Is The 2018 Federal Budget Good For Science?

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Investment in Artifical Intelligence, Women in STEM, supercomupting and satellites - could the 2018 Federal Government budget actually be good for science?

The experts weigh in.

Science & Technology Australia CEO Kylie Walker

The 2018 Budget indicates the Government has listened to the need to restore support for major science agencies and invest in research infrastructure to position Australia as a leader in global science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research and innovation.

The new commitment to $1.9 billion in research infrastructure ($1 billion over forward estimates) following the National Research Infrastructure Roadmap is very welcome, and major commitments medical research, the Great Barrier Reef, technology infrastructure and space science further strengthen the positive investment for the future of Australia’s STEM sector. The Government has also committed to refocusing the R&D Tax Incentive in line with recommendations made in the recent review.

A return to keeping pace with CPI is very welcome for the Australian Research Council and other research agencies like the CSIRO. We’re also pleased to see a boost for measures to engage and inspire all Australians with STEM, as well as specific measures to support greater participation by girls and women in STEM.

However we note the future STEM workforce still requires attention – STEM graduate rates are threatened by continued capping of commonwealth support for undergraduate places at Australian Universities. Australia will need many more people equipped with STEM skills in our workforce to compete internationally. This short-term saving will be a loss for future generations.

Andrew Holmes is President of the Australian Academy of Science

This is a good budget for science. It reflects the long-term and strategic approach that is needed for Australia to benefit from science and innovation at a global scale."

Australia’s national supercomputers give scientists across government, industry and universities the processing power for the complex scientific computations needed in an advance society including accurate weather forecasts, drug development, and large-scale astronomy.

We have a long way to go as a nation, particularly on big issues like STEM education and training at school and university and climate change. But we are moving forward together and the Government has made a clear commitment in this Budget to working collaboratively with the science sector to maximise the benefits for all Australians.

Professor Tony Cunningham AO is President of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI)

This is a great Budget for medical research, with around $2 billion now committed through the Medical Research Future Fund for new medical research projects. This is exactly where the Australian medical research sector should be heading.

Professor Nalini Joshi is Payne-Scott Professor of Applied Mathematics and ARC Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellow at The University of Sydney

Budgets enable the future. To have a future-proof progressive, technologically sophisticated society, Australia needs a workforce that is educated and trained to think logically, analytically and quantitatively. A society with only a handful of mathematically trained workers cannot be expected to support the extraordinarily important developments expected in modern life such as precision medicine. Australia is that society: only 0.4% of entering university students study Mathematical sciences, in comparison to the OECD average of 2.5%. To barely reach that average, we would need to multiply the current cohort of senior high school students who are mathematically prepared for University by a factor of 6. The budget contains no action or stimulus to help meet this challenge.

Funding is necessary to: place a mathematics specialist, to mentor teachers in mathematical skills, in every school or every regional group of schools; provide tax incentives for teachers to pursue professional development and further training in mathematics; create stimuli, e.g., merit salary, preferred placement or advanced recognition of years served, for graduates trained in the mathematical sciences to enter and remain in the teaching profession; implement a program to program to encourage and increase pipeline flow in mathematics from school to university and from undergraduate study to graduate study and from PhD to postdoctoral work or industry; and create a program to attract more students training in and going onto careers in the mathematical sciences by establishing a vertically integrated research-led education program across undergraduate, postgraduate and postdoctoral boundaries.

Initiatives recommended in the Decadal Plan for Mathematical Sciences: a vision for 2025 need an agile, pro-active budget focused on developing a future workforce. This budget does not appear to be one of them.

Flavia Tata Nardini, CEO Fleet Space Technologies

This year's Federal budget is the first ever budget to include funding for an Australian Space Agency. This is huge. This is the moment that everything changes. In twenty years time, we will be looking back and pinpointing this period as one of the most transformational in Australian history.

Whether we realise it or not, space technology is a huge part of our daily lives. The Australian Space industry will touch the lives of each and every Australian, giving us the chance to play a growing role in this critical industry.

The [funds] assigned to the Space Agency in the Federal Budget will enable the Government to define the future of our nation as humanity takes its next great step. The funding will rapidly launch us into the next era - the fourth industrial revolution.

This story is developing as we gather more opinions.

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