Radical uni plan to boost research
AUSTRALIAN universities would be freed up to make more groundbreaking discoveries under a radical new funding plan, says the University of Queensland’s vicechancellor.
Professor Peter Hoj says the birthplaces of amazing discoveries such as Gardasil and the new Spinifex chronic pain drug are being hamstrung as research grants fall short of what’s needed to fund exciting innovations.
In a bid to reinvigorate debate as Education Minister Christopher Pyne canvasses the Senate crossbench on stalled university reforms, Prof Hoj has proposed a complete overhaul of the Commonwealth Grants Scheme (CGS) that funds student places to boost the research power of the country’s top institutions.
Under it, universities would receive just 70 per cent of the $10,400-per-student CGS funding they do now, and the remainder would go into a research pot for which universities could apply.
The move would effectively mean highly ranked universities such as the University of Queensland would get more taxpayer money than lowerranked institutions such as Southern Cross, Central Queensland and James Cook universities.
Middle-ranked Queensland University of Technology and Griffith University would fight “Group of Eight” institutions for a share of research funds.
The university boss said the split acknowledged the fact that universities such as his already used part of CGS funding for research, meaning students were subsidising vital work for which should be paying.
Prof Hoj said allowing universities to charge students extra HECS – capped at a 30 per cent rate, rather than total deregulation – would allow universities to claw back lost money and improve teaching.
“I think some other universities will see this as very selfinterested and I just think that I’m in a fortunate position where doing the right thing for Australia and being self-interested coincide,” he told The Courier-Mail.
“Funding research appropriately would give you more than Gardasil. Indeed it has just given you the biggest biotech deal in Australia’s history through unearthing the first new class of painkiller in 20 years, namely Spinifex neuropathic pain.
“So the issue is this: Australia can do it, but we’re not doing enough of it.”
The plan differs from that put forward by the Abbott Government, but knocked back by the Senate, that would cut funding by 20 per cent but deregulate universities to charge uncapped student fees.
Prof Hoj said that plan appeared doomed to failure and it was time for a national debate.
“There will be many people who will say this is terribly politically naive to think this way but I think we have to call a spade a spade and start a debate about what is plan B because at the moment I hear nothing,” he said.
International student tuition is also currently used to help fund research, but Prof Hoj said current levels probably could not be increased without eating into domestic student places or degrading the quality of education.