Plus Simon says out of the lab and into the market and how to make mad men cross

“Can do” gets going

James Cook U is holding a seminar on “unlocking” the digital potential of its hometown, Townsville, which has attracted significant talent including – Alisa Bowen (News Corp), Sophie Hirst (Google) and the chair of SwarmFarm RoboticsCan do CampbellNewman, yes that Campbell Newman.

Lab tests show it’s all over red rover

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations is upset by the government’s emphasis on applied research. According to CAPA, the fed’s focus is, “on commercial returns over research publications.” And this is a very bad thing; “potentially compromising the integrity of research, shifting the motivation from the one aimed at the generation of knowledge for the public good to commercial gain. It may also limit a universities ability to independently direct its research efforts. And caught up in all of this is funding for research training.”

All fair enough but a year late – the applied research engine is running with too much momentum to be stopped by people uncomfortable with commerce. And where, CMM wonders, was CAPA a year back when Chief Scientist Ian Chubb started talking about applied research funding? Thundering herds of elephants do not even try to make themselves heard when Professor Chubb has a point to make. The government’s emerging policy is no surprise to anybody who was listening then and 12 months ago was the time to make the case for the existing mix of basic and applied research.


Aidan, call Alan

So much for the idea that Chris Pyne’s innovation push would provide cover for Education Minister Simon Birmingham as he discretely disengaged from the deregulation of student fees (CMM yesterday). Senator Birmingham is adjusting the agenda himself. In a major speech to the Business Higher Education Round Table he focused all but exclusively on universities innovating and engaging with industry.

This was a substantial speech, coherent and comprehensive. While it did not add anything to speculation on what is in the Innovation Statement, Minister Birmingham certainly demonstrated the government wants to see applied research, with universities and industry interacting. “Business can still too often be risk averse, and higher education institutions are not always responsive to business in timeframes that are attractive,” the senator said.

But as to how this will be done; ”International experience tells us that there are no quick fixes.” However there are hints in the examples Senator Birmingham singled out. As well the ritual obeisance to Silicon Valley he pointed to the UK’s Cambridge Science Park and he made a point of mentioning the CRCs, the ARC Linkage programme and engineering and manufacturing collaboration programmes at Deakin U and RMIT. On the principle that VCs hate being ignored he went on to note another ten institutions. All up, entirely coincidentally for sure, the minister included institutions from all states and lobby groups.

Especially significant, he described the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering’s Research Engagement for Australia impact measure “as promising”.

“Key challenges will be how well any new measures engage with the diversity of research being undertaken, and how they relate to other indicators of university performance, such as those in teaching and research excellence and international engagement.”

Which sounds like a suggestion that ARC Chair Aidan Byrne should call ATSE president and incoming chief scientist Alan Finkel. 

Makes madmen cross

It’s a big week for marketing science at the Ehrenberg Bass Institute at the University of South Australia. For a start, biometric media researcher Steven Bellman joins from Murdoch U, bringing $1.5m in funding from US consumer neuroscience research firm MediaScience. And the second volume of marketing maven Byron Sharp’s How Brands Grow (with Jenni Romaniuk) is out. It builds on the case made in volume one that there are laws of marketing which universally apply. Like CMM said, it’s a big week for marketing science, if not agencies. Traditional advertising academics and practitioners hate this approach which takes the art, not to say creative mystique, of out of the biz.

ANU Sep 15 2

Homes of all nations

Labor’s National Rental Affordability Scheme is meant to provide housing for low-and moderate-income people at below market rates. Problem is the rules did not specify their nationality. So what did universities, who recognised a good thing when they saw it do? According to yesterday’s report from the Australian National Audit Office, they allowed 1800 non-resident students to occupy housing units in 2013-2014. That was 50 per cent of university “active allocations”. The scheme’s overseers put conditions on rentals; universities had to make them available to people other than students, for students those studying away from Australian homes had priority and initial leases were 52 weeks. But even so 50 per cent of the publicly funded units built by universities were home to internationals.

So how was this justified, you ask? Not easily, the ANAO suggests. “While approving NRAS eligible dwellings for student accommodation may relieve pressure on affordable rental accommodation in areas in and around universities, it can also reduce the total number of incentives available for other accommodation types.”

Prominent universities who built units via the scheme are the University of Canberra (605), the University of Tasmania (180) and ANU (947) CMM June 1).

Sunshine scheming

Thanks to the reader who pointed out the latest stage in the University of the Sunshine Coast’s plan for world domination, starting with the Queensland coast. USC opened in Gympie (inland from Noosa) in 2013 and last year picked up the University of Southern Queensland’s Hervey Bay operation. And now it has reached agreement with Moreton Bay local government to build a new campus at Petrie, in Brisbane’s far north. This is a big win for the Sunshine, which will provide a local alternative for students in a fast growing region who now have to slog into the city. Gosh a university with ambitions beyond the needs of its immediate region, now which direction do you think USC looked for inspiration? Try north, CQU has outposts all over the country and has recently opened in James Cook country, at Cairns. CMM wonders how long it will be before USC opens in CQU’s Rockhampton.