Re­search the win­ner in Aus­tralian bud­get

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - John.ross@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­

Aus­tralia’s gov­ern­ment has given the coun­try’s key re­search fa­cil­i­ties a A$393 mil­lion (£217 mil­lion) fund­ing life­line, with the fed­eral bud­get also bankrolling ad­di­tional cour­ses and in­come sup­port for stu­dents from the bush.

Ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion groups have re­acted fairly pos­i­tively to a bud­get that packed few punches and de­liv­ered an “aw­ful lot more cer­tainty” for ma­jor re­search in­fra­struc­ture.

But the rep­re­sen­ta­tive uni­ver­sity body said the good news came in the con­text of last De­cem­ber’s freeze to higher ed­u­ca­tion teach­ing grants, which had cost the sec­tor about A$2.1 bil­lion. “Ev­ery sin­gle uni­ver­sity is look­ing into their bud­gets and work­ing out how they can of­fer places,” said Uni­ver­si­ties Aus­tralia’s deputy CEO, Ca­tri­ona Jack­son.

The bud­get has in­ter­rupted a

cy­cle of stop- start fund­ing for ex­pen­sive fa­cil­i­ties like su­per­com­put­ers, syn­chrotrons and cut­tingedge health sci­ence lab­o­ra­to­ries. The gov­ern­ment has pledged A$1.9 bil­lion over 12 years, with al­most A$400 mil­lion of this locked in to be spent by mid-2022.

How­ever, other than the Pawsey Su­per­com­put­ing Cen­tre in Perth – which will re­ceive an ad­di­tional A$70 mil­lion – the gov­ern­ment has not spec­i­fied which fa­cil­i­ties will re­ceive the ex­tra cash.

More de­tail is ex­pected, pos­si­bly within days, when the gov­ern­ment re­sponds to a 2016 chief sci­en­tist’s re­port high­light­ing nine pri­or­ity re­search ar­eas for in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing.

The bud­get also in­tro­duces mea­sures to stop busi­nesses gam­ing a re­search and de­vel­op­ment tax in­cen­tive, while al­lo­cat­ing A$41 mil­lion to­wards a space agency. “This is a good bud­get for sci­ence,” said Aus­tralian Academy of Sci­ence pres­i­dent An­drew Holmes.

“It re­flects the long-term and strate­gic ap­proach that is needed for Aus­tralia to ben­e­fit from sci­ence and in­no­va­tion at a global scale.”

Ms Jack­son said the re­search in­fra­struc­ture fund­ing would al­low Aus­tralia to com­pete in­ter­na­tion­ally on ma­jor en­deav­ours. “It en­sures that fun­da­men­tal col­lab­o­ra­tive re­search fa­cil­i­ties are main­tained and fully op­er­a­tional and at­tract world class re­searchers,” she said.

Flin­ders Uni­ver­sity space ar­chae­ol­o­gist Alice Gor­man said that the new space agency would cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties in mul­ti­ple dis­ci­plines. “We are talk­ing about an in­dus­try that will need en­gi­neers, sci­en­tists, re­searchers, ar­chae­ol­o­gists and even writ­ers and artists, she said.

“Some skin in the game also gives our voice cred­i­bil­ity on is­sues like space junk and space treaties.”

The gov­ern­ment has al­lo­cated al­most A$100 mil­lion to fund rec­om­men­da­tions from last month’s in­de­pen­dent re­port on re­gional ed­u­ca­tion. It will re­lax the el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria for ru­ral stu­dents seek­ing in­come sup­port pay­ments, while sub­si­dis­ing hun­dreds of places at eight “study hubs” in re­gional cen­tres.

The bud­get also bankrolls path­way cour­ses for re­gional stu­dents, and con­firms that the fund­ing freeze will be re­laxed for the uni­ver­si­ties of the Sun­shine Coast, South­ern Cross and Tas­ma­nia. This will al­low the three in­sti­tu­tions to en­rol stu­dents at five new re­gional fa­cil­i­ties which were planned be­fore the freeze was an­nounced.

The gov­ern­ment has also de­fused a long-run­ning dis­pute over a pro­posal for a new med­i­cal school, lo­cated in re­gional Aus­tralia, to end a chronic short­age of doc­tors in the bush.

In­stead, the gov­ern­ment will fund a “med­i­cal schools net­work” en­abling more stu­dents from ex­ist­ing med­i­cal fac­ul­ties to train in ru­ral ar­eas. This will dis­please med­i­cal deans who say the real need is for re­gion­ally based spe­cialty train­ing.

The bud­get ear­marks an ex­tra A$250 mil­lion for Aus­tralia’s cash­strapped vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor, in an ac­knowl­edge­ment that the fi­nanc­ing mech­a­nism for a train­ing fund an­nounced last year – a levy on visas for skilled mi­grants – will not raise enough money.

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