May 6, 2020

Don’t let research be another victim of COVID

The IRU’s Executive Director Conor King has published a comment article about the risks to Australian research funding due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In it, Mr King points out that, even though universities are at the forefront of efforts to recover from COVID-19, future research could be cut as state governments and businesses come under pressure to pull back their research and development investment.

The IRU says the Federal Government must work with the higher education sector to implement a research investment package across 2020 and 2021 to ensure researchers can continue doing their important work.

“University researchers are playing a major role in Australia‚Äôs COVID-19 recovery,” Mr King says in the article.

“The immediate job of these experts is to help get us through the pandemic. But with universities facing a major reduction in revenue in 2020, the longer-term future of Australian research appears less certain.

“The Australian Government has guaranteed that its teaching and research grants will continue to flow to universities in 2020, but other sources of research funding are falling away.

“Firstly, there is the downturn in student fees. Students help fund research through their courses, since research underpins the education they receive, but the current border closure (which the IRU supports) has led to the collapse of the international student market in Australia. Fewer students means less money invested in research.

“Secondly, universities have also suffered a big hit to their commercial revenue, with campus car parks virtually empty, retail outlets closed and student accommodation eerily vacant.

“Thirdly, there is uncertainty about the future of third-party research funding. State Governments and businesses invest over $2.5 billion a year in research on issues important to them, far more than the Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council. They will be under great pressure to pull back new investments as a result of the COVID-19 downturn.

“If research funding falls, the consequences will be felt well beyond individual institutions.”