New links in research chain

The University of Queensland and University of New South Wales lead in the new award of 61 Linkage Grants, announced today. UoQ picks 12 grants and UNSW follows with nine.

The announcements are part of the rolling release of industry-partnered Linkage Grants, which support applied research. “When researchers and businesses come to the government with strong proposals that will clearly deliver real benefits for industry and Australians, we want to be able to green light them as quickly as possible,” Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham says.

Grants go to:

ANU: one, University of Canberra: one, Australian Catholic University: one, Macquarie University: one, UNSW: nine, University of Sydney: two, UTS: three, University of Wollongong: five, Western Sydney University: two, Charles Darwin University: one, Griffith University: one, QUT: one, University of Queensland: 12, University of the Sunshine Coast: one, University of Adelaide: two, University of Tasmania: one, Monash University: six, RMIT: two, Swinburne University: one, University of Melbourne: five, Curtin University: one, UWA: two

At UoQ, Annemaree Carroll and colleagues will investigate teacher feedback in schools, to address “a critical problem of stagnating student achievements in Australian schools.” The university’s Brian Lovell is lead investigator on a project to lift productivity in pathology by fusing digital images and plain-text medical reports.

At UNSW, Dr Anita Ho-Baillie and team will work on a glazing system to reduce heat gain and loss by season and generate electricity. The goal is to “expand the solar market beyond roof-top applications and solar farms.” Researchers led by Wei Zhang have funding to research large-scale antennae systems to increase data capacity for wireless comms.

Other projects which address an immediate need are Zoe Richards’ Curtin U team which will examine how coral biodiversity responds to climactic disturbance and research by Andries Frou and associates at UWA on a methodology to predict failure in mine tailings, which can have “catastrophic” impacts on downstream communities. This certainly occurred when a BHP owned iron ore tailing dam in Brazil failed in 2015, killing 17 people.   BHP is a project funders.

At the University of Adelaide, Stephen Begg and colleagues have a grant to develop a computerised tool, “enabling multiple members of a team to contribute to the same technical problem – enabling expertise to be accurately combined while avoiding group and individual sources of bias.”  Zai Guo and team from the University of Wollongong will build a new lithium-ion battery for use in energy storage and vehicles.


ANU is Aboriginal country

As ANU is begins a major campus rebuild, DVC Marnie Hughes Warrington celebrates the opportunity by acknowledging the university is Aboriginal country. This is an edited extract from her new blog.

“For thousands of years, Aboriginal peoples came together and braided songlines at the place where I work. There is no better place for a university to be: thousands of years of unbroken lines of learning came before us. This location brings with it the privilege of living reconciliation, to find country, to acknowledge it, to be there at the invitation of its custodians.

Finding is listening. When I hear language spoken, I think of country carried to the missions, and I think of all the words and traditions lost because of fear and disrespect. Yet I also feel profound gratitude to be a witness to the renaissance in which young ones are stepping up to paint, to sing, to speak and to show story as a gift to strangers like me.

Our university is about to bring life back to country. In June, fences will go up at the centre of campus and the bulldozers will move in. Many will mourn the loss of teaching buildings that date from the 1980s, but I hope we will also celebrate the removal of so much concrete that has hidden country and reduced the creek at its heart into a stormwater drain.

In one language it is called Sullivan’s Creek, but in another it is called Kambri. Kambri was a source of water and of food to the local Aboriginal peoples, and a navigation aid. The Kambri flooded, and still does occasionally. It is dynamic, always changing, always to be learned from.

From January 2019 Kambri will have more of its water flow restored, and it will have a meeting place on its eastern shore. Local Aboriginal peoples will finally be able to welcome us to the heart of country, including other Aboriginal peoples who wish to continue the unbroken legacy of songline connection.

None of this could have been achieved without the patience and leadership of both the local Aboriginal peoples and our Aboriginal leaders in the university. We have had to commit to listening, to acknowledging, to being in country. Reconciliation is wrought first in our local land.

And while we may call this local land many names, I for one cannot wait to acknowledge this country, Kambri.