Thursday, November 8, 2012

funding and the people who pay you

A couple of days ago the Australian Research Council (ARC) finally announced the outcomes of this year's proposal round. Everything was kept on hold for a while until the government had decided where to cut a serious amount of money from the tertiary education sector. All researchers, who had put in proposals this year, kept their breath first because they were worried, that the money might be cut from the grants they applied for. And after they knew that this will not be the case, it was the usual breath-keeping during the days before the results are announced.
The very nice thing about ARC funding is that the outcomes are published online and are separated into all potentially interesting aspects: how many applications were funded, how much money did they get, what were the success rates in general, in each field, for each university, for women, for men, separated by age, separated by years after obtaining a PhD,... . And of course one can look up each proposal abstract plus names and institutions and how much money they got for what kind of topic. 
This is how it's supposed to be in a funding scheme based on tax money! Every person can look up what their tax money is spent on. And everybody can just write an email to the person who got the money and ask why they think the money is well spent in their project. Usually nobody does that, but at this point the system gives the opportunity to engage with democracy, because everybody can inform themselves very easily. Where I come from politicians don't care about the projects that are funded - or at least, if they do, it's not transported to the public. Here the opposition finance spokesman Andrew Robb complained that a lot of the money goes to projects, which do not seem meaningful and innovative enough. And they made a whole list of projects, that should not have gotten funding from their point of view. AND some of these projects were mentioned in the newspapers. Sounds harsh, but it's a great starting point for some discussions. Esp. a big Center of Excellence is in the focus of this debate. The director of this center responded to the complaints and explained how this research is important for Australia and why it's worth spending the money. Stepping out of the ivory tower, getting involved in "the real world", explaining your stuff to people, who usually do something totally different. But they pay you, so they have the right to know. And if some are even interested for more reasons than just for the money - even better!

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