The Week That Was (November 16)

The Commonwealth Government has long made it plain VET skills are core policy. Ed Husic demonstrates they are also fundamental to Labor’s political pitch. In a speech to the Sydney Institute, the industry and science minister mentioned universities but focused on the nation-building importance of skilled workers, (see the story in this week’s edition).

The Fair Work Ombudsman sets out where the government’s proposed legislated limits on fixed term contracts would – and wouldn’t apply. One where they would not be is a win for medical research institutes and universities managing publicly funded, time-limited research grants.  The FWO spells out the exemption; “work that is funded by the government (completely or partially) for more than 2 years and where the funding is not likely to be renewed afterwards.”

There is no faulting Elsevier for strategy smarts. For years, the for-profit journal giant dug in against funding agency demands that publicly funded research should be open access from pub date.

Elsevier is still conducting a fighting retreat to protect its pay-to-read and pay-to-publish journal earnings, but it is now mining the vast amounts of data in published research it already has to create new products.

Like a possible prototype for an academic recruitment product, using the immense amount of information Elsevier holds on people’s research output and achievement. And like its new PharmaPendium, which enables companies to make decisions about what drug candidates to work on, “using machine readable data,” predictive tools and “unparalleled research capabilities.” If information is the new oil Elsevier not only extracts, it refines.

The excellent Parliamentary Library publishes a paper on the elements of research and development and how numbers are calculated. Yes the oft quoted 1.68 per cent of GDP for gross expenditure on research and development is correct.

New research funding from the feds includes,

  • $9.76m (from the Medical Research Future Fund) for MedChem Australia, to “accelerate promising early-stage drug discovery projects towards clinical trials and create new medicines.” It’s based at Monash Pharma Sciences at Parkville, near Uni Melbourne’s vast biomed research precinct. There are branches at Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (also in Parkville) and at Uni Sydney
  • Uni Adelaide has $60m from the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy, (plus $4m more from the SA Government) to expand the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility for crop science.

The Commonwealth wants to make defence cooperation easier with AUKUS partners, by making it harder to share research covered by the Defence and Strategic Goods List with everybody else.

Providing access on research to US and UK partners will not require an export licence, which will apply to all others. 

 “This will revolutionise trade among and between AUKUS partners and encourage industry, higher education, and research sectors in all three nations to innovate and cooperate. … (to) provide Australia and our partners a genuine capability development edge,” the explanatory memorandum on the draft legislation states.

Good-o, but what of research partnerships outside the AUKUSphere? Like with China, which now produces more papers than the US or EU.  

The Australian Academy of Science set the context for the broad issue of research cooperation in a paper earlier this month (Future Campus November 8). And this week academy president Chennupati Jagadish warned, “to comply with the new laws, I will have to lock down my communications and restrict my collaborations.”

Australia’s Ambassador to Washington, Kevin Rudd, suggests while medical and life science collaboration with China would continue under the new rules, it will be difficult for researchers at the “hard edge” of science.

The Australian National Audit Office is looking at how the ARC handles its credit cards. The Australian Research Council is in good company – the ANAO is also examining the Productivity Commission and the National Disability Insurance Agency.

Deakin U opens admissions for the first two courses at its Indian campus in the Gujurat free-trade GIFT City. Masters in Cyber Security and Business Analytics will start in July with annual fees around $A19 000 – about half the course costs for international students at Deakin U in Aus. Uni Wollongong; also in GIFT city will be right behind in starting courses at GIFT.

But the first university, at least the first Australian, to set up in India under local rules, will be the real achiever. At this stage it looks like being Western Sydney U which is said to be keen on IT-strong Bengaluru (see separate story).  WSU also announces a campus in Indonesia teaching engineering, business, and IT, initially to 10000 students, in Surabaya.

The Australian Research Council announces $26m for 50 projects at 22 universities in new Linkage Scheme grants, a success rate of 30 per cent. Uni Queensland leads with seven projects and Uni Sydney has five – all up the Group of Eight accounts for half the awards.

While access to India was the big educational export deal last week, Queensland’s Premier Palaszczuk was in China talking up her state’s services with ministers and officials. VCs and DVCs, or equivalents from most of the state’s universities were with her.



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