Well, it’s taken a while, but we’ve finally got an electoral bribe in this election campaign targeted straight at my hip pocket – or, at least, my hip pocket a few years from now:
A Rudd Labor Government will invest in new Future Fellowships to keep Australia’s best and brightest mid-career researchers in Australia.
Federal Labor’s Future Fellowships program will offer four year Fellowships valued at $140,000 a year to 1,000 of Australia’s top researchers in the middle of their career.
In addition, each researcher’s institution would receive a $50,000 grant to support the purchase of related infrastructure and equipment for their research project.
The further goodie for the university sector is more scholarships. Some go to undergraduate students, which helps their living costs, but as a postdoc I’m more directly affected by the plans to double the number of postgraduate scholarships by 2012:
There are currently around 40,000 higher degree by research students in Australia, yet only 1,500 new Australian Postgraduate Awards are granted each year. The Australian Postgraduate Award provides an annual stipend of $19,500 for up to three and a half years for PhD candidates and two years for Masters by research.
Under Labor’s Scholarships for a Competitive Future, the total number of commencing Australian Postgraduate Awards allocated each year will steadily increase from 1,580 in 2008 to 3,500 in 2012. Under Federal Labor’s plan nearly 10,000 postgraduate research students will be supported each year by 2012.
Absent from this proposal is anything directly targeted at improving university undergraduate teaching. As some members of the LP Borg have been noting through our interneural communicators, undergraduate teaching – particularly in Arts faculties – has borne the brunt of the Howard government’s consistent underfunding. The research fellowships should allow some increase in the size of many faculties – thus, perhaps, reducing the pressure for academics with heavy teaching loads to also churn out endless papers to ensure the faculty looks good in the RQF (the research quality framework – something else that an incoming Labor government should look closely at, given the angst it’s causing throughout the sector). It’s likely that a lot of them will do a bit of teaching anyway. But, still, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the massive tax cuts being offered by both parties in the upcoming election.
There are any number of other things that need attention in the university sector – more bodies for undergraduate teaching, doing something about the work hours many full-time students take on, a reduction in the amount of administrative busywork placed on senior academics through the ARC process, more research funding targeted at fundamental “blue sky” research that doesn’t have immediate commercial application, amongst others. Oh, and top of my personal list – a team of crack snipers for the assassination of careers teachers, for giving school-leavers the idea that the exclusive purpose of universities is about getting a nicely-framed meal ticket, with any actual learning along the way being incidental…
What does the university sector need, and how long will it take to undo the damage of a decade of malign neglect?