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Mini-budget cuts university research by AU$500m

Almost AU$500 million in research funds will be cut from Australia’s universities over four years, according to a mini-budget published this week.

The federal government’s Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook for the 2012-13 financial year maintains the level of grants allocated to the Cooperative Research Centres and the Australian Research Council, and the ARC said on 22 October that it will reopen funding schemes.

But in its hunt for savings, the government plans to slow funding for the Sustainable Research Excellence (SRE), which helps universities pay for indirect research costs, such as electricity and infrastructure.

According to the budget, the government will slow “the rate of funding increases for Sustainable Research Excellence [SRE] by maintaining funding at the 2012 level for the 2013 calendar year, then increasing funding over the three years to a maximum amount of $300 million in 2016.”

This will save AU$79m in 2012 13 and AU$499m over four years, according to the mini-budget. The government added that from 2017 funding will be indexed annually by the Higher Education Indexation Factor.

The savings form part of a plan to make sure “research funding to universities remains sustainable”, the budget says.

Research-intensive universities will be hit hardest.

In a statement released by The Group of Eight university lobby group, its chairman, Fred Hilmer, said the cuts are the result of “short-sighted decisions” and that job losses are likely.

“Given that universities had already included the SRE funding in the budgets, the cuts can be expected to result in research staff being laid off,” said Hilmer.

Universities Australia said “the sector is bitterly disappointed” by the cuts.

Overall, the budget announced university sector cuts amounting to nearly AU$1 billion. This includes closure of the University Facilitation funding scheme, saving $270m over three years from 2014, and cuts to student funding as well as the abolition of funding for university research infrastructure after 2013.