Plus ANU the recruiters fave and Training Titanic crew happy with the deckchairs

Vive la Republique

Flinders U’s Tonsley Building was illuminated in blue, white and red on Saturday night. Quite right.


Measured approach

When Simon Birmingham became education minister in September he said he wanted to hear all sorts of ideas on ways to fund teaching and research. There were few suggestions for a month or so as people recovered from over a year of arguing about the Pyne plan but the pace is picking up.

CMM hears Universities Australia has a statement on new directions in the works and on Friday the three South Australian public university VCs set out ideas at an Adelaide event. Swinburne VC Linda Kristjanson also argues for a new funding model, especially for research, in an AFR oped.

University of South Australia VC David Lloyd suggests starting with the fundamental questions, “what do we want and how is it best achieved,” “how much can the exchequer afford to subvent and how much can the end-user afford to pay.”

“We need an equitable cost distribution between the Commonwealth and the individual that recognises the value that education delivers to both. We already have an expensive product; we don’t need to inflate that. We do need to ensure it remains a high quality, internationally attractive offering, which is firmly plugged into the national innovation agenda,” he said.

His Flinders colleague Colin Stirling takes a similar first-principles approach and suggests that separating teaching and research in education is “a nonsense.” With information everywhere the challenge is to teach students how to analyse it. As to costs, “I suspect we will see some shift in the balance of public and private contributions.” Professor Stirling will not specify what proportion students and the taxpayer should meet, “but the fees students pay should not discourage sections of the community from engaging with higher education.”

While calling for an end of cross subsidising research from teaching Professor Kristjanson focuses on research impact and the need for ensuring access to research funding across the system. “Australia (can not) afford a set of policies that narrowly focuses our national research effort among a handful of older universities by relying on criteria that reward past success over future potential,” she writes.

And she addresses research funding by suggesting that business tax concessions, “purportedly to encourage innovation in the private sector,” be spent on programmes “that produce desired behavioural change.”

Messages for the minister seem clear, instead of a market free-for-all, university leaders are looking for the government to stay in control of transfers from students and industry.

Hairy scary

Blokes with beards are more sexist than clean-shaven men according to research by Julian Oldmeadow (Swinburne) and Barnaby Dixon (UoQ). At least, that is what a survey of men in the US and India identified. “It is suggested that sexist men choose to grow facial hair because it maximizes sexual dimorphism and augments perceived masculinity and dominance,” they write. Unless they just hate shaving.

Barnstorming to the end

Departing IAN “everywhere” Chubb has always worked hard to sell science. As the PM noted last month the Chief Scientist delivered 104 speeches last year. And he now he is certainly not slipping silently away, making ten speeches in October and another five already this month, barnstorming up the Queensland coast. Last Wednesday he was back in Canberra where he addressed the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering at ANU, where the ATSE chair, some bloke called Alan Finkel, introduced him. With science and technology now central to the policy agenda Dr Finkel has an even bigger comms task than Professor Chubb. The question is will it be more of the same swag of speeches or a social media strategy when Finkel takes as over as chief scientist.

ANU Sep 15 5

NHMRC to assess absence of equity

The predictably poor success rate for National Health and Medical Research Council grants last week generated the usual cross critiques across the board. But it is the success, or lack of it, rates for women applying for chief investigator funding that the NHMRC has especially  addressed.

“Given the importance of an individual’s track record, this disparity is important, especially for early to mid-career researchers. It is possible that dropping success rates for Project Grants may further impact on the ability of women to be competitive in NHMRC project and fellowship schemes. It is the view of the committee that this makes a proper assessment of career disruption and assessment of relative to opportunity even more essential to ensure gender equity of funding opportunities for women,” the council reports.

Training Titanic crew happy with deckchairs

Training Minister Luke Hartsuyker says a survey by the Australian Skills Quality Agency finds 74 per cent of “industry stakeholders” think changes introduced in 2014 have “reduced the regulatory burden on the sector.” It also revealed “”increasing satisfaction with the role the national regulator was playing in promoting and encouraging continuous improvement of registered training organisation.” Good-oh, shame about the crisis of confidence in the for-profit sector caused by spivs gaming the system, at least there is less red tape.

Gates Foundation opportunities

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has released its new round of US$100k Grand Challenge grant winners. Local heroes are Heba Khamis from UNSW who is funded to develop an algorithm, which will identify malnutrition in children from a smartphone snap.

Joanne Macdonald from the University of the Sunshine Coast won for a diagnostic test for mosquitos carrying malaria and dengue fever and Paul Young (UoQ) also secured funding for technology to identify mosquitos susceptible to dengue as an early warning system for humans.

Researchers are eligible to apply for up to US$1m in follow-up funding.

Recruiters’ faves

The annual Emerging-Trendence Global University Employability ranking is out, with the agencies reporting what it calls “the usual top ten” on top – Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford, CalTech, Yale, MIT, Stanford, Columbia, Princeton and Toronto. Apart from Harvard and Cambridge swapping spots and TU Munchen and U Tokyo dropping out of the leader group it is indeed ranking as unusual.

It’s the same situation for Australian universities, with the Group of Eight leading, although there are substantial movements from last year, (CMM December 10 2014). ANU remains number one, although it continues to drop, from 21th in 2013, 24th last year to 32nd now. The University of Melbourne immediately follows at 33rd (up from 65th), displacing Monash at 33rd. which drops to 56th. UNSW, which was 48th last year, falls out of the first 50 to 55th. No other Australian universities make the global top 150. The ranking is based on a survey of recruiters.

MRFF bucket still to fill

Health Minister Sussan Ley promises to announce the advisory council of the Medical Research Future Fund “very soon,” and it seems the government is still committed to providing it with a big bucket of money. She  told the Australian Association of Medical Research Institutes last week that the $20bn capital target by 2020 remains. Minister Ley also said a bunch of other things about the importance of AMMRI members’ work as well, but as the event host said, nobody would have minded if she had said nothing after the MRFF commitment.

Easier access to assistance

The feds have changed the Youth Allowance rules so that a family assets test does not apply to the YA means assessment. This will make it easier for students from asset rich but income poor farming families to quality for assistance.

Regional Universities Network chair, USQ VC Jan Thomas endorsed the decision, as did Universities Australia.

Hacks corrected

The estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research took a while to deliver on the task set by state and federal ministers in 2012 of producing stats on all training numbers (CMM, March 20), with systems and staff changes along the way but the agency got them out this week. However MD Craig Fowler is not happy with coverage of the report, announcing that the NCVER “has noted various public commentaries on the context, scope and interpretation of the report,” which was a polite way of saying journalists had got things wrong.

In particular he pointed out that, “growth in the national VET system has not been ‘sudden’. It has been long recognised that activity beyond the limited collection of data on government-funded, supported or subsidised training existed, but was not captured. Historical research estimates of private provision are broadly consistent with the new activity findings.”

It will take up to four years before there is enough data to make reliable assessments and comparisons, Mr Fowler also pointed out.