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MEDIA RELEASE: Education Minister’s change to research funding applications fixes an imaginary problem, says CAPA

31 Oct 18

Education Minister’s change to research funding applications fixes an imaginary problem, says CAPA

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is stunned that the Minister for Education, Dan Tehan, has solved a non-existent problem and failed to address the previous Minister’s serious error in judgment. Minister Tehan announced today that Australian Research Council (ARC) applicants will have to restate how their research contributes to the national interest.

Last week, it was revealed in Senate Estimates that the former Minister for Education, Simon Birmingham, vetoed research funding for eleven successful ARC applications, including three Early Career grants. All vetoed projects were from the humanities and social sciences.

Following outrage from researchers at the Minister’s inappropriate and clandestine intervention in the ARC funding process, Minister Birmingham proceeded to defend his actions via Twitter, even making fun of one researcher’s project which would have been awarded competitive funding if not for the secret veto.

Rather than apologise for this misstep, the Government has today decided to increase the administrative burden on researchers, with Minister Tehan announcing an addition to ARC applications in which the researcher/s must articulate how their research will “advance the national interest”. As the National Tertiary Education Union has pointed out, the current application form already requires that the researcher states significance, expected outcomes, and benefit and impact. The additional question therefore will not add any useful new information.

The Minister says this change will reassure the taxpayers that their money is being spent appropriately. This superfluous extra question addresses a contrived crisis. There is no widespread taxpayer revolt against research spending, despite the disdain for humanities and blue-sky research in the previous and current education ministries.

“It is bizarre that the Minister is introducing a redundant question in the application process in order to address perceptions of value in research funding, while ignoring the Great Barrier Reef Foundation funding scandal, in which a small private foundation with coal and oil links was unexpectedly given half a billion dollars with no application or tender process,” says CAPA National President, Natasha Abrahams.

“We do not expect the Minister for Education to be an expert on research, but we do expect that someone holding this portfolio defers to the panel of experts on the ARC to make decisions on which research should be funded.”

For comment:
CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams
M: 0430 076 993