Higher education (HE) is an essential part of Australian society, as demonstrated by its continued contribution during the current pandemic. While HE’s role may be most significant in civic terms, economic arguments are also persuasive. In 2018, educational related services were Australia’s fourth biggest export – around $35 billion dollars annually. Given this significant contribution to our social and economic well-being, research into university teaching and learning should be a priority.

Research funding for HE feels more like an oversight. As government budgets and hence research funds tighten due to COVID-19, it will be imperative not to further overlook such an important sector. The Office for Learning and Teaching, a significant change-agent in improving educational practice, is sorely missed since 2016. Some fortunate (and exceptional) researchers have secured Discovery grants from the Australian Research Council. I estimate there have been six Discovery projects in the last five years with a primary HE focus, funded around $2m. In addition, the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education supported 62 projects from 2014-2020, with around $2.5m. However, in 2020 alone the total pool for Discovery funding was $285 million dollars. And in 2019, $35 million was provided for a single Centre of Excellence providing “research to transform Australia’s mining industry”. In light of HE’s importance both as a social good and an export industry, I think funding for our sector is insufficient.

An industry that contributes so much to the social fabric of our country deserves more. The fourth industrial revolution is changing how we live and work, accelerated by COVID-19. As a country we need conceptual and empirical research to ensure our increasingly diverse graduates have the necessary capabilities to advance Australia’s civic (and economic) well-being.

Professor Margaret Bearman,

Centre for Research in Assessment and Digital Learning (CRADLE), Deakin University [email protected]


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