It seems as though my last blog touched a raw nerve for some. You know who you are. The one who tried to post their blog on my blog.

Sorry dude but I’m not interested in parrying another’s representation of what I said with what I actually meant or attempt to morph what I said in order to refute what someone else has now said, so that it looks like I was saying something else all along… I’ll let the folks with experience and time on their hands do that.

This, I have only recently discovered is the allure of a blog!  One can cast one’s views out into the blogosphere like a tennis ball and if it isn’t returned into the right corner of one’s court, it can be left for the ball boy/ girl to collect.

Indeed, the ball might even be hit so hard it sails out of the stadium and that, my friends, is amusing to watch. It’s not within me to get that bent out of shape about things.

But I feel compelled to respond to one clearly ignorant comment – which I have seen uttered previously in response to statements by my colleagues – about the subsidisation of indulgent and irrelevant research through public taxation.

Let’s, what was it?  Oh yes, “deconstruct” this statement.

There are a number of ways in which research can be funded and not all involves the poor put-upon tax-payer.

The assumption being made here is that public universities receive tax-payer funding and some of that funding is then used to pay the academics working within them.


Ever checked out the actual proportion of university funding provided by governments? It differs by university too with some receiving a greater proportion of their funding through bequests, donations, patents, IP, international and domestic student fees, tenders, consultancies, overseas teaching contracts, and the list goes on and on.

Read up on the entrepreneurial university if you don’t believe me. Sure, in some universities, academics have to tender to deliver their own units (!) but @GFThommo knows more about that than me…

The most direct form of tax-payer funded research is the National Competitive Grants scheme run by the ARC and NHMRC. However, it is well known that these grants are extremely competitive and that there is not enough funding available to fund all of the projects considered to be of (fundable) quality. You also don’t tend to find “post” applications among those awarded; researchers in Education learned long ago to avoid the “F word”.*

Of the grants that do get up, the majority are cut (by up to 60 percent in a bad year), leaving barely enough (and sometimes well below enough) to cover the cost of data collection and basic research assistance. It is also well known that these grants do not pay academic salaries and nor do they cover the full cost of research, so what happens then??? How do academics complete the project?

Universities contribute the salary component and the academic commits an agreed proportion of their time to conducting that research. But the “truth”, another contentious word tossed about in the last 24 hours, is that individual academics commit much more than this. The majority of this commitment, whilst it may also involve their own consultancy funding, is through their own time.

On average, academic salaries are paid on a 38 hour week. But the Sustainable Research Excellence survey conducted by the ARC (completed by the academics who could find the time to do it) found much higher working hours: more like 55-60 hours per week. During grant periods, it can be higher again.

Why is this?

Well, because there is only so much one can get done in a 38 hour week. Remember we teach, we supervise field experience students, HDR students and research staff; we respond to media inquiries, we conduct research, we participate on internal and external review panels, we edit journals, we examine theses, we read to stay abreast of our field, we present our research, we work with schools, we assess CRG grant proposals, and we write our own. We manage stalls at university open days, we meet with students who are experiencing academic and emotional difficulties, we attend staff meetings and do a whole bunch of other stuff that I can’t even begin to think about. Such as write blogs, engage with social media and other forms of outreach.

Academic work being what it is, especially for teaching academics whose time is dictated by the teaching timetable, the majority of analysing and writing research happens in the wee small hours when NO ONE is paying us.

In fact, this summer is the first that I’ve “taken off” since 2012. Oh, I’ve been on leave each year (because we’re not allowed to accumulate too much of it) but grant season is grant season…

For example, I wrote some of one of my ARC applications while my son was in hospital for two weeks with salmonella poisoning. At the same time, I was on forced leave from one institution (because universities don’t like paying out leave) and before I took up a new position with another institution. Mother of the Year award right there.

Just imagine how it felt when it was unsuccessful. It isn’t just me sacrificing my time, it’s my family as well. A point they make often.

So before appealing to self-righteous moral arguments about the subsidisation of what you perceive to be indulgent and irrelevant research through public taxation, it might be wise to get one’s facts straight.

I’ll do what the hell I like in my own time, thanks.


* Foucault