The Australian 14 September 2012
A letter to the Prime Minister signed by the vice-chancellors of the Group of Eight universities warns that any freeze to research grants as part of the budget savings drive could cost up to 1700 jobs, increase sovereign risk fears among international investors and spark a brain drain of leading researchers going overseas.
It expresses concern that the government “may be considering a freeze on government grants from research funding bodies such as the Australian Research Council and National Health and Medical Research Council”.
Such a move would put at risk millions of dollars that would otherwise support research in universities, and that preventing the research bodies funding any new projects next year would slash about $230 million from universities and research institutes “or more than $1.3 billion if the decision were to cancel rather than just postpone new funding commitments”.
It might lead international companies to take their innovation effort overseas and it runs counter to research funding increases in the US, in spite of difficult economic times, and the ring-fencing from cuts of research funding in Britain.
On the assumption each grant supports a single researcher, a freeze on funding would lead to a loss of 950 positions supported by the ARC, 450 positions supported by the NH&MRC and 300 positions supported by the Co-operative Research Centre program, which links research to the private sector.
The world does not stop still even if Australia decides to do so and once a research lead is lost, it is difficult to regain. Moreover, world class research builds on international co-operation and robust relationships require trust, confidence and continuity – none of which can exist in a stop-go funding environment. The uncertainty created by a freeze would encourage even those researchers not at immediate risk to look for opportunities in other countries but there would be other, broader consequences.