Oz centre staff funds dry up

June 28, 1996

Britain's largest centre for Australian studies cannot afford teaching staff for next year's courses because of a funding crisis.

The Robert Menzies Centre for Australian Studies in London, requires cash urgently to maintain its lecturing and support positions.

Director Brian Matthews said the lack of funds meant a 1997 lectureship could not be advertised, affecting the range of courses available.

Publishing activities would cease because there was no money for the publications officer's salary, said Professor Matthews.

Other necessary economy measures would constrain the centre's activities. "It has been extremely active, with many great achievements in Britain and Europe, so there's going to be a really noticeable reining in," he added.

When Professor Matthews returns to Flinders University in Adelaide next year after four years as director, the centre will consist of his replacement and a secretary. Two lecturers and a publications officer have been on staff during most of his time in the role.

The lecturers teach the master of arts in area studies (Australia) programme and a popular undergraduate Australian history course, and give guest lectures in Europe.

The centre is part of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies in the University of London's School of Advanced Studies. Its financial difficulties began in 1988, when Australian government funding ceased six years after it was established.

The Menzies Foundation agreed to fund the centre until 1995, but then reduced its support by 60 per cent. Professor Matthews said the Institute of Commonwealth Studies gave very strong support by providing offices at minimal cost, but it too had funding problems.

Government support returned last year with Aus$100,000 (Pounds 50,000) a year for three years from the Australian International Education Foundation, but Professor Matthews said that this represented a considerable cut in overall funding.

While some corporate sponsorship for individual projects was also secured, Professor Matthews said winning enough to cover a lectureship over several years was very difficult. "We've been seeking funding and are vigorously seeking it in various directions both here and in Australia, but it's not easy."

After Australia's coalition government took office in March, Professor Matthews appealed to the department of foreign affairs, which said it was unable to assist. He also wrote twice to new education minister Amanda Vanstone, but he said she had not replied.

Recently established Australian studies centres in Potsdam, Germany and Washington in the United States have received significant financial support from the Australian government, Professor Matthews said.

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