November 23, 2015

Who funds the researcher?

The Grattan Institute report The cash nexus: how teaching funds research in Australian universities has opened up the debate about how universities’ responsibility to lead research and higher education delivery in Australia is achieved within each institution.  The issue is important, with expectations high for university delivery on both fronts.
The report’s assessment of the relationship of the four relevant factors – expenditure on teaching, expenditure on research, revenue for teaching and revenue for research – glides too easily across the data, assuming a single purpose for universities’ largest single revenue source, the Commonwealth Grant Scheme.
Applying the report’s logic, the conclusion I reach is that Government does not fund academics’ salary as they research.  This seems strange.
Another interesting implication is that the extent of the subversion of teaching funds should be greater in universities with more substantial research output per student.  That is, the services for students should be that much better in universities with relatively low levels of research activity, since there is less research to prop up.  Is this the experience of students in such universities?
To take the four factors in turn, before looking at the substantive issues – how should Government fund research, and should students contribute to research costs.