Brain drain and other pain for unfunded locals
One of Australia’s top scientists has warned that cuts to research funding will put the nation at risk.
Professor Robert Graham from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute says Australia could become a “scientific banana republic” if research continues to be undervalued.
There have been no significant increases in funding for the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) since 2006, Professor Graham said.
“If we don't do something about it, we're going to lose people because we can't keep employing them,” he said this week.
“We're going to lose also people wanting to get into science.”
For the country that produced the bionic ear, cervical cancer vaccine and world's first successful transplant of a ‘dead’ heart - new findings could become fewer and farther between.
“I've got grave fears for the research industry because we've got crippling reductions in the grants success rate,” Dr Graham said.
Of 3,700 applications submitted to the NHMRC in 2014, less than 15 per cent were funded.
It is the lowest success rate in the entire 75-year history of the NHMRC, and it is expected to drop to just 12 per cent next year.
The risk of brain drain was sharply evidenced in recent weeks, when award-winning evolutionary biologist Dr Danielle Edwards turned down a prestigious research fellowship, saying she saw no future in Australian science and was heading overseas.
The government has been plugging its planned Medical Research Future Fund as the panacea for Australian brain drain, but Dr Graham is less-than-enthusiastic.
He said that by the time politicians can agree on the fund, it will be too late.
“It may not come about and it will be very, very slow before it generates significant increases in funding,” he said.
“What I'm saying is that if we don't do something soon, we're going to lose a generation of scientists. So we need something done yesterday, not tomorrow.”