As the Australian economy grows and the budget deficit shrinks, Science & Technology Australia is urging the government to invest more in Australia’s future prosperity through science and technology.
Investments in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) provide high returns, and funding work in these sectors would achieve better economic outcomes and aid in a return to a budget surplus.
In a show of strong support for science and technology, the Government will provide a funding contribution of $69.2 million in 2017-18 and $0.8 million in 2018-19 to update the National Computational Infrastructure supercomputer to bring it back to world-class standards. We are proud to see such strong support for National Computational Infrastructure, which is a member of STA, as this measure will ensure that Australia remains competitive in data intensive research fields and continues to play a leading role in globally significant research.
However in a move that may damage the sectors’ contribution, universities will experience a freeze on total Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding places from 1 January 2018, which will see funding set at 2017 levels. This will equate to a decrease in funding in real-terms (taking inflation in to account), and any additional growth in university enrolments would need to be financed using alternative funds.
There is a real threat that funding for research will be used to plug this gap, which would be a bad outcome for Australian science and technology, and the economy more broadly. There is also the threat that these cuts will hit students from lower socio-economic backgrounds the hardest, and the diversity of the STEM sector will suffer as a result.
Other changes for the STEM sector were relatively small, with few cuts or additions:
- The Government will provide $23.0 million over four years from 2017-18 to fund administrative costs associated with investments being made by the Government in Australian health and medical research utilising proceeds from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).
- The Government will provide $4.0 million in 2017-18 to the new Centre for Invasive Species Solutions, formerly the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, to continue its coordinated national approach to the management of pests, such as wild dogs and feral rabbits
- The Government will provide $5.1 million over three years from 2018-19 to establish five new Industry 4.0 Testlabs across Australian educational institutions. The initiative will accelerate collaboration between the tertiary education sector and industry, particularly small to medium enterprises, and build the skills required to capitalise on technological opportunities presented by Industry 4.0.
- The Government will provide $0.2 million in 2017-18 to the Department of the Treasury to establish a taskforce to promote small business engagement with digital technologies and examine the impediments small business face in engaging with digital technologies.
You can read the full Mid Year Economic and Financial Outlook at the Treasury website.