Public Universities Australia is a nation-wide alliance of organisations and individuals that connects academic professors and students (https://puau.org/). All are concerned with the current state of Australian universities and committed to ensure that the value and function of Australian universities for the broader public is fully realised. Public Universities Australia aims to give expression to the voices of all academics, all students and alumni, and all professional staff of Australian public universities. Public Universities Australia is independent of government and other directions.
Funding cuts and grant vetoes do not only affect academics and staff; they change the atmosphere on campus. Students feel and share the disappointment of lecturers, supervisors, friends and mentors. They share the same passion for pursuing knowledge for the betterment of society. Therefore, political vetoes hurt students just as deeply. More importantly, they take away the students’ sense of hope for a brighter future when they see their role models lose the jobs they love.
To deny academics pursuing what they love, especially when their intellectual peers have validated the quality of their proposal, is counterproductive for individuals, for our communities, and for society as a whole.
Finally, political interference has a disproportionate impact on Indigenous research and academics, thus constituting a blatant example of a culturally disrespectful approach.
In summary, while we believe that there should be a necessary degree of political oversight in establishing the ARC and in periodically reviewing its operation, merit decisions ought to be free from political interference and be solely based on academic criteria if Australia is to improve its standing as a knowledge-economy on the world stage.
As a result, we fully support the proposed amendments contained in subsections 51(1), 51(2) and 52(4) of the Australian Research Council Amendment (Ensuring Research Independence) Bill 2018.
The significance of this amendment will have a profound impact on current and future generations. Continuing to permit ministerial intervention sends a negative message to future generations that their passions, an integral part of individual identity, will not be backed by the place they call home. It will discourage self-expression and disenfranchise the current and future generations from reaching their true potential.
Funding cuts and grant vetoes do not only affect academics and staff; it changes the atmosphere on campus. As students, we often feel and share the disappointment of our lecturers, supervisors, friends and mentors. Consider a student’s perspective, seeing their role model lose their jobs because their expertise is ‘not of public interest’. What message does that send to future generations of a bright and hopeful future?
Our view is that intervention by a ministerial decision impedes academic freedom and disrespects the sovereignty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. We have provided examples of foreign nations that entrust independent decision making by their academics and have protected funding for fundamental research. This is a research policy we would recommend Australia adopt as well and thereby propose:
The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations welcomes any new money to public research funding. However, the current amount is still a far cry away from what is needed to take Australia’s public spending on R&D to the levels of other OECD countries.
CAPA National President Errol Phuah said it is great that research is getting some attention. The current amount can help create a few extra opportunities for new PhD students, and some job opportunities for recent graduates.
“The issues are that it is not enough and whether some of the money will be put back to areas where funding has been cut”, says Mr Phuah. “The money lost from the sector would have been dispersed more evenly across more areas of research.”
The push towards commercialisation and national priorities has put a focus on some research areas, whilst neglecting others. It represents a bright future for some careers and moves towards ending the careers of others.
“The people affected are researchers, supervisors, and our lecturers who may have dedicated their entire careers to becoming experts in their field. Yet someone has decided their research is not of public interest and does not deserve funding.
Was coronavirus or mRNA vaccine research of public interest five years ago? These research areas are definitely of public interest now, but nobody could have predicted this back then. This is why we should not try to pick winners.”
CAPA’s pre-budget response includes our independent research that recommends an overall increase in public research funding by 4 billion dollars between the ARC, NHMRC, CSIRO and CRC initiatives.
The industry-engagement side of research funding has mostly been addressed by this announcement and CAPA echos the NTEU’s recommendation that the ARC and NHMRC be funded 1 billion dollars each.
CAPA National President Errol Phuah
M: 0431 545 167