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Research Funding Freeze Redux

So, the minibudget came out today, and I guess the news wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Looks like the competitive grant programs’ funding is safe, and the ARC Linkage grant funding round has been opened up for applications, a month or so late.

The Linkage program requires applicants to gain some industry funding to couple with the government funding. It’s a great program, but this hiatus won’t have helped with the already very tough process of finding industry partners in a tight economy.

The final cuts – $500m is the headline number – are to future growth in the Sustainable Research Excellence (SRE) program. Slightly bitterly: apparently sustainable research excellence is no longer a priority.

That program gave funding to universities to cover the associated costs of research. Research grants cover things like infrastructure, researcher salaries, travel and so on, but there are lots of administrative costs, building space costs, electricity and water and a huge number of other costs that go into keeping research happening. Prior to the SRE program – and, to some extent in the future now – this money had to come out of recurrent federal funding for universities, and even be cross-subsidised by taking money the universities earned for teaching and using it to find the indirect costs of research.

That means today’s decision has the potential not only to impact on research in Australia – the thing that’s going to keep our living standards up once the resource boom winds down – but also to damage education at universities.

I’m a Labor supporter, as everyone knows, but this is a dumb decision, made for political reasons – to fulfil the stupid promise to return the budget to surplus this year, regardless of external factors. I hope that now that stupid promise has been fulfilled, we might see some smarter long term strategic decisions made about funding the things that will build our nation’s future.

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