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The Morrison government will inject $1bn into university research to forestall damage to the sector caused by the drop-off in international students.
The government will also fund an additional 50,000 online short courses to improve the skills of workers and unemployed Australians in teaching, health, science, information technology and agriculture, spending $251.8m between now and June 2022.
In addition to the $1bn for research projects, the government will also spend $5.8m before June on a “scoping study of potential options to accelerate the translation and commercialisation” of non-medical research, with a priority on “new partnerships between universities and industry and opportunities for investments”.
This is part of an effort to change the way the cost-intensive university research has traditionally been funded in Australia, away from a reliance on the higher fees paid by international students and towards commercial partnerships.
Explaining the investment in research in his budget speech, treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the $1bn was “backing our best and brightest minds whose ideas will help drive our recovery”.
Despite pre-budget reports that the support for university research would be taken from funds set aside for 2024-25, budget papers indicate the $1bn is new funding.
“This investment will help avoid lasting damage to the research sector and ensure research remains an important platform for economic recovery,” the budget papers state.
The education minister, Dan Tehan, has been in consultation with a working group of vice-chancellors, as the sector prepares to lose about $5bn as a result of plummeting international student enrolments.
The number of international students starting new courses in the July 2020 mid-year intake fell by 45% compared with the previous year, while the Group of Eight universities has warned that 4,000 researchers’ contracts are due to expire at the end of the year.
As part of the budget’s agenda to minimise unemployment, the government will also expand online short courses, furthering the initiative introduced earlier in the pandemic as an attempt to give out of work Australians a way to retrain.
The courses are offered by universities and other private higher educational institutions. Tehan revealed at the end of September that 55 providers across Australia had begun to offer about 400 of the “micro credential” courses.
According to budget papers, the short courses “provide faster training pathways and alternative study options for workers looking to retrain or upskill” as well as “additional options for students and the recently unemployed”.
Before the budget, the government announced it would fund an additional 12,000 Commonwealth Supported Places for undergraduates. The budget papers show this measure will cost $298.5m over four years for students commencing in 2021.
Earlier on Tuesday, before the budget was announced, Centre Alliance indicated it would support the government’s proposed changes to university funding, which will make degrees including law and humanities more expensive, while reducing the cost of other courses, including sciences.
The support of senator Stirling Griff means the legislation – which reduced the government contribution of university courses from 58% to 52% – will pass the Senate.
Source: The Guardian
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