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New Life for Australian Research Centers

MELBOURNE--A major network of research partnerships has been spared the budgetary ax. Last week the Australian government announced it would extend the life of its Cooperative Research Centers (CRCs) program for 7 years at its current level of funding, marking a victory for an R&D coalition that had lobbied against a broad wave of proposed cuts.

The $138-million-a-year program helps support 67 centers conducting research that ranges from Aboriginal health to information technology, with the goal of maximizing the social and economic benefit of publicly funded research. Each CRC is run by a consortium of industry and research partners, whose union is cemented by government funding--30% of the centers' overall budget.

Last summer, an outside panel chaired by transportation executive David Mortimer recommended cutting off funding to most of the centers as part of a broader shift toward market-driven technologies by the country's new government (Science, 27 June 1997, p. 1966). Mortimer said that successful centers should obtain private funds, while unsuccessful centers should be shut down. But last month, a second review--directed by an internal panel--gave the program sufficiently high marks for Industry Minister John Moore to praise it as "an integral part of the government's innovation policies and programs."

The vote of confidence doesn't let the centers completely off the hook. Citing the first report, which has not been made public, Moore said the centers should seek more input from "end users" about the products and processes they are developing as well as bolstering their international links. They also must avoid giving participating companies an unfair advantage over their competitors.