Global research funders unite on open access

Who wants what

When university leaders says they want Education Minister Christopher Pyne to pause in implementing his package what do they want? A weekend ring around came up with two quite common ideas in addition to public calls for another look at how funding cuts to discipline clusters are allocated. One is to cap the fees individual universities can charge, lest the Group of Eight charges up. “To suggest that there are price signals in the market when student purchasers can borrow the lot and defer repayment to the indefinite future is fanciful,” one staffer at an elite institution said. The other idea is to stagger the entry of private providers, less they flood the market with low cost and lower quality courses and do to the university system what many people say they did to training in Victoria. In the first instance private providers should access the expanded sub-degree field, “this is what they are good at,” a cross-sector commentator said. People also argued there should be room for fine-tuning of cuts to Commonwealth Supported Places, but consensus collapsed along lobby lines as to what should be done. One veteran observer argued that while there was no chance of cancelling the cuts, if universities can make enough noise that is heard in the Senate perhaps concessions on the Labor efficiency dividend, still to pass the upper house might be possible.

If you want a friend get a goldfish

“Fish are the forgotten pets, according to Miriam Sullivan from the University of Western Australia. Apparently they are as smart as a puppy and can live for a decade. And you don’t have to take them for a walk

A go for green

The Global Research Council has just met in Beijing and I’m guessing the big commercial journal publishers did not like what occurred one bit. The people at the meeting allocate something like 70 per cent of the world’s public sector research funding and they discussed open access to the work they underwrite. A Beijing observer says that while the Dutch and British are still solid for the gold model (open access in pay-to-publish journals) there was a sense in the meeting that publishers are double dipping – charging institutions to publish articles, which the journals pay nothing to acquire. The meeting communiqué called for a common approach on access. Inevitably, global green open access will inflict collateral damage – some publishers add value to research they publish, by paying their own editors to work on papers, for example. And scholarly societies support their work from the profits of their own prestigious journals. But it seems the consensus among research funding agencies is that the big commercial publishers cannot keep privatising profits from publicly funded research. “Open access will be a defining feature of scientific communication in the coming years and can improve the free exchange of research data and results considerably and therefore also the quality of research,” the GRC concluded. So how will the publishers respond? “They will make as much as they can for as long as they can from the existing model,” the observer says, “and then they will stick with the gold model and drop their prices to undercut the scholarly society publishers.” The question is will the GRC let them get away with it unchallenged.

Life after UWS

The University of Western Sydney may have lost interest in employing many senior economists, fortunately those they retrenched did not lose interest in economics. Last week Satya Paul was appointed a professor of economics, and head of school, at the University of the South Pacific in Suva. Steve Keen is moving to Kingston University, outside London, where he will also be a professor and head of school and Anise Chowdhury is working on macroeconomic policy for the UN in Bangkok. Two others, Raja Junankar and John Lodewijks are writing and researching at the University of New South Wales.

Underdone on indexation

Ian Argall suggests I over-estimated last week the impact the new Commonwealth indexing arrangements will have on university budgets and if there is anybody aware of cost pressures it is the former head of the Higher Education Industrial Association, now consulting. The old Higher Education Grants Index was based on 90 per cent of the wage price index for professional, scientific and technical services plus CPI. This was replaced in the budget with CPI as the sole measure, which sounds like bad news. But as Mr Argall points out, the CPI increase has been higher than the wage price index for the last five quarters. The sum of the five quarterly increases is 2.2 per cent for the WPI and 3.4 per cent for the CPI. “If the trend continues universities may be better rather than worse-off in relation to indexation. I am not sure if the Commonwealth intended this, but there you go,” he writes. Good-oh, but universities still have to deal with the Emerson efficiency dividend which is before the Senate.

Low cost high return

Universities nervous about competing against low cost private providers, if deregulation ever occurs, should have a look at Charles Sturt University’s IT MOOCs – which demonstrates how product exposure makes it possible to sell on course quality not price. The university has just commenced a MOOC on hacking counter-measures with 7000 starters. Experience suggests 15 per cent of them will still be there to complete the exam at the end. It’s a solid result says Martin Hale, CSU adjunct and head of partner provider IT Masters. It certainly shows how CSU can build awareness of its IT courses, in a market, especially at undergraduate level, which has declined over the last decade. “We used to got to trade shows and be very happy if we got 200 people interested,” he says. The university has now presented 12 ICT MOOCs, based on sections of masters programs. Cyber security is the most popular, followed by project management. Adjuncts are paid to run programs and yes there are back end costs. But as a way of creating brand awareness, especially in new markets, these MOOCSs are surely hard to beat -some 25 per cent of students in one came from the US. Overall Mr Hale says 111 people who have done a MOOC have gone on to enrol in a full fee CSU IT masters.

 Less slow than no progress

Industrial relations proceed at a stately pace at the University of Adelaide, where management and union have spent many, many months arguing about working conditions. While the National Tertiary Education Union says “there is still much work to be done finalising the wording on matters such as dispute settling procedures and redundancy” its negotiators have largely moved on to failing to agree with DVC Pascale Quester over money. Last week, the NTEU team knocked back an offer which included a component to be paid if the university made student revenue targets. Management accepted the rebuff and came back with a higher unconditional offer of 1.5 per cent from September, plus 3 per cent per annum due in September, ’15, ’16 and ’17, which the union also knocked back. Late last week VC Warren Bebbington intervened bringing forward the 1.5 per, cent without terms to July, “as a sign of good faith.” But the union is not budging saying it requires “a reasonable offer, complete with improved conditions and acceptable salary increases.” This may take some time, but they’re used to that at Adelaide.