‘Raid on research’ funded Australia’s new regional allocation

Universities criticise source of new cash splash

November 12, 2018
Regional Australia

Australian universities have accused their government of robbing Peter to pay Paul, after Canberra announced more money for the struggling regional higher education sector.

Universities Australia said that the government had sourced funds for the package from a “raid on the nation’s research budget”. Chief executive Catriona Jackson said that while money for regional universities was desperately needed, it was “reckless” to take research money out of every university.

“The government should have found these funds from general revenue, not from slashing crucial research funds,” Ms Jackson said. “Australia has already fallen behind other advanced economies for the share of GDP spent on research. That should have loud alarm bells ringing for our future economic growth.”

Education minister Dan Tehan has revealed that at least part of the package will be funded by capping growth funding for the Research Support Program. The RSP provides universities with block grants to support systemic costs of research that are not funded directly through competitive grants, such as libraries, laboratories, computing centres, consumable materials and the salaries of support and technical staff.

The total value of these block grants grew by about A$15 million (£8 million) last year to almost A$900m.

Ms Jackson said that the five universities promised money in the new funding package would be among those hit by the research cut. She said it was “folly” to undermine resourcing for teaching and learning by “raiding precious research funding”.

The Regional Universities Network welcomed the new funding announcement. Chairman Greg Hill said that the package acknowledged the challenges involved in “addressing the very large gap between educational achievement in regional and rural Australia relative to the metropolitan capital cities”.

“A one-size-fits-all policy for higher education does not meet the needs of regional Australia or the nation,” Professor Hill said. “Place-based initiatives are needed to make a difference.”

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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