Deans warn of minister’s “disregard”

There is way more to it than vetoed Discovery Grants

Bad news for HASS researchers: The Australasian Council of Deans of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities responded Friday to Acting Education Minister Stuart Robert refusing to fund six ARC approved humanities and social science projects.

“DASSH believes it signals the continued disregard for important areas of Australia’s intellectual culture and life.”

But while the veto is widely condemned by researchers and their associations there is way more bad news for HASS in the government’s announced research direction.

Excluded and ignored : As DASSH deplored last month, in a letter of “expectations” Mr Robert instructed the Australian Research Council that 70 per cent of Linkage Programme funding must go to projects that “fall under” the six National Manufacturing Priorities.

Plus, he told the ARC to establish a new advisory committee, “with substantial industry, research end-user and governance representation.”

And he wants the council to “ enhance and expand the role of the industry and other end-user experts in assessing the National Interest Test of high-quality projects,”

Mr Robert also asks the ARC for advice on expanding the selection pool for its College of Experts, to include people from “industry and other end-user groups.”

Plus, he calls for more metrics in the 2024 Engagement and Impact research assessment on patents, IP and commercial agreements, with a reduced emphasis on case studies.

Less research than industry policy: All of which combine to make research funding part of industry policy – which former education minister Dan Tehan, who plotted this policy course, made clear when he told vice chancellors he wanted “greater linkages between universities and industry research and employment.”

“We can get the right outcomes, we can reshape the higher education architecture, we can make sure the sector continues to grow and we can make sure that especially when it comes to business, commercialisation and around the research piece, that we can deliver in the HE sector in the next decade,” Mr Tehan said CMM September 2 2019.

This is very bad for HASS. It suggests the humanities and social sciences “can make important contributions”  but is now in a position where it makes its case on the government’s chosen ground.

While pointing to the importance of “curiosity-driven ‘blue-sky’ inquiry” which “deepens the culture and understanding of our society,” DASH acknowledges, “some industry collaboration is crucial when considering the allocation of research funding – this turns to student employment outcomes and the technological and economic advancement of Australia.”

It’s a problem lobbies representing pure science are quick to see. The Australian Council of Deans of Science protests Mr Robert’s veto of HASS projects in the context of pure research, “ which is to support the growth of knowledge without prejudice to its future applications, many of which are inconceivable at the time of discovery.”

The disaster of “disregard”: What should be especially alarming for all researchers whose work has no immediate commercial application is that DASSH is right to refer to Mr Robert’s “disregard.” The government knows what it wants from research and appears not to care what researchers think, at least researchers working in fields with no commercial outcome.