Australian research funding: a balancing act

From Nature Outlook, 1 September 2016:

If there is one buzzword dominating the political airwaves in Australia at the moment, it’s ‘innovation’.

Since the launch of the government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda in December 2015, the idea that Australia needs innovation to drive the economy has been hammered into the public consciousness with all the subtlety of a piledriver. The message was further reinforced in the run-up to the general election in July, which saw the ruling coalition barely retain power.

This fervour for translating science into economic benefit comes amid a renewed focus on the disparity between Australia’s proud track record in world-class research, and its less impressive background in taking that research through to the end-user.

But it also comes after a sequence of damaging funding cuts to basic and fundamental science. In 2014, the government cut the budgets of several major scientific research institutions. Hit hardest were the Australian Research Council, one of the country’s main science funders; the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), its federal research agency; and the Cooperative Research Centres programme, which links academic researchers with industry and government. CSIRO, which has lost around 1,200 positions since 2013 because of government-imposed spending cuts and restructuring, is in the throes of yet another round of job losses, many coming from its world-leading climate-research groups. Read more.

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