Catriona Wimberley, PhD candidate in medical physics, is studying neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. She has written a great piece for SBS News, arguing that in the current political climate, the future direction of scientific research in Australia is bleak.
Under the Liberal Government, who’s only been in power since September, the Climate Change Commission was disbanded within Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s first day in office; the position of Science Minister was scrapped shortly thereafter; and science funding cuts have already hit key centres. This includes $42 million slashed from NICTA, Australia’s Information Communications Technology Research Centre; and The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has been forced to cut its staff by 25%.
Catriona notes that Australian Academy of Sciences has stated that Australia’s research innovation is already going backwards. She also notes that Australia’s peak funding body for medical research, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), funded 16.9% of project applications, which is 3.6% less than last year. She cites a study by Queensland University of Technology (QUT) which finds that in 2012 alone, researchers spent the equivalent time of 550 working years on NHMRC grants. Given the low success rate of grants funded, this is considerable time wasted on applications rather than on carrying out research. Yes, science grants are competitive everywhere, but the situation is so dire in Australia that the CEO of NHMRC is encouraging Australian researchers to seek funding and employment elsewhere. Catriona writes: “
In the current climate, it is hard to feel that science and scientists will be valued or looked after at all. There are groups trying to address these challenges but if we want to continue our country’s legacy of important scientific breakthroughs, something needs to change.”