PM jumps gun with A$3bn vow

April 2, 2004

Brendan Nelson, Australia's education minister, has promised universities up to A$3 billion (£1.23 billion) extra in federal research grants if the Howard government is re-elected this year.

Speaking last week at the National Press Club, Dr Nelson took the unusual step of committing the government to a future spending programme after its three-year term expires.

John Howard, the prime minister, launched a "Backing Australia's Ability" scheme in 2001 that provided A$2.9 billion for research over five years. Dr Nelson confirmed that the programmes would be extended.

Three reviews into national research were launched. One, on commercialisation of research, called for a A$500 million fund to encourage partnerships between publicly funded research agencies, universities and private companies. Groups would compete for a share of the ten-year funding pool.

This would force agencies such as the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation to compete for grants, which they currently receive as fixed sums.

But Dr Nelson said the government should maintain set funding for university research. "It is very important in terms of long-term strategic research and also supporting new researchers," he said.

Dr Nelson backed a recommendation in another of the reviews for a "performance framework" to assess research quality.

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