The Guardian February 7, 2001


Federal "innovation strategy"
Business benefits, but students, uni employees and research bodies lose

by Peter Mac

Prime Minister John Howard last week revealed part of his real agenda for 
higher education and research in Australia. Speaking in support of his 
Government's new $2.9 billion research and higher education strategy 
"Backing Australia's Ability", he acknowledged grudgingly that salary 
levels had an impact on the "brain drain" of Australia's talent, but then 
announced proudly that the Government had "offered the universities more 
money if they restructure their industrial relations arrangements". Howard 
implied that this would reduce the brain drain.

Under the scheme, however, universities would only receive extra funding if 
they forced their employees onto individual work contracts, which in turn 
would lead to overall reductions in employees' salaries and entitlements 
and would make employment in Australian universities even less attractive.

The strategy is dominated by the Government's requirements for deregulation 
of wage and salary levels, and for the commercialisation of university 
operations.

The Chief Scientist advising the government committee which was set up to 
implement the higher education package, Dr Robin Batterham, 
enthusiastically supported the Government's proposals, declaring that it 
was "not just about making more Australian research grants, but also about 
links to research training, undergraduate teaching and commercialisation."

He noted that the commercialisation of government-funded research needed 
even greater attention.

The National Union of Students rightly criticised the scheme, saying it 
would not improve the quality of student education and that it failed to 
address the problem of universities' operating grants and day-to day 
operations.

The strategy for the first time extends the HECS scheme to postgraduates, 
but does not modify the fees themselves.

The Australian Academy of Humanities also stated that implementation of the 
program, which ties the provision of university grants to extra places in 
science, mathematics and computer studies, would lead to a fundamental 
shift in university life at the expense of the humanities.

Australia's major government research bodies are not likely to benefit from 
the scheme.

Organisations such as the CSIRO and the Australian Institute of Marine 
Science are effectively barred from receiving part of the research grants, 
because of the requirement that they must sacrifice their existing research 
grants in order to qualify for the new innovation strategy ones.

In stipulating this requirement, Dr Batterham declared that: "More 
competition rather than less for extra funding must be in innovation's best 
interests."

The CSIRO's Chief Executive, Geoff Garrett, stated, however, that "... we 
will be unlikely to ... sacrifice research money (in order) to be able to 
compete for a relatively small increment back."

Back to index page