HATS OFF: Universities want more private funding for research projects.
HATS OFF: Universities want more private funding for research projects. Hei Jiaoshi

Unis seek a fairer deal that brings private cash

REGIONAL universities have urged a review of a national $1.7 billion research grants program to help bring in funds for higher education institutions struggling to cover costs.

A review of the Research Block Grants program, begun in July, is expected to report to Education Minister Simon Birmingham before the end of the year.

And while most regional universities are bringing in a surplus, the sector has struggled to cover the costs of research.

Most regional universities earned at least $30 million in surpluses in 2014, except Central Queensland University, which got almost $150 million in surpluses, largely due to the transfer of $120 million in CQ TAFE infrastructure assets to the university and associated grants.

But Regional Universities Network chief Caroline Perkins said a key problem in funding research was a "cultural issue" where academic success was measured by publication.

The same criteria apply for the research block grants that have given $1.7 billion to all universities this year.

Dr Perkins said while publication was still important, the RUN and other universities had urged the review include getting industry funding for research as part of the criteria.

She said the change would help encourage more private investment in research and lead to more partnerships in regional areas between industry and higher education.

"It's something we and other universities have put to them and I think it's consistent with everything the new government's been saying about innovation," she said.

"If they want to reward innovation and research they could remove or change the weighting based on publication and put a greater weighting on the (private) funding."

Dr Perkins said while research funding was key, RUN members remained worried about a proposed 20% cut to federal funding for student places.

"(Getting rid of the cut) would absolutely give us the most certainty.

"Regional universities have tried to run a surplus where they can, but the 20% cut has created uncertainty and meant some universities have had to cut staff."