Professional Scientists Australia President Robyn Porter said the Budget overall was good news for science. “We welcome the move toward stable science funding and greater certainty on funding for research infrastructure. We have long-argued for the nation-building role of science and R&D and these commitments as well as the ongoing commitment to the MRFF plus the new Frontier Science Program shows our message is being heard in Canberra.
“We are pleased to see at least an initial commitment to a more strategic approach to increasing the participation of women in STEM fields but are concerned about the targeting of the investment. Our research suggests that while encouraging greater numbers of women and girls to take on STEM subjects at school and driving greater participation in STEM university courses is absolutely critical to developing a sustainable STEM workforce and building capacity for the future, numerical equality is only half the equation – it’s not a solution in itself. The vital second half is addressing the attrition of women from the STEM workforce once they get there – and there are a range of factors that contribute to women leaving the STEM that we need to address urgently.
“We are excited to see that $41 million has been allocated in seed funding for a new space agency and $29.9 million toward developing our artificial intelligence capabilities. We have a strong commitment to supporting innovation in emerging areas and our own national space agency will not only create demand for scientists, engineers, tech professionals and researchers but will give us a credible voice in these important areas.
“We also welcome the commitment to university places for regional Australians – we need to broaden and diversify the base from which our STEM graduates are drawn – but we maintain our concern that this investment is in the context of the $2.2 billion cuts to Commonwealth higher education places announced in December last year.
“Professional Scientists Australia was also glad the Government heard concerns about ARC funding indexation and welcomes the return to linking Australian Research Council funding to the CPI.
“Overall, we welcome these Budget commitments to ensure science and R&D play the central role they should in Australia’s future,” Ms. Porter said. “But we still need to do the hard yards on addressing the attrition of women from the STEM workforce and ensuring we’re doing everything we can to position the education system to build the nation’s STEM skills base – these are absolutely fundamental to a strong, diverse and sustainable STEM workforce for the future.”
Summary of budget announcements in Science
- $41 million seed funding for a new national space agency.
- The government has committed A$1.9 billion new money for research infrastructure over 12 years including $393.3 million is to implement the Research Infrastructure Investment Strategy following the National Research Infrastructure Roadmap consultation (click here to read our submission). This means the funding should keep pace with CPI and ensures our key research infrastructure facilities are maintained and fully operational. However, other than the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Perth – which will receive an additional A$70m – the government has not specified which facilities will receive the extra cash. More detail is expected when the government responds to a 2016 Chief Scientist’s report highlighting nine priority research areas for infrastructure spending.
- $240m for a Frontier Science Programme, to develop innovative medical ideas, research devices and treatment.
- $125 million for mental health.
- $29.9 million for Artificial Intelligence capabilities
- $1.3 billion for medical research through MRFF including $500m for genomics. The Medical Research Future Fund is projected to reach $20bn by 2020-21.
- The budget introduces measures to better target the research and development tax incentive saving an estimated $2 billion.
- 500 newly-funded pathway places into university for regional Australians.
- The budget earmarks an extra A$250m for Australia’s vocational education sector.
- The government has earmarked $94m for a Murray Darling Medical Schools Network enabling more students from existing medical faculties to train in rural areas.
- $4.5 million over four years for Women in STEM initiatives including a newly appointed Women in STEM Ambassador who will go school-to-school talking up STEM to girls. A decade-long plan providing a roadmap for increasing female participation in STEM will be developed, along with a STEM resource kit.