Innovation outlays: where $9bn goes

Plus Uni Sydney staff and students say Michael Spence should speak as instructed

Gut reaction

“CQUniversity values – Engagement, Can-Do, Openness, Leadership, Inclusive – ECOLI – Infecting the world with our values” – CQU VC Scott Bowman tweets. Can’t get clearer than that.

SRI (no, not SIRI) shows all

Thanks to research expert Bradley Smith from James Cook University for pointing to the government’s comprehensive list of budget Science Research and Innovation outlays. There are no apparent devils to exhumed from the detail but it’s fascinating to see in a single source where the $9 bn in 2014-15 spending goes. For example, while higher education accounts for 31.2 per cent of outlays funding for industry research and development is close at 29.8 per cent. And when Prime Minister Abbott promised from opposition to be a friend to research he meant medicine. While the Australian Research Council is $11m down this financial year (to $875m) the National Health and Medical Research Council is up $78m. With $930m the university and institute medical research sector receives a swag more public research funds than every other discipline combined! Of course this is nowhere near enough, according to the institutes and faculties of the Medical Research Future Fund Action Group, which warns “our medical research spending lags many other western nations.Australia will fall behind if this funding gap is not addressed.”

Substantial programs also fly under the radar – while the considerable cuts Defence Science and Technology, CSIRO and the CRC program copped in the budget are well known the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation picked up $40m taking it to $250 for this year. Despite the proposed fee for people in the Researching Training Scheme it gets marginally more money, an extra $5 taking it to $676m. And then there are the $2.4 bn for business R&D tax measures.

While Mr Smith is careful not to overstate its significance, he points out SRI was 0.66 per cent of GDP four years ago and is 0.59 per cent in 2014-15. But he is interested in the decline under this government and the last in agency outlays – down 3 per cent to 20 per cent and multi-sector spending, down 2 per cent to 19 per cent.

Big news weeks

After all the excitement last week of Skills and Training Week and National Literacy and Numeracy Week we swing straight into National Adult Learners Week, which is supported by the Department of Industry, to what purpose is not clear. It is also Research Week at the University of Tasmania, which “celebrates the institution’s global research standing by fostering creativity and collaboration.” U Tas does have something to celebrate, continuing its rise in last month’s ARWU research-driven rankings. The university is up nearly 100 places since 2007.

The Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre advises this is also Body Image and Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I have a suspicion there are many more weeks to come.

Building relationships

Overheard from architects: there are two NSW universities with $1bn each in the construction kitty so there is serious schmoozing to be done at this week’s tertiary education managers conference in Cairns.

Prescribed optimism

La Trobe and Charles Sturt universities are both pleased that the Federal Council of the National Party has reaffirmed support for their proposed Murray Darling Medical School, intended to educate doctors in and for rural and regional southeast Australia. La Trobe VC John Dewar hopes the MDMS will start taking students in 2017. There’s no harm in hoping, but a prominent Nat signalled caution in the lead-up to the weekend meeting. A very prominent Nat in fact, Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash. Last week Senator Nash issued a statement outlining the government’s many sterling strategies to improve country health services, including $40m for additional training capacity, including in rural and regional areas. However there wasn’t a word about the MDMS.

Tribunes of the people

Last Monday’s meeting to discuss deregulation at the University of Sydney was something of a shambles with chair Adam Spencer and Vice Chancellor Michael Spence struggling at times to be heard. But what distinguished it from your average shouting match is that almost everybody yelling agreed with each other – that deregulation is a very bad thing indeed. And now 17 speakers are arguing that as the meeting opposed deregulation the VC should stop advocating it. “Its unseemly and anti-democratic for the spokesperson of the university to use his position to advocate against the clear view of the majority of the university community,” they write in student paper Honi Soit. Spokesperson? Won’t that go done well in the VC’s office.

Easy outrage

Another Question Time in the Reps another opportunity lost to Labor to take the fight up to Christopher Pyne. Mr Pyne took a dorothy dixer, which he used to argue students were the biggest winners from deregulation, due to more places, scholarships and more money for teaching and research – and all they had to pay in return was a fair share of the costs of education. This so upset Labor members that no less than four of them were thrown out for interjecting. “If students are the winners from Pyne’s higher ed changes why didn’t he tell them about them before the last election?”, one of the expelled members, Tim Watts (Gellibrand) asked via Twitter. Fair question, one which Mr Watt’s could have asked in the chamber. Labor’s strategy in the Reps is to snipe at Mr Pyne, without actually debating deregulation.

Shock of the not so new

The Australian Catholic University finally has a head for its Learning Science Institute, a pillar of DVC Wayne McKenna’s research expansion strategy. It took a while to find the right person, the job was first advertised in December, but Claire Wyatt Smith is now appointed. She may be a long time arriving in the job but at least the new boss will bring no surprises to staff.Professor Wyatt Smith moves from her present ACU appointment, as executive dean of education and arts. She will switch when a new dean is found.

Know something the world needs to know? Anonymity guaranteed but lots of questions asked, stephen4@hotkey.net.au