Monday 28 October
Call for increased funding for ANU
Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt has called for the Australian National University to receive more government funding to avoid losing its place as Australia’s top research institution, citing drops in rankings for research performance and stating that the institution could not risk becoming âbig and mediocreâ by enrolling more students to cross-subsidise research. Schmidt also highlights the shift towards greater funding for applied medical research rather than the fundamental research and social science that forms ANU’s research base, suggesting that this negates the competitive advantage provided by ANU’s special government grant. He advocates different models to bring ANU up to the standard of universities such as Harvard and Stanford, such as decreasing student numbers to an elite cohort and combining ANU’s campus with the CSIRO Black Mountain facility, although stops short of suggesting a fully private university model. The Australian Financial Review highlights the steady rise of the University of Queensland as a trajectory to watch, noting that once the âlotteryâ of Nobel and Fields Prize winners is removed, UQ overtakes ANU in terms of research performance as measured by rankings.
- http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/opinion/winds-of-change-buffeting-anu-funding/story-e6frgcko-1226744782490 [paywall]
- http://www.afr.com/p/national/education/anu_fortunes_fall_while_stars_align_XK2pdTjeYHrJIYByxhjXOP [paywall]
- http://www.afr.com/p/national/education/top_research_tradition_forged_through_eDBepljOOe13jdpCtk1Z6H [paywall]
Privatisation of HECS debt
Education Minister Christopher Pyne will not rule out privatising HECS debt, despite the Treasurer indicating that it was ânot current Coalition policyâ. There has been speculation that one outcome of the government’s wide-ranging Commission of Audit could be the securitisation of HECS debt to improve the budget bottom line. Industry insiders say the sale would likely earn the Government between $11 billion and $16 billion.
- http://www.afr.com/p/national/pyne_not_ruling_out_hecs_debt_privatisation_ZU0wSaLRlUaQNOrIdma0bO [paywall]
- http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-10-28/pyne-wont-rule-out-privatising-hecs-debt/5051194 [no paywall]
STEM education and skills
Chief Scientist Ian Chubb will chair a group of senior government, university and private sector stakeholders to develop a plan to âachieve best practice in STEM educationâ. The group, whose members will include former education minister Brendan Nelson and Google chief engineer Alan Noble, will also advise on raising community awareness of the importance of STEM education and skills to economic and social development. Relatedly, a new report from the University of Sydney calls for maths and science to be compulsory prerequisities for university study to reverse the decline in STEM skills among high school students. The authors state that maths and science are âcasualtiesâ of an HSC system that prioritises student choice and allows students to strategically minimise workload.
- http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/chubb-appoints-science-a-list/story-e6frgcjx-1226748432211 [paywall]
- http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/call-to-make-maths-science-compulsory/story-e6frgcjx-1226744725136 [paywall]
Following the release of 2013 grant outcomes for the National Health and Medical Research Council outcomes, commentators have noted the significantly reduced funding envelope, with 963 grants awarded totalling $559 million – around $100 million less than the same rounds in 2012 and 2011.
The University of Newcastle recorded its best ever performance, being awarded $21.7 million across 31 research projects (including nine research fellowships) and achieving a success rate of 23%, which placed it seventh in Australia for University-based health and medical research funding. However, in what experts have highlighted as a worrying trend, the overall success rate for applications has dropped to 19% - down from 22.5% last year – despite the NHMRC peer review panels deeming 55% of applications fundable. The president of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes has warned that this drop disproportionately affects female researchers, who make up the majority of young researchers and already face lower success rates than their male peers (even at chief investigator level). In The Conversation, senior postdoctoral fellow Kim Jacobson highlights six ways that the funding environment could be made fairer for female scientists, including maternity leave support for project grants, the professionalization of postdoctoral fellowships and multiple deadlines for grant submission rather than a single yearly round.
- http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/medical-research-grants-announced/story-e6frgcjx-1226745480270 [paywall]
- http://www.theherald.com.au/story/1865235/newcastle-university-awarded-217m-for-medical-research-funding/?cs=305 [no paywall]
- http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/falling-grant-success-rates-will-kill-careers/story-e6frgcjx-1226746104303 [paywall]
- http://theconversation.com/six-steps-to-fairer-funding-for-female-scientists-16895 [no paywall]
Australia in the Asian Century: continuation of recommendations
The new government appears unlikely to take up the majority of the recommendations within the previous government’s flagship White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century, with the Australian reporting that the website and online version of the paper had been archived. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who was a vocal critic of the plan’s lack of funding commitments at the time of its release, has stated that the government could consider incorporating recommendations that were âconsistent with the Coalition's policy of economic diplomacy and deeper engagement in the region through soft power diplomacyâ, such as the New Colombo Plan. A critical element of the plan was increased language learning, particularly in âpriorityâ languages such as Mandarin and Indonesian; however, UNSW has announced that it will wind up its program in Bahasa Indonesian due to lack of student demand. Deakin University is encouraging students to take up foreign language study, adding Spanish to a roster that already includes Chinese, Arabic and Indonesian.
- http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/policy/asian-century-plans-consigned-to-history/story-e6frg8yo-1226747866681 [paywall]
- http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/policy/university-of-nsw-says-too-few-students-are-interested-in-learning-indonesian/story-fn59nlz9-1226748536388 [paywall]
- http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/spanish-introductions-at-deakin/story-e6frgcjx-1226746678847 [paywall]
Engaging with Asia
Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb has highlighted the opportunities for Australia to take advantage of the need for increased vocational training in Asia through online learning, suggesting that Australia could be educating $10 million students annually within a decade. Speaking at the launch of Monash’s new campus in Suzhou near Shanghai, Robb also lauded the capacity of the Suzhou campus to extend the reach and brand of Australian education in China.
The University of Sydney’s Kerry Brown has published an article in the China Daily analysing whether Chinese universities can become globally competitive, noting that at present – despite high levels of government funding - the Chinese university system privileges volume over quality, and may have a critical lack of commitment to disciplines such as medicine. Brown suggests that Chinese universities need to collaborate more closely and more deeply with global research partners, not only on research itself but also on prioritisation of areas where China could be world-class.
- http://www.afr.com/p/national/education/global_training_gold_mine_for_educators_x5NUt7lQZURSqimYgoTcLI [paywall]
- http://sydney.edu.au/news/84.html?newscategoryid=240&newsstoryid=12511 [no paywall]
UNSW innovation centre
In innovation news, the University of New South Wales will build an innovation centre to bring together students from different disciplines to spark creativity, in a similar way to Stanford’s d.school and Harvard’s i-lab. The centre, funded by a philanthropic grant, will be housed within UNSW’s new Materials Science Engineering Building, which is under construction.
- http://www.afr.com/p/national/work_space/interaction_key_to_unsw_ideas_hub_sby5vfZYgBYTFIiMHzKHoM [paywall]
Private university takes first enrolments
Private university Torrens Australia is taking its first enrolments in 2014, with programs offered including commerce, education, project management, public health and business. The university, which is based in Adelaide and the first local outpost of global private education giant Laureate International, will offer courses both on-campus and online.