The Australian tertiary education sector has welcomed the federal government's decision to provide an extra 50,000 university places and significantly boost research funding.
This week's federal budget allocated A$5.3 billion (HK$31.5 billion) to tertiary education, research and innovation over the next six years.
Delivering the budget on Tuesday, Treasurer Wayne Swan said the government would spend A$491 million over four years to remove the cap on university places from 2012, which would allow an extra 50,000 students to attend university. He also pledged A$437 million over four years to help people from disadvantaged backgrounds attend university.
'Australia's recovery depends heavily on the quality of our human capital, on our ability to educate our people and to innovate in business,' he said. 'The government is determined to give opportunities for talented Australians to participate in higher education.'
Simon Marginson, a professor of higher education at the University of Melbourne, said domestic student numbers had been growing slowly since the mid-1990s.
'This allows institutions to expand their domestic student numbers more rapidly, and in a recession there's an increasing demand for tertiary education,' he said. 'It's the right time to expand numbers.'
He predicted that growth in Australia's international student numbers might slow, while the funding could result in universities trying to attract higher-quality international students such as PhD candidates.
The increased research funding includes A$2.6 billion for infrastructure projects in tertiary institutions and research agencies, A$901 million for research projects in space, marine, climate and nuclear science, and A$500 million to encourage additional research, development and commercialisation of ideas.
'The higher education sector has had its funding placed on a sounder footing,' Professor Marginson said. 'It allows the institutions to stabilise and improve their quality.'
Australian universities welcomed the funding boost for their infrastructure projects and measures to provide increased financial support for students in need.
'Student support is all the more important in our economic circumstances,' said chief executive Glenn Withers.