Research funding uncertainty hurting industry partnerships

Industry partnerships can be critical to research outcomes and a country’s productivity. Flickr/RMTip21

Uncertainty over research funding will cost jobs, hurt productivity and threaten the government’s plans to promote better linkages between industry and research, say sector leaders.

The Australian Research Council this week confirmed all funding announcements and the opening of new rounds were on hold for a “brief period”, telling The Australian newspaper that the government was looking at all its discretionary grant schemes to ensure taxpayers are getting value for money.

“At stake are potentially upwards of 2,000 highly qualified jobs in the science and research sector, and this is a very conservative estimate,” said Vicki Thomson, executive director of development & communications at Australian Technology Network of Universities.

“We risk losing this talent to other labour markets, in this highly mobile global sector.”

CRC Association chief executive officer Tony Peacock said the freeze on funding was “extremely frustrating”, with cooperative research centres in the middle of a funding round.

He said with funding bids generally costing between A$200,000 and A$300,000 to get up, industry participants were getting annoyed.

“One of our big issues is getting businesses to participate in research at a big level and mucking people around with no communication on what’s happening is not ideal.”

Professor Peacock said he was getting phone calls every day from funding bidders asking if they should be bothering.

“I’m getting less and less certain in my answers to them.”

He urged the government to finalise its review of funding as soon as possible.

“There’s never actually been an announcement that there is a review, nor a timetable about when it might be resolved,” Professor Peacock said.

Ms Thomson said international and industry reputational issues, together with long-term planning cycles meant funding suspensions could have long-term impacts.

“The suspension of the research grant programs even for one cycle would have dire consequences for Australian research and our global competitiveness, from which it would take years to recover,” she said.

“Research planning and conduct is a long term exercise, taking place over a cycle of at least five years, and the sudden freezing of any step would be seriously disruptive and have widespread ramifications for the future productivity growth of the nation.”

Professor Peacock said the irony of the current situation was that many of the funding rounds being delayed would not lead to savings in this year’s budget.

“We’re only talking about dollars that start in July of next year.”

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