Australia's vice-chancellors, academics and students have welcomed a commitment by the opposition Labor Party to boost spending on universities when it is next in government.
Delegates attending Labor's annual conference in Hobart last week voted to increase federal investment in education and research to keep pace with the world's leading economies. The promises include a doubling of the number of research fellowships and the creation of a new category of "elite" fellowships worth A$1 million (Pounds 388,000) each over five years.
Labor leader Kim Beazley said that if Labor wins the next election - and the polls indicate that this is likely - he will abandon the higher education policies of prime minister John Howard and increase expenditure on the nation's universities.
Mr Beazley said: "Since the election of the Howard government in 1996, A$1 billion in government funding has been taken from our universities. Education minister David Kemp's research white paper will also slash the number of PhD places starting next year, while the government's own budget statement admits that federal investment in research and development has fallen by more than one sixth."
Labor will double the number of early career fellowships to keep Australia's "best young minds in the country and to prepare the next generation of leading academics", he said. The number of fellowships for outstanding researchers would be doubled, while elite scholarships worth A$200,000 a year for five years would be allocated to support top researchers.
"The heart of Labor's agenda for Australia's future is the Knowledge Nation," Mr Beazley said. "The building blocks for the Knowledge Nation must be Australian ideas. If we do not promote, develop and sell Australian ideas then we will pay an increasingly high price to buy the ideas of others."
National Tertiary Education Union president Carolyn Allport said that academics welcomed Labor's commitment to building public investment without deregulation. Dr Allport said that all the coalition government had offered Australians was a bigger bill for higher education.
But she said that Labor's promise to increase postdoctoral fellowships and spending on university research would not allay the current funding crisis. However, it did represent some positive steps to halt the "brain drain", in which some of Australia's best and brightest scholars were leaving for countries "where the value of higher education research is understood and supported".
The Australian vice-chancellors' committee said Labor's promises were only a first step. A spokesman said: "There is nothing here so far on funding to increase quality education for undergraduates."
The National Union of Students applauded Labor's promise to examine the Higher Education Contribution System and remove inequities that had developed under the conservatives.