The Group of Eight (Go8) has called on an incoming Government to develop a cohesive research funding strategy to ensure universities can deliver world class education, solutions to existing and emerging global challenges, and help build a more sovereign nation.
The Go8 which conducts 70 per cent of Australia’s university research released Essential decisions for national success: supporting Australian research, one of a series of Go8 Election 2022 policy papers which aim to support the development of Government policy to meet the challenges ahead.
Go8 Chief Executive Vicki Thomson said the COVID-19 pandemic had exposed the inadequacies of Australia’s research funding system for our world class universities.
“On conservative estimates, Go8 universities make a 45 per cent loss conducting public research commissioned through Government funding bodies such as the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Medical Research Future Fund and the Australian Research Council. As not-for-profit bodies conducting research in the national interest, we make up this loss by cross-subsidising from non-Government sources of income – mainly international student fees.
“The current settings for government research funding distort rather than support a sustainable research funding model which has resulted in universities as research providers becoming the research funders. The Go8 undertakes $6.5 billion of research annually with only 36 per cent of that funded by the Commonwealth Government and 48 per cent from General University Funds.
“Australia’s capacity for research matters because research underpins the creation of new products, new services, new industries and new high-value jobs for current and future generations; research drives skills development, productivity, economic growth and competitiveness; and research equips us a nation to address our greatest challenges.”
“Our ability to manage challenges such as COVID-19; or to work as an equal in key alliances such as AUKUS, while at the same time addressing economic growth and key social issues, is increasingly at risk unless an incoming Government acts to redress a deterioration in research support.”
Ms Thomson said the solution to address this structural funding shortfall in research was to adopt international best practice in the form of an evidence based Full Economic Cost (FEC) approach.
“An incoming Government should link research funding to the full costs of the required research. This will ensure our sovereign research capacity is not subject to the variabilities of the international student market. Go8 universities will work with an incoming Government to address the problems we have highlighted in this paper in order to future proof the nation’s economy. “
Other recommendations include: increasing support and recognition for basic research; boosting Australian Research Council funding with an independent review of the ARC; reversing declining investment in R&D across all sectors; increased support for HASS; and enabling Australian researchers to access to the world’s largest R&D funding program – the Horizon Europe program.