Sensible to fund disciplines with skill shortages

November 21, 2012

The University of Auckland graduation ceremony we attended  was for optometry and science degrees for people with surnames in the last half of the alphabet.

If appearance and names could be relied on as a guide, a sprinkling of the graduands were Maori or Pacific; more than a third were Pakeha and nearly half were Asian.

That was three years ago and it sounds like there still aren’t many Pacific students opting for science.

A Pacific community leader has warned of a “Pasifika uprising” if the Government goes through with a threat to force Auckland University to take more engineering students, which may cause redundancies in other faculties.

Rev Uesifili UNasa, the university’s chaplain and head of Auckland Council’s Pacific Peoples Advisory Panel, said the move threatened Pacific participation in the university, which was concentrated in faculties such as arts and education. . .

The strategy he is attacking is designed to encourage more students in disciplines with skills shortages.

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce told a Herald series on job/skill mismatches, which began yesterday, that he would direct the university to take more engineering and science students if it did not do so voluntarily in response to funding changes.

This year’s Budget lifted funding for engineering by $42 million, or 8.8 per cent, and for science by $17 million (2 per cent), while funding for all other subjects was frozen.

Funding disciplines in need of graduates is sensible policy which makes best use of scarce public funds.

The chaplain would be serving his students better if he dropped the rhetoric and put his energy into dealing with whatever stops all but a few considering science or engineering which are far more likely to lead to job opportunities.


Seeking stats good and bad

August 10, 2011

Stats Chat is running a Stat of the Week competition with the chance to win an iTunes voucher:

  • Anyone may add a comment on this post to nominate their Stat of the Week candidate before midday Friday August 12 2011.
  • Statistics can be bad, exemplary or fascinating.
  • The statistic must be in the NZ media during the period of August 6-12 2011 inclusive.
  • Quote the statistic, when and where it was published and tell us why it should be our Stat of the Week.

Next Monday at midday we’ll announce the winner of this week’s Stat of the Week competition, and start a new one.

Follow the link above for the fine print.

Idealog reports that Stats Chat is run by Auckland University’s Department of Statistics.

“We’re looking for bad, exemplary or fascinating examples of statistics,” says blog coordinator Rachel Cunliffe.

Professor Thomas Lumley, a regular contributor, wants New Zealanders to be more aware of statistics and the role they play in the media.”

“We see numbers in the media every day and we want people to think carefully about them – what they actually mean and whether or not they make sense,” he says.

Those who adhere to the Stratford Theory of Numbers will know they often don’t make sense and will have no difficulty finding examples to prove it.


Graduation a multi-cultural revelation

May 10, 2010

The faculty head speaking at a gathering of Otago graduands and their families four years ago said that graduation would mean more to the parents than graduates.

I thought back to my own capping more than 20 years earlier and better understood my mother’s and father’s excitement, possibly in part because I’d achieved something the Depression had prevented them from doing.

I can’t remember who delivered the address at my graduation or what s/he said. The speaker at our daughter’s capping was Jonathon Lemalu. He told us that he’d been on many stages round the world but on none of them had he felt as proud as when he crossed the Dunedin Town Hall stage to be capped.

Fast forward to last Friday and another graduation, this time in Auckland, and even more parental pride.

The University of Otago is a very important part of Dunedin and because of that there’s usually good will between town and gown. I hadn’t expected the same feeling in Auckland, where the university is bigger but less important to the city. However, the excitement of the graduands and their families seemed to be shared by other onlookers as the graduands’ procession passed by.

The procession had a strong muliti-cultural look. That international flavour was reinforced during the graduation ceremony later in the day as we listened to the graduands’ names being called and watched them cross the stage.

 It was particularly noticeable with Optometry. Only 12 of the 37 graduating were men and all of the dozen looked as if they were of Asian descent. If appearance and names are a reliable guide, about 2/3 of the women in the class were also of Asian descent.

Appearance isn’t necessarily a reliable indicator of nationality, of course. Many of these people will be New Zealanders by birth, or choice. New Zealand is a melting pot, and there are many positive opportunities for us in that.

I do however, have concerns about another observation – only four of the 37 new optometrists are working in the South Island.

Emeritus Professor Bellamy gave the graduation address and offered five points to guide the new graduates:

* Maintain honesty and integrity in what you do.

* Strive to ensure decisions are evidence based.

* Foster the ability to work in a team.

* Continue to read outside your discipline to broaden your understanding of the world.

* Keeping perfecting your ability to express your thoughts clearly in speech and writing.

After the ceremony we had a celebration dinner at Number 5 . First class service and delicious food in delightful surroundings provided a fitting end to a wonderful day.


Farmaceutical ice cream could counter chemo side effects

October 31, 2009

Ice cream developed by the University of Auckland and Fonterra may be successful in reducing the side effects of chemotherapy.

The ice cream, known as ReCharge, has started Phase 2 clinical trials in New Zealand to assess its effectiveness against Chemotherapy Induced Diarrhoea (CID) and anaemia, but the ‘dessert with a difference’ could also reduce weight loss and damage to the immune system during chemotherapy.

Oncology Centres at Whangarei, Auckland, Waikato, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill are taking part in the trial. Around 10 patients are already signed up for a daily regime that includes eating a 100 gram tub of strawberry ice cream containing two active dairy ingredients that combine to address the unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy. Cancer Trials New Zealand (CTNZ) is currently seeking 190 additional volunteers for the trial.

If trials are successful it will be great news for cancer patients.

It could also bring benefits for farmers. 

There is huge potential in the development of “farmaceuticals” . These medicines using farm produce could provide opportunities for diversification and added value for producers.


Quality & quantity

October 9, 2009

Eight universities for a population of only four million does suggest we’re over-universitied.

But we can take some comfort from the global ranking of universities which suggests we’ve got quality as well as quantity.

Three of our universities are the top 200 – Auckland at 61, Otago at 125 and Canterbury at 188.

If you judge universities on more than academia, Otago still comes out tops.*

A relatively big university in a small city where most students come from other places creates a unique experience (and I don’t mean the stupidity which captured headlines recently).

More details on results of the comparisons here.

Hat Tip: NBR.

* from the completely unbiased :) perspective of a graduate from both Otago and Canterbury with a daughter who graduated from Otago and is now studying at Auckland.


Chief Science advisor key appointment – Updated

May 21, 2009

John Key has appointed Professor Peter Gluckman as the Prime Minister’s chief science advisor.

Mr Key says Professor Gluckman is one of the country’s leading scientists and he will make an important contribution in the newly created part-time role.

“This appointment delivers on the Government’s goal of including science at the heart of our decision-making.

“I campaigned on creating this role because I recognise that New Zealand’s prosperity rests on our ability to make full use of the expertise that our scientists can contribute.

“Professor Gluckman will provide me with a direct line to advice when I need it. He will be an independent voice that will complement existing channels of advice such as government departments and the Royal Society.”

. . . “This role is one of vital importance that demands not only a high level of science expertise, but also the utmost integrity to fairly represent the state of science knowledge.”

This is both a Key and a key appointment which indicates the government’s high regard for science.

Prof. Gluckman was founding director of the Liggins Institute. He’ll relinquish that position but continue his employment with Auckland University.

He was the NZ Herald New Zealander of the Year in 2004.

AgResearch chief executive Dr Andrew West welcomed Prof Gluckman’s appointment:

“This is an important step in the reinvigoration of science within New Zealand’s culture from being nice-to-have to being essential. The Prime Minister’s message in this appointment is that scientific contribution must once again be a significant component of New Zealand’s well-being and prosperity.”

Dr West and many in the scientific community have long been adamant that recognition of the importance of science to this country has declined in the face of scepticism about the contribution it can make. Such sentiment has been reflected in the stubbornly low priority placed on investment in science and technology when compared to the much greater commitment to S&T in other OECD economies, expressed as a percentage of GDP. This erosion of trust has resulted in short-term focus and excessive compliance expectations. Coinciding with the appointment of Professor Gluckman, there finally seems to be proper attention being paid to recovering trust in scientists and scientific institutions through a recent start to simplifying funding systems.

The announcement of the appointment coincides with much gnashing of teeth about changes to science funding, but as Macdoctor says, the facts on the canning of the Fast Forward fund don’t support the emotion.


It really does taste of cats’ pee

May 13, 2009

A hot day, a shady spot, and a glass of cool, white wine.

Sauvingnon blanc, preferably, with the key flavours of passionfruit, asparagus and a hint of cats pee.

I’ve heard alcohol called piss before, I’ve heard of people who overindulge described as pissed, but this is the first time I’ve come across scientific verification that wine taste like that.

The isolation of cat’s pee, asparagus and passion fruit compounds are just some of the findings of the sauvignon blanc project – a joint study by Lincoln University, Plant and Food, and Auckland University

The six year, $13 million project will help improve the quality of the product, as well as improve overseas sales – a market worth almost a billion dollars in 2008.

I’ll take their word for it and I’m not going to ask know how they know what cats’ pee tastes like.

But if I was in marketing I think I’d be emphasising the fruit flavours in preference to the feline one;


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