Research funds depend on winning over public

Universities “do the heavy research lifting” but more funding depends on the case for research being made to the community, according to Accord chair Mary O’Kane.

In an interview for a Group of Eight podcast, Professor O’Kane pointed to her two recent reviews, on floods and fires in NSW, saying, “the essence of recommendations came out of university research on what the climate future is going to like.” 

“That needs to be appreciated, and once people realise they can’t do without it, I think funding will be easier to get,” she said.

In the immediate term, she offered nothing to indicate research support will be a priority.

“While there are going to be more academic jobs, the growth in the sector that is needed is for skills.”

This will only add to the disquiet in the research establishment at the Accord’s lack of attention to research and research funding to date. Lobby Science and Technology Australia called the Interim Report an “epic fail.”

Since then, peak groups have stayed silent or proposed little of consequence to lift research’s profile in the Accord’s final report. The Australian Academy of Science called for “for an independent review of the entire science and research system,” and the Australian Institute of Physics called it a “missed opportunity … “only with stronger investment in research can science address the challenges of the future.”

However, with final submissions to the Accord due September 1, Professor O’Kane suggested a way the science community can make a case for more support.

“It is about government forking out more cash, but governments have to get elected … a major new policy program will require electoral support and so it is about making sure people know about it.

“Once people realise they cannot do without (research) I think funding is going to be easier to get.”

Professor O’Kane added that industry also needed to call for stronger research and also contribute more funding.

It is a message similar to that which led to the previous government’s applied research program, which Labor has continued.

In 2019, then education minister Dan Tehan told vice-chancellors, “we have the best researchers in the world … yet when it comes to how the general population understands that, we have a significant amount of work to do,” (Campus Morning Mail, September 2 2019).

Professor O’Kane also had no comfort for those who hope for a bigger share of whatever sized pie there is. When asked if all universities should conduct research she replied, “probably not, but it should not be a forced arrangement.”



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