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Media release: Universities Accord must address research funding reform

September 4, 2023

Australia’s most research intensive universities, the Group of Eight (Go8) have called for an urgent and renewed focus on research funding reform to address the core underlying problem in Australia’s higher education system, in its response to the Universities Accord Interim Report.

The Go8, which undertakes 70 percent of all university based research in Australia, has put forward 10 recommendations for consideration to be included in the Accord final report – not to be “set and forget” but to be further developed and actioned by Government in collaboration with the sector.

Go8 Chief Executive Vicki Thomson said “university research is critical to Australia’s future economic, environmental, and community well-being. This will become even more so as we look to the Accord’s 30-year horizon where innovation will underpin success in a technology and information driven global economy, and where international research collaboration will continue to provide solutions to global challenges.

“While the Universities Accord Interim report has rightly addressed participation, access and equity, there must be an equal focus on long term funding of the sector, including on research. This is the missing piece.

“The interim report has not addressed the core underlying problem in our higher education sector – that is the distorted funding model we have in this nation whereby the national university research effort is underwritten by international fee income.”

“Business and Government investment in research is unchanged over the last decade while higher education research spending has increased by 43%. Universities – and in particular our research-intensive universities – have picked up the slack, largely from international student fee revenue. This is not sustainable.”

The Government’s commitment to lift investment in R&D from 1.7 per cent to 3 per cent of GDP is crucial to the future of Australia’s economy. The Go8 recommends that a formal target of 3 per cent of GDP invested in R&D be established as a national priority.

Further, the Go8 is calling for one idea from the Interim Report – the international student levy – to be rejected in the national interest. “This redistributive tax would create countless unintended consequences, damage our higher education sector and international reputation. We must ensure that this process does not undermine our nation’s hard-won and enduring success in international education and damage Australia’s largest services-based export industry,” said Ms Thomson.

“The Accord must position Australia to be a prosperous, innovative country, one which leverages our substantial knowledge capability and competes with the world’s best. Australian needs a research funding system that delivers the tangible benefits the Australian economy and community needs – we cannot afford to miss this opportunity for real systemic reform.”

Go8 response Universities Accord Interim Report

The Go8 represents Australia’s world class research-intensive universities – with six ranked in the world’s top 50 universities and all eight in the top 100. Go8 universities carry out 70 per cent of Australian university research and have an annual research budget of $7.7bn.

Contact: Vicki Thomson, Group of Eight Chief Executive on +61 438 047 155