22 October, 2012University budgets are set for review as the Federal Government wipes $1 billion off forward estimates for higher education, according to the peak national body representing universities.
"Universities acknowledge the Government has invested substantially in the sector in recent years and are relieved that grants under the National Health and Medical Research Council and Australian Research Council have not been affected," said Universities Australia's Chief Executive, Belinda Robinson.
"We are also pleased that the demand driven system and indexation for student funding has been preserved.
"However, with respect to the $500 million to be removed from the Sustainable Research Excellence program, the sector is bitterly disappointed that the gains recently made in funding the indirect costs of research are being eroded.
"Investing in research is a long-term endeavour and any reductions will have long term consequences.
"While research grants cover the direct costs of research, they do not meet the many other administration and infrastructure costs that accompany research.
"These costs are very substantial and universities have fought for years to have them recognised.
"Universities thought the battle had finally been won when the Government announced as part of the 2009-10 Budget that it would provide funding to meet the indirect costs of research.
"The announcement was premised on the basis of a gradual increase in the funding from 20 cents per research grant dollar in 2008, to 30 cents in 2012 and 50 cents in 2014.
"What this announcement means is that the contribution will remain at or below 30 cents for the indefinite future," said Ms Robinson.
"With approximately 70 per cent of this funding going to the Group of Eight universities, these research-intensive institutions will be hit particularly hard and it will have a substantial impact on those universities that have made investment commitments on the basis of the funding announced in the 2012-13 Budget.
"This also comes on top of a further reduction of $60 million over the next 18 months that will be required to keep some national research infrastructure projects operating at the time when National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy is abolished.
"The irony is that we are in this budget pickle at least partly as a result of Australia's economy being over reliant on the resources sector. By reducing research funding we are cutting the very area that provides us with the greatest hope of underpinning long-term industrial diversification and economic transformation.
"The removal of $270 million in facilitation performance funding set to commence in 2014 has also disappointed the sector.
"The way this funding was to be provided means that its removal is a real reduction in the per student funding for universities at a time when repeated reports have found that universities are under-funded and require at least a 10 per cent increase per student just to tread water," Ms Robinson concluded.
Savings announced to be made from higher education:
- Changes to the payment formula for Sustainable Research Excellence ($498.8 m)
- Facilitation performance funding from 2014 will be deferred ($270.1m)
- Changes to support for masters degrees ($167.0m)
- Student start-up scholarships to be frozen rather than indexed to 2017 ($82.3m)
- Not proceeding with funding for university research infrastructure (NCRIS) past 2013.