Tony Abbott win leads to humanities funding fears

Humanities and social sciences in Australia could lose A$100 million (£60 million) in funding following a change in government, it is feared. 

September 9, 2013


The Liberal-National Coalition, led by former Rhodes scholar Tony Abbott, recorded a convincing victory in Saturday’s general election over Kevin Rudd’s Labor government.

Last week, the Coalition said that it will carry out an audit of “increasingly ridiculous research grants” funded by the Australian Research Council, and proposed to “reprioritise” A$103 million of ARC funding to where it is “really needed”. It has also pledged to boost spending in medical research by A$190 million.

Coalition figures gave four examples of “ridiculous” projects: an RMIT University study looking at how people could adapt to climate change through public art, a University of Sydney project examining “The God of Hegel’s Post-Kantian idealism”, a Macquarie University investigation of “sexuality in Islamic interpretations of reproductive health technologies in Egypt” and an ARC project examining the meaning of “I” through the study of 18th and 19th century German existentialists.

Mr Abbott was health minister in the previous Coalition government, led by John Howard and one of the Coalition’s first pledges of this election campaign was to protect the budget of the National Health and Medical Research Council and streamline its grant application process.

Other pledges made by the Coalition have included a revived “Colombo Plan”, which would provide funding for 300 Australian students to study in Asia every year, and a plan to boost international student recruitment by expanding post-study work rights.

However, the Coalition has declined to reverse a A$2.3 billion cut to higher education imposed by the Labor government in April to pay for school reforms.

Before the election, Jeannie Rea, national president of the National Tertiary Education Union, predicted that a new Coalition government was likely to reprise the Howard government’s “dreadful past record on cutting back on higher education funding, interfering in university independence and slugging the students with increased fees”.

The union also declined to support Labor’s re-election, and instead spent A$1 million on an unsuccessful campaign to see the sector-friendly Greens retain the balance of power in Australian’s upper house. The balance will now be held by a combination of the Greens and an assortment of small right-wing parties.

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