Shadow industry minister Senator Kim Carr has accused the Morrison Government of robbing Peter to pay Paul over a decision to spent $134 million to improve student access to regional and remote higher education institutions by tapping money that had been earmarked for research.
The regional funding plan should be viewed as an ‘assault’ on the university system, Senator Carr said.
“What we have here is a proposition which really is seeking to disguise or hide the fact that this government is now engaged in a comprehensive assault upon universities and their role in the life of this nation,” told the Senate on Thursday.
Education Minister Dan Tehan said the $134 million over four years would be funded by capping the government’s Research Support Program, which was originally setup to provide block grants to support university research.
Senator Carr said the decision to withdraw funding from the Research Support Program to fund this investment would further hurt the country’s research system.
“The removal of some $134 million from the Research Support Program will cost at least 550 jobs and that’s just from the Group of Eight universities alone,” he told InnovationAus.com.
“There will be other job losses as well from other university systems and that’s unprecedented. This matter has never come under attack before,” he said.
This is not the only setback to the research community that has angered Senator Carr.
He also blasted the federal government for delaying the next rounds of Australian Research Council (ARC) grants, citing that it’s normally announced in late October or early November.
When the next funding round is announced, it will be the first to feature the national interest test where applicants will be required to explain how their research will “advance the national interest” saying at the time it would ensure the “taxpayer is getting value for money.”
“The value of specific projects may be obvious to the academics who recommend which projects should receive funding, but it is not always obvious to a non-academic,” he said.
The national interest test would be in addition to the existing national benefit test that requires applicants to outline how their research would benefit the Australian and international community.
“The so-called national interest test is complete defiance of the fact that there are already a series of questions already asked about the relevance of any research proposal to the social economic place within Australia,” Senator Carr said.
“Now, [Mr Tehan] has added to that a security overlay which of course – given the review that is underway of the Defence Control Act – it seems me they’re seeking to impose restrictions on grants and may well veto further grants.”
He said it reveals the Coalition government’s “pattern of behaviour of quite deep hostility towards the university system.”
Last week, the government announced a review into free speech on university campuses
“The time when the private sector research and investment has declined by 12 per cent since the last election, it suggests there is no indication the government appreciates what damaging effects the policy has on the capacity of the country to undertake research and development at a time when our major competitors are increasing their expenditure,” Senator Carr said.
“Our R&D support has fallen…which contrast sharply with the amount our major trading partners are spending. Korea, Malaysia and China as some examples. The German and British are also spending substantial amounts on their funding.”
Labor is expected to announce its major science and innovation agenda before the end of the month ahead of next year’s federal election.
According to Senator Carr, the Opposition would make it clear that it “diametrically opposed attitude towards the importance of science and research, and the place of the academy in the innovation system.”
“We have always said there has got to be a much stronger link and support for our universities and research agencies in the modernisation of Australia, so we will make it absolutely abundantly clear the approach the Labor party takes to the importance of science and research to the future direction of the nation.”