Australia’s leading universities are satisfied with modest announcements for the sector in this year’s budget, but expect more funding in future as part of the University Accord process.
Vicki Thomson Group of Eight (Go8) Chief Executive says universities expectations were relatively low going into the budget, because “everything’s been put into the process of the Accord to deliver pretty significant reform”.
Thomson says the University Accord process, established by the Albanese government in late 2022, is a “a once in a generation opportunity to really reform and restructure the university sector”.
As a result, pressure will be on in future budgets to deliver on some bigger ticket items like lifting Australia’s expenditure on research to 3% of GDP, she says.
Thomson was positive about budget measures including additional Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) university places to support defence, 320 medical places for regional areas and 500 postgraduate psychology places.
“The 2023 Budget recognises that a highly skilled workforce is critical for Australia’s future and new funding for 4000 additional university places over the next four years in STEM disciplines will help generate that workforce; especially, to support Defence priorities,” she says.
Go8 also says expenses under the general research sub-function are expected to increase by 3.4 per cent in nominal terms, however, decreases in several components of this sub-function (such as terminating funding provided to the CSIRO to address the impacts of COVID-19 on its operations) will mean an overall decline in real terms.
Go8 listed critical research funding decisions in its news release:
- Australian Research Council funding over the forward estimates is $265 million higher than in the 2022-23 October Budget (that is, comparing the four years presented in this Budget, starting with 2023-24 with the four years in the 2022-23 October Budget).
- Research block grants funding over the forward estimates is $306 million higher than in the 2022-23 October Budget.
- National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy funding over the forward estimates is $96 million higher than in the 2022-23 October Budget.
- National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy funding are provided in Table 3. The funding over the forward estimates is $96 million higher than in the 2022-23 October Budget.
- National Health and Medical Research Council funding (Table 7) is $130 million higher over the forward estimates than in the 2022-23 October Budget.
Go8 represents the universities of Western Australia, Adelaide, Melbourne, Queensland, Sydney and New South Wales, Monash University and the Australian National University.
Meanwhile the Australian Academy of Science says funding for research and development in Australia was “lamentable.”
Academy President, Professor Chennupati Jagadish, says figures released in late April show that the Australian Government’s investment in science, research and innovation is the lowest on record at 0.49% of GDP.
“Reversing the downward trend of Government investment in R&D is not the work of any single budget,” Jagadish says.
“It will take a decade or more of commitment and effort from government, industry and the higher education sector. Work must start today.”
Professor Jagadish says the Academy was disappointed to see that the Australian Government’s flagship initiative to invest in international collaboration, the Global Science and Technology Diplomacy Fund, has been earmarked for reductions over the forward estimates.
The Academy has recommended two key actions with which we can get started –formalising policy to get a national target to lift R&D from 1.79% to 3% and an independent review of the entire science and research system.