Australia Tour 2011 – Wednesday, Feb. 9

It’s 5:15 in Perth and we have just wrapped up the first day of meetings after last night’s introductory BBQ (of which a highlight for me was my first taste of kangaroo–this got a lot of attention on twitter). This was probably useful as today the agenda was very wide-ranging and had us hopping from one item to the next at a brisk pace. Our meetings occurred in the Senate Chamber,

Delegates prepare to get down to work in the Senate Chamber at UWA

a round-tabled room near the Vice-Chancellor’s office. We also got a look at the inside of Winthrop Hall, a larger version of our own Grant Hall, and built by the same architect. (The president of Engsoc, Victoria Pleavin, tweeted in response to my posting a picture of the hall, below, that it would make a great location for the Science Formal).

interior of Winthrop Hall, UWA

Last year, at the Matariki Network’s inaugural meeting, in Durham, England,

Last year's Matariki crew in Durham, Feb 2010

we worked out the basic terms of the Memorandum of Understanding between our seven universities. (Recap: the network is a group of seven mid-sized research-intensive universities, each with a commitment to a strong educational experience within the research environment, and with an outward, international perspective; there can be only one member per country. Queen’s is Canada’s member. The others are: University of Tubingen (Germany); Uppsala University (Sweden); Durham (UK); Otago (New Zealand); Dartmouth College (USA); and our host institution this year, the University of Western Australia. The universities vary in age, with Queen’s being one of the younger ones (Uppsala and Tubingen date from the late fifteenth century; UWA marks its centenary this coming Monday, making it a week younger than Ronald Reagan. There is some variety in size also, but none of us is either tiny or enormous.

Having launched the network this past year, we today reviewed some of the key issues, challenges and events at our institutions since we met in Durham. There was a considerable confluence of issues, in particular those of funding from our respective governments (Germany is the closest to Canada in the sense of having a strong provincial/state involvement; the US is quite different from others in having a private as well as public or state system for PSE).

Prof Bernd Engler, Rektor (=principal) of the University of Tubingen

The UK and Australia are experiencing some very significant changes, with those in the UK (moving from government support supplemented by tuition to a system of income-contingent loans, with tuition capped at 9000 pounds annually).

Highlights of the afternoon discussion included: the finalizing of the MOU (after a year of activities, leading to some refinement of the language) which we plan to sign tomorrow; a discussion of how best to share practices and information among the seven institutions. We had a productive discussion on the use of metrics in research assessment (the UK and both Australia and New Zealand have long-established regular ‘research-assessment exercises’, largely dreaded in all countries but which have nonetheless generated some reasonably solid data about research performance which are–and this is crucial–discipline specific (that is historians compared with historians; biologists with biologists, musicians with musicians, and so on). We have been spared this exercise in Canada, largely because of the divided jurisdiction over PSE, but we did have a spirited exchange on how we might share the data that we have to mutual benefit, and especially to match up research strengths and complementary activities among Network members.

The Network takes its commitment to other aspects of university life, in particular the student experience, seriously, and some thought was given to how we can work together on some key issues. One interesting initiative, of Uppsala University, is to invite a representative from each of our institutions to Uppsala in September to review Uppsala’s teaching and learning innovation activities, and learn both from these and from other attending members. I should have more to report on next year’s agenda tomorrow when we have concluded our meetings. Tomorrow we will also be considering how to improve both faculty and staff mobility among the members, and we will review outcomes from the first of the Matariki research workshops, on renewable energy and society, which we hosted at Queen’s in November.For a summary of this workshop see

More tomorrow on Day 2 of the meeting.

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