The Week That Was (December 7)

Less than two years into her five year term, Australian Research Council CEO Judi Zielke, leaves Friday, “stepping down due a health issue.”

The ARC announcement cited, an “increase in transparency and engagement” under her leadership, which, “has helped to build the relationship with the research sector” while Education Minister Jason Clare said she was “a great source of advice and has guided the ARC through a period of positive change.” 

Ms Zielke moved from COO of CSIRO to acting head of the ARC following the early resignation of Sue Thomas and her appointment was widely welcomed as a safe pair of bureaucratic hands for an agency widely considered to be in disarray. But she went way further than creating calm, commissioning a review that found the agency has “limited knowledge and capability” to deliver a “best practise” National Competitive Grants Program. On this, and replacements for research performance measures, it appears she intended not to just identify problems but fix them. 


Monash U has a new VC. The university’s DVC E Sharon Pickering starts end January.


The Defence Trade Controls Amendment Bill 2023 is before the parliament and a very good thing it is indeed, according to Defence Minister Richard Marles. He says  it “will unlock billions of dollars in investment and cut red tape.” At least it will with the US and UK submarine partners, but not so much with everybody else.

Which worries universities and research lobbies – they have lobbied hard for months against the arrangement, making the case that the new rules make it harder to work with the rest of the world, with sharing research in tech fields requiring an export licence.

But Mr Marles was all reassurance in his second reading speech in the Reps last Thursday.

“These reforms are not intended to prevent foreign nationals from working with Australia … They are not intended to prevent foreign students or academics from engaging with Australian academic institutions. Indeed, much of the existing collaboration and trade between Australia and international partners will be unaffected by these changes.” 

He’s right – research on Aramaic poetry is open to all. But anything on the defence and strategic goods list is for AUKUS eyes only and criminal penalties apply for sharing stuff the Feds want to keep secret.  As Universities Australia puts it,  “we are committed to supporting government deliver AUKUS, but it must not come at the expense of other important research projects with existing and future international research partners.”

But it’s not over yet. The Senate has sent the bill off to committee for a proper inquiry – the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee is not due to report until the end of April. Which pleases the Group of Eight, long and loud in calling for a more measured bill. According to the Eight (via Twitter) the inquiry will ensure we get the balance right between protecting both national security and our broader research and knowledge networks – particularly across the Indo-Pacific.

The Government will not be budging on the substance of this Bill and unless the Opposition really wants to make mischief by partnering with the Greens a favourable report is likely. However, the research community still has time to extract concessions. The always across his brief Greens committee member Senator Steele-John, may well be amenable to suggestions.


After a decade in the job, Barney Glover announces he will give it away as VC of Western Sydney U next year.


The ARC presented a webinar the other day for eternal optimists wanting to know how to pitch an expression of interest, the first of the new two stage application process, for 2025 Discovery Projects. Alas, there were cyber gremlins and not everybody interested could access it live. Hopefully not an omen, a learned reader remarks.


The National Tertiary Education Union has made Jason Clare’s Accord-sell way easier. The  union packaged known cases of universities underpaying staff and issued the information to friends in the media. There was nothing much previously unreported in the coverage but plenty to appal readers new to the story. This is very bad news for university lobbies and their members, just ahead of the Accord. Their complaints when they don’t get everything they want will be easily dismissed as venal whining by managements that appear indifferent to paying staff what they are owed. Following scathing criticism of university responses to gender based violence on campus, the year ends with the public standing of managements less at rock-bottom than subterranean.


TEQSA staff are happier in the service, at least some of them are. The 2023 public service census for the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency reports a 12% lift in staff members “who would recommend my agency as a good place to work.” But that brings it to 43% , 30% under the result for all regulatory agencies.

It’s not that they don’t value the agency’s mission; 81% “believe strongly” in its “purpose and objectives” but staff rate the agency around 10% below all-regulators on  a range of management and performance measures.

Compared to previous surveys, this is a could be worse result. This year’s overall positive engagement score is 66%, 8% down on the all-regulator score  and the same as 2022 (67%). But there is a big improvement, 50% of staff think the SES works as a team, bang on the regulator average and 20% up on last year.


With the Commonwealth and states alarmed at the growing cost of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the Autism Cooperative Research Centre makes a well-timed announcement,  that it will “develop an evidence-based framework for assessing, differentiating, and reporting children’s functional strengths and support needs.”

The Australian National Audit Office reports autism is the “primary disability” for 34% of NDIS participants, and 64% aged under 15.


Supporters of Australia’s less-than-intrusive research integrity system, which largely leaves institutions to regulate themselves, fear that a mooted central agency could get carried away. A US study suggests they should not worry. David B Resnik and colleagues examined 343 investigations by the US Office of Research Integrity, finding it acted fairly and stuck to guidelines.


At ANU, optimism about the brand appears not to abound.

Imminently-outgoing VC Brian Schmidt urges staff to tell ranking agency QS about academics who might think well of the university and employers of the university’s students who are happy with their hires. 400 of each are needed for the imminent QS reputation survey. Professor Schmidt is no admirer of rankings but realpolitik prevails. “We routinely perform much worse in these surveys than universities we would see as our peers. So if you know someone who might be prepared to fill in the survey who you think has never done it before and knows about us … please nominate them,” he writes.

Hopes to build fundraising appear forlorn. Back in 2020 ANU announced it aimed to double revenue from philanthropy in five years but now staff cuts are proposed that could involve half the positions in  the 80 or so EFT advancement team.


UWA starts a best western version of Pathways to Politics – the party-neutral education scheme for woman game/mad enough to aspire to elected office. Uni Melbourne was the first to take up the Trawalla Foundation programme in 2017, followed by QUT in 2019 and Uni Adelaide, in April past.  


Charles Darwin U’s push for a med school has failed for ’24 funding, but the bid is not dead yet. Since arriving in 2021, VC Scott Bowman has organised a campaign that ticks all the policy and process boxes for a local med school, which would presumably replace the Flinders U program that currently teaches med students in the territory. Alas, there are no places for CDU in the new Commonwealth distribution of 160 new rural med school places, which are spread across Deakin U, Uni Notre Dame (in WA), Uni Queensland, Uni Wollongong, Un Tas and Flinders U.  

However the Commonwealth is keeping CDU’s hopes on life-support, with $2.8m for “preliminary exploratory work” on an NT med school. Education Minister Jason Clare says this will allow the university, “to apply for Commonwealth support medical places in its own right and not have to rely on other education partners across Australia”  – which may not impress people at Western Sydney U’s med school, who have been working with CDU on a syllabus for the past two years.

*** The Fair Work Ombudsman reminds all of the changes to fixed term employment under the new industrial relations rules, including two exceptions that apply to HE. One helps research institutions, running on fixed term grants. It exempts them from the requirement to offer continuing jobs to people employed for two straight years, if funding is “unlikely to be renewed.” And there’s a six-month exemption to the two year rule for HE, presumably to give universities and unions time to sort out an agreement.



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