The pair pick up big prizes for AI research

UoQ leads on dementia research grants

plus: miserable numbers: the decline and decline of economics

and: Universities Australia braces for today’s sexual assault report

Pedagogy plug-in

“Be programmed for greatness. Tech savvy? We’re the university for you,” U Tas in modesty mode yesterday. “Programmed” huh? So much for all that critical thinking palaver.

New dementia funding

The National Health and Medical Research Council has allocated $40m in grants for dementia research

Yun-Hee Jeon has $1.8m to research keeping people with dementia in their communities. Her University of Sydney is among the grant leaders in last night’s announcement by the National Health and Medical Research of $40m in funding for dementia research.

Some 28 institutions received funding, with the largest amounts going to the University of Queensland ($7.4m), University of Sydney ($5.4m), University of Melbourne ($4.6m), Monash University ($3.7m), University of Newcastle ($3.2m), Florey Institute ($2.8m), University of Tasmania ($1.9m), the National Ageing Research Institute ($1.5m), University of Wollongong ($1.4m), University of South Australia ($1.4m) and University of Western Australia ($1.3m).

UTS and QUT robots rule

I pick therefore I am

A team from QUT, Adelaide, ANU and Monash universities has won the Amazon robotics challenge (CMM May 16). Their creation, Cartman, was best in show at picking stock and putting items in boxes in “an unstructured environment”. This is a technology that Amazon does not have now, but CMM suspects might be about to acquire.

“Not bad for a robot that was only unpacked and reassembled out of suitcases a few days before the event, with at least one key component held together with cable ties” Sue Keay from the QUT based Australian Centre for Robotic Vision says.

Cartman? No, it is not the South Park character. It’s a cartesian robot (maybe Rene?) which can move in three directions at right angles and pick things up, in Cartman’s case using suction or a grip.

Cyber sociable

UTS also had a win, in the RoboCup social robot competition in Japan. Mary-Anne Williams and a team of PhD students took a robot programmed to interact with people to Nagoya where they won the best human-robot interface award and were second in the social special platform league. The team had support from an UTS adjunct professor, some bloke called Steve Wozniak, (yes, the Apple founder).

Not the real thing

“We deliver over 100 simulated babies a year,” Southern Cross U promoting its midwifery course at Open Day (via Twitter yesterday). Wont graduates get a shock in their first maternity ward.

Miserable result for the dismal science

The school system does not want to know about economics and it shows in declining enrolments, especially among young women, who have abandoned the discipline

In 1992 40 000 Y12 students took economics in Australia’s schools, but since then the number has never stopped sliding. And the drop is worse among young women, they accounted for half the students then but now only make up a third. “These changes are stark and raise questions about the longer-term health of the student body of economics,” Jacqui Dwyer, head of the Reserve Bank of Australia’s information department, told Business Educators Australasia on Saturday.

Using NSW data, she pointed to declines that make STEM study look strong- while science disciplines are down around 15 per cent on 1990 numbers, economics is down near 80 per cent. And while it has stayed strong in elite schools, economics enrolments have dropped most in low SES comprehensives – among young women in them they are down by a factor of 20.

Part of the problem is easier subjects, economics declined fast once business studies was introduced. “Business studies is widely perceived as a more employable subject than economics, is less demanding for students to learn and is easier for educators to teach (with fewer concepts to explain and more readily available content),” Dr Dwyer said. But economics also has “an image problem.”

“Too few students understand what economics is and how it might be relevant to them. Too few educators are equipped to teach it, and a growing share of high school teachers are delivering economics courses without having studied the subject. Too few careers advisors, or educators at large, can articulate how economics is used in the workplace. And too little relevant Australian economic content and teaching resources are available.”

This is very bad indeed. Students from low SES backgrounds, especially women, are being denied access to the foundation public policy discipline, the discipline social reformers need to understand to do real work. Access to economics – it is an equity issue.

News that needs action

UA braces for today’s sexual assault report

Peak higher education body Universities Australia is making ready for today’s release of the Australian Human Rights Commission report on sexual assault and harassment across the system. The HRC has also provided all UA members with institution-specific reports, which all are expected to release.

UA will also publish a ten-point programme setting out a national response. This will include a “respectful relationships” education programme which will build on programmes already in place. UA will also provide “first responder” training for university staff.

A range of universities, including ANU and UNSW has already set out campus based initiatives to address HRC reports. However, many more are waiting on the release of the HRC report at 10 this morning.

Another decade at Deakin

Navitas will manage Deakin University’s pathway college until 2027

The partners announced the new term yesterday. The college used to be called the Melbourne Institute of Business and Technology. It has been a partnership between Deakin and Navitas since 1996.

Training numbers are up

But probably only due to short employment courses

The estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Training and Research reports overall training numbers up marginally in the first quarter, compared to 2016. TAFE accounted for the growth with a 7.5 per cent increase. Private providers took a hit, probably due to the reputational ruin of the VET FEE HELP scandal and the federal government’s stringent rules for students at for-profits to quality for study loans. Enrolments are down nearly 6 per cent.

However, the TAFE lobby was quick to point out that much of the growth occurred in NSW where 17 per cent of students took specific-skill studies, outside the Australian Qualification Framework. Such shorter courses often focus on immediate job needs.

Different ranking, same-ish result

Another league table, another number one spot for UniMelbourne

Spanish research agency Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas has released the biannual issue of its Ranking Web of Universities. Rather than surveys and bibliometry, it assesses rank by volume and impact of web presence, but the results are pretty much the same as Anglo-sphere league tables. The University of Melbourne remains number one in the country followed by the rest of the Group of Eight. The University of Auckland and Curtin follow, like last time.

Cash machine

For-profit journal giant is still making plenty

Information conglomerate RELX reports first half revenues for its Elsevier academic journals and services division were up 11 per cent, to £1 171m, (A$1 930m). Operating profit also increased by 11 per cent (the company qualifies this by writing adjusted operating profit growth down to 4 per cent).

There is no word in the report of research funding agencies moving to erode the publisher’s best business model, pay-to-read journals which take publicly funded research and restrict access to subscribers. However, there is a reference to RELX’s strategy of extending services which add value to the existing publishing model.

“We continued to enhance customer value by providing broader content sets across our research offering, increasing the sophistication of our analytics, and evolving our technology platforms. We continued to see good growth in databases & tools, as well as in electronic reference products across market segments.”

The presses roll on

Just not for long runs

A learned reader has sent CMM a vellum-note reporting another UK argument in favour of the book, as in printed and bound pages. In June, a British report found sales of scholarly monographs declined 25 per cent between 2008 and 2015 with university press print runs down to 200 ( CMM June 23). But Kings College London digital humanities professor Marilyn Deegan warns switching to open-access e-books would abandon an industry that “serves us well”. “It is not Luddism to advocate that we should refrain from destroying it by rushing pell-mell towards openness without a reasoned appreciation of the difficulties as well as the advantages.” Good-oh, but global print runs of 200 suggest that while humanities scholars love books, they just do not like buying them.

Dolt of the day: Dawn Bennett is at Curtin U, not the ACER, as CMM reported yesterday