More cuts to Aus­tralian re­search in mini-bud­get

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - [email protected]­ere­d­u­ca­

Cuts to Aus­tralian uni­ver­sity re­search will be sub­stan­tially big­ger than the sec­tor feared, with PhD schol­ar­ships caught up in a pre­vi­ously an­nounced fund­ing freeze.

The mid-year bud­get up­date un­veiled cut­backs about A$200 mil­lion (£114 mil­lion) worse than most an­a­lysts had an­tic­i­pated in the wake of the gov­ern­ment’s Novem­ber rev­e­la­tion that it would cap funds to the Re­search Sup­port Pro­gram.

The bud­get up­date, re­vealed on 17 De­cem­ber, says that the “growth ad­just­ment” will now be ap­plied to all re­search block grants. The block grants com­prise not only the RSP – which helps uni­ver­si­ties cover in­di­rect re­search ex­penses such as run­ning labs, pay­ing tech­ni­cal staff and buy­ing con­sum­ables – but also the Re­search Train­ing Pro­gram, which funds schol­ar­ships for re­search stu­dents un­der­tak­ing doc­toral and mas­ter’s cour­ses.

In to­tal, the change will cost the sec­tor A$329 mil­lion – al­most twoand-a-half times the A$135 mil­lion that the gov­ern­ment promised in Novem­ber to boost re­gional uni­ver­sity pro­vi­sion.

Uni­ver­si­ties had ex­pected that the cuts would merely can­cel out the Novem­ber com­mit­ment, which was cen­tred on mar­ginal elec­torates and crit­i­cised as an elec­tion bribe.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive body Uni­ver­si­ties Aus­tralia con­demned the cut as a “ram raid” to round off a year of fund­ing claw­backs. “The bud­get is fore­cast to re­turn to sur­plus and yet the gov­ern­ment has de­cided to cut funds to re­search which drives eco­nomic growth. This makes no sense,” said chief ex­ec­u­tive Ca­tri­ona Jack­son.

With the bud­get doc­u­ments of­fer­ing scant de­tail, higher ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy an­a­lysts were seek­ing more in­for­ma­tion on how the cuts will be ap­plied. Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion un­der­stands that in­dex­a­tion of re­search block grants will be paused for 12 months, sav­ing the gov­ern­ment A$131 mil­lion, with a four-year cap­ping of the RSP de­liv­er­ing an­other A$197 mil­lion.

Ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter Dan Te­han said the sav­ings from the block grants would “al­low the gov­ern­ment to pri­ori­tise ed­u­ca­tion spend­ing, in­clud­ing on re­gional higher ed­u­ca­tion”.

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