Senate Estimates: Australian Research Council - Higher Education standards

estimates

Economics Legislation Committee

Estimates hearings, 28 May 2012

Full transcript available here

Senator RHIANNON: I want to explore some of these issues in the context of the debate about the impact of research on teaching in our universities. The figures are quite dramatic, with research only staff numbers in universities increasing by about 78 per cent from 2000 to 2010. Then I saw that, in the same period, teaching and research and teaching only staff numbers increased by only 26 per cent. I want to explore the risk that your emphasis on research and the income or funding it brings skews universities’ own investment away from teaching students and towards building its own research profile.

 

Ms Harvey : The first thing I would say—certainly undergraduates are not my field; it would be an outcome in the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education—is my understanding is that the range of funding that universities receive comes from a wide variety of sources, including funding for undergraduate teaching. The ARC in particular is concerned with prospective granting processes for particular projects or for centres to add to the stock of knowledge in Australia, which is the definition of research. Our focus on excellence for research in Australia drives one block grant—the sustainable research block grant. So I think what you could say is that you cannot pin it down to any one thing because there is a variety of funding sources. There is a variety of different things that university administrations have to take into account when they are looking at how they split their budgets and what they are trying to do.

 

Senator RHIANNON: It sounds like this is going ahead in leaps and bounds. In terms of your brief, the teaching aspects of it are not immediately covered, like the potential for this imbalance that is starting to be explored and concerning some people in the sector? Is it part of your brief or is it just that you have to get on and do your work in terms of supporting the research—

 

Senator Chris Evans: Ms Harvey represents the Australian Research Council, so, as you would expect, there is a focus on research.

 

Senator RHIANNON: Totally. I was assuming that was the case. But considering the imbalance is so considerable, Minister, I want to see if there was any consideration given to this imbalance.

 

Senator Chris Evans: I guess I am saying to you that, if you want to ask about that in the portfolio responsibilities of our universities, that is perfectly appropriate. I am suggesting to you that the ARC are not the place to ask that in the sense that they will be totally focused on funding research.

 

Senator RHIANNON: I was assuming that. I just thought I would check. So thank you, Minister. How have the ERA and associated grant programs influenced the actual numbers of research-only and research and teaching staff numbers compared to the actual numbers of teaching and research teaching staff numbers in our universities?

 

Ms Harvey : The first thing I would say to you is that there are no granting programs associated with Excellence in Research for Australia. They are two separate things. We have our competitive granting processes in the ARC and then we also assess the excellence of the research conducted at universities. I just want to be clear that they are not associated granting programs. We look at, obviously, given that we are the Australian Research Council, the definition of research. Certainly you have teaching and research as a category as well. They are certainly able to apply and are counted in our various programs that we have. But just remember that there are two foci there.

 

Senator RHIANNON: I am not sure if this is one that you immediately have the information on or you need to take on notice. What is the amount of all research and associated funding granted to each university, and what is each university's HERD expenditure in the past 10 years? Can you take that on notice?

 

Ms Harvey : In fact, there are a range of different funding sources for universities, so I think that would be a question across the portfolio, not just for the ARC. In particular, the categorisation of HERD and its amount would actually be a question for our portfolio department.

 

Senator RHIANNON: This might be for the portfolio department but I thought it was with you.

Ms Harvey : That would be a question for the portfolio department.

 

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Mr Chair.