SYDNEY—The Australian government’s increasingly pragmatic attitude toward academic research has dismayed many scientists here and reinforced their feeling that the universities’ central activities are under assault.

Their concerns recently have focused on the Australian Research Grants Scheme (ARGS), the annual round of competitive grants for scientists and others at the country’s 20 universities. Total funding under ARGS for 1988 is $32.3 million Australian ($22 million U.S.), some $75,000 less than this year’s figure. That reduction is compounded by the country’s current inflation rate of 8 or 9 percent. Announcement of the grants was delayed several weeks as government minister John Dawkins personally screened the titles of scientific proposals to avoid any political embarrassment. Conservative opponents earlier this year had ridiculed grants that they thought were wasteful or irrelevant, in initiation of the “Golden Fleece Awards” given out by U.S. Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.). David Penington, vice chancellor-elect of the University...

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