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Universities gear up to stave off research cuts

Australia’s Group of Eight universities are preparing a campaign against cuts to health and medical research grants after…

Last year’s “Discoveries Need Dollars” campaign saw the research sector directly target the 2011 federal budget. AAP

Australia’s Group of Eight universities are preparing a campaign against cuts to health and medical research grants after Treasurer Wayne Swan refused to rule them out during Question Time last night.

Last month the Group of Eight responded to a report in The Australian that the government planned to put on hold grants worth $2 billion, arguing such a funding freeze would result in the loss of 1,700 jobs from the sector.

Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing, Peter Dutton, yesterday asked Treasurer Wayne Swan to rule out cuts to health and medical research grants.

“The treasurer refused to rule out the cuts,” Mr Sutton said in a statement.

Vice-chancellors from the Group of Eight have written to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, according to The Australian, arguing any freeze on funding would see job losses at the ARC and NHMRC and lead international companies to take their innovation effort overseas.

“I think there’s a risk some programs will be cut or delayed,” said Douglas Hilton, Director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.

Even a small delay in funding can be devastating for jobs, Professor Hilton said, given around 70% of funding is typically spent on jobs.

“The community and some in the government think these are grants for a boffin to write a book. What they don’t realise is these grants are directly related to jobs. It’s not pocket money to allow us to pursue our hobbies.”

Group of Eight chair Fred Hilmer last month warned funding cuts would harm the reputation of Australia’s universities, particularly at a time when countries such as the US and UK have deliberately protected research funding despite the global financial crisis.

“The Government should not allow short-term financial objectives to trump long-term efforts to build a more resilient and productive nation,” Professor Hilmer said.

The Opposition has argued the government is looking to gut health and medical research in order to deliver the budget surplus.

Last year the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research mounted a campaign called “Discoveries Need Dollars”, which led to a government rethink on proposed health and medical research cuts.

“I would hope that last year’s campaign said to the government we’re really passionate about what we do and the community is passionate, so please think twice before making cuts,” Professor Hilton said.

“I trust the government on what they said last time when they said they were supporters of medical health and research.

“We look forward to them doing the right thing.”

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5 Comments sorted by

  1. Gavin Moodie
    Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Adjunct professor at RMIT University

    If the choice were between cutting the Government's funding rate for university teaching and cutting its funding of research I would choose cutting research funding.

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    1. Suzy Gneist

      Multiple: self-employed, employed, student, mother, volunteer, Free-flyer

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Why so pre-occupied with cutting anything - how about looking at it another way and finding solutions that help support both? That is if the goals are considered important enough to support (as I would expect). Do we value education and educational opportunities for Australians? Do we value research outcomes and opportunities? If we do, then who benefits from both and where does the profit lie and in what form? (Not everything of value is money.) The old failing economic model is disintegrating (happens to models that don't work) and we're in need for a new one. I suggest overhauling the monetary system at the same time and putting the public in charge of providing funds to those areas it considers valuable. It is possible that our democratic system could do with an update as well to make sure that all people have input... I suppose one thing at a time would be a great start. So how about re-framing the dilemma?

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  2. Craig Savage

    Professor of Theoretical Physics at Australian National University

    I assume the government is asking universities why they are funding many versions of courses that are available online at lower cost and higher quality.

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    1. Mandy Lupton

      Senior Lecturer in Education at Queensland Univeristy of Technology

      In reply to Craig Savage

      Gee Craig, them's fighting words! It depends on what you mean by 'quality'.

      I assume you're referring to MOOCs? I would be very concerned if these courses became the default for Australian higher education. There is enough US cultural imperalism in the textbook market without it following through to course design and delivery.

      Also, 100% online learning can be tough for many students, especially undergraduates. I've learned and taught 100% online since 1999 and it is clear to me that online…

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    2. Craig Savage

      Professor of Theoretical Physics at Australian National University

      In reply to Mandy Lupton

      Excellent! I hope you're helping draft QUT's reply to the kind of query I'm expecting.

      The textbook "cultural imperialism" you describe is likely a foreshadowing of what's to come. Looking at Stanford's Academic Council minutes, this seems to be an explicit agenda.

      Diversity in education is different to duplication of large enrolment classes. Perhaps what non-MOOC universities can offer is not information delivery, but mentoring, as we do for HDR research students.

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