Plus nobody bjorn again at Flinders and uberoutrage at Murdoch

Inexorable ERA

There’s no stopping ERA now. According to ARC chair Aidan Byrne, Excellence for Research in Australia 2015 is well underway with 147 research evaluation committee members appointed and 1100 peer reviewers reviewing. Career making and breaking results are due in time for Christmas.

CEF August A

Nobody bjorn again

Rumours less roared than rocketed around the republic of letters yesterday that Bjorn Lomborg and his federally funded consensus centre was Flinders bound. Not quite. CMM hears that top management at Flinders has learned from the University of Western Australia‘s mistake and has a DVC out talking to campus opinion makers about options. (At UWA a decision was made before staff were informed, leading to deal-breaking outrage). According to Flinders last night; “discussions have been held among groups of Flinders academics regarding the possibility of any future collaboration with the Copenhagen Consensus Centre in addressing a number of major research questions of our time.” The same is surely going on at other universities, the university added. However the university did confirm that it had asked the Department of Education for information but stressed that Flinders “had yet to form a position on the matter.”

But if it did form one CMM wonders whether “collaboration” might be the operative word. A partnership with another university or  a think tank would be a great way to share ideas, not to mention political risk.


Big impact on ERA

Renee Hindmarsh, CEO of the Australian Technology Network spoke at the Innovative Research University senior staff conference the other day, which is interesting in itself. But what she spoke about it is absolutely fascinating for everybody who remembers the ATN’s work with the Group of Eight on a research impact model.

Because the ATN has had further thoughts, with its Industry Research Advisory Board now developing “a suite of metrics” which include financial and other measures for both short and long terms. What’s more they complement the Academy of Technological Science and Engineering proposal for a Research Engagement for Australia model that uses existing data (CMM April 24). So where would this leave the Australian Research Council’s Excellence for Research in Australia, due in December? Under siege, it seems. “Excellence in research is well recognised in Australia through the ERA process and it is our view that to change behaviour you also need to encourage greater levels of research engagement with industry and community,” the ATN asserts.

Warning from the west 

Labor’s Kim Carr and Sharon Bird continue to hammer away at crook private training providers enrolling people in courses they cannot pay for and are unlikely to compete. The pair is asking the Australian National Audit Office to investigate what for-profits are doing with public funds. Quite right too, especially as it is an issue on which Labor and the government are in furious agreement. Ms Bird has even acknowledged Training Minister Simon Birmingham has cracked down on shonkery in the industry.

But outright exploitation is not the only problem – crook quality control continues to alarm insiders. If the ANAO is interested, the office could save itself a bit of time by reading the Western Australian Auditor General’s report which finds 35 per cent of 232 state-based registered training organisations in breach of national standards. “Critical non-compliance poses a risk that students may not have the skills to work in their chosen vocation, and industry may employ staff not properly trained,” the WAAG warns.

This not a problem that any federal take-over of VET would necessarily solve. Senator Birmingham is introducing a new governance system for course design and regulation precisely because of problems with the established national model of assessing and maintaining training quality.


Repeat business

University marketers less make than inherit many of the sales in the $17.6bn (all-up) international education business, demonstrated by new figures from the feds. According to Department of Education data for 2013-14 over two thirds of people who came to Australia for an English language course went directly on to further study in voced or higher education. Over half of school students from other countries did the same.

House divided

Staff in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Adelaide are aggrieved indeed at a proposal to close their department, which would send politics people to join up with anthropology, gender studies and sociology and their international relations colleagues to either stand alone or join Asian languages (CMM, July 17).

According to head of department Felix Patrikeeff and colleagues the existing department is greater than the sum of its parts. In a letter seen by CMM they warn Dean of Arts Jennie Shaw that a split “would effectively destroy” political science at the university, “a discipline that is at the core of arts faculties in major research universities in Australia.” International studies “is a programme within politics not a separate discipline, ” they add.

“What is curious about this move is that it runs counter to VC Warren Bebbington‘s, Beacon of Enlightenment strategy which is crucially concerned with reinvigorating a liberal arts education. It is difficult to see how this proposal to effectively destroy politics and international studies – a core discipline of any liberal arts program aligns with Beacon,” a sympathetic source says.

But the university argues the moves is nothing extraordinary, telling CMM last night; “the proposed structural realignment in the School of Social Sciences responds to student demand – hence the new majors in criminology and sociology – while maintaining our current offerings. … There are no hard and fast rules on placement within the sector.  Each university has its own rationale for how it structures politics and international studies (and indeed any other discipline) which is  determined by a range of factors including student and staff profile and research activity among many others.”


There is a small fuss in Perth over Murdoch University offering Uber rides to Open Day (on Sunday), with suggestions MU should not be involved with the service. To which Murdoch replies stuff, and possibly, nonsense. “We are assured by Uber that their service is not in breach of any legislation, since there are currently no regulations around ridesharing.”

mindhive 2

Dean Departs

Stephen Smith is leaving the University of Melbourne, where he has served as dean of medicine and dentistry for barely two years. According to the university, Professor Smith is returning to the UK due “to a change in family circumstances.” Professor Smith was brought in with a brief to restructure the faculty so that it would rise to join the global top ten. According to Provost Margaret Sheil he restructured the faculty, appointed “outstanding” heads of school and “established clearer directions.” His legacy is “disproportionate to his short tenure” she adds. PCV Research Mark Hargreaves will act pending a replacement.

But what would Emo know?

The Australian and Australian Financial Review newspapers have united (yes, really) to kick start the stalled debate on social and economic reform with a conference next month. And former Labor minister Craig Emerson has some advice for its convenor, some bloke called Craig Emerson, keep the issues tight and the speaker list small. “Prioritising inclusiveness over outcomes would make the cynics right. A summit statement that tried to be all things to all people would end up being nothing to anyone,” Dr Emerson says. Taking his own advice, the conference will focus on just four areas, tax reform, productivity improvement/workforce participation, the budget and retirement income.

But Group of Eight CEO Vicki Thomson worries that Dr Emerson is being way too inclusive, at the expense of the policy area that comes close to mattering most – research. “If the determination for small locks out the voice of any area that is fundamental to the future of the Australian economy and the lives of all Australians, as research is, then the summit will be deficient. … a national reform summit must live up to its name and therefore we implore than the resourcing of research is included.”

Helpful advise, after all not everybody understands the importance of research. Oh wait, what were Dr Emerson’s last portfolios? Trade was one and one of the others was – oh, yes, research.

Bigger than TAFE

The estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research has released first-ever numbers on all government funded VET, including private providers. This is long over-due data, demonstrating how big the system is, with 787 000 students. And diverse, some 1500 private providers account for 228 000 students, nearly a third of the total. While team TAFE loathes the presence of for-profits in the industry, they are teaching too many students to ignore. Imagine what would happen if state governments tried to shut the private system out of the publicly funded industry. And if you can’t imagine, just hang on for 12 months and see what occurs in South Australia, where the state government is doing just that.