NCRIS spared axe

Sarah Martin, Science research spared the axe, The Australian, 9 May 2015

Science research infrastructure that was threatened by the government’s controversial higher education reforms will receive a $300 million lifeline in next week’s budget.

The Australian can reveal that funding for the National Collaborative and Research Infrastructure Strategy will be given a two-year reprieve, with funding until 2017.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne faced fierce lobbying from industry and academia last year when he threatened to end the program if the higher education reform package was rejected by the Senate.

In a last-ditch attempt to win over the crossbench, Mr Pyne said he would “fix” the legislation and remove $150m in NCRIS cuts from the bill and a proposed 20 per cent cut to course subsidies.

The move guaranteed the scheme’s operation for another 12 months and prevented the loss of up to 1700 jobs supported by NCRIS’s 27 active projects.

The total commitment of $300m now allocated to the strategy is expected to be offset by cuts to other higher education research grants, most likely so-called “block” funding.

However, it is understood that funding for the grants program will continue to grow in value each year over the forward estimates.

A decision on long-term funding for NCRIS will be made after a review into research infrastructure being led by business leader Philip Clark and Chief Scientist Ian Chubb, due to report mid-year.

Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson said she was concerned the government would seek to recover funding for NCRIS through grants used to fund research costs and training.

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