Last updated May 29, 2018 at 12:10 pm
Scientists’ optimism tempered by ongoing university funding freeze.
The Federal Budget, released on Tuesday evening, was generally greeted with optimism by scientists.
“This is a good budget for science,” said Andrew Holmes, President of the Australian Academy of Science.
“It reflects the long-term and strategic approach that is needed for Australia to benefit from science and innovation at a global scale.”
However, he also said there was still a long way to go with STEM education, training at schools and universities, and climate change.
The widely previewed announcement of kick-start funding for an Australian space agency was there, although at $41 million was slightly short of the $50 million predicted last week.
Some of the other big announcements included:
- $2.4 billion in growing Australia’s research, science and technology capabilities.
- Additional $1.9 billion in Australia’s National Research Infrastructure (over 12 years from 2017-18 ensuring cutting-edge facilities to drive our nation’s innovators.
- $535.9 million towards securing the future of the Great Barrier Reef.
- $260 million for satellite and GPS technology, which will benefit everything from environmental science to aviation, to transport to agriculture.
- $41 million for establishing the first Australian Space Agency, with the money spread out over four years.
Previous Budgets have included schemes such as the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) which encompasses programs such as the Medical Research Future Fund and medical researchers were once again celebrating.
“This is a great Budget for medical research, with around $2 billion now committed through the Medical Research Future Fund for new medical research projects.
“This is exactly where the Australian medical research sector should be heading,” said Prof Tony Cunningham AO, President of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI).
For Kylie Walker, CEO of Science & Technology Australia, the Budget indicates that the Government is listening to recommendations and is actively positioning Australia as a global leader in STEM.
Support for women and girls in STEM
“The new commitment to $1.9 billion in research infrastructure ($1 billion over forward estimates) following the National Research Infrastructure Roadmap is very welcome, and major commitments medical research, the Great Barrier Reef, technology infrastructure and space science further strengthen the positive investment for the future of Australia’s STEM sector,” she said.
“We’re also pleased to see a boost for measures to engage and inspire all Australians with STEM, as well as specific measures to support greater participation by girls and women in STEM.
“However we note the future STEM workforce still requires attention – STEM graduate rates are threatened by continued capping of commonwealth support for undergraduate places at Australian Universities. Australia will need many more people equipped with STEM skills in our workforce to compete internationally.
“This short-term saving will be a loss for future generations.”
Maths misses out
There is also disappointment for mathematics.
“Only 0.4% of entering university students study Mathematical sciences [in Australia], in comparison to the OECD average of 2.5%,” said Prof Nalini Joshi, Payne-Scott Professor of Applied Mathematics and ARC Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellow at The University of Sydney.
“To barely reach that average, we would need to multiply the current cohort of senior high school students who are mathematically prepared for University by a factor of 6. The budget contains no action or stimulus to help meet this challenge.”
After recent review, the Government will also refocus the Research and Development Tax Incentive (R&DTI), including cracking down on R&D tax claims from companies that don’t necessarily meet the R&DTI eligibility criteria.
University funding freeze
Part of the infrastructure allocation includes $393 million for major national collaborative research facilities.
“Investing in these facilities is like laying the rail and road networks of the 19th and 20th centuries – it’s productive infrastructure to deliver tomorrow’s discoveries, industries, start-ups and jobs.
“The good news on research infrastructure is tempered by the ongoing university funding freeze, which will cut $2.1 billion from universities over the next few years,” said Prof Margaret Gardner, Chair of Universities Australia.
Whilst the budget allocation of over half a billion dollars towards the Great Barrier Reef is welcomed, it “is a very small step in confronting a classic “wicked problem”, which is by definition extremely difficult or impossible to solve,” says A/Prof Albert Gabric from Griffith University.
There have been general criticisms about the lack of meaningful or specific funds to tackle issues like climate change.
Expert reactions gathered by the Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC).