Research needs EIF, says Carr

19 Aug 2015

The Australian, 19 Aug 2015

By Julie Hare

The $3.9 billion from the now defunct Education Investment Fund should be set aside to cover the capital and ongoing costs of research infrastructure, under a proposal by opposition higher education spokesman Kim Carr.

Mr Carr said the money could be used to fund ongoing research infrastructure needs, including the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy, for a decade. "I have been advised we will require $3.5bn over the next decade to fund research infrastructure but the government has sought to abolish the only source of money for that which is EIF," he said.

In last year's budget, the federal government proposed to roll the money left in the EIF into the Asset Recycling Fund, but legislation required to do that was rejected by the Senate last year.

The Australian understands there is a push within the government for the EIF money to go towards the building of a road in Melbourne, but changes to legislation are needed to release the money, which can be spent only on tertiary education infrastructure.

"The money should be put to work to fund both human and physical research capital. It would just require a small tweak of the act to allow the funding of personnel," Mr Carr said.

"Labor remains adamant that we should not be reallocating research infrastructure funds for the building of roads." The research community was outraged earlier this year after the federal government threatened to kill off the NCRIS program if the Senate did not pass its higher education reform package.

That decision was finally reversed, with NCRIS being assigned $150 million across two years in the 2015 budget.

But sector insiders are concerned there is no continuity for its funding or for other major infrastructure such as the national research vessel, Investigator, the Square Kilometre Array radio telescopes, the Synchrotron and other national research facilities.

"The current piecemeal approach is unacceptable," Mr Carr said.

A report on research infrastructure funding by former EIF chairman Phil Clark and former vicechancellor Denise Bradley is yet to be handed to Education Minister Christopher Pyne.

Mr Clark yesterday told the HES he couldn't comment but said: "In relation to the Carr proposal it would be nice if the government would take a bipartisan approach in this important issue".

Mr Clark previously has indicated that money for research infrastructure needed to be "ringfenced" and that current ad hoc arrangements needed to be replaced with sustainable funding.

Vicki Thomson, chief executive of the Group of Eight universities, said her vice-chancellors would strongly support Mr Carr's proposal.

"Given the EIF fund was always earmarked for university infrastructure projects it is perfectly logical - and reasonable - that it be redirected to much needed research infrastructure funding," Ms Thomson said. "We need to remember that 60 per cent of the $5.9bn asset recycling fund was to have come from the EIF. The Senate in rejecting this, and rightly so, sent a strong message of support for research and innovation."

Source: The Australian