News & Views - April 2002 


Something Out of Africa has Relevance for Our Complacent Politicians. Watch Lane 8; Eric the Eel's in Training.* (April 30, 2002)
     We could be overtaken next decade.  The SciDevNet+ headline reads, "Plans set for new African science initiative" and is followed by:

The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), a multinational programme to promote economic and social development, is setting up a Commission on Science and Technology to explore ways of stimulating activity in both fields across the African continent.

In particular, the new commission will follow a two-prong strategy of identifying centres of research excellence in different African countries, and establishing an African Science Fund to fund them.

Kenyan John Mugabe has been approached to act as executive secretary. He says that his brief would be "to translate NEPAD's goals with respect to science and technology into a programme of action". He adds: "If this is not done now, Africa will be losing an opportunity". The overall aim of the new initiative, says Mugabe, is "to create incentives for research to be undertaken in Africa by Africans." The exact form that the fund will take -- including its governance structures -- is still under discussion.

SciDevNet is sponsored by Nature and Science in association with the Third World Academy of Sciences. It is published with the financial support of the UK Department for International Development, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa, Canada.

The Dawkinisation of Australian Universities. (April 27, 2002)
    Perhaps Barry Jones' most egregious "crime" was his inability to amass a strong enough political power base to wield sufficient clout to get worthwhile things done and to prevent the perpetration of some outrageous acts. The other day he gave an address at the University of Melbourne. A few excerpts:

A turning point in the history of Australia's higher education was the comprehensive reorganisation that was initiated, and indeed imposed, from 1987 by John Dawkins, Bob Hawke's minister for education and training. I have little doubt that Dawkinisation will prove to have been the greatest single mistake of the Hawke-Keating years.
    [U]niversities were required to adopt the corporate model of governance, and to see themselves not only as communities of scholars, but as trading corporations as well. Is there no alternative? It seems, not.
    Universities have less to spend proportionally for expanding knowledge, pushing back the frontiers of the unknown - the traditional areas of university concern: philosophy, history, geography, the classics, literature, music, physics, chemistry, mathematics, archaeology, anthropology, astronomy. Law, medicine and the life sciences are expanding, but marketing, management and IT courses are doing best of all - answering the "How?" questions, not the "Why?"
    We are in the age of "wedge politics" when the deepest division is not between left and right (terms that now seem almost devoid of meaning), but between elite opinion and popular opinion. The term "academic" is routinely used in a denigratory way - to mean remote, pedantic, impractical or irrelevant.

Although he stated, "Our report [outlining the Knowledge Nation] did not expressly reject the Dawkins' model... it was impli[ed]..." it was at best a most subtle implication. Furthermore, so far there has been no indication that either the shadow minister for education, Jenny Macklin, or the shadow minister for science, Kim Carr rejects the atrocity of our universities' Dawkinisation.
    But Dawkinisation along with its bastard coporatising has produced a university blancmange. Dr. Nelson is now suggesting that he'll correct this and in such a way that no additional injection of federal funding will be required.
    So much for the Group of Eight's  assessment that $12.65 billion (including over a 50% investment from the federal government) was needed over the five years (2001/06) to bring our research and development into a state where it could approach first world standards. Much of that government investment was deemed to go to the university sector. If nothing else, someone's go it very wrong.

Department of Education, Science and Training Releases First of a Series of Discussion Papers. (April 27, 2002)
    Yesterday's media release opens with, "This first paper, Higher Education at the Crossroads: an overview, is intended to stimulate discussion and debate. Though the issues canvassed in this (and indeed in subsequent papers) do not represent government policy, they will hopefully generate a much-needed discussion about the issues and policy choices facing Australia's university sector."  The 99 page document together with ancillary material is available online at Higher Education at the Crossroads.
    Certainly on first reading the paper doesn't give an impression of evenhandedness and if initial reactions canvassed by the Fairfax broadsheets are indicative (1, 2, 3), only the president of the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee and vice-chancellor of the University of Western Australia, Deryck Schreuder, wasn't condemning, saying that Dr Nelson's paper outlined the issues facing universities in a balanced way. "What the sector desperately needs is a policy strategy that works from the presumption that the national goal is supporting all universities to achieve distinctive missions in a pluralistic system."
    One of Dr. Nelson's announcements dealt with what he has termed the "Higher Education Review Reference Group" which is to be chaired by him and convened by his departmental secretary Peter Shergold. It will consist of what would seem to be an unwieldy group of twenty consisting of 7 vice-chancellors, 1 chancellor (Adelaide, Robert Champion de Crespigny - Chairman, Normandy Mining), 4 or 5 other business people and an assortment of others. Exactly what the group's role will be and how it will be executed was not defined.
    Notably absent from the group was a university student representative for example Moksha Watts, president of the national union representing Australia's 650,000 university students, Carolyn Allport, president of the National Tertiary Education Union, the outspoken Vice-Chancellor of ANU, Ian Chubb, and representatives from the Australian Academy of Science and Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering. It's difficult to conclude these omissions were just oversights.
    The minister has called for submissions which are due June 28th. However, nothing has been mentioned in regard to calling for independent quantitative assessments such as that instigated by the UK's Office of Science and Technology in its recent review, Under-Investment in University Research Infrastructure . Surely, such data, objectively arrived at, are essential to dispel the perception that the outcome of this latest review by the Australian Government is preordained.

French Science -- Nature Makes a Cutting Observation. (April 25, 2002)
    The British science journal Nature in commenting on the French presidential election earlier this week reserves a paragraph for French scientific administration. Perhaps those policy makers and advisors influential in Australia might ponder how much of what's written is pertinent here.

Needless to say, policies on science and innovation were largely absent from the electoral debate. Yet they are key to the economic and intellectual future of any modern country -- and France's staid, bureaucratic and inefficient research system is in urgent need of attention. Today's scientific enterprise needs a flexible, highly mobile workforce. The French system, in which most scientists are civil servants who can spend their entire careers attached to one research unit, is ill-equipped to provide this. French science needs a postdoc system to encourage mobility between research groups; universities need a shake-up to encourage more productive interactions with the public research laboratories that they host, plus an injection of funds to free scientists from long teaching hours; and research labs need to be lifted from the treacle-like bureaucracy of French public administration.

Stress of the Ewe is Visited Upon the Fetus. (April 24, 2002)
    Considering the hype displayed by some of the mass media when scientific announcements are done by media release rather than through recognized science channels it's unfortunate that findings presented at an international meeting of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology two days ago by scientists from the Howard Florey Institute, University of Melbourne, don't rate a mention in the Australian media. The findings made the "breaking" news sections of both Nature's and Science's online services.
    The team, led by Marelyn Wintour, has shown that pregnant sheep given a natural stress hormone, cortisol, early in pregnancy (within the first month of the five month gestation) are more likely to have offspring that end up with high blood pressure. They also demonstrated that the hormone can alter the development of the lambs' kidneys, which play an important role in regulating blood pressure. Although it's too early to extrapolate the findings to humans, the study suggests that stress early in pregnancy may affect the fetus, with long-lasting after-effects.

Now That's a Model! (April 21, 2002)
    The distance from from the Interstate Highway exit to the University of Maine's Presque Isle campus is 40 miles via route . In astronomical units (mean distance from Earth to the Sun) that's the distance from the Sun to Pluto. University geologist Kevin McCartney had the idea of placing scale models of the principal bodies of the solar system along the route. The project, The Maine Solar System Model is well on the way to completion. It's involved not only McCartney's students, a number of university staff and students have set to as well as the local citizenry. A 50 foot diameter section of the "Sun" will be housed at the Northern Maine Museum of Science on the university campus.  40 miles away at the interstate turnoff is "Pluto", 1 inch in diameter. The 5 foot diameter model of the gas giant Jupiter is 5.3 miles from the "Sun".

UK Publishes Second Report on the State of British Academic Science. (April 19, 2002)
    On June 21st last year HM Treasury headed a media release, "Views Sought on the Supply of Scientists and Engineers."  Followed by:

Today saw the publication of a consultation paper seeking to encourage innovation and strengthen further the UK's science base by enhancing the supply of highly skilled scientists and engineers. The consultation paper, which seeks views on the key issues affecting the supply of scientists and engineers, is the first stage of an independent review led by Sir Gareth Roberts.
    The aim of this review is to ensure that businesses, universities and the public sector can recruit and retain the highly skilled scientists and engineers necessary to underpin their research activities, and thereby enhance the UK's already strong reputation for scientific and technical expertise.

The 218 page Roberts' Report, SET for success: The supply of people with science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills was released on Monday. Roberts, a physicist and president of Wolfson College, Oxford, found a scientific community out of balance. While there was a rise of 49% of scientists during the past 5 years in biology, there was a 7% decline in physics and engineering graduates and a 16% drop in chemistry over the same period. This has led to "a number of serious problems," says Roberts; for example about two-thirds of physics teachers in British schools have no training in physics. Universities and companies complain of a lack of physical science talent at all experience levels.
    It was concern about the supply of research talent that led the Treasury to commission the report as a matter of urgency. The review sets out 36 recommendations which it says, "are designed to help secure a strong supply of people with science and engineering skills. The Review believes that implementing these recommendations will be a crucial element in achieving the Government's agenda for raising the R&D and innovation performance of the UK to match the world's best."
    The review gave no costings for the implementation of its recommendations in contrast to the Office of Science and Technology's Study of Science Research Infrastructure which went into considerable cost detail.

Out of Date and Out of Shape. (April 16, 2002)
    That's a short descriptive summation of the findings of a study commissioned by the UK's Office of Science and Technology (OST, a section of the Department of Trade and Industry) entitled Study of Science Research Infrastructure. It has interesting implications for the forthcoming review of higher education by our Federal Government's Department of Education, Science and Training. The 92 page report plus appendices carried out by J M Consulting, Ltd last year was published by the OST at the end of March. The short bottom line is that despite recent injections of funds by the UK Government's Joint Infrastructure Fund (JIF) and Science Research Infrastructure Fund (SRIF) there is an urgent need for some £3.2 billion (A$8.7 billion) to fix crumbling university laboratories.
    First, it must be noted that the OST has the following disclaimer, "This study is not Government policy, however, it will be used to provide input to the Science and Research Cross Cutting Review being undertaken by Her Majesty's Treasury." Second, the Blair Government has made the report publicly available for all to scrutinise. It's also noteworthy that near the top of the introduction the report states,

The physical infrastructure in higher education institutions (HEIs) supporting teaching and research is made up of buildings with an insured value of approximately £26bn [A$70.4bn], plus equipment and contents of a further £8bn [A$21.6bn]. About 15% of this physical infrastructure can be identified as core or dedicated research space, but much of the infrastructure used by research is shared with other university activities (offices; libraries; plant and services). We calculate that overall, approximately 30% of total university space can be attributed to research, and approximately 34% of the costs of the higher education (HE) physical infrastructure can be attributed to science research.

Allowing for the almost exact 3 to 1 population difference between the UK and Australia if, for argument's sake, conditions in Australia are neither significantly better nor worse than the study reports for Britain we'd predict an insured value of approximately $23.5billion, plus equipment and contents of a further $7.2billion, i.e. over $30 billion. It's an interesting assessment. It by no means covers the total assets of British universities, yet the amount is in considerable excess (on a relative population basis) to the $20 billion in fixed assets singled out by the Minister for Education Science and Training to demonstrate that our universities are not in crisis. Nevertheless the report published by the OST states clearly that the UK's institution's are in urgent need of upgrading to the tune of £3.2 billion. Translated to Australian Conditions that would be $2.9 billion to upgrade university science research infrastructure alone, precisely the total allotted for the whole of Backing Australia's Ability.
    And what about money designated for infrastructure in Backing Australia's Ability?

It will fund major initiatives to stimulate innovation, including: boosting research infrastructure funding by $583 million [which is divided]

[t]o upgrade the basic infrastructure of universities, such as scientific and research equipment, libraries and laboratory facilities, $246 million over the next five years will be provided to fund the best infrastructure proposals from universities.

[t]o provide the infrastructure needed to support project-funded research, the Government will provide more than $337 million towards increased project-specific infrastructure over the next five years. This will support ARC and National Health and Medical Research Council grants.

J M Consulting, Ltd.'s report forwarded to the OST would appear not to share our Minister's view that the large fixed assets of the universities (at least in the UK) demonstrate that they are not in urgent need of very significant upgrading. Make no mistake, "urgent need" equates to looming crisis.
    BAA allots $246 million to "upgrade the basic infrastructure of universities;" less than 10% of what we might expect would be needed if we translate the OST report to Australia's situation. The JIF and SRIF funding alluded to above deals with the matter of infrastructure support for project-funded research.
    Perhaps Dr. Nelson might consult the OST to see if they would recommend J M Consulting for a study on "Science Research Infrastructure" in Australian universities, and if the study were undertaken, if the minister would promulgate the report. Considering the recent publicity given to the forthcoming Departmental review of higher education this would seem an appropriate course of action and would be seen to be so.

The Regulatory Environment Applying to Universities. (April 14, 2002)
    That's the title of a study commissioned by the Department of Education, Training and Youth Affair's Evaluations and Investigations Programme, Higher Education Division and entrusted to the Canberra law firm, Phillips Fox. The report, delivered to its successor, DEST, was promulgated April 5th and is available online. The minister considers the study timely in the light of his forthcoming review of higher education because it

examines the regulatory environment within which our universities operate. It provides a useful platform for beginning the current discussion about the challenges facing higher education.
    Our institutions are increasingly involved in new forms of operation, ventures and partnerships. The report, Study of the Regulatory Environment Applying to Universities, clarifies the precise nature of the regulatory framework in which these institutions operate.
    The report examines issues relevant to the development of a common, more effective approach nationally to the accountability, reporting requirements, and regulation of universities. In particular it provides some useful information about the scope of universities' powers as they engage in commercialisation and of any constraints that may exist to hinder their ability to maximise commercial opportunities.

The report notes that the establishing legislation of universities in all states and territories of Australia save South Australia and Western Australia provide for an express power to establish new companies (and in some instances enter into other arrangements such as joint ventures and partnerships).
This power is generally limited to the establishment of companies to promote the universities' objects and interests or otherwise in connection with the performance of the universities' functions. Nevertheless, Phillips Fox believe the power is implied in the case of universities in SA and WA. The complex matter of defining what universities should be doing was not subject to the study.
    There is considerable emphasis on what Australian universities own and what restrictions are placed on what they can do with it. In addition the management of investments by universities and limitations placed on their borrowings are dealt with while less than four pages consider the matter of intellectual property. The section closes with the admonition:

Information of a commercial value that has been kept secret may be protected from disclosure by persons who are proposing so to act without the authority of the owner. Universities would be the owner of trade secrets in things produced by employees in the course of their employment. This form of action is often important for the protection of inventions during their development stage prior to seeking a patent. Universities that are looking to commercialise products may need to take action to impress upon employees the need not to make information public.

Finally, in view of the increasing concern in academe regarding conflicts of interest, it is surprising that the subject is mentioned only once in the study and that in regard to the Victorian Public Sector and Employment Act 1998. "In relation to commercial dealings by universities [while] the Act appears somewhat irrelevant it does cover general employment principles for public servants (including the Head of a public authority, and employees of public authorities). The Act also covers conduct principles including requiring employees to act impartially, with integrity, to look for real or apparent conflicts of interest, and to provide accountability for results. This would govern them with respect to commercial dealings."
    It's unfortunate that the study didn't delve into the subject of interest conflicts more thoroughly because it is a matter which is likely to be the cause of considerable unease to more than one individual or group making submissions to the minister's forthcoming review which, Dr. Nelson says, he intends to use, "[o]ver the coming months... to identify the scope for improvements to the higher education sector and seek suggestions about how the Government might facilitate those improvements. Wide-ranging consultations and discussion on issues facing higher education will underpin the process."

A Science Advisor to the Minister. (April 10, 2002)
    The Minister for Education, Science and Training, Dr. Brendan Nelson, as he had promised, has appointed a science advisor who "will work closely with advisers in Science Minister Peter McGauran's office, provide a contact point for peak science bodies and interested agencies and ensure that the voice of Science is heard loudly and clearly in my office." He is Dr. Thomas Barlow and if the ideas he expressed recently on the ABC's Ideas With Wings series is an indication it could be an interesting appointment. Dr Barlow, was a Janssen Research Fellow in Biomedical Sciences at Balliol College in Oxford, and prior to his appointment to Dr. Nelson's Department wrote a weekly column from Australia about science and society for the (UK based) Weekend Financial Times.
    In his contribution to the ABC series Which he titled "Global Innovation Paranoia" he points out that Australia is hardly alone in complaining that it's got lots of great ideas but lacks competence in commercialising them. He lists whinges from, China, Great Britain, the USA and France to make his point and goes on to say, "Now, I don't mean to cast doubt on such a universal assertion. Some countries may indeed be better at implementing ideas than others... Yet when so many countries dwell on their own stories of lost opportunities in precisely this way (and the list of examples above is by no means complete), one cannot help entertaining a slight scepticism about the notion.
    "Could it be, for example, that this is all really just an excuse, a way of salvaging pride in an awkward situation of national inadequacy? It may be, for instance, that some societies only start worrying about their inability to commercialise their own great ideas when they are running out of ideas. After all, the fewer good ideas you have, the more of an injustice it seems to lose them."
    And a bit later on, "Unfortunately, whether there is an emotional aspect to it or not, the decrying of a peculiar Australian inability to commercialise great local ideas tends to promote a degree of complacency about our capacity for invention...
    "If Australians, being lousy at implementation, really were as great at invention as they sometimes like to think, they wouldn't care about those occasions when they were forced to sell an idea offshore. They would be happy to consider such ideas as exports rather than squandered opportunities. And then they would turn around, wouldn't they, in short shrift - and invent something else."
    Perhaps Dr. Barlow may be prepared to voice some views on just what and how the higher education sector might contribute. On the other hand perhaps he'd best serve as a ministerial conduit.

Genome Canada Comes Up with a Shekel or Two. (April 10, 2002)
    The fact of having the United States as its contiguous neighbor is undoubtedly one of the forces now driving the Canadian Government's support for research and development both within and outside academe, whether on basic, strategic or applied levels. Prime Minister Jean Chretien's Liberal Government has been in power now for over eight years and for reason's best know to itself has decided that espousing the elevation of Canada to be in the top five nations supporting innovation, research and development before the end of the decade is a vote winner. And there seems to be some substance to the rhetoric. Just under two months ago Allan Rock, Canadian Federal Minister for Science, Research and Development, announced a new 10-year research innovation plan. The plan reaffirms the Canadian government's commitment to double annual R&D spending, to US$9.2 billion (A$17.9 billion annually or A$11.9 billion on an Australian population basis) by 2010.
    Today the journal Science reported that Genome Canada has released US$367 million (A$691 million) for Genome related research. Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute, and one not noted for making effusive statement, commented, "Until Genome Canada, Canada did not have available the kind of funding capabilities that make it possible to be a player on the big stage," and went on to say that these investments should greatly increase Canada's scientific capacity.

When It Comes to Higher Education, Bernard, One Must Set One's Priorities Properly. (April 9, 2002)
    The following, quoted in full, is a media release from Dr. Brendan Nelson, Minister for Education, Science and Training.

Media Release
9 April, 2002 MIN 47/02

I am honoured today to open Charles Sturt University's new state-of-the art $2.5 million wine production facility.
    Today's event emphasises the University's strengths in wine education, and demonstrates that regional Australia is continuing to compete with the world's best in this area.
    Retail sales are already in the order of $1.5 million a year and the new facility is designed for 10 times the capacity of the original winery. It will crush up to 500 tonnes of grapes annually, and will allow production of up to 30 to 35,000 cases, with a retail value of $3 to $3.5 million.
    All on-campus second year students are required to spend part of their time in the new commercial winery working under the guidance of staff.
    The initiative illustrates CSU's commitment to providing hands-on experience for students in a commercially successful and increasingly popular enterprise such as wine education.
    CSU's wine science and viticulture courses have developed into some of the most significant wine education courses in the world, with graduates in demand across Europe, North America and emerging wine export countries such as South America and New Zealand.
    The production winery will provide the perfect accompaniment to CSU’s award winning cheese factory, opened in 1998, and will also complement its existing food science programme.
    CSU is a fine example of an Australian university that is leading the way forward in research and specialisation -- at the forefront in a distinctive area and exploiting commercial opportunities without compromising the quality of the teaching and learning experience.
    This initiative proves that commercialisation, specialisation and high quality learning can be combined in a highly successful way to the benefit of students, the institution, the broader community and the Australian economy.

News editors please note: Dr Nelson will be opening the wine production facility at 2.00pm at Ron Potter Centre, McKeown Drive, Wagga Wagga.

Britain's National Institute for Medical Research Annual Essays. (April 8, 2002)
    Since 1995 Britain's NIMR has published essays aimed to explain to a general audience timely biomedical topics. the most recent set, 2001 contains a carefully  balanced assessment of "Stem cell therapy and research"
By Robin Lovell-Badge. His opening paragraph:

Few recent scientific issues have stimulated so much media attention, public debate and government involvement as that of stem cell research. Stem cells offer people hope by promising to greatly extend the number and range of patients who could benefit from transplants, and to provide novel therapies to treat debilitating diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson's, Huntington's, heart disease and stroke, as well as accidental damage such as spinal cord injury. So why would anyone object to research in this area? The problem is simply that a particular type of stem cell, which potentially could provide many cell types for a wide range of therapeutic uses, is obtained from the very early embryo. To make matters even more contentious, the same cloning technology that gave Dolly the sheep could in theory be used to tailor stem cells to the patient. Some people worry that we are taking research too far down paths that make them feel uncomfortable, others think it is downright immoral and against their deep-held, often religious, beliefs. But what are the scientific issues and why do many of us feel equally passionate that the research should be allowed?
    Click here to read the complete essay.

Robin Lovell-Badge is head of the Division of Developmental Genetics at the UK's National Institute of Medical Research.
    This past January Dr. Lovell-Badge made news when he resigned from the the editorial board of e-biomed. As the BBC reported it, "Two more scientists have resigned from the editorial board of the online science journal e-biomed, criticising its highly publicised and controversial publication of a paper on human cloning last November.
    "The electronic paper, heralded by the worldwide media as a scientific landmark, claimed to describe the first ever human embryo clone.
   "The scientists stepping down are Robin Lovell-Badge, of Britain's National Institute for Medical Research, and Davor Solter, director of the Max Planck Institute for Immunobiology, Germany. They follow the departure of American John Gearhart, a pioneer in the field of stem cell research.
    "Dr Lovell-Badge told BBC News Online: 'The [e-biomed cloning] paper was of little or no scientific value.'"

Russian Science and the Cold Breath of Reality. (April 6, 2002)
    For a short time it looked like there might be a slow but significant and rational rebirth of Russian science when we reported (TWF: N&V March 21, 2002) a "Gentle CPR for Russian Science, but It Just Might Get Legs." A recent report in Nature now suggests that those legs look to be severely vertically challenged. According to the April 4th issue, Russian President Vladimir Putin told senior government officials and scientific advisors on March 20th,"Today, governmental support of science is completely ineffective;...everyone is claiming to be on the path of innovation -- but almost nothing has been done in real terms." Nature goes on to report, that much of Putin's promised governmental support "will be directed at technology development, rather than basic research. 'This is the first step towards a sensible, self-regulated departure from the senseless scattering of resources' of the past".
    Australia, it seems, is not the only country attempting to graft a top heavy superstructure onto an inadequate and leaky hull.

Brendan Nelson's Public Statements Lead to Questions Regarding His Suitability to be Minister for Education, Science and Training. (April 6, 2002)
    "[Australian Universities are] likely to have revenues this year in the order of $10.4 billion, $6.1 billion of which will be taxes often removed from low-income families who are still struggling to understand the importance of higher education for the future of the country". Dr. Nelson speaking to a Melbourne Institute conference on Australia's Social and Economic Outlook. Furthermore he has emphasised and reemphasised that Australia's 38 public universities hold $20 billion of fixed assets and $4.4 billion of liquid assets and that therefore the university system is not in crisis.
    Get it? Those rich bastard universities want to screw the Aussie battler for their own selfish ends. This sort of ill-founded calumny throws into serious question Brendan Nelson's fitness for a ministerial position let alone a Cabinet post. It's worth having a look at some of Dr. Nelson's public utterances.

  • With regard to those $20 billion of fixed assets, it could be edifying were he to itemise the basis for his sweeping statement, as it would, were he to do so for that $4.4 billion of liquid assets.

    He has stated that the universities are NOT in crisis. A lot of very knowledgeable and intelligent people say that our university system IS in crisis. The latest culprit perpetrating this "myth" seems to be that wild-eyed radical Reserve Bank Governor, Ian Macfarlane, who pointed to the "disturbing" assessment by Alan Gilbert, vice chancellor of Melbourne University, that Australia no longer had a university that could be ranked in the world's top 75 - 100. "I have no reason to dispute his opinion as I have heard similar views from other academics."

  • Dr. Nelson has strongly implied that all top research universities are private. It takes the most cursory analysis to demonstrate the fallaciousness of that imputation.

  • And according to the Minister, it will take about 25 years, requiring significant private sector funding, to produce one or two world-class Australian universities. Nothing like abrogating your responsibilities.

Meanwhile the University of Western Australia's Vice-Chancellor and current president of the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee, Professor Deryck Schreuder, has commented, "The Reserve Bank Governor's comments follow hard on the heels of similar concerns expressed by Dr. John Schubert of the Business Council of Australia. These concerns are ones that go to the very heart of how the Australian nation is going to generate wealth from new ideas and how we will educate and train future generations of our workforce to allow us to compete in the knowledge-based global economy."

Not to worry -- she'll be right, mate. Ask Dr. Nelson, and besides, the Aussie battler couldn't be expected to understand what Professor Schreuder means, could he?