Political interference in university research funding presents an “existential threat” to the tertiary sector, the head of the Australian National University (ANU) has warned.
“Of the four known occurrences of political interference, three have occurred in the last three years—and as things stand, BOTH major parties agree it is appropriate for the [education] minister to wield this power.
“Political interference has bipartisan support. I see this as an existential threat to Australian universities,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt said political interference could corrupt knowledge and slow its creation and stressed the importance of academic autonomy and freedom to pursue ideas across a broad spectrum.
“After all, what would our society be like when the study of history, politics, and literature has to reflect the views of the minister of the day?” he said. “Where would we be if we hadn't been working on climate mitigation strategies for the past 30 years while the merchants of doubt sowed their seeds?”
Schmidt said Australia needed an apolitical system to allocate research funding and strongly called for a review of the ARC and its governance.
“The impetus here for the university is to resist the restrictions of the present and focus confidently on the future,” he said.
Universities Australia told The Epoch Times that their position has not changed since the previous statement.
Mark Scott, the vice-chancellor of the University of Sydney, backed Schmidt’s concerns about the impact of political interference in funding decisions.
“It doesn’t work this way in the world’s great liberal democracies, and it harms the credibility of our funding schemes in Australia,” Scott told The Epoch Times. “I urge the minister to meet with university leaders and our finest researchers to address their deep concerns at the way the current system is operating.”
“I publicly and openly endorse the vice-chancellor's comments about apolitical processes in the field of research and the ARC in particular,” she said.
On Feb. 8, Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi will move to establish a senate inquiry into a bill that will remove ministerial discretion in the approval of research grants approved by the ARC.
“Two Liberal ministers have now vetoed seventeen projects in the last four years,” she said. “Political interference has no place in research funding.”