17 October, 2012Australian universities are becoming increasingly concerned about the impact that the Federal Government's freeze on grant programs is having on the ability of universities to plan and invest in critical research and teaching programs.
With billions of dollars of funding on hold as the Government seeks to find savings for its Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO), universities are not only worried about the immediate outcome but about the lack of long-term funding certainty which undermines future planning.
"This short-term, stop-go approach to funding and public investment decisions is becoming an increasingly alarming feature of the modern budget process and is seriously eroding confidence in the policy-making process," according to Universities Australia Chief Executive, Belinda Robinson.
"Clearly universities are worried about this particular MYEFO process, but there is a deeper issue around the recent and concerning trend towards ever diminishing budget certainty. Unfortunately, forward estimates are becoming progressively meaningless and funding predictability a thing of the past.
"We are now at the point where not only is everything up for grabs once a year through the budget process, but every six months through MYEFO.
"Universities, like the rest of the economy, understand that public budgets are tight. Surely though, it is the responsibility of governments to plan for the longer term and ensure a greater level of budget equilibrium can be achieved.
"Universities operate on long lead times. Research and infrastructure programmes in particular, require long term investment commitments and certainty.
"Without this, the return to the Australian community from the investment that the public makes in our universities is diminished and our capacity to produce the products, services and knowledge needed to underpin Australia's long-term economic and industrial transformation is jeopardised.
"The recent falls in commodity prices show the necessity of diversifying our economy to encourage the knowledge based industries of the future that hold out the greatest prospect of long-term economic and industrial transformation.
"Unfortunately, no matter the outcome from MYEFO, the freeze is already causing damage as universities move to backtrack on recruitment and investment commitments that they can no longer afford.
"By freezing grants, and having the spectre of entire programs being cut, the Government is sending the worrying message that you cannot trust its announcements to deliver what is promised," Ms Robinson concluded.