Australian National University's vice-chancellor has defended the $800,000 fitout of a new office in Perth for Chancellor Julie Bishop, stating it would be unfair to treat a female chancellor differently to men who have previously held the job.
Professor Brian Schmidt said the new office was planned before the COVID-19 pandemic, which took a huge financial toll on the university and led to 467 redundancies.
He said the office set up for former chancellor Gareth Evan in Melbourne was also expensive.
"I don't think it's appropriate, somehow, suddenly to have a female chancellor to treat her different than our previous male chancellors, and we need to give her the opportunity to really commit to the work she does for us at ANU and provide an appropriate set of accommodations," Professor Schmidt said.
"So easy of course to complain, very hard to know what else one would do. I didn't think putting her in a tent in Kings Park in Perth would be the correct alternative."
He said the Western Australian office would not only be Ms Bishop's office but would be used generally as the ANU's Perth office.
The 220-square-metre office will be staffed permanently by the chancellor's staff and will be available for ANU staff to use if travelling for work.
Australia 'underfunding' university research
Australia needs to lift its funding of research and development in universities, Professor Schmidt said.
He said gross expenditure in research and development had fallen in Australia from about 2.2 per cent of GDP to 1.7 per cent while other countries were increasing their investment.
"I know during that same 10 years, China has risen from about 1.7 to 2.2 and is continuing to go up, Israel is at 5 per cent, the US almost 3 per cent.
"I do think we're underinvesting, and we need to think about investing smartly ... One thing I know about universities is if you it turn off, you take decades to rebuild back."
The ANU 2025 strategic plan revealed on Monday includes a pledge to create at least one major societal transformation based on the university's research.
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