Avoiding redundancies “a choice not available to all Australian universities,” says incoming Universities Australia chair Margaret Gardner

And it could get worse if senators decide to save students

plus David Lloyd isn’t going anywhere

and Swinburne announces research leaders


Nailed it

Political and economic factors appear to be impacting the Budget,” Charles Sturt U media yesterday morning. Gosh, somebody must have leaked.

Nothing much to report

Just about the biggest announcement for education and training last night was $1.5bn (over four years) for Skilling Australians Fund promising to produce 300 000 apprentices. The proposal is predicated on matching funding from the states. As for universities, just about the only new money was $15m for eight regional study hubs, “to improve access to higher education for students from rural and remote Australia.”  Nor was there any word on research infrastructure, with the government stating that it would develop a plan based on last year’s research infrastructure roadmap. The closest things to wins was that the research agencies, NHMRC, ARC and CSIRO did not go backwards. But one cut many university researchers wanted to see hasn’t happened. The research and development tax incentive rolls on at $2bn a year across the forward estimates.


With nothing we did not know for higher education funding in the budget the lobbies  did not have much, or anything, to say last night. Universities Australia probably spoke for all when it resignedly reported, “the task of creating new jobs, security and opportunities for the next generations of Australians will only be made harder by $2.8 billion of cuts to higher education in tonight’s Budget … the Government’s central theme for this Budget is to grow Australian jobs and expand opportunity – yet cuts to universities and students run directly counter to that vision.” 

And you can always rely on the NTEU. “Tonight’s federal budget confirmed that the Turnbull government intends to swindle students by charging them more while cutting teaching funding to universities, … the cuts to public investment in our universities will mean more insecure jobs, and even more pressure on overworked staff donating their own time to keep the system afloat, National Tertiary Education Union president Jeannie Rea said.

Significantly, Nick Xenophon, who will have a crucial role in deciding what passes the Senate, had nothing to say about university funding on ABC TV last night.

The big statement came from Monash VC Margaret Gardner, (below) who did not need to wait for the Treasurer’s speech to warn of jobs lost.

It won’t be Lloyd

The rumour mill on North Terrace is working harder than a Jay Weatherill windfarm on who will be University of Adelaide VC. But one plausible pick, David Lloyd from the University of South Australia rules himself out, saying he is happy where he is.

 Medical Research Future (imperfect) Fund

Among all the calls yesterday for red bikes and ponies in the budget Simon Foote was more interested in method than money. The director of ANU’s John Curtin School of Medical Research called on government to leave research decisions to scientists. “Research funding into health and medical sciences should be based on peer-review,” he said, pointing to the importance of blue-sky science. “The time scales for innovative research to come to the clinic is measured in decades. We cannot turn our backs on innovative, basic research as this is the powerhouse of applied programs into the future.”

But surely this is how the National Health and Medical Research Council works? Um, it isn’t the NHMRC which Professor Foote has in mind. “The politicisation of health research spending is a waste of funding and is likely to result in less than perfect outcomes. This is especially pertinent for the Medical Research Future Fund,” he says. The first MRFF spending was announced in last night’s budget, the biggest component of the $69.5m (over four years!) was $33m “to build research excellence and leadership – including supporting the next generation of clinical researchers, ensuring Australia is a preferred destination for clinical trials research, and accelerating efforts in treatment and cure.”

Swinburne research leaders in place

Swinburne University’s new research strategy is in place with the formal announcement of leaders for its new institutes.

Last June CMM (June 6 2016) wondered whether DVC R&D Alexsandar Subic had any more money to spend on staffing his research strategy. It turns out he did, with the foundation directors of the five research centres that are the foundation of his plan announced yesterday. Gavin Lambert is the head of the Iverson Health Innovation Institute. He joins from Baker IDI. Bronwyn Fox, already at Swinburne from Deakin, leads the Manufacturing Futures Institute. Timos Sellis, ex RMIT but also already on-staff, is director of the Data Science Institute. Jane Farmer has come from La Trobe to run the Social Innovation Institute. Mark Burry moves from the University of Melbourne to head the Smart Cities Institute.

You wouldn’t read about it

“The key to weight management doesn’t lie in the pages of Cleo – it lies in our brains,” UTSEngage tweeting a story yesterday. They are definitely right that Cleo is no help – the magazine closed last year.

Others honoured 

A learned reader points out that Edward Holmes (University of Sydney) is not the only local newly elected a foreign member of the Royal Society. The others are ANU plant scientist  Susanne von Caemmerer and Gerard Milburn, founding director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems.

Slow fade to red

So, has Simon Birmingham got away with a reduction in university base funding and a hike in what students pay? Last night it looked like it, with higher education not getting much of a mention in budget reaction deploreathons.

But his efficiency dividends are still to survive the Senate, which means there is a real risk universities may lose more. What, observers ask, will Minister Birmingham do if cross bench senators kick up over the increase in student course costs and the lower repayment threshold for HELP repayments, but are not much fussed about cutt university funding? Throw vice chancellors to any wolves that happen to be passing by increasing the institutional cuts is one reply. The minister certainly set the sector up for a second swipe when he announced the efficiency dividend, by producing a table of universities surpluses as if they were profits rather than resources that universities use to fund teaching, research and community service.

But how much more money could go depend on what reductions in the proposed higher HELP payments crossbench senators demand and whether the Finance Minister is in a mood to lose savings already booked, which is less than unlikely.

With student debt off budget it is not easy to estimate. But if senators knocked back all the student savings and Senator Birmingham had to make up the money from the universities the result would not be good. In fact, it could be bad, $1.7bn or 6 per cent of Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding worth of bad across the forward estimates, according to experts’ estimates. This compares with the $1bn (2.8 per cent) the government says universities will now lose. And it is before the 7.5 per cent of each university’s CGS money that Senator Birmingham wants universities to compete for on yet to be determined in detail student focused performance criteria. Overall the government could still be about to deliver a slow fade to red for university P&Ls.

UniSA supports scholars

The University of South Australia is extending opportunities for its researchers with VC David Lloyd announcing two programmes.

Mining company Santos is gifting $2m to fund five-year research fellowships for two women at UniSA’s Future Industries Institute, a partnership with University College London. Three UniSA researchers with expertise in Indigenous knowledges, the identity and contribution of First Peoples in Australia and related subjects will also work at the King’s College London Menzies Centre for Australian Studies.

Gardner warns on budget cost

In-coming chair of Universities Australia and Monash VC Margaret Gardner warns budget cuts will lead redundancies at some institutions. Monash “will attempt to avoid redundancies – a choice not available to all Australian universities,” Professor Gardner told her staff last night. In a message Monash veterans described as unprecedented she warned Monash faced “a worst” case cut of $101m in federal funding over the next two years.

“In making the case for the cuts, the minister said universities had the capacity to absorb them. This ‘absorption’ means less funding available for Monash’s day-to-day operations to conduct education and research. … the government claim that cuts are fair because they are not as severe as those proposed in 2014 is a distraction.”

Making the case that the government also wanted students to pay more for less,  Professor Gardner warned, “the government is also ensuring, by the cuts to be imposed on CGS, that there is less funding to support the quality of the education for which students are paying. … Funding per student will not grow to compensate for inflation, it will be less per head in the next three years than it was in the last three.”