Building on our strengths
Australia has a robust, internationally renowned research sector. Our
researchers are creative and motivated, and they work in diverse disciplines at
institutions across the nation.
One of the key elements of the government's reform package is its
commitment to maintaining and promoting Australia's research standing. The
government is investing substantially in research, and in ways that will
deliver benefits to the nation and beyond. These historic reforms will help
build a strong, competitive research sector in what could become the best
higher education system in the world.
Investing for the future
The Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill (the bill)
provides for an increase in funding for research, and allows students assisted
through the Research Training Scheme (RTS) to be charged capped contributions.
These measures are necessary in light of the former Labor government's failure
to set aside funds to maintain the National Collaborative Research
Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) beyond 20 June 2015, and for future rounds of
the Future Fellowship for mid-career researchers.
There was no provision for any new awards for the Future
Fellowships program that supports midcareer researchers to undertake
world-class research in Australia. Not a cent.
In recognition of the increasingly integral role that research
excellence and innovation play 'in the advancement of knowledge and technology,
enhancing prosperity through the development, adoption and diffusion of more
productive technologies and processes',
as part of the 2014–15 Budget package the government announced its significant
investment in Australia's research future.
As part of the higher education reform package, the
government will invest $11 billion over four years in research in Australian
universities, including $139 million for the Future Fellowships scheme and $150
million in 2015-16 to continue the National Collaborative Research
Having identified that the reform package will have some impact on the
quality research that occurs in all universities across Australia, the
department argued that the continuation of the NCRIS would ensure researchers
Through NCRIS, partnerships between the research sector,
business, industry and governments have been established to ensure that
Australian research continues to be competitive and rank highly on
international scales. NCRIS enables over an estimated 30 000 researchers to
access world leading equipment and facilities. It consists of 12 capabilities made
up of 27 projects and facilities that employ more than 1500 highly skilled
scientific and technical experts in 222 institutions. 
In assessing the reform package with respect to its potential impact on
research, the committee considered relevant the 2012 Australian Research
Council (ARC) evaluation of Excellence in Research for Australia. This
evaluation involved a comprehensive assessment by discipline into the quality
of Australia's higher education institutions research activity. The results by
fields of research confirmed that researchers at Australian universities
compete with the world’s best in a wide range of disciplines.
Further, the ERA results by institution demonstrated that universities in all
States and Territories of varied size deliver research performance at a world
Future Fellowships scheme
The measures seek to amend the Australian Research Council Act 2001
(ARC Act) to update appropriation amounts by applying indexation and increasing
the funding cap for the last financial year of the forward estimates to support
financial assistance for approved research administered by the ARC.
The measure taken in this Bill will result in a substantial
increase in funding to the ARC in the 2017-18 financial year and will promote
the quality of research and research training. The programmes supported will
fund the high-quality research Australia needs to address the great challenges
of our time, to improve the quality of people's lives, to support the
development of new industries and to remain competitive in the global knowledge
The reforms provide for 100 four year Future Fellowships each year on an
The government's commitment to ARC funding for [F]uture [F]ellowships,
where the previous government left a funding cliff, means that ARC funding is
increased by this legislation well above what was proposed by the previous
government in forward estimates. Funding for [F]uture [F]ellowships and for the
National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy are integral parts of
the government's higher education reform package, and depend on the passage of
this legislation. 
The reforms to the Future Fellowship scheme received the widespread
support of the research community.
ARC undertook an evaluation of the Future Fellowships scheme in 2013 that
evidenced its success:
A common sentiment expressed in interviews was that a Future
Fellowship provides the scope and scale to accelerate a recipient’s research
effort. It provides the opportunity to focus almost exclusively, over an
extended period of time, on a research question. It also provides fellows with
the profile to expand collaborative networks, particularly internationally, and
attract high-quality students.
One-off efficiency dividend
Currently through the RTS, the government provides universities with
approximately $675 million per annum to support the training of domestic higher
degree by research students. Presently degree by research students are
supported solely under the RTS by funding of research programs under the ARC
Act. Students do not make any financial contribution to their course.
The reforms propose to introduce the option for a small RTS student financial
The reform bill will also allow universities, if they wish,
to require Research Training Scheme (RTS) students to make a small contribution
to the cost of undertaking a higher degree by research course. The government
will expand HELP to allow eligible RTS students to defer paying their
contribution until they are earning a decent wage.
The department also provided evidence before the committee that
'[u]niversities may choose to offer scholarships to cover these costs.'
Further, the explanatory memorandum emphasised that such costs 'will not
restrict access to tertiary education or higher degrees by research and will
ensure the long-term sustainability of RTS funding'
as any tuition fee would be deferrable through HELP.
Higher education providers would be able to charge a student
contribution up to a maximum of $3900 per equivalent full-time student load
(EFTSL) for high cost courses and $1700 per EFTSL for low cost courses. It will
be up to the discretion of individual institutions as to whether they charge
this contribution to HDR students or absorb the reduced funding in some other
The ability for universities to charge fees for RTS students received
some criticism from the research industry. Innovative Research Universities
alleged that the amendments ignored the contribution of researchers or research
The amendments treat research students solely as students
consuming resources for a potential payoff following graduation....A thorough
rethink of the place of research students is required to address the mechanisms
by which Government supports their development and their living costs. This
should ensure coherence with undergraduate funding where universities are
funded for all students who enrol. The Government should be encouraging
additional research students not discouraging enrolments.
Similarly, the Council of Deans and Directors of Graduate Research
submitted that the proposed amendments will negatively impact on the quantity
and quality of Australia's research graduates and decimate Australia's research
The driver for charging fees is in part to meet shortfalls in
the research training scheme (RTS) as a result of the proposed budget cuts. The
need for a highly trained research workforce across industry, business,
government and the academy is clear and higher education institutions have been
working towards enhancing programs to produce better qualified graduates more
prepared for roles across multiple sectors. Cutting the RTS is counter-productive
and will place additional financial pressure on institutions and will stifle
their ongoing efforts to enhance the quality of research training by focussing
on and providing broader skills development in the HDR graduates.
Professor Jacqueline K. Phillips raised concerns that the reforms would
result in talented individuals going elsewhere for higher degrees by research.
Attracting domestic postgraduate students to research in the
current Australian climate is already difficult and many students make
significant sacrifices to gain their higher degrees. The typical PhD student is
no longer fresh out of University; they often have families and financial
commitments, and sacrifice income to undertake doctoral degrees. The current
level of scholarship is only $25,392 and they are expected to work full-time
for the 3‐4 years
it takes to do a PhD degree. Contrast this to the level of international
student fees of between $27,000‐$35,000
In rebuttal, the department submitted that:
Recent data indicates that higher degree research graduates
will enjoy a lifetime earnings advantage over bachelor degree holders, despite
starting out later in their employment. In 2013 the median salary for new
postgraduates in full-time employment was around $79 000, whereas, the median
salary for bachelor degree graduates was around $55 000.14.
The committee understands that, as with the whole reform package,
measures relating to research were informed by public debate and considerable
consultation. This included consultation conducted through the Review of the
Demand Driven Funding System and the National Commission of Audit (NCOA). Some
submitters with concerns about the bill chose not to make submissions to either
of these processes.
The committee notes that Australian universities have a long history of
being at the forefront of research in a competitive global market. The
committee acknowledges the importance of research activity, and the
government's critical role in developing and nurturing the quality of
Australia's research sector.
The committee knows that targeted research investment will help maintain
and build on this history. These reforms will foster world-class research
capacity at universities in all states and territories, irrespective of their
size or location.
The committee is convinced that the investment in the Future Fellowships
scheme will ensure Australia supports midcareer researchers to undertake world-class
research in Australia. The committee supports the government's renewed
commitment to the continuation of the NCRIS to ensure researchers are supported
and that Australian research will continue to be competitive in the
The committee acknowledges concerns that were raised with respect to the
amendments to the ARC Act that would allow universities to charge fees for RTS
students. However, as HELP loans will be available so that eligible RTS
students do not have to meet these costs up front, the committee is satisfied
that the measures are reasonable and proportional to the legislative intent,
and notes that universities may choose to offer scholarships to cover these
costs. Furthermore, HELP loans available for RTS fees will minimise any impact
on the demand for higher degree by research.
Research excellence is a key element of the government's vision for a
strong higher education sector and a globally competitive national economy. Evidence
before the committee clearly demonstrates that these reforms will help create a
system which nurtures innovation and recognises that there are no limits to
aspiration for upward mobility.
The committee is satisfied that, as with the rest of the measures
contained in the bill, the changes proposed to the research sector are necessary
to ensure the stability and success of Australia's higher education system into
For this reason, the committee believes that the amendments proposed in
this report will enhance the quality of the reform package and complement the
The committee recommends that the bill be passed.
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