The minister says universities are better off now than when they were previously producing solid surpluses

While Bridget McKenzie keeps asking what people think of VC pay

and a plague on all our houses: Deakin to survey infection rates in hospitals

MOOC of the morning UTas cracks 100 000 enrolments for dementia course

plus job news, grant news and the hippest house on science street

The price of VC pay

The government is returning fire in Senate committee hearings on its uni funding bill

‘‘Bridget McKenzie asked National Union of Students president Sophie Johnston what she thought about vice chancellors pay – she called for a cap.

Senator McKenzie also asked the National Tertiary Education Union and president Jeannie Rea said she thought VC and their senior staff pay packages were “disgraceful” “Some casual staff can make less in a year than VCs make in a week,” Ms Rea said.

MOOC of the morning

The University of Tasmania open on-line course on dementia has reached 100 000 enrolments

The Wicking Centre at UTas first offered the MOOC in 2013 and the new edition, which updates coverage of the causes of dementia, starts today. The 100 000 enrolments come from 170 countries. The Wicking Centre launched a related MOOC, on preventing dementia, last year and a Chinese edition of it launched in May.

They are both brilliant examples of how the MOOC format can help individuals and inform communities. Why governments are not commissioning universities to produce quality MOOCs on a mass of heath and community issues eludes CMM.

Schmidt speaks up

Brian Schmidt’s welcome to ANU students yesterday came with a warning

A week out from the Australian Human Rights Commission report on sexual assault and harassment at universities ANU VC Brian Schmidt is making it clear that all members of the campus community have responsibilities.

“Every member of our community has the right and an expectation that ANU is a safe environment for work, study and living. Every member of our community has the right to expect their college-mates, classmates and colleagues will treat them with respect,” he told students yesterday.


Cross-town appointment

Gregg Suaning has joined the University of Sydney as professor of biomedical engineering. He moves from UNSW.

Process miner strikes cash

A QUT adjunct engineering academic has $7m to research whatever he feels like

Wil van der Aalst has won an Alexander von Humboldt prize of €5m, (A$7.3m) to fund research. Professor van der Aalst is the founder of “process mining,” which examines complex procedures involving multiple human interactions to find better workflows and structures in organisations that lend money, process claims and handle baggage, for example. Queensland businesses already use his research, via his Queensland connection and he will continue to collaborate with QUT from his German base.

Multiple choices from Fed U

Federation U wants students to try before they buy

The dual sector provider is offering school students a trade taster programme, so they can sample some of the jobs VET delivers.  Participants will spend a day a week over a couple of months in a range of trades, carpentry, plumbing and the like, or in service jobs including hairdressing, business & IT. After the programme the university will assist students who make a pick of what they want to study to find apprenticeships or traineeships that suit.

Good move, one which gives people who are not enthusiastic about university study a chance to know they have a choice.

How many plagues on all our houses

Deakin U is going to find out, for hospitals at least

There has been no survey on infections in the Australian hospital system since 1984, which is way under the OECD average. So, Deakin University’s Philip Russo, with colleagues from Avondale College and Monash U, will survey the level of infection and risk of it across the country. In an age when antibiotics are running out of puff this really matters; “we don’t actually know how prevalent these superbugs are in our hospital system as a whole,” Dr Russo reports.

The $180 000 project will take three years, and in an intriguing aspect, is happening thanks to “a donation from a charitable organisation,” which Deakin says insists on anonymity. Whoever is doing the donating has already kicked in $1m plus for nursing and midwifery research over ten years.

Money for Monash mental health research

The David Winston Turner Endowment Fund has given Monash U $2.2m for a neuroscience research facility considering lifestyle and technology treatments for addiction and obsessive compulsive disorders. The university is kicking in another $1m. The Endowment Fund has already provided $5.2m to Monash U for mental health research.

Do the same with more

Simon Birmingham says unis are in better funding shape than when just about all ran surpluses

A new analysis of Commonwealth university funding indicates that even with the proposed two years of cuts, Government funding per undergraduate student in 2019-20 will still be higher than in 2009-11, when all universities, excluding one or two with specific difficulties, were in surplus.

Commonwealth funding per place is expected to fall under the government’s plan from $19 300 this year to $18 500 in 2020, still higher than the $18 200 they received in 2011, when all but one institution was in surplus.

The figures will provide Senator Bridget McKenzie, (Nationals-Vic), chair of the committee currently considering the legislation, with an opportunity to question university cost management. She raised the issue yesterday asking witnesses to comment on VC pay and university marketing budgets.

Last night Education Minister Simon Birmingham said projected growth in student numbers and student funding “at high levels” meant that “surely there are economies of scale our universities can achieve and reductions in unnecessary discretionary expenditure they can apply to meet a modest slowing of growth of taxpayer funding.”

ARC grants

The Australian Research Council is funding two new environment projects

As part of the rolling cycle of industry-linked grants the ARC announces the University of Sydney’s Richard Shine has $860K to develop “a novel approach” to ecological problems caused by invasive species. Wing Chiu from Monash U has $365k for ways to manage structural health of floating covers for sewage plants. Research partners will add a total of $2.6m in cash and kind to both projects.

Innovation expo

There’s a super science show and tell in Melbourne 

CSIRO and partners present innovation expo Impact 17 at the Melbourne Meat Market next Tuesday(readers braced for a cheap joke stand-down).

This is a big deal indeed, an impressive alternative to besuited seminars where people talk about the need for more research funding. And for cyber street cred having Marc Fennell from ABC’s Download this Show as MC is hard to beat.

Impact 17 has experts talking about what could happen/should happen/will happen in seven big science areas which will shape Australia’s future. There are a bunch of researchers explaining work that really, really matters and analysts putting it all in context. CMM’s fave this morning is David White from UNSW talking about using “the public” to improve image analysis. Pattern matching (cancerous cells, images of face and footprints, for example) is now done by experts, but they don’t always get it right. “Our project aims to improve the accuracy, efficiency and transparency of these important pattern matching tasks by leveraging natural variation in human perceptual abilities.”

Everybody was polite but yesterday’s Senate committee hearing was Himalayan high stakes

 Significant no-shows 

Labor senator Jacinta Collins nailed the politics of the Senate committee inquiry into the Birmingham budget bills

It was a “bit disappointing” no crossbench senators were at the Senate committee inquiry into the Birmingham bill yesterday to hear university lobbies, who explained its many, many faults, she said.

CMM suspects she meant participating members of the Education and Employment Legislation Committee, such as; Cory Berndardi, (Ind) Brian Burston (Pauline Hanson One Nation), Stirling Griff (Nick Xenophon Team), Pauline Hanson (PH ON), Derry Hinch (Ind), Jacqui Lambie (Ind), David Leyonhjelm (Ind), Malcom Roberts (PH ON) and Nick Xenophon (NXT). They are pretty much the people who will decide the fate of the package.

The Eight is appalled

Just in case anybody has missed it, the Group of Eight repeated its distaste with the government’s higher education funding plan at yesterday’s Senate committee hearing 

The Eight went in harder than the Australian Technology Group and Innovative Research Universities groups who also appeared yesterday.

“This bill is a piecemeal policy offering that does not offer reform – but instead – entrenches the current distorted university funding model and will cause severe detriment to our students, our research capability and therefore the nation,” the Go8 announced.

The Eight argued higher education is barely a public system anymore with the feds contributing under 40 per cent of university funding (ex-student loan funds). Universities now depend on international student fees to fund both their own education and research and if the quality of the former deteriorates for want of public support the latter is in trouble. And international students will go elsewhere if Australian universities are not a good deal. If this happened;

“it is arguable that the higher education sector in Australia would collapse without our international students and it is –  – in our view – certain – that Australia’s research and innovation engine – the research-intensive universities would cease to exist as such.

So what should be done? “The status quo, whilst not optimal is, for the time being, better for our students and our researchers than what is hanging over them with the Budget 2017 legislative package.”

Universities Australia explains what it will keep explaining

UA stuck to the point that crossbench senators have to grasp if the higher education sector is to have any hope of defeating the Birmingham bill

While funding flowing to universities from Treasury will grow, this is due to students paying more for their courses, which the government loans them via HELP. As to government funding per student, proposed cuts in 2018 and 2019 will reduce federal funding for each undergraduate place by 4.9 per cent in 2021. “Public funding for universities is already low in Australia compared to other countries. This package moves in the wrong direction,” UA argues.