The Courier-Mail

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.


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