More cuts to Australian research in mini-budget
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”.