Brisbane Times, 11 March 2015
By Matthew Knott
The vice-chancellors of Australia’s most prestigious universities have taken out advertisements blasting the Abbott government’s “dumb” decision to axe funding for world-renowned research facilities if the Senate does not pass fee deregulation.
The advertisements are the first time the Group of Eight (Go8) universities have used paid advertising in protest since the group was formed 16 years ago.
The elite Go8 universities – which include the University of Sydney, the University of Melbourne and the University of Queensland – are the strongest supporters of the government’s plan to allow universities to set their own fees.
Education Minister Christopher Pyne has repeatedly said that $150 million funding for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) – which has been described as the “backbone of research in Australia” – is contingent on the government’s stalled higher education changes passing the Senate.
NCRIS facilities support 30,000 staff at 27 sites across the country.
“Shutting down research facilities is such a dumb thing for a clever country to do,” say the Go8 advertisements, to run in Fairfax Media and News Corporation Australia newspapers on Wednesday.
“While other nations are investing more in research because they know their economy depends on innovation, Australia is on the brink of cutting research funding.
“Soon the Senate could make a decision that will close the doors of vital research facilities and close the door on Australia’s future.”
Go8 chief executive Vicki Thomson said fee deregulation should be passed but that research funding should be dealt with seperately.
“NCRIS funding should not be linked to the success or failure of the deregulation package,” she said. “It must be de-linked, especially in the face of the obvious damage to the economy if the cuts proceed.
“Closing NCRIS down would cripple breakthrough research that strengthens some of Australia’s key industries, and lays foundations for the industries of the future.”
NCRIS has led to major advances on vaccinations, 3D imaging, drugs to treat heart failure and the production of a new type of steel that produces 70 per cent fewer greenhouse gases than regular steel.
The facilities it supports include the Integrated Marine Observing System, based at the University of Tasmania, which conducts long-term ocean monitoring, including of temperature rises linked to climate change.
Mr Pyne has said that NCRIS is highly valuable but it must be funded from savings linked to the government’s higher education changes because Labor failed to ensure continued funding for them before it lost office.
“I want to re-fund it, I want to find the money to make sure it keeps going because I think that research is vitally important and so does Tony Abbott,” he said last week.
“If the reform bill goes down, the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme and the Future Fellows [scheme] will end and it will be on Labor and the Greens and the crossbenchers’ heads if that happens.”