Wifi will not be used to restrict movement on campus says Melbourne management

NHMRC’s Kelso commits to no quotas in new grant selection scheme sent to minister

plus Curtin up: VC Deborah Terry talks about the university’s future at 50

and an Iron Man CRC could be coming


Peaceable talks

A Perth meeting of tertiary education union activists last week was briefed on challenges they face. With slow or stalled negotiations on new industrial agreements at the four WA public universities one speaker must have especially interested them, Edith Cowan U VC Steve “Churchill” Chapman. looks like he thinks jaw-jaw is always better than war-war.

Big brother isn’t watching

Last winter the University of Melbourne reported that it was tracking student WiFi to work out “how intensely and effectively the university’s infrastructure is used,” as then acting provost Richard James put it (CMM August 15 2016).  However, there was a report last week that the university now wants  to go further and identify students by their WiFi, with a view to discouraging them from using crowded libraries of faculties in which they are not enrolled. This does not sit well with Professor James’ assurance last year, that tracking “does not focus on individual student behaviours.”

But no, the clocks at Parkville are not striking 13. According to university management, at a conference last week a UniMelb staffer used identifying students in libraries not their own as a hypothetical example of what management could do with technology. That’s hypothetical in bold caps.

“The university has not proceeded with any projects that would restrict access for staff and students in this way, and has maintained that any such a move would not meet the standards the institution has around providing quality IT infrastructure for the entire staff-student community,” a spokesman says.

But if anybody at UniMelb does decide this is a good idea perhaps they should talk to QUT, which has experience of what can happen when students are told to scram.

New NHMRC watchdog

The National Health and Medical Research Council has a new commissioner of complaints, Chris Reid, a former general counsel for the Department of Health. Mr Reid replaces associate dean of law at the University of Tasmania, Don Chalmers. The commissioner investigates complaints about funding decisions. In his four-year term, Professor Chalmers dealt with 25 matters.

Catch up, you yanks

A consortium of 12 major US universities announces it will fund a digital monograph programme, to “make new research freely available online, thereby increasing the presence of humanities and social science scholarship on the web and opening up this content to more readers, putting it into the venue where many scholars are working.” Like ANU Press has done for years? As a learned reader puts it; “one sometimes wishes they would take notice of southern hemisphere developments in open access!”

Iron Man CRC

There are three new cooperative research centres plus a bunch of other research programmes to be funded by the $730m Next Generation Technologies Fund announced by Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne. “There are a range of opportunities for universities and companies to contribute innovative technology solutions to defeat future threats, many of which are not even on the radar today,” the minister says. The first defence CRC will work on “trusted autonomous systems,” which involve, machines that learn, how they can work with humans and create decision-making systems. The other two will likely cover others of the government’s nine defence research priorities, including “enhanced human performance,” which sounds like Tony Stark in Iron Man.

Applications for the first CRC will open this year. But where will industry funding, core to the CRC concept, come from? CMM suspects not from companies with close connections to China.

Parkville solo

A veteran of many industrial disputes points out that the University of Melbourne is singing from the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association hymnal without being a member of the choir. As CMM reported Friday, the university is keen on the short and simple staff agreements that AHEIA says will give managements much needed flexibility but is not a member of the association. “They will be on their own when the hard stuff starts with the union,” the veteran warns.

More of the same

Murdoch U has a “fresh look” website, announced on Friday. Fresh, it is, original it isn’t. Without the name and livery the branding could belong to universities across the country, or anglo-sphere for that matter. This is not the creatives fault, they could only work with what they were given, which is a homogenous brand that positions itself on doing what everybody else does. Marketing relies on distinct identities based on great products (witness the University of Melbourne research campaigns), not presenting what everybody else promotes.

Kelso rules out medical research quotas for women

Recommendations for a new system to allocate National Health and Medical Research Council grants has gone to the health minister, says council chair Anne Kelso. But while she will not comment on content Professor Kelso is adamant they do not include quotas for women researchers, as speculated (including by CMM last week).

However, Professor Kelso tells CMM that while the Sex Discrimination Act forbids quotas it does allow “time-limited interventions” if there are sound causes.

“We are doing a full statistical analysis of data, looking at where consistent statistics for schemes show significant differences in grant success between women and men,” she says.

But she adds that identifying and addressing discrimination, of all kinds, in grant allocation is very difficult. “There are inbuilt barriers and unconscious bias, it is hard to know,” although, she adds that for women, lower grant success rates go beyond the impact of child-rearing years.

As to what could be adopted, Professor Kelso says the research community should not assume that all, or any, of the options as set out in the discussion paper circulated for comment last year are exactly what they will get. These included; an integrated team approach to work on a substantial problem. A lab leader focus with a single grant “providing flexibility to collaborate widely and enter into partnerships to achieve commercialisation, translation and implementation.” And five-year funding for chief investigators to run a range of projects, (CMM February 20). These, she says, were “extreme” examples to encourage feedback.

But whatever is adopted in the end Professor Kelso thinks that success rates in a mid 20 per cent to 30 per cent are possible. However, the new model will take some selling, “there will be an important communications exercise to explain what the minister signs off. “Everybody is concerned where the next grants and salaries are coming from.” And rolling out the new grant system will take time, as people adapt to new application requirements. She anticipates the process will start next year with grants under the new system to be awarded in 2020.


Curtin at 50: innovation and inclusion are in our DNA says VC Terry

Curtin celebrates turning 50 this year with big wins. It has just opened a new medical school and ratings agency QS ranks it second in the world for minerals and energy research, up from 19th. They sum up where Curtin comes from and where it is going. “We will grow and stay true to our roots,” Vice Chancellor Deborah Terry tells CMM.

They are roots that run deep, its founder institution started issuing degrees via the University of Adelaide a century back and expanded in engineering and agriculture, mining and health sciences as the WA economy expanded and community grew. In the last years before it had its own university act it was behaving as one under the visionary leadership of Don Watts who brought industry into the institution with a technology park, a smaller scale version of what Professor Terry and her team are creating with the vast innovation precinct, now in development.

And just as the state’s economy now serves global markets so does Curtin. Perth, as Professor Terry ruefully recognises, is not especially popular with international students so the university has gone to them. Curtin’s Sarawak campus has 4000 students with a short-term target of 5000. It teaches in Singapore and it is waiting on final approval to open in Dubai. And it is building on teaching and research strengths in an alliance with another energy expert, the University of Aberdeen. Curtin is set to teach at Aberdeen’s campus in Korea and the Scots school will conduct classes at Curtin Dubai.

“In twenty to 30 years we will be a major internationally engaged global university,” Professor Terry says.

She also expects the university to maintain its MO of focused research that meets the needs of WA’s economy and community, demonstrated by the way it has rocketed up the rankings. According to an analysis by Kylie Colvin from the Higher Education Consulting Group, Curtin was 302 in the world in the Academic Ranking of World Universities for 2014, improving to 271 in ’15 and 214 last year.

“There’s a lot of effort going into coordinating eco-systems, bringing industry onto campus and growing out footprint in the Perth CBD. Innovation and inclusion are in Curtin’s DNA,” the vice chancellor says.