Vicki Thomson to sector: we must explain why we matter

Houston, we have a role model

A University of Sydney reader reports that Shane Houston, DVC (Indigenous Strategy and Services) is acting VC. CMM suspects this is the first time an Aboriginal Australian has led a university, certainly a Group of Eight one.

ANU Sept 15

Thomson’s tough truths

Universities have failed to make their case to the community with voters only seeing them asking for money, according to Group of Eight chief executive Vicki Thomson. “That is the optics – and that is not a worthy message,” she told an Australian Financial Review conference in Sydney yesterday,

“The Australian community has been blindsided and confused by the polarised higher education funding debate. Probably to most Australians it appears as if the issue began on budget night 2014 when the government announced a solution for the sector when most Australians did not know there was a problem. Australians are generally unsure and un-informed about what our sector needs, or why it needs it, ” she said.

“We have not spelt out-as well as we could-why we are essential to every Australian or even how much we deliver into the economy.”

It was a fighting speech, acknowledging the work of Universities Australia but also urging all universities to explain why they are essential not incidental to national life.

“Our core message to the community must be that Universities are not ivory towers. We do not stand apart from the community. We are embedded in the lives of everyone. And we are the future. What we deliver for society is essential; it is not the luxury option.

There is no choice in the matter.”

“We can’t blame the community for not knowing. It is our job to express the value proposition in clear, simple and positive language,” she said. The quicker the better if universities are to have any hope of more money, from government or students after the election.

ANU Sep 15 3

Who knows, who cares?

“What does the mind of a writer have in common with an ancient shipwreck?” Flinders U asks, promoting talks by university fellowship winners. CMM suspects not much.

Policy not promotion

The science lobby is very pleased indeed with the appointment of Alan Finkel as Chief Scientist. Understandably so, the engineer, neuroscientist, entrepreneur and recently retired Monash University chancellor has the experience and skills superbly suited to our newly innovative age. But much of the praise assumes Dr Finkel will be spruiker in chief as if his job is to convince the rest of us why no scientist should ever want for funding. It’s not – Australia could spend the entire national research budget on medical research alone and there would still be calls for more money. As Ian Chubb demonstrates, the chief scientist’s job is about advising government on setting policies and priorities, of making a case for which research areas should get what. That the government has established priority research areas and is emphasising applied research without much outrage from the many losers is due in large part to the way Professor Chubb made the case in the corridors of power and sold the strategy in endless addresses, thus Universities Australia’s Belinda Robinson praised his work in “setting of national science and research priorities.”

This takes much more nous than simply talking about how important science is. Dr Finkel’s challenge is much more important, and difficult than the urgers understand.

CSU sells

One of the two Charles Sturt U teams has won the International Advertising Federation’s Big idea competition for 2015 (CMM background here), making it ten out of ten annual awards for CSU. This is a great achievement for a media and marketing school theavy on the skills that get graduates jobs.

HES HECQN electronic banner 01-10-15

Impact imminent

Chief Scientist designate Alan Finkel mentioned yesterday the need for metrics on academic engagement with industry. This does not signal the end of an ERA but CMM suspects Excellence in Research for Australia 2015 will surely be joined by an impact metric in the government’s innovation plan.

Cross castigators

Vicki Thomson’s speech yesterday (above) was not all about system solidarity, she used the opportunity to explain that the Go8 does most of the basic and applied research. The group wins 73 per cent of competitive research income and 67 per cent of industry income, she said, adding that public funds for research should go where they will do the most good. “The Go8, despite some, shall we say, febrile castigation from a few in the sector, will not walk away from what we believe is a sensible and logical stance that the taxpayer funding of university research should be directed to supporting excellence – the best research in Australia – wherever it is done.”

This will drive castigators, febrile or otherwise, nuts.

For-profit VET scandal of the day

Here’s the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission on a prosecution of Unique International College; “Unique sells VET FEE-HELP Diploma courses, costing from $22,000 to $25,000 per course, using face-to-face marketing, including door-to-door sales. … The conduct of concern allegedly targeted some of the most vulnerable groups in the Australian community, including consumers from remote areas and from low socio-economic backgrounds. Only 2.4 per cent of the consumers who signed up to and commenced Unique’s courses between 1 July 2014 and 30 December 2014 completed their course.”

Here’s Training Minister Luke Hartsuyker on ABC Radio in Newcastle yesterday, talking about problems in for-profit training in general, not the Unique International case. “The thing that we have to focus on as a government is to ensure that we chase down those dodgy providers and I can assure your listeners that my number one objective as the incoming minister is to pursue those dodgy providers and I can promise them that I am after them and I will be chasing them down and if you are a dodgy provider, you will be run out of the system.”

Presumably the baddies will be easy to catch because the bags of public money they are making off with will slow them down.

Uni Melb Genomics

Selective shares

The National Tertiary Education Union claims to be the first Australian union to “commit to screening out fossil fuels from its investment portfolio.” CMM wonders what members teaching minerals and energy exploration and engineering will think. Other industries out of favour with the comrades are tobacco, armaments, alcohol, uranium and which test on animals and breach human rights, labour and environmental standards.

Open, after a while

The University of California is expanding open access to research published by its staff. The university has created a license under which researchers can grant the university a right to make research openly available, before they take it to publishers. It’s another blow to the power of the for-profit journal houses, but perhaps not a fatal one in medicine and STEM pu, where quick access to new research is valued. “Authors may specify an embargo of any length, or honour a publisher’s request for one,” the policy states,” the policy states.