Australia’s mid-year budget update, released Monday (December 17), reveals that the country’s funding under so-called University Research Block Grants is to be slashed by $328.5 million AUD ($235.6 million USD) for the upcoming four years. The budget cuts are twice the amount Australian universities had expected.
In a statement, Universities Australia describes the cuts as “a ram raid” on research.
“The effect will be felt immediately by the nation’s researchers and their research projects in positions lost and projects slowed, limited or not started,” Margaret Gardener, president and vice chancellor of Monash University, writes in The Conversation. The cuts will mean less money to pay research faculty and staff, fewer PhD students funded, and long-term harm to Australia’s status as a leader in research, she writes. The slimmer budget will make it more difficult to entice leading scientists to come to Australia, she adds.
“The Budget is forecast to return to surplus and yet the Government has decided to cut funds to research which drives economic growth. This makes no sense,” says Catriona Jackson, chief executive of Universities Australia, in the statement.
The Australian government will provide $1.92 billion AUD for research block grants in 2019.
Minister for Education Dan Tehan justified the cost-cutting measures in a statement on December 17. “The decision to pause indexation of research block grant programs for 12 months, along with adjusting growth for RSP [research support program], will allow the Government to prioritise education spending, including on regional higher education.”