Minister slams unis' 'elitist' view
Returning fire: Higher Education Minister Chris Evans. Photo: Penny Bradfield
TERTIARY Education Minister Chris Evans has hit back at Australia's top research universities, saying their criticism of $499 million in research funding cuts was baseless and reflected ''an elitist view of the world''.
On Monday, the government announced it would ''save'' $499 million in university research funding by freezing funding for Sustainable Research Excellence grants at current levels for the next four years. SRE grants support the indirect costs of research, such as administrative, equipment and staffing costs not covered by research grants.
The government will find a further $500 million in higher education savings by cutting or freezing other programs.
The Group of Eight, which represents Australia's elite research universities, reacted savagely to the news, saying the ''ill-conceived'' decision would lead to about 1450 jobs being lost across the country.
And chairman Fred Hilmer said the funding freeze would ''adversely impact'' Australia's economic performance.
''These short-sighted decisions will have adverse long-term consequences for Australia's performance internationally in research, and will also adversely impact on Australia's economic capacity and make our universities less attractive to international students and researchers.''
The University of Melbourne's deputy-vice chancellor of research, Jim McCluskey, said the university would lose between $90 million and $100 million in funding over four years, and would have to abandon plans to hire 200 people.
The University of Melbourne, and the University of New South Wales - at which Professor Hilmer is vice-chancellor - are members of the Group of Eight.
But Senator Evans told The Age he was disappointed by the Group of Eight's reaction to the funding freeze.
''Saying that a rephasing of the growth of SREs is a blow to research is just wrong,'' he said.
He saved particular criticism for Professor Hilmer, who said on Monday that the funding freeze, in combination with university places being uncapped, would denigrate quality teaching and research.
Senator Evans said this was baseless and reflected an ''elitist view of the world''.
He maintained that the government would not resile from its commitment to make higher education available to all students, regardless of their background.
''I just think it's not right to somehow suggest there'll be job losses. There is no reason why a business like a university should be in a position where there are any impacts from this.''
Senator Evans said the Group of Eight universities had enjoyed a 53 per cent boost in funding under Labor, while the University of NSW had been boosted by more than 70 per cent.
''They are getting enormous increased streams of funding across the board and one small part of this funding stream, the SREs, has had its growth rephased.''
But Group of Eight director of research Ian McMahon said yesterday the announcement would affect universities' ability to plan for research projects.
''This money has been promised for some time and has very much been part of university planning,'' Dr McMahon said.