News & Views item - November 2008



It's the Economy Stupid. (November 13, 2008)

"Education and research are not merely costs to be cut, but investments in long-term economic recovery." That's the take home message of the principal editorial in today's Nature.


The editorial goes on to state: "[W]ith an economic crisis of unknown proportions looming, more emphasis on science and

   Review Chair Professor Denise Bradley

 innovation — not less — will be crucial to achieving a sustained recovery... policy-makers... have a responsibility to take the long view. High-tech companies have long known that protecting R&D is key to coming out of a recession strong; they tend to cut everything else first. It's encouraging that many governments — large and small — are now taking a similar view. ...Whether governments live up to this rhetoric is another matter, but they would be irresponsible to undertake large stimulus efforts without also providing for long-term growth to reduce the resulting deficits."


It is noteworthy that Senator Kim Carr, the federal Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research in addressing the Square Kilometre Array Industry Consortium said on Monday:


Yes, the world is going through some turbulent times just now.
The economic outlook is uncertain and many Australians are worried about the future.
But as far as I’m concerned, that means we need more innovation, science and research – not less.
We need innovation that will make us more productive and competitive.
We need science that will drive the development of new technologies and new industries.
We need research that will help us deal with the huge challenges we face.
That means we must continue to invest in Australian capabilities.
It also means we must strengthen our overseas networks and work closely with international collaborators.
We want to see Australia become an integral part of the global innovation system.
That’s why the SKA is so important.


It's to be hoped that his cabinet colleagues will share his views and be proactive in support.

And yesterday the former vice-chancellor of The University of South Australia and chair of the Bradley Review of Higher Education, Denise Bradley addressed the Committee for Economic Development and gave a hint of what the thrust of the review would be.


Farrah Tomazin reports in The Age that Professor Bradley warned that sweeping changes are needed if Australian universities are to avoid slipping further behind their overseas counterparts. She noted that during the years of John Howard's Coalition the proportion of graduates with bachelor degrees had fallen sharply, funding and investment in research had slipped, staff-to-student ratios had widened to a ratio of 1:20, and many students were not feeling academically challenged.


Professor Bradley said:


Australia is essentially standing still while all other countries — not just in the OECD, but also in the region — are moving very, very rapidly. Australia's relative position on most indicators for teaching and research is under threat. We're not in a full-blown crisis yet, but other countries have moved in front of us …We reformed the sector and did a lot of very good things 20 years ago, but now we need another major change.


Summarising her key points Professor Bradley itemised:

Professor Bradley also told Ms Tomazin: "[H]er review had been 'quite concerned' to find that while more professionals with tertiary qualifications would be needed in future, there were now not enough people to meet that demand."