News & Views - May 2002 


Those Einstein Files. (May 25, 2002)
    Christy Ann Fernandez, filling in for Bob Park on What's New, placed the following item in today's column. One wonders how the great theoretical physicist would have fared in today's Australia.Time magazine's Person of the Century

"SECRECY: THE EINSTEIN FILE BY FRED JEROME. Most physicists carry around in their heads a collection of Einstein anecdotes, such as his response to a reporter who asked: 'Will they ever invent an anti-gravity machine?' 'They already have,' Einstein solemnly replied, 'its called an elevator.' But, The Einstein File: J. Edgar Hoover's Secret War Against the World's Most Famous Scientist paints a picture of an Einstein of whom most scientists have been only vaguely aware: Einstein the astute politician and passionate civil rights champion. Fortunately, Fred Jerome waged his own two-year war in the courts to make the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) do what it was meant to do. The government was compelled to release a less-censored copy of Einstein's 1500 page FBI file. In the McCarthy era, Einstein saw reflections of the fascism he fled Germany to avoid. In today's developing climate of secrecy, scientists may see reflections of the Einstein file."

Challenges to Australian and South African Higher Education -- Shadows of Similarity. (May 23, 2002)
        While the Minister for Education, Science and Training, Brendan Nelson, is furthering deliberations on which road Australia's system of higher education should take, South Africa is also coming to grips with revising the make up of its higher educational structure. Currently, the South African cabinet is considering a proposal which has been years in the gestation -- to merge its 21 universities and 16 technikons (polytechnics, similar to our former University of Cape Town - Jameson Hallcolleges of advanced education) into 21 institutions. Most of South Africa's historically white institutions have made significant progress toward becoming nonracial. But what's now the best way to upgrade the black universities and technikons, which were predominately set up during the apartheid era for various ethnicities. Seven of the current universities would remain unaltered. Twelve of the proposed 14 new institutions would involve mergers between historically black and historically white ones; the other two would be between historically black institutions, which in many cases would involve establishments geographically isolated from one another as well as having quite disparate academic cultures.
    This proposal is not the first approach suggested to the South African government. In 2000 a taskforce put forward a plan to place the universities and technikons into three categories: those permitted to award degrees up to PhDs, those that could award up to masters degrees and only in certain fields, and those that could award only undergraduate degrees. The black universities in particular were wary of this plan fearing they would all be placed into the third group. But such a plan would allow the institutions to retain their identity. And such an approach might well be a model to rectify the decimation of Australia's higher education system which resulted from its Dawkinisation by Labor as well as the progressive reduction in government support by the current Coalition government.
   As Nature points out in its May 23rd editorial on the challenge facing the South African government,

In addition, it would have the advantage of retaining undergraduate universities, at least, within reasonable access of the rural communities that several of them serve. Staff at these institutions could develop collaborative research programmes with established research universities, in a similar manner to the way that college staff do in the United States. If this were to happen, then researchers at these universities need not be denied the opportunity to continue with research, even if their universities were designated as undergraduate colleges.

Were Australia to adopt such a model, and were the Federal government not to use the approach as an excuse for further parsimony, there would be a real likelihood of developing the world class universities and housing increasing numbers of outstanding researchers and mentors to foster the leaders in science, engineering and the humanities needed to not merely maintain our present position in the OECD pecking order but to move into the top quarter. But no amount of reorganisation per se will obviate the fact that our university and research sectors require an injection of resources comparable to that envisaged by the European Union. 1.4% of Australian GDP is not competitive with the 3% designated by the EUs heads of government this past March.

MIND THE GAP - it's widening

Determining Australia's Research Priorities. (May 22, 2002)
    On May 2nd the Department of Education, Science and Training issued a joint media release by its two ministers announcing "a major initiative to develop a set of national research priorities." The senior minister, Dr. Nelson said, "Specifically we will now be asking the science bodies and organisations to consult with their members in the months ahead to decide their preferred priorities, underpinned by a vision of where they believe Australia should position itself in the future." The science minister, Mr. McGauran, added, "a key step in the national priority setting process will be the formation of a high-level consultative panel... An Issues Paper will be released for public comment in the next few weeks."
    That 47 page paper is now available along with a list of the nine member consultative committee to be chaired by the Chief Scientist Dr. Robin Batterham. The timetable issued by DEST states that the "consultative panel" will accept submissions from the beginning of June. A specific web site for the prioritising undertaking is online .
    The Issues Paper which gives details for forwarding submissions by June 28th is an interesting and in some ways a remarkable document to be released by the Department. It acknowledges in several places the importance of basic research, but that said the makeup of the consultative panel deserves close scrutiny as well as "An illustration... of the summary information for a possible nomination." (Issues Paper, p.15)


As Long as the Price is Right. From the Department of Education, Science and Training's Higher Education Report for the 2002 to 2004 Triennium. (May 21, 2002)

Purposes of higher education

The Government regards higher education as contributing to the fulfilment of human and societal potential, the advancement of knowledge and social and economic progress. The main purposes of Australian higher education are to:

University revenues

Two indicators of the improving responsiveness of universities are the amount and proportion of revenue derived from non-government sources. Institutions diversifying their income sources are likely to be responding to wider economic needs and better servicing their communities.
    Total university revenues are expected to reach the record level of an estimated $10.4 billion in 2002, up from an estimated $9.9 billion in 2001 and $7.9 billion in 1996. This trend is expected to continue over the triennium with total revenue for the higher education sector projected to reach $10.9 billion (in 2002 price levels) by 2004. The share of total university revenue consisting of Commonwealth payments will continue to decrease, from around 69 per cent in 1996 to a projected 61 per cent in 2004. This changing share is due to growth in non-government revenue. The level of Commonwealth government revenue provided to universities has continued to increase in recent years due to the growth of fully funded domestic student places and the indexation of grants. (Italics ours)

Is Europe Serious About Becoming Competitive With The US as Regards Research and Development? (May 19, 2002)
    The Belgian representative on the European Commission, Philippe Busquin, is also Commissioner for the European Research Area. His proposal that the EU should increase its investments in research and development up to 3% of GDP by 2010 has been endorsed by the European Council of heads of state and government held in Barcelona on 15 and 16 March this year. This was followed in April by a panel of 70 experts in science and science policy representing most European Union Member States and Estonia who met in Stockholm to discuss the future directions of EU science policy. They emphasised the need for significant changes in science policy within the EU and stressed that  more EU-funding needs to be directed towards basic research. "It is important to create conditions under which new discoveries can be made, innovative solutions found and long-term technical, scientific and social progress achieved."  According to the panel, there has been an over-emphasis on funding for mission-oriented research and development.
    Science's Richard Stone, reporting from Stockholm wrote, "You know scientists are desperate when they clamor for new bureaucratic paws on the R&D purse strings. But rampant dissatisfaction with Europe's basic research strategy--or lack thereof--has sparked calls for a new grant-making body to fill the void. At [the] meeting here last week, the continent's top science managers started to flesh out a proposal for a European Research Council (ERC). It may not be what many scientists were hoping to see, but it does reflect budgetary constraints and the reality of the European Union's Byzantine politics."
    The next overt act in the drama will be acted out in Copenhagen on October 7,8. The Conference is being organised by the Danish Research Councils during the Danish Presidency of the European Union is entitled Towards a European Research Area: Do we need a European Research Council?  It will address such matters as the overwhelming part of Europe's research funding is dispensed at the national level. The question is should national research councils and similar funding agencies consider intensifying mutual collaboration and strategic co-ordination, e.g. by networking and opening-up national research programs.
    The first announcement of the conference states, "The concept of the [European Research Area] ERA, and the challenge of coordinating and opening-up national funding sources, gives further impetus to the debate on whether European science would benefit from the creation of an independent public funding structure for high-quality research at the European level -- i.e. the creation of one or several European Research Councils (ERC). The purpose would be to increase the scope for collaboration and competition, providing national research systems with the creative stimulus of a common quality benchmark. The conference will contribute to the debate on the desirability of ERC by bringing together high-level representatives of governments, the scientific community and the Commission to discuss and clarify the pros and cons of the issue."
    So just where does this leave Australia? What impact will or should these initiatives have on the reviews of higher education and research priorities being undertaken by the Ministers for Education Science and Training, Brendan Nelson, and Science, Peter McGauran? The European Union has been mulling over what to do for and with research and development since the Lisbon conference in March 2000. The increasing gap between the United States and Europe in research and development, and the particular perception that Europe is falling further behind in curiosity driven research is causing increasing concern and the perception is gaining ground that as a result the European's quality of life will diminish. If that is a legitimate concern, Australia would appear to be in similar strife, and the matter of Australia joining in a consequential research and development consortium ought to be actively pursued. However, to do so seriously will require that we are seen to be in a position to bring sought-after bargaining chips to the table.

Mathematics and the Performing Arts. (May 17, 2002)
    Profound and succinct observations can come from unexpected quarters. Kerry O'Brien, hosting the ABC's 7:30 report last night was interviewing the film and television actor Rachel Griffiths -- asking the usual questions concerning her road to success. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary in the banter until the following segment:

KERRY O'BRIEN: I still find it hard to believe that there are so many Australians across so many branches of the industry who have really made it to the top in the United States -- actors, directors, cinematographers, sound.
    I saw We Were Soldiers the other day and watching the screen credits, there's Dean Semler's name. The list just seems to be extraordinarily long now.

Investment, investment, investment. I get so peeved with the kind of - the Australian media has this kind of obsession with making something magic out of this. It's like, "What's in our water or what amazing innate thing is it?"
    And it's...


It's public funding. If you look at where those people went to school, there's just nothing magic about it Our training is impeccable, and the opportunities, and I fear that these opportunities are shrinking, because when I came out of drama school I did a year of kind of fringe theatre, where I was on the dole, and I did the odd work - paid bit of work when I could get it - but I was dedicated to being an actor and I wanted to put the time into that, and then I had two years with a subsidised theatre company that toured around regional Victoria to schools. We worked our butts off five days a week, performing three shows a day, and that was Victorian funding and federal funding.
    So for two years it was like this amazing apprenticeship. By the time I had my first screen test I was ready, on fire, to go.
If those opportunities hadn't have been there, I don't know if I would have ever really consolidated myself as an actor and I don't know if the opportunity came if I would have been able to nail it like I did on Muriel's Wedding.

You might think if that's what underpins Australian international success and acclaim in the performing arts adequate support ought to be on the public agenda for the core of all modern science. Think again. Last week the Australian Mathematical Society released Mathematical Sciences in Australia: Still Looking for a Future, an update to the critically documented "Occasional paper" published by the Federation of Scientific and Technological Societies in October, 2000. Jan Thomas, author of both papers has been plainspoken in stating that the draining of mathematical talent analysed in the original article continues unabated while concurrently, "Australia now has a reputation overseas as a country that doesn't value its mathematical scientists. Combined with poor salaries, one of the worst staff-to-student ratios of any discipline, and the lack of any special initiatives to address the need for mathematics and statistics in new and emerging areas, there is little to attract good people from overseas." In agreement, Melbourne University Professor of Mathematics and incoming president of the Australian Mathematical Society, Tony Guttmann, also pointed out that there needs to be a national effort to strengthen the mathematical sciences now. Australia is playing catch-up with New Zealand where a Mathematical Sciences Institute was recently announced and Singapore which has had one since July 2000.

The Minister for Science, Peter McGauran announced on May 2nd  "a major initiative to develop a set of national research priorities." Setting research priorities properly undertaken is certainly desirable but it would seem wise to have solid foundations in order to successfully implement your decisions, and that includes competent individuals adequately resourced. Otherwise, setting priorities and promulgating numerous discussion papers will be so much expensive eyewash.

He Talks Tough, and Knows What He's Talking About. (May 16, 2002)
    Donald Kennedy, 71, former US Food and Drug Administration czar, former president of Stanford University, and current editor-in-chief of Science doesn't always contribute the journal's editorial, but when he does you're in no doubt where he's coming from. In the May 10th issue he takes the Bush administration to task for dragging its feet in making key appointments. "A year and 3 months in office went by before the Bush administration finally found a Surgeon General and a director for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and half a year before it appointed a Science Adviser to the President. Still among the missing, however, is a commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration... At difficult times in the past, we have learned to look to the U.S. Congress for solace, and the substantial improvement in the budget for NIH was indeed good news. But, as argued in this space earlier in the budget negotiations, a balanced science portfolio is more important than ever, and how the National Science Foundation and other agencies will fare is uncertain. That is because those budgets are hostage to a forthcoming allocation decision that will determine how much discretionary money (that is, dollars not committed to obligatory payments such as interest and welfare) will be available for purposes other than defense."
    There's more, but you get the idea. Perhaps it's too much to hope for, but it would a breath of fresh air: 1, were leading members of our parliament as supportive of science as various key members of the US Congress and 2, if Australians with clout comparable to that of Kennedy made their voices heard in support of Australian science and higher education. One thing is certain, it will take more than a one off from Rupert Murdoch to dent the Federal Cabinet's defensive shield.

The 2002/03 Budget as Regards Higher Education, Research and Development Holds the Sector Static. (May 15, 2002)
    The budget's good news was that higher education, research and development didn't get spear tackled. The bad news is that it's being kept marching on the spot while our cohort nations, despite the Treasurer, Peter Costello, pointing out that we are in excellent financial health and they're in recession, keep upping the ante. And just in case you've forgotten one case in point:
     the "Canada Research Chairs Infrastructure Fund... offers research and salary support for outstanding researchers, beginning in fiscal year 2001. It is expected that there will be 2000 chairs by 2005. Excellence in research is of paramount importance in the selection of chair holders. Chairs will be in priority areas identified by universities in their strategic research plans.
    In their nominations, universities have the opportunity to include a request for infrastructure support from
the Canada Foundation for Infrastructure."
    On a per capita basis Australian universities would have 1300 chairs similarly funded by 2005. It's not going to happen.
    Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee, Professor Deryck Schreuder, has made the following observation:

Australia's universities require substantial change to the present arrangements for funding and regulation. The Minister, Dr Nelson, has set in train a review of higher education to identify the necessary package of changes through his statement Higher Education at the Crossroads.
    It would be most premature for the Government to make structural changes in this budget or worse still to have announced cuts to funding. Instead the whole sector will be looking to the review to produce a substantial, well considered, package of changes in the 2003 budget including additional public investment in our universities.
    What the sector desperately needs is a policy strategy to achieve the national goals for universities of high levels of education, high quality innovative research and strong international interaction. This is best done through supporting all universities to achieve their distinctive, diverse missions in a pluralistic system.
    At present every Australian university is under strain and needing support to sustain quality. We will need a number of paths forward for universities to choose from. If one thing is clear it is that there is no single solution to the challenges before Australia's universities.

Last night the Treasurer made a feature of the Intergenerational Report, which looks at the shape of Australia in 2042, i.e. it assesses the sustainability of policies over the next 40 years. Not once during his 30 minute reading to the House nor his interview with the ABC's Kerry O'Brian was the question of support for research and development mentioned. To give him his due, the shadow treasurer, Bob McMullan, a least spoke the phrase "education, research and development" as his last four words.
    The cold fact remains, Australia currently earmarks 1.4% of its GDP for research and development, the OECD average is just over 2% while the EU have made a commitment to move their R&D budgets to 3% by the end of the decade. There is no indication that our governmental leaders comprehend the enormity the effect of the growing gulf of support for our universities and research -- basic, strategic and applied -- will have on the population's well being.

The Number is Seven; Would You Like to Try for Eight? (May 14, 2002)
    One of the more distasteful public habits of those in charge of government is to proffer statistics which support rather than illuminate. Along with this convention is the tendency to avoid meaningful comparisons.

A recent example is the Minister for Education, Science and Training, Dr. Brendan Nelson, using the fact that Australia "has seven Nobel Prizes" as an example of our excellence. Nobel Prizes were first awarded in 1901.

The most recent, Peter Doherty, received his prize for work done at the ANU from 1973-75. For many years he has been a permanent staff member of  St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.
    Glancing at the list below, three of the seven were awarded their prizes for work done in Great Britain and no prize has been awarded to an Australian in either physics or chemistry for work done within our borders.

Who When Awarded Prize Country where worked
 BRAGG, Sir WILLIAM LAWRENCE 1915  Physics  Great Britain
 CORNFORTH, Sir JOHN 1975  Chemistry  Great Britain
 FLOREY, Lord HOWARD 1945  Physiology or Medicine  Great Britain
 BURNET, Sir MACFARLANE 1960  Physiology or Medicine  Australia
 ECCLES, Sir JOHN 1963  Physiology or Medicine  Australia
 DOHERTY, PETER 1996  Physiology or Medicine  Australia
 WHITE, PATRICK 1973  Literature  Australia

A few comparisons: the numbers are determined using the Nobel e-Museum website: New Zealand 2, Israel (nation founded in 1948), 3; Australia, 7; Canada, 14; Netherlands, 16; Switzerland, 27; France, 48; Germany, 88; Great Britain, 92;  USA, 190.

So Australia's record in the Nobel Laureate stakes isn't bad, but neither does it give us bragging rights. Certainly it is true that not until the end of the Second World War did Australian universities attain the status where they might be expected to sustain research in the "enabling sciences" able to gain the attention of Nobel committees. But half a century has passed and no Australian chemist or physicist working in Australia has been recognised.

Whether or not Australia can produce men and women with the potential of doing outstanding scientific research is not the the issue. The fact that there is little evidence that we have provided the milieu to do so is.

Research and Development Budgets Here and the US. (May 12, 2002)
    While Australia's R&D budget as a proportion of GDP remains static at about 1.4% and is expected to remain so or even decline until 2005 if the present funding regime continues. Below is a quote from figures published by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) which relates R&D expenditure as a percentage of GDP. While they are the latest figures we've been able to find, there is no indication of a reversal in the trend since 1994. It is also interesting that the US House of Representatives has just  promulgated the
National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2002 (H.R.4664), which Bob Park of the American Physical Society reports, "would provide a 15 percent increase in the NSF budget next year and put it on track for doubling in five years. This is a major achievement, made possible by the cooperation of the academic and industrial communities. The bill has a long way to go, and it is only an authorization. Any money must still be appropriated. Nevertheless, it's an essential first step and appears to have strong support in the House. The doubling of the NIH budget, which is expected to be completed this year, began the same way."
    Note that the current NSF budget is US$4.8 billion. Were that to be doubled it would be the equivalent on a population basis of A$1,230 million. Current Australian Government plans are to boost the ARC's budget to $738 million by 2005/06.
    Following is the quote from National Science Foundation data brief  NSF 99-302, October 16, 1998. The NSF also notes that, "In 1998, Federal support for R&D is expected to grow slightly in real terms, but continues to shrink as a proportion of the Nation's funding total."  However, the proportions of basic research in the academic, federal and industrial sectors have remained almost constant.

The entire economy of the United States, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), adjusted for inflation, increased an estimated 2.7 percent in 1998, 3.8 percent in 1997, and 2.8 percent in 1996. Consequently, R&D as a share of GDP will reach 2.61 percent in 1998, up from 2.54 percent in 1997, and 2.57 percent in 1996. This 1998 share is the highest since 1992's 2.64 percent, and reflects a continuation of a general upturn that began in 1994 after a three-year decline from 1991-94 (figure 1). Despite this recent increase, the R&D share is still below levels reached in the early 1990s. The historic high since 1957 for the Nation's R&D/GDP ratio was reached in 1964 at 2.87 percent; the low was 2.12 percent in 1978.


Of the projected $220.6 billion spent on R&D in 1998, $34.4 billion (or 15.6 percent) is expected to be for basic research, $49.8 billion (22.6 percent) for applied research, and $136.4 billion (61.8 percent) for development. In comparison with 1997, R&D performance in 1998 reflects a 2.4-percent "real" (adjusted for inflation) increase in basic research, a 6.2-percent real increase in applied research, and a 5.8-percent real increase in development.

"Don't Think, Just Count the Beans" -- Is Not Good Enough.  A Bedtime Story from the Departing President of the Australian Academy of Science. (May 10, 2002)
     Last week Brian Anderson's farewell presidential address to the Fellows of the Australian Academy of Science closed with the following admonition.

Once upon a time in Australia, we had special bodies between the government and the universities, bodies with a very good knowledge of the sector because they were informed by part-time membership of their councils, and they were bodies which had decision-making power over the budgets for universities. Some time ago, that decision-making power was moved into the normal government structure. More recently, all the advisory mechanisms were swept away. Further, the number of people within the government structure oversighting the university sector shrank. The result has been a collapse of expertise, and this needs to be reversed.

It has also led to the use of a formulaic approach to funding which Lord Robert May, one of our Fellows... and currently President of the Royal Society, described as "daft". As you know, if University A produces two PhDs who go to MIT and Oxford as postdocs, and University B produces four who get jobs as taxi drivers, University A receives half the money that University B receives. And if University A has a professor who wins a Nobel prize and writes two papers, and University B has a professor who writes four papers, even four papers in a journal with very low impact factor, University A again gets half the money. It may sound very simple for universities to feed a bunch of numbers into a government computer, and have that computer print the cheque for the minister to sign, and it may mean that the salaries expended on directly supervising the university sector are at a record low in real terms. But it does not mean that the expenditure on the university sector is the wiser for it, or the country is better off. We must ensure that in the future, whether or not the university sector is to be run from a single government department rather than at least in part being returned to the States, that government department is not allowed to metaphorically stuff its fingers in its ears, and to use mechanistic formulae for funding which produce counterproductive behaviour in the universities.

Fellows of the Academy are blessed with a formidable array of talents. Many of them accept the challenge to put themselves at the disposal of their colleagues and fellow citizens. There is a particular challenge in front of us all at the moment, and that is to produce a set of outcomes in the forthcoming debate on universities which will not disenfranchise the less talented, the less politically astute, the less vocal and so on. Rather, we must be seeking the right outcome for all of Australia. But the right outcome does include a system that recognises, sustains and indeed rewards individual and institutional excellence, to a significantly greater degree than we have seen in recent years.

Perhaps it ought to be considered the start of a "disaster recovery plan." [See the May 9th Editorial.]

If All Else Fails, There's Always the Klein Bottle. (May 7, 2002)
    When an astronomer takes over systems management of a departmental computing system, noses into a 75 cent accounting discrepancy, becomes obsessed with finding the reason, uncovers an international hacking spy ring and writes a bestseller about his "escapades", what does he do for an encore?
    Makes Klein bottles of course. For those who've forgotten, a Klein bottle is a four dimensional surface with neither inside nor outside.
    Clifford Stoll, wrote The Cuckoo's Egg in 1989 and has since returned to astronomy as his day job, but he has also founded the Acme Klein Bottle company which he says is, "owned, operated, and mismanaged by Cliff Stoll." His homepage opens with:

Need a zero-volume bottle?
Searching for a one-sided surface?
Want the ultimate in non-orientability?

    And yes he's on the level. You can order and will receive a Klein bottle; they come in assorted shapes, sizes and prices.  He also manufactures a knitted  "Klein Bottle Hat - for the zero volume head." TFW has no commercial interest in AKB but believes that truly imaginative entrepreneurship oughtn't to go unnoticed. However, you'll have to find your own way to obtaining details for purchasing.
    And Science reports that currently Stoll is building from a 50-liter flask a one meter tall Klein bottle. His assessment of the enterprise, "It's absolute high weirdness. We're all losing our shirts, but we're having a great time."

Alan Gilbert makes "...a plea to eliminate ideological biases of partisan point-scoring from current debates about the future of Australia's universities." (May 2, 2002)
    But Labor's shadow minister for science, Senator Kim Carr, pays no heed. On April 5th the Vice-Chancellor of Melbourne University, Alan Gilbert, opened his address to the
Social Outlook Conference, 2002 with the paragraphs:

Before embarking on an argument in favour of a further relaxation of the regulatory framework within which Australian universities currently operate, let me make two things absolutely clear.

The first is a plea to eliminate ideological biases of partisan point-scoring from current debates about the future of Australia’s universities. In higher education, discussions about de-regulation should turn on judgments about the institutional arrangements most likely to strengthen universities as centres of superb teaching and learning, virtuoso professional training, sophisticated research and authentic scholarship. More generally, we need informed, pragmatic discussions about creating the optimal environment in which Australia's universities can flourish. Doctrinaire advocacy, from whatever quarter, should be treated with suspicion. As Australia competes for a place in a global knowledge economy, we must not stake the future of our universities on party political rivalries, doctrinaire policy assumptions or ideological debates.

The second fundamental reality is that there is simply no credible case for completely deregulating higher education. Universities are vital national institutions. The public interest will always require that they operate within a regulatory framework defining their essential cultural, social, educational and institutional responsibilities, requiring them to fulfill a range of national objectives and compliance obligations, and making them accountable for their institutional performance. So de-regulation does not mean leaving universities free to do whatever they like, at whatever level of quality. Nor does it diminish the requirement for universities to be publicly accountable. Indeed, a reform agenda entrusting universities with greater independent responsibility for their own development would increase, not diminish, the need for them to be publicly accountable for their performance.

Yesterday, Senator Carr opened an opinion piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald with his hyperbolic précis of the Department of Education, Science and Training's (DEST) discussion paper:

Our universities boast cumbersome and inefficient administrations, non-productive researchers, lazy and selfish teachers. Students don't study sufficiently hard or fast and they don't pay anything like enough for the privilege. Public higher education institutions are governed and led by incompetent, unprofessional councils and senior managers and none of our universities is world-class.

This is the unflattering picture the Federal Education Minister, Brendan Nelson, paints. And clearly his paper, Higher Education at the Crossroads, will influence the international reputation of Australian universities.

Certainly DEST's paper is verbose, superficial and bias, and the 22 person Reference Group it proposes is unwieldy and lacks balance, but Senator Carr's diatribe is unconstructive and a blatant attempt at populist political point scoring. So much for Professor Gilbert's plea. The shadow minister is over five months in the job and by this time he and his staff should have developed some constructive contributions to the debate on what to do for and with higher education. There is no evidence of such activity from the Senator's op-ed piece. Previously, Dr. Nelson had unhelpfully commented:

[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.

The senator, not to be outdone in the populist point scoring stakes, writes:

Perhaps most damaging, and least understandable, is the plan to single out two universities for premium funding for teaching and research - to set them up as world institutions. This blatantly elitist plan will be underwritten by the remaining 36 public universities, the ones that produce our teachers, engineers, IT professionals and accountants, our social workers and performing artists. At what social, economic and cultural price is this goal to be achieved? At whose expense?

Interesting isn't it that the former minister for science in the Hawke Government, former President of the Labor Party and overseer of Labor's Knowledge Nation, Barry Jones, in speaking at Melbourne University recently said:

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.

One might be forgiven for concluding that neither major political party is interested in revitalising a university system that has been deemed to be in very serious difficulties if it entails significant additional allocation of resources.

US National Academy of Sciences Elects 16 Foreign Members. (May 1, 2002)
    Below are the sixteen foreign associates elected this year by the US National Academy of Sciences.

        ARSUAGA, JUAN LUIS; Titular Professor of Paleontology and co-director, Atapuerca Research Project department of paleontology, Faculty of Geology, Universidad Complutense de Madrid (Spain)
        DE LA CRUZ, FRANCISCO; professor and head, low-temperature physics laboratory, Instituto Balseiro, Rio Negro (Argentina)
      ERTL, GERHARD; professor and director, Fritz Haber Institute, Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science, Berlin (Germany)
FERENCZY, LAJOS; professor of microbiology, department of microbiology, University of Szeged (Hungary)
      FERREIRA, SERGIO HENRIQUE; professor of pharmacology, School of Medicine of Ribeira Preto, University of Sao Paulo (Brazil)
GUSTAFSSON, JAN-ĹKE; professor and chairman, department of medical nutrition and director, Center for Biotechnology, Huddinge University Hospital, Karolinska Institutet (Sweden)
HOSKINS, BRIAN JOHN; professor of meteorology and Royal Society Research Professor, Reading University (U.K.)
JESSELL, THOMAS M.; investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (U.K.)
KETTERLE, WOLFGANG; research scientist, University of Heidelberg, and John D. MacArthur Professor of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Germany)
LEE, HO WANG; president, National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Korea, Seoul (Republic of Korea)
MAK, TAK WAH; professor of medical biophysics and of immunology and senior staff scientist, Ontario Cancer Institute, University of Toronto (Canada)
NAIR, GOPINATH BALAKRISH; deputy director, laboratory sciences division, International Centre for Diarrhoeal Diseases Research, National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases, Dhaka, Bangladesh (India)
 OHTA, TOMOKO; professor emeritus, National Institute of Genetics, Mishima (Japan)
RUELLE, DAVID P.; professor, Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques, Bures-Sur-Yvette, France (Belgium)
SCHINDLER, DAVID; Killam Memorial Professor of Ecology, department of biological sciences, University of Alberta (Canada)