ERA results for mathematical sciences in Australia

The 2010 ERA (Excellence in Research Australia) results were released by the ARC on 31 January 2011. Comprehensive reports are available from the ARC ERA 2010 webpage.

Forty-one tertiary institutions submitted research outputs to be evaluated. Out of these, 17 did not receive an assessment in the mathematical sciences. This means that these 17 institutions did not have enough research publications in mathematical sciences in the six-year reference period to meet the ERA minimum threshold. What is this threshold? It is a minimum of 50 research outputs (or 30 outputs in the case of pure mathematics) in the reference period: 01 January 2003 – 31 December 2008.

To understand this a little more, consider a fictional mathematics department with ten research active staff members publishing one paper each per year in a mathematical journal. This department would have 60 research outputs over the reference period and so would receive an ERA assessment. The reality in Australia is that many tertiary institutions do not have such numbers of mathematically active staff.

The evaluations were carried out within bins called Field of Research (FoR) Codes. The 2-digit FoR code 01 represents mathematical sciences as a whole, within which 4-digit FoR codes represent pure mathematics 0101, applied mathematics 0102, numerical and computational mathematics 0103, statistics 0104, mathematical physics 0105 and other mathematical sciences 0199.

The FoR-based system complicates conclusions because many mathematicians may publish in journals that are codified to other fields (e.g., bioinformaticians may publish in medical and biological journals), while many scientists who do not see themselves as mathematicians may publish in journals codified to mathematics (e.g., engineers may have published in applied mathematical journals).

In addition to the 17 institutions mentioned above, 1 received an assessment at the most macroscopic 2-digit mathematics FoR code, i.e., 01, with no assessment in any four-digit mathematics FoR code. An additional 5 institutions received an assessment in only one of the four-digit mathematical FoR codes along with an assessment at the two-digit FoR level. Only 12 institutions over all received an assessment in the FoR code 0104 (statistics).

The ARC is hurrying onto the next round of ERA assessments. ERA2012 will assess the output of staff counted on the census date 31 March 2011, whose output appeared in the reference period 1 January 2005 – 31 December 2010.

Research not bad, but not stellar

As reported by the Australian, the Australian Innovation System Report 2010 ranks physics, geosciences, space sciences, environment and mathematics among Australia’s strongest research fields (as measured by impact factor of publications), with the country as a whole ranked 16th among OECD countries.   (via Birgit Loch)

Federal government awards $2 million for Improving Mathematics Education in Schools project

As reported today on the Funneled Web, the Federal Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, has announced a $2 million grant to fund the “Improving Mathematics Education in Schools” project, an initiative run by AMSI in collaboration with industry and teachers to promote mathematics education and awareness of mathematics career opportunities, particularly in low-income areas.

See also the recent opinion piece by Jan Thomas of AMSI on a related topic.

ARC releases consultation paper on its peer review process

The Australian Research Council has released a consultation paper on its peer review process; the consultation period runs until October 19.  One of the proposals is to increase the weight of specialist reviewers, rather than focusing on other metrics such as track record.  This seems like a promising idea (and is supported by the AAS and FASTS, as reported in the Australian), though the proposals for encouraging qualified reviewers to become available seem a bit sketchier.

[Update. Sep 18: See also the recent PLoS Biology article "Real Lives and White Lies in Scientific Research", by Peter Lawrence.  Further discussion on this article can be found here.  Via the Funneled Web.]

Mathematicians in Schools

The CSIRO has recently launched a “Mathematicians in Schools” initiative (as part of its broader “Scientists in Schools” program), to support applicants with a mathematical background who are interested in working with primary and secondary school teachers in the classroom.

(Via the AustMS)

Australian Research Council ERA rules may work against multi-disciplinary research

In an article by Guy Healy in the Australian today entitled “Alarm at Australian Research Council ‘restrictions’“, Peter Hall discusses the federal Excellence in Research Australia (ERA) initiative, raising the concern that the requirement that research be assigned to at most three research codes may result in multi-disciplinary work not being assessed properly.

Peter discussed another aspect of the ERA, namely the journal ranking exercise, in an earlier blog post here.

[Update, Apr 22: see also Peter's opinion piece "Mathematics, Learning, and Survival" at the Funneled Web.]

[Update, July 15: In the article "Grant us a measure, but not yet" on the Australian today, Sen. Kim Carr responds to these concerns by stating that other measures exist to investigate the interdisciplinary merits of research within the ERA framework.]

National Curriculum in Mathematics

The National Curriculum Board has just initiated its public consultation period for its draft proposed curriculum on mathematics (concurrently with similar consultations on science, history, and English), as reported on recently in the Australian, the Courier-Mail, the Age, and elsewhere.  The draft, which is to be implemented in 2011, draws upon the National Declaration of Educational Goals for Young Australians, the National Numeracy Review discussed earlier on this blog, as well as the report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel from the US.  Proposals include making maths a compulsory topic all the way to Year 12 (but offering a range of levels to take maths after Year 10), to encourage the use of computers and other digital technologies, to teach numeracy skills concurrently with more traditional mathematical topics, and avoid repetition or low-level activities that do not stimulate thought or inquiry.  On the other hand, the draft also notes the need to keep the curriculum simple and streamlined, with the key themes and topics being made clear to both teachers and students, and to avoid alienating a significant number of students with complexity; one can err by being too ambitious as well as by not being ambitious enough.

The consultation period ends at the end of Term 4 (which, I assume, means mid-December).

Sackett interview

Penny Sackett, the recently appointed new Chief Scientist for Australia, and a professor of astronomy at ANU, gave an interview this week on ABC radio on various scientific topics (audio available here).  I was especially pleased to see her support for pure research as well as applied research, given that mathematical research is often placed at a disadvantage due to an emphasis on immediate applications.

[Via the Funneled Web.]

Australian Laureate Fellowships

Senator Kim Carr, the federal Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, has recently announced a Discovery Australian Laureate Fellowships program to attract outstanding researchers and research groups both in Australia and abroad.  This program, which is being funded with $239 million for the first five years and run by the ARC, replaces the existing Discovery Federation Fellowship scheme, with more emphasis on international talent and in funding research groups rather than individuals.  The scheme is supposed to open in mid-October, although the funding rules do not seem to be finalised yet.

Hopefully the new fellowships will attract more applicants than the Federation fellowships, especially from overseas, given that the fellowships seem to now be offering some additional research resources in addition to a good salary.

[Via the Australian and the Funneled Web.]

[Update, Oct 9: Funding rules are now online.]

Journal Ranking — the Second Incarnation

Australian academia is again in the throes of a journal ranking exercise.  We went through this last year in preparation for the previous government’s Research Quality Framework (RQF), but the new government wants to redo things for its Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA). 

Again the journals must be placed into four tiers — the top 5% into tier A*, the next 15% into tier A, the next 30% into tier B, and the last 50% into tier C.  However, this time the Australian Research Council has done the ranking; they have re-ranked all the mathematical sciences journals.  This has involved

  1. a substantial reduction in the total number of journals that the ARC will currently accept (they have, of course, correspondingly reduced the number of journals we can place into bands A* and A); and
  2. the use of impact factors to rank journals in applied mathematics and statistics, and apparently also in mathematical physics.

Regarding the number of “research outlets” that the ARC is currently willing to regard as mathematical science journals, let me try to give you a sense of the scale of the changes.  According to my calculations, the new ARC list of ranked journals allocates 538 journals to pure mathematics, 211 journals to applied mathematics, 28 journals to mathematical physics, and 169 journals to statistics (including probability), making a total of 946 journals for the mathematical sciences.  However, the list produced last year allocated a total of 1369 journals to the mathematical sciences.  (These journals were a subset of those currently covered by MathSciNet.)  That is 45% more than the ARC list.  On this basis, and making some assumptions about uniformity of distribution among the four research areas, we should expect the ARC’s list to contain only two-thirds the number of journals in tiers A*, A and B as the previous list; and it does.

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