Posted 13/05/2015 by: Professor David Lloyd

While yesterday's blog post touched on some hypothetical self-defeating strategies we might employ to simply rise higher in the rankings - more money/ fewer students (not on our watch) - today's is reserved for more immediate matters. Specifically, last night's budget.

In summary, higher education is to be affected in the following ways -

The measures introduced in last year's budget to reduce government funding for higher education (the proposed 20% reduction to government CGS) remain in play. Measures introduced in 2013 - the efficiency dividend - remain in play. Neither of these measures have yet been legislated. The latter continues to be enacted in this fiscal year 'in anticipation' of its legislation, with the prospect of a refund of monies held back under similar anticipation in 2014. The former will play out with the proposed third reading of the HERRA bill later this year. Time will tell.

In new matters, the Office of Teaching and Learning is to close, to be replaced by a sector- rather than government- led activity for the future. The research infrastructure program NCRIS, whose future hung in the balance until quite recently, is to be funded for the next two years at $150m per annum. The flip side to that apparent good news is that the funding to support NCRIS is to being taken (in the main part) from the SRE (sustainable research excellence) block grant. That part of the block grant is of course intended to support the indirect costs of research, so that's something of a double whammy for the sustainability of research activity in the sector.

The remainder of measures are a mixed bag:

  • overseas graduates will be required to repay their HECS/HELP debts after six months' offshore;
  • $5m of HEPP monies will be redirected to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies;
  • the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Education Committee will be disbanded, with a transfer of responsibilities for higher education participation to the Indigenous Advisory Council;
  • Infrastructure funding is being made available to the synchrotron and to ANSTO, while the multi-billion aspiring Medical Research Fund will see its coffers charged with $10m in the coming year.
  • The ARC Future Fellows scheme, a casualty of round two of HERRA, will see something of a reprieve in an as yet undefined 'half round' of funding to be fleshed out.

While we have a diverse set of interventions and funding movement in this budget in the round, however, my assessment is largely as it was 12 months ago. In advancing the magnitude of proposed funding reduction, the government is choosing to significantly shift the burden of financing education from society to the individual. The means by which this will be enacted remain wholly unclear. Certainty on sustainable future university funding remains frustratingly elusive.

In other other news, I really ought to have mentioned some of the other things that have gone on these past few weeks, aside from budgets and rankings. A whistle-stop visit to Japan highlighted the myriad opportunities available to us through the Japanese government's 'super global universities' initiative. Our participation with our Japanese partners will hopefully see increased staff and student exchange in both directions.

From Japan it was then on to London, where, ahead of a very successful Alumni event at The Royal Institution, we (as foreshadowed in my posting of June last year, for your keen-eyed blog-watchers) found the time to formalise our strategic relationship with UCL. Now partnering with UniSA on the creation of the Future Industries Institute in Mawson Lakes, the UCL partnership, (which we have colloquially dubbed 'the Wark partnership' in recognition of origins and shared histories), will see us expand our joint activities in undergraduate teaching and in research. It sees Prof Magnus Nyden seconded as head of department of UCL Australia and the incoming new Director of the Future Industries Institute (the international search began last week for this role and for the strand leaders of the Institute) positioned to take an honorary professorship in UCL. And there will be other developments in the research arena to announce in due course, including the names of the named chairs the new strand leaders will occupy on appointment. All in due course.

In other other news the design team for the new Health Innovation Building presented the fruits of their labour to the wider stakeholder group on Monday morning. It's a spectacular building which will provide outstanding accommodation for the Centre for Cancer Biology, for our student-centred Allied Health Clinics and for SciCEd (pronounced 'psyched'!) our public science outreach facility. Construction will begin in a few weeks' time, with an early 2018 completion date projected.

Budget aside, our good work continues apace. Let's keep it up.

Professor David Lloyd

Through The Big Picture, I hope that our whole community gains a greater and current appreciation of what is going on, how it fits together and how our activities connect and reinforce each other at a whole of enterprise level.


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