The Week That Was

The Reps has passed the government Bill enacting the Accord’s first five recommendations, notably ending the previous government’s requirement that students must 50 per cent of subject to keep a funded place.  The Senate sent it to committee, which reported Wednesday.

The Victorian Government will offer scholarships for living/studying costs that are the equivalent HELP charges to students who enrol in secondary school teaching degrees in 2024 and ’25.  The funds will assist 4000 started in each year.  The Government’s announcement points to a similar offer for nursing students now underway. In 2022 it also established a $25,000 grant for diploma qualified early childhood teachers who upskilled to a degree at Victoria U.
The boundaries between VET and HE are eroding fast. Macquarie U, Microsoft, NSW TAFE  and UTS announce online short courses (six-eight weeks, 50-80 hours) for $360 each. There are in-person classes and “educator-led” online options.  TAFE’s Institute of Advanced Technology manages the portfolio.
“Develop job-ready digital skills … when and where it’s convenient for you,” is the pitch.

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency’s new four year plan includes some, not many, but least some, metrics it can be judged against; a 30 per cent lift in the 2024 HR provider survey response to the agency’s impact on their efficiency, 90 per cent of registrations and course assessments completed within legislated timeframes, top 30 per cent of visited webpages reviewed/updated annually, 10 per cent year on year lift in visits to the agency’s webpages for students  And then there is the one opposition MPs and agency critics will remember to ask about, “90 per cent of websites advertising or offering commercial academic cheating services blocked.”

Federation U becomes “official tertiary education partner” of Melbourne City Football Club (as in soccer). “The long-term agreement will see a significant investment in Women’s football.”

The 2015 National Science Priorities, “are out of date and require renewal” the government announced last September. So Chief Scientist Cathy Foley was commissioned to “lead a national conversation” on new ones. The results of which are now out for consultation;
* net-zero future and protecting biodiversity * “healthy and thriving communities” * “productive and innovative economy” * “stronger, more resilient nation” (food safety, dealing with misinformation, climate resilience in built environment).
The 2015 set was, *food * soil and water *transport * cybersecurity * energy * resources advanced manufacturing * environmental change * health.
In announcing consultations in February, the Department of Industry and Science stated, the priorities would “align efforts and investments in science to deliver social, economic and environmental benefits for all Australians.
In contrast, the context for the 2015 priorities were a touch more hard-headed. “Science is at the heart of industry policy, and we are investing in science and industry infrastructure to ensure that science and research are driving growth in productivity and competitiveness,” then minister Ian Macfarlane said (Campus Morning Mail, May 8 2015).

It appears the Prime Minister needed things to announce in Manila, Friday, on top of a new reciprocal work and holiday visa and $64m for “peacebuilding” in Mindanao. And so there is a doubling of masters and PhD scholarships – to 50. Plus re-establishing the Philippines Institute at the ANU. This is not as big a deal as it might sound – the previous institute cost DFAT $1.280m, 2016-20.  
International students are piling in to Australia. The ABS reports 131,600 arrivals in July, 60,000 more than last year and now just 8.5 per cent lower than the last pre-pandemic July, in 2019. Universities Australia advises another 50,000 arrived last month.
HE is where the action is, with 104,000 July arrivals, just 4,000 behind 2019.

Education training and professional scientific technical services combined was the second largest source of cyber security incidents in the 2021-’22 FY, accounting for 14 per cent, behind the Commonwealth Government (24 per cent) and states/territories (10 per cent).

The Australian Cyber Security Centre reports education-training suffered the most ransomware attacks (11 per cent) ahead of PSTS and ICT  (10 per cent each).
The Centre points to “open collaborative environments” in education and training and the “large numbers of personal devices and new software” used during the pandemic.

Michelle Simmons (UNSW) will deliver this year’s Boyer Lectures for the ABC, including one, “on why Australia is perfectly positioned to build the world’s first error connected quantum computer.” They will be broadcast on ABC TV and radio in October.

The research community’s considered response to research policy is to demand more money – characterised by calls for an increase in its share of GDP. But outgoing ANU VC Brian Schmidt adds a practical proposal in his personal response to the Accord Interim Report. He suggests a “relatively painless step” to increase payment of research overheads by restricting them to competitive grants and CRC funding. Other Commonwealth agencies would fund overheads at the same rate and the Medical Research Future Fund would have to, from its own resources.  He suggests a “further nuance” – two/three overhead rates, applying to research areas, according to different costs.  

There’s debate over measuring research performance – Frank Larkins (Uni Melbourne) has thoughts on what could work.
The Sheil review of the Australian Research Council Act recommended ending Excellence for Research in Australia and leaving the ARC to come up with an alternative that isn’t data driven metrics. But the O’Kane Accord thinks metrics could be the go.

Professor Larkins points to the importance of ERA and its narrative based sibling, Engagement and Impact, which, for all their faults, “were of considerable benefits to various communities as well as to the Australian government.”
In 2020 he suggested merging ERA and EI, and running them every five years, “using the publicly available data bases and search engines with some refinements.” He hopes that this will be picked up, with data published at field of research level and with “a credible data portal” managed by the ARC, “essential for transparency”
“Benchmarking the performance of Australian researcher against their international peer is vital to justify the present research and development investment and to build the case for future investments to fund national priorities in a broad range of disciplines,” he writes.
“World standards are dynamic and continuing to evolve. It is essential that they be identified and continuously reviewed to assess Australia’s competitiveness across a range of research activities from basic to experimental development.” 

A team from Microsoft, MIT, Project Gutenburg and Google report a system to turn on-line e-books from Project Gutenburg into “human-quality open-licence audio books.” The selection is obscure but the technology is extraordinary.
“Our system allows users to customise an audiobook’s speaking speed and style, emotional intonation, and can even match a desired voice using a small amount of sample audio.” 



Sign Up for Our Newsletter

Subscribe to us to always stay in touch with us and get latest news, insights, jobs and events!