Australia is facing a national crisis in the face of a changing world economy where knowledge is paramount, according to a report released by the opposition Labor Party last week.
The Knowledge Nation report says the most visible effects of the national investment crisis are in Australia's universities and technical colleges. Libraries are overwhelmed, student:staff ratios have increased and research infrastructure needs renewal.
The report says: "Funding pressures are forcing our universities to neglect core enabling disciplines within the fields of science, engineering, the social sciences and the humanities. Our universities and colleges need a reinvestment and modernisation strategy based on increased funding for core activities, new programmes, such as those to boost online education and incentives for people to enrol in key 'Knowledge Nation' disciplines."
The report calls for changes to spending on universities, a doubling of Australia's investment in research and development over the next decade to take the nation to the top of world rankings, and the building of three institutes in biotechnology, information technology and environmental management.
Labor leader Kim Beazley said: "The report will be our roadmap on a journey that stretches through this decade and beyond. The Knowledge Nation will have a high funding priority. Our future demands no less."
While prime minister John Howard dismissed the report as a grab-bag of unfunded promises, claiming much of it was based on his government's five-year, A$3 billion (£1.1 billion) innovation programme, education lobby groups welcomed its analysis and recommendations.
The Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee president Ian Chubb said that, when supported with the necessary funding, the report's recommendations would position Australia to meet the challenges of the knowledge-based global economy.
Australian Academy of Science president Brian Anderson said that for the first time in a decade, science and technology had come to the forefront of the national agenda. He said all political parties recognised that Australia's economy was based increasingly on innovation.
A spokesman for the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies said the report was a welcome injection of ideas into a discussion vital to Australia.
The report also calls for:
- Significantly increased funding for leading research organisations
- A review of tax and other incentives for the commercialisation of Australian ideas
- A tackling of the brain-drain crisis by providing 1,000 new research fellowships, building a database of all Australian researchers living abroad and developing incentives to encourage them to return.