Interview on 2GB Sydney Live with Ben Fordham
Topics: New assessment measures for university research




Ben Fordham:              Now, what do you make of this. A crackdown is being launched in a bid to save taxpayers from forking out for nutty academic projects. Up to $3.5 billion a year is handed out to researchers to look into a whole range of things, but that includes things like Tongan warfare, Tibetan philosophy, and even office gossip. Now researchers will have to prove their project will benefit the community or families before they are granted funds. Simon Birmingham, the Federal Education Minister, is on the line.


Simon Birmingham, good afternoon.


Simon Birmingham:    G’day, Ben, good to be with you.


Ben Fordham:              I don’t think you’ll receive too many arguments from my audience on this one, although there would be many in the university sector who wouldn’t be so keen.


Simon Birmingham:    Well, Ben, the Turnbull Government thinks that it is important that the huge amount we invest into research delivers results wherever possible. Now, of course, building knowledge sometimes takes time, and we do need to continue to support universities in building fundamental knowledge and scientific exploration that may not yield dividends just in one or two years, but equally, we want to make sure that as a country we shift from being ranked at the top of the table in terms of publications of research, but at the bottom of the table in terms of commercialisation and use of that research. So this is really about changing the way in which universities are held to account, making them more transparent about whether they are partnering with commercial entities, government entities, hospitals, and then actually getting a return from that research investment.


Ben Fordham:              I mean, let’s face it, these days people can go and group fund or community fund projects if there are enough people out there in the community who agree with it, but if not, then the taxpayer should have a bit of a say, should they not, about where their money is going?


Simon Birmingham:    Well exactly, and research outcomes should ultimately be driving more jobs, more economic activity, more innovation, better social services in our healthcare system, our education system. Research applies across a whole swathe of our economy, really all aspects of our lives of course, but ultimately you want to make sure that your research effort through our universities is geared towards getting outcomes that help our country grow and be better in the future, with better services, better jobs.


Ben Fordham:              You don’t need study into office gossip?


Simon Birmingham:    No. No, look, I think you could stand around Parliament House and get that pretty quickly.


Ben Fordham:              Thanks for your time, Minister.


Simon Birmingham:    Cheers Ben.


Ben Fordham:              Simon Birmingham, the Federal Education Minister.