Research cuts: save now - pay later
The future of Australian research and innovation is reportedly under threat following the Government’s freeze on grants. The Australian reported on Thursday that the Government plans to put on hold grants worth $2 billion in total in an effort to save a marginal Budget surplus.
Such a funding freeze would stop the research funding councils and other bodies from funding any new projects in 2013. This would slash around $320 million from universities and research institutes. If the government cancels rather than just postpones new funding commitments, the cut would be more than $1.3 billion dollars. Either way, the effect on Australian research would be dire.
Such funding cuts would see at least 1,700 highly-trained and creative people from the higher education sector lose their jobs. This is more than the recent job losses at Toyota, Ford and BlueScope Steel combined. Our best emerging and established researchers would see their opportunities in Australia disappear and would move overseas. The skills they bring to their workplace, developed through years of training, would not be easy to replace.
“Such cuts, if made, would be unprecedented and arbitrary, and would completely undermine the Government’s rhetoric on innovation as the key to Australia’s future” said Professor Fred Hilmer, Chair of the Group of Eight.
“The Government should not allow short-term financial objectives to trump long-term efforts to build a more resilient and productive nation.”
Countries such as the USA and UK that were hit much harder by the GFC have deliberately protected research funding – even while making drastic Budget cuts elsewhere – precisely because research is vital to their economic recovery.
At the height of the Global Financial Crisis, President Obama told his fellow Americans, “science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been.” In his 2012 State of the Union address he said America needed “a level of research and development we haven't seen since the height of the space race… I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal.”
Around our region, other countries are not only maintaining but lifting their investment in research. This year, the Chinese government increased spending on science and technology by 12.4% to 229 billion renminbi (US $36.2 billion).
“Stop-go funding makes it difficult to collaborate with countries having this scale of investment, let alone compete in the world rankings” said Professor Hilmer. “Australia’s international student market would suffer as Australia loses its reputation as a country which has a world-class university system.”
The cuts would also discourage foreign investment and lead companies to transfer their innovation activities elsewhere. This would damage Australia’s standing in the world research community and risk our international partnerships in astronomy, human genomics, and cancer consortia.
“Australia’s future, Australia’s reputation, and the wellbeing of the national innovation system and our young and developing researchers, would all be harmed if the government adopts this approach” said Professor Hilmer.