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Carr loses research portfolio to Evans in cabinet shuffle: expert responses

Shuffled to the outer ministry: the formidable Kim Carr (right) lost the research portfolio to Chris Evans. AAP/Lukas Coch.

Kim Carr has lost the research portfolio to Chris Evans in today’s cabinet shuffle announced by Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Evans will now be the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research, while Carr will move to the outer ministry, holding the portfolios of Manufacturing and Defence Materiel.

The reuniting of research with tertiary education under one minister follows the splitting of the portfolios upon Labor coming to power under Kevin Rudd in 2007.

Carr was a dominant force in the shaping of research frameworks under the Labor Government, scrapping the Howard Government’s Research Quality Framework (RQF) with its openness to non-metric measurements of the impact of research in favor of the heavily metrics-driven Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) system.

Peter Garrett remains Minister for School Education, but will now have help from outer cabinet member Brendan O'Connor, who has been appointed to assist the Minister for School Education.

In other changes, Nicola Roxon was appointed Attorney General, replacing Robert McClelland who is now Minister for Housing, Homelessness, and Emergency Management, while Sport Minister Mark Arbib will also be Minister assisting the Treasurer.

Expert responses below.

Professor Stephen Parker, Vice-Chancellor, University of Canberra

The University of Canberra believes that education and research are crucially linked. The future of Australia rests on innovation and the translation of knowledge. We need to see the education and research processes as part of the connected creation and transmission of knowledge. Returning the tertiary education, science, research and innovation portfolios to a common ministry is the right thing to do.

Nick Economou, Senior Lecturer, School of Political and Social Inquiry, Monash University

Apart from a bit of movement of portfolios, the thing that really strikes you is that the only real major loser in this appears to be Kim Carr, who goes out of cabinet and goes into the junior ministry, and presumably he pays the price for allegedly having thrown his lot in behind Kevin Rudd.

Vicki Thomson, Executive Director, Australian Technology Network of Universities

Minister Carr has displayed an obvious dedication and commitment to the portfolio combined with an understanding of the importance of science and research produced by the university sector in driving innovation and productivity. This commitment has been obvious since he was Shadow Minster for Science and Research from 2001 – 2004 which was joined by Industry and Innovation from 2003 - 2004, and finally throughout his tenure as Commonwealth Minister for Industry, Innovation, Science and Research since 2007.

Through his leadership DIISR has implemented a program of excellence in research for the higher education sector and a focus on delivering innovation and productivity outcomes to the Australian community, of which the ATN has always been highly supportive. The ATN wishes Senator Carr well in his new role as Minister for Manufacturing and Minster for Defence Materiel.

The ATN, with its strong emphasis on industry linked research is relieved to see that Higher Education will fall within the remit of a newly expanded Department of Industry, Innovation, Science Research and Tertiary Education.

Such linkages are critical as we progress an aggressive skills development agenda whilst also ensuring a strong research and innovation sector to underpin our national economy. The test will be to ensure that this newly expanded Department works across the portfolio areas in an integrated manner. It is critical for the future of Australia that the innovation and productivity agenda continues to be aligned with research produced by the university sector.

Professor Barney Glover, Vice-Chancellor Charles Darwin University, speaking on behalf of the Innovative Research Universities

The appointment of Senator Evans as Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research will ensure that the Government can focus on the full role of universities removing the incipient tensions emerging between teaching and learning and research policies. Universities bring together both, with each contributing to the other and the majority of academic staff concerned with both. It has been valuable to work with two portfolios since Labor took power but it will be that much easier to work with one.

We are saddened to see Senator Carr move away from a direct ministerial role with universities after four years as Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research. Senator Carr has made an enormous contribution to supporting and extending investment in research. He has been a sterling supporting of universities over many years. Senator Carr has long held a strong interest in Australian universities, addressing the needs of universities in his inaugural speech to the Senate in 1993 and being the driving force for many Senate inquiries.

Following many years of discussing a means to assess the quality of universities’ research output Senator Carr made it happen. He oversaw the first Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) assessment in 2010 with the second assessment now underway. ERA provides a clear sense of where our national strengths lie, where we can improve, and how we can ensure research funding supports high quality research across all Australian universities.

Michael Gallagher, Executive Director, Group of Eight

He [Kim Carr] championed the independence of the Australian Research Council (ARC) and he initiated the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) evaluations of research quality against international benchmarks. Senator Carr is respected in the higher education sector because he understands the global context, rises above parochialism, and champions the need for Australian universities to keep pace with the world’s best. It would be unfortunate to see his efforts diluted.

Andrew Norton, Higher Education Program Director, Grattan Institute

Re-uniting higher education and research under the one minister makes sense. But that minister must now deal with the reality that policies in the two areas are moving in opposite directions. Higher education funding policy will spread academic staff wherever students want them to go. Research policy will continue to focus research resources on areas of excellence and high impact. It is already straining the teaching-research staffing model to breaking point.

Gavin Moodie, Policy Advisor, Governance and Planning, RMIT University

Minister Carr reflected his long interest in and engagement with research in his informed and active approach as minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research. He has been a very good minister for research, winning substantial new funding for university research overheads, introducing the successful excellence in research for Australia assessments, improving government support for research in industry including greatly improving the tax deduction for business research, and responding to universities’ advice in establishing a research integrity framework.

I am not aware of any indication of how Minister Evans might approach research. However, he has been mostly methodical in his handling of tertiary education and has responded to universities’ views. It is good for universities that research and higher education have returned to the same portfolio.

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