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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 6126

Dr ALY (Cowan) (12:03): We welcome the application of current indexation rates to existing amounts and the increase in funding caps commencing in 2020 and 2021 for the Australian Research Council. The Australian Research Council, ARC, performs a vital role in funding quality research at universities. The role of universities is not just to teach but also to inquire, analyse, probe and inform policy. This is done through research, and the Australian Research Council supports that.

I've often referred to the Australian Research Council grants as winning the nerd lottery for academics, and I've been fortunate, in my academic career prior to entering parliament, to have won three nerd lotteries. It was an ARC grant that allowed me to undertake my PhD, in which I developed a metric of fear of terrorism and a survey of behavioural responses to terrorism in Australia. I also won and worked on three other Australian Research Council grants. In 2013, I was awarded a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award grant, which allowed me to work with victims of terrorism to develop a policy response that incorporated their voices in the development of counterterrorism programs and policies. I also worked on a linkage grant that tracked the Twitter activities of violent jihadist and violent white supremacist groups, and just before entering parliament I was awarded, in 2016, a discovery grant that would have enabled the first international study, with the United Kingdom and Israel, looking at the actual contexts in which online propaganda by violent jihadists influenced young minds here in Australia and around the world.

But we can't have a discussion about the importance of our universities and research programs without also talking about this government's university funding freeze, which has a devastating impact on the ability of our world-class universities to deliver this kind of research that not only informs policy but also informs the way in which we as a society respond to global issues, like terrorism. Universities have been struck by the federal government's funding freeze and that means they'll be forced to go without up to 15 per cent of their base funding—15 per cent is quite a big chunk out of universities' base funding. It impacts on their capability to undertake research around current and important global issues that is informative, not just for Australia but for Australia's place in the world, and indeed for the world.

An estimated 10,000 university places will go unfunded this year because of these budget cuts—this is according to Universities Australia. Data obtained by the ABC reveals that regional universities will be the hardest hit. The impact is greater for Australia's top-ranked institutions, which is raising fears of skills shortages in rural areas. The Regional Universities Network has pointed to several programs that are now under threat because of the funding shortfall. The cuts the network has identified include cuts to Central Queensland University, meaning that it may no longer be able to cover the full cost of hospital placements for its nursing students; no new places in health courses at the Port Macquarie campus of Charles Sturt University; and Southern Cross University will not enrol any students in their new health courses at Coffs Harbour, despite having funding for new facilities at the campus.

Not everyone wants to go to university, not everyone needs to go to university and not everyone should go to university, but all Australians should have the opportunity for a university education if that is what they want for their lives. Personally, it has been my access to and my opportunity to attend university that have enabled me to raise myself and my family out of a cycle of poverty. It was by being able to return to university as a mature aged student, as a single parent raising two children, that enabled me to gain the qualifications I needed to pursue the career I had as an academic, prior to entering parliament. Universities aren't just for those who are leaving school. They also offer a pathway for women returning to work, particularly in the regions and particularly for mature aged learners.

I call on this government to look at the impact that these university cuts will have not just on the ability of universities to teach and offer courses to students, particularly young students and particularly women returning to work, or even mature aged students, but also on the world-class research that Australian universities are conducting in a range of areas: in health and the medical fields, in social issues, and in literature and the arts. We may not immediately recognise the value of some of the research projects that the ARC is funding. In fact, every time a new round of ARC grants is announced, I note that some media outlets like to have a bit of a go at what the ARC is funding. Yes, sometimes it is difficult to fully realise on first sight the impact or the contribution of those research programs. As an academic and someone who had a career in academia for several years before entering parliament, I would urge everyone to have a look at exactly what it is that research does and how it contributes not just to health, medicine, science and technology but also to shaping the kind of Australia that we want—the future of Australia and Australia's place in this global world.

Once again, we welcome the application of the indexation rates to the funding and the increase in funding caps with the passing of this bill and would hope to encourage further funding for research, particularly at our universities in Australia.