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University funding: a 21st century mirage?

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University funding: a 21st century mirage?

There is increasing concern within scientific circles that hopes of much-needed investment in the university sector is receding in the face of domestic political pressures.

The President of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies (FASTS), Professor Sue Serjeantson, said that sudden economic downturn and new spending measures by Government have added to anxiety in the sector.

"The science community appreciates the measures in the Innovation Statement announced by the Prime Minister of January 29," said Professor Serjeantson. "We described it as a useful first step, and it does set Australia on a path.

"But we need other steps to be taken, and the first is restoring core funding to the university sector. The situation has been deteriorating over several years and needs a long-term commitment.

"We have been pinning our hopes on new announcements in the Budget in May. Now it seems that Australia's future as a modern economy is being placed in jeopardy by political pressures.

"As the projected Budget surplus recedes, where does that leave the universities and Australia's long-term future?"

She said the health of the university sector, in its dual roles as a research and training body, was under increasing strain.

"The Government has placed huge pressure on the sector without providing any real solutions. The sector is subject to increasing expectations without being provided with the resources to meet these expectations.

"It would be useful, for instance, to have broad national agreement on what Australia expects of its university sector, and base the level of funding on this role. How many universities do we need, and how should we share scarce resources between them?"

She said that this sort of discussion is best led by Government.

Professor Serjeantson said she had written to the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Beazley, asking him to release details of his plans for science, research and the universities.

"This would widen the discussion. We need a mature and intelligent debate about how science and research are going to fit into our national priorities," she said.

For interview: Professor Sue Serjeantson Ph (02) 6125 4151, 0418 622 743 For information: Toss Gascoigne Ph: (02) 6257 2891; 0408 704 442