There’s more in the Mail

In Features this week Helen MacGillivray (QUT)  writes on three problems in STEM, new in CMM’s series on what teaching needs now.

The more it stays the same

Madness stalked the colony of NSW and tracing its wild path changes the way we look at our colonial history,” UNSW Press’s New South subsidiary spruiks James H Dunk’s new book, Bedlam at Botany Bay.

RMIT’s new grand stage

A capital result for the Capitol

RMIT opens the restored Capitol Theatre in the Melbourne CBD, Monday. The Walter Burley and Marion Mahony Griffin designed theatre dates from 1924 and has had a couple of close shaves with the wreckers. The university bought it 20 years ago as a lecture space. The 580-seat venue will be used for talks and performance.

Curtin U’s Terry takes over at UA

The peak body’s new chair has a message for government – UA is keen to cooperate

As Dan Tehan (education) and Karen Andrews (industry, innovation and science) are sworn-into their old jobs today, Curtin U VC Deborah Terry takes over as Universities Australia chair. And she gets straight down to business – pitching shared objectives as the basis for a working relationship with the government.

My responsibility is to work closely and collaboratively with the government, she tells CMM.

And this means addressing the challenge, she says government and universities share – ensuring there are study opportunities for the “Costello bump”, the spike in prospective students who will be ready for university in 2021-23.  “Mr Tehan calls tertiary education the ‘great enabler’ and my goal is to ensure there are opportunities for them.”

As well as young people born in the years when former Treasurer Peter Costello was encouraging the three-child family, Professor Terry also points to the need to lift participation among Indigenous and regional Australians.

But how should the Wellings Review, expected shortly, recommend growth places be allocated? Professor Terry says “a one size fits all model is hard to apply, that arrangements need to be nuanced. “It’s really important to understand where the education gaps are.”

As to innovation, Professor Terry welcomes Minister Andrews continuing in the portfolio, “she understands the importance of research and innovation.” However, while UA’s chair says government has responded in part to the Ferris, Finkel, Fraser review of research and development tax incentives ministers need to go back and look again at recommendations in the Three Fs. Although Professor Terry would not be drawn, a major recommendation which had widespread university support was for a tax concession for industry that partnered with universities and public research institutions on research and development.

On long term policy changes Mr Tehan will consider, Professor Terry is for adapting on one and status quo the other.

She says the Coaldrake review of higher education provider categories should leave things as they are, reserving the title of university for institutions that both teach and research. But she suggests the Noonan review of the Australian Qualifications Framework should consider the potential role of micro-credentials. “Graduates are going to have to re-skill and up-skill. Postgraduate offerings are going to have to evolve to meet new needs.”

But Professor Terry’s main message for now is the necessity for student places, in the locations where they will be needed. “We need a discussion with government to think through shared challenge of places for young people to meet needs of the economy. Industry is as concerned as we are to have skilled workforce.”

History was history in ERA ‘18

Frank Larkins analysis of the apparent poor performance of humanities research in Excellence for Research in Australia (CMM yesterday) set historians worrying

ERA ’18 was not great for history departments. Overall 13 out of 28 unis were rated above, or well above world standard last year for the broad history and archaeology discipline code, down from 17 in 2015. Three universities rated above world standard in’15 actually went down a grade last year.

This perplexes the profession, learned readers suggest some heads of department expected to rise up the rankings on the basis of a good run of publications or investing in prolific and prestigious people (a very science-strategy). But it did not happen.

So, what’s the problem? Some suggest malice among peer reviewers, but hopefully the Australian Research Council’s ERA team would notice that. In any case, the decline is too wide for it to be a case of an individual disliking one department. Others wonder if there was an increase in ok output in fashionable fields in which Australian departments are not strong. Perhaps, but that be a flaw in the ARC’s peer review system itself.

Whatever the reason, historians want to know what, if anything, went wrong. For university managements keen to maximise research ranking return on investment, history looked a bad bet in ERA ’18.

Text piracy and what to do about it

Paul Petrulis from textbook publisher Cengage is holding a webinar this morning on student textbook piracy and a project addressing it

“The project has gone from problem identification, to (a)  bespoke and detailed research project revealing student attitudes and behaviours on piracy, and now to a targeted marketing campaign aiming to shift student thinking,” Cengage says.

Shut out by STEM say social scientists

Their lobby wants a bigger role in meeting the national research priorities

In February the then, and now continuing government commissioned a review of how public research funding covers the nine national research priorities and challenges.*

Not real well, according to the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia which argues that the bias to STEM in them should be addressed, because social science research has a major, but now too largely ignored role, to play.

“While the articulation of the challenges and priorities exhibit a clear STEM bias, this bias is not so strong that it explains the extreme imbalance in STEM and HASS research funding. The cause of this imbalance is in part the implementation and application of these priorities and challenges, rather than simply the articulation of the Priorities and Challenges themselves,” ASSA argues in its submission to the review.

It proposes four measures to correct the imbalance;

* the Australian Research Council fund ASSA to research the distribution of research funding, research activity and performance

* the ARC “acknowledge the need for the development of a broader set of metrics that better reflects the public value of innovation in all its forms.”

* the ARC develop a metrics protocol that compensates for disadvantages in cross-disciplinary comparisons of research.

* the ARC, in cooperation with learned academies. continue to refine the national interest test used for the priorities

“We recognise the contribution that can be made by pure or applied science research. It is obviously appropriate and useful. But the cause of the heavy pure and applied science focus in attempting to address the priorities and challenges is not the natural or inevitable result of their articulation. The objectives behind the priorities and challenges would often be as well or indeed better addressed by integrating social science research.

  • the priorities are, food, soil and water, transport, cyber security, energy, resources, manufacturing, environmental change and health.


Nicholas Murray is the Australian nominee for the APEC Science Prize for Innovation, Research and Education (ASPIRE). Dr Murray (UNSW) uses satellite data archives to research Asia-Pacific coastal eco-systems.  He was selected by a panel convened by the Australian Academy of Science.

US library researchers add to demand for open access

Demands for an end to the existing for-profit research journal model roll on

The US Association of College and Research Libraries has reinforced its 2016 statement on open access to publications in library science (thanks to a learned reader for the pointer).  Academic library researchers should, “publish in open access venues, deposit in open repositories, and make openly accessible all products across the lifecycle of their scholarly and research activity.” The association adds publishers should, “implement open practices throughout the editorial process and adopt models to make publications, data, and associated scholarly products openly accessible without embargo.”