Cutting edge on the Coast

At the University of the Sunshine Coast today mechanical engineering students are competing to build ‘Flintstones-eraputting machines. Yabba dabba whatever.

There’s more in the Mail

New in CMM this morning David Myton explains why more professional HE staff from the UK could be heading to work in Australia’s universities.

Big dreams

Denholm Aspy from the University of Adelaide is looking for participants for his study of lucid dreaming, “where you know that you are asleep and dreaming while the dream is still happening. This makes it possible to then control what happens in the dream.” If you have dreams featuring Leonardo DiCaprio in  Inception call Dr Aspy quick.

ANU shows protecting parrots is art of the Pozible

An ANU crowdfunding project has exceed its target by a factor of 14, with a week to go. The Difficult Bird Research Group wanted $4000 for PKOs (possum keeper-outter), nesting boxes for Swift Parrots, who need sanctuary from predatory Sugar Gliders. It has raised $57 500 (but can still use more).

Deakin U wrote the book on funding small-scale research via Pozible in 2013 and now ANU is adding a chapter. There is still some sneering at crowdfunding but as a way of supporting real research that the ARC is unlikely to pick up it meets a big need, as in this case.

Another high H index

CMM recently reported Australian Catholic U educational psychologist Herbert Marsh achieving an H index of 150 and suggested it was a local record. It’s not, according to a learned reader, who reports University of Queensland social psychologist Roy Baumeister has an H index of 155. “UoQ, loves coming top of anything” the LR observes.

UNSW gives a Gonski

UNSW has named its new institute of education for chancellor David Gonski. The Gonski Institute of Education will, “bring together scholars, policy-makers and practitioners to conduct research that will help improve academic and wellbeing outcomes particularly for disadvantaged students and those who live in rural and remote Australia.” Director of the GIE is former NSW education minister Adrian Piccoli.

Nyet from NXT as Xenophon team rejects funding cuts

The three-senator and one MP Nick Xenophon Team has rejected the government’s $2.8bn higher education funding cuts, ensuring the legislation has failed. “Until there is a comprehensive review into post-secondary education, it would be wrong to support many of the cuts proposed by the government, including the move to reduce university funding, lowering the threshold for HELP repayments and increasing the student fee contribution,” NXT education spokesperson and member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie said yesterday.

The call for a review is consistent with Senator Xenophon’s position on the Pyne proposal to deregulate course costs in 2014-15, when he also proposed an inquiry.

Yesterday NXT ruled out:

cutting Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding for universities

reducing the student loan repayment threshold

a scholarship system for postgraduate coursework places

performance based funding for universities

student pay enabling courses

This less cuts than eviscerates Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s entire package and was quickly hailed as “a good day, a significant win for students and the sector” by a sector leader.

Quod erat demonstrandum

“It will really help me push my message that science is interesting and important … and perhaps push the idea that women can do science too,” Prime Minister’s Scientist of the Year Jenni Graves, yesterday.

Carefully calibrated responses to Senate victory

Peak bodies were restrained yesterday after the NXT announcement, with Universities Australia thanking “every senator who listened carefully to evidence about the damage that the government’s proposals, particularly the funding cuts, would inflict on Australia’s world class university system and the country’s future prosperity.”

The Group of Eight thanked NXT for “withstanding unrelenting pressure from the government to take a strong and ethical stand against the worst elements of the government’s education funding legislation.”

And looking to the next blue the National Tertiary Education Union warned any review; “must be more than just how cheaply we can educate & train more people.”

Cuts to come: what the government could do now

Education Minister Simon Birmingham can still defy the will of the Senate to make savings. The minister could reverse budget support for equity research. He could create a performance metric which claws cash back from under-performing universities rather than distributes it among other institutions, as his now defeated plan proposed. He could cut research funding for universities, while leaving the ARC intact, for cover. And he could tinker with the basis of the Commonwealth Grant Scheme indexation formula, based on CPI as of next year. As he said yesterday, “we will consider the options of this decision for higher education policy and, as always, will also ensure any budget implications are addressed.”

And yesterday Rebekha Sharkie appeared to put demand driven funding on the agenda of the NXT required review saying;

“Currently, we have students who are leaving university with high debts and little opportunity of securing stable employment in their area of study. We have too many highly qualified young people, with PhD degrees, stacking supermarket shelves or making lattes. We need to do better than this.”

Senator Birmingham could look for savings on this basis by capping growth in UG places. While this would be tricky given the government’s continuing support for demand driven funding, not all university lobbies are solid in support of the existing all-but open access scheme. The government could stretch existing money by transferring funds from HE to sub-degree places in VET institutions.

A win is a win is a win

Whatever happens next the higher education community has now seen off two immensely skilful conservative ministers and this morning the universities look to be politically armour plated against cuts. As a learned observer of many budget battles put it last night, “the higher education lobby is the toughest in the country, including the medicos”.

New CRC shortlist

Six of eleven bids for Cooperative Research Centre round 19 funding are shortlisted, Tony Peacock from the CRC Association reports. The surviving proposals are in ageing, digital health, farming smarter, food waste and fraud, mining and future fuels.

Dolt of the day

Is CMM. In yesterday’s report on the THE engineering ranking CMM incorrectly entered the University of Sydney’s rating. It is 76 (up seven on last year) not 96.

Heads Up: Achievers at work this week

Troy Innocent from Swinburne U is the City of Melbourne Knowledge Fellow for 2017.

RMIT social work lecturer Christine Craik is the new president of the Australian Association of Social Workers. Her research focuses on domestic violence.

Rebecca Zhang from the University of Sydney is winner of the inaugural Ernst and Young corporate finance woman of the year award.

Peter Newman from Curtin U is the founding editor-in-chief of the Biomed Central(from Springer Nature) journal, Sustainable Earth.

Jim Watterston will be the new dean of the Melbourne Graduate School of EducationDr Watterston is now director general of the Queensland Department of Education and Training.


Whistleblowing expert,  A J Brown from Griffith U, has yet another prestigious appointment, being invited onto the board of Transparency International. Last month Professor Brown was appointed to a federal government expert committee on whistle-blower protection.


Prime Minister’s science prizes

Jenny Graves from LaTrobe U is winner of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.

Eric Reynolds from the University of Melbourne and the Oral Health CRC is the PM’s Innovation Prize winner.

Jian Yang, University of Queensland is Frank Fenner Life Scientist of the Year for his work on genetic factors in complex diseases.

Dayong Jin (UTS) takes the Malcolm McIntosh Physical Scientist award for bringing “a physicist’s perspective to the challenge of biology.”

In a big win for the Illawarra Neil Bramsen (Mount Ousley Public School) is the PM’s prize winner for excellence in primary teachingBrett McKay from Kirrawee High takes the prize for secondary teaching.