Mixed reaction to Australian research and development review

We should improve the system while we’re examining it, critics argue

五月 16, 2024
Man looking through a magnifying glass
Source: iStock

A proposed Australian research and development review has drawn varied responses from interest groups, with the science lobby lauding the once-in-a-generation appraisal while the university lobby lamented what it saw as a missed opportunity.

The 14 May federal budget includes a commitment to a “strategic examination” of the R&D system to “strengthen its alignment with Australia’s priorities”. Science minister Ed Husic said the review would “determine how we can get more value from every taxpayer dollar invested in research…and maintain our competitive edge”.

The review appeared alongside major budget investments in science including A$449 million (£236 million) on satellite development, A$145 million to boost core scientific measurement capabilities, A$18 million for green metals research and development, A$20 million for battery research and almost A$500 million to help produce what treasurer Jim Chalmers described as “the world’s first commercial scale quantum computer”.

The Australian Academy of Sciences said these projects were “testament to the opportunities that science can offer the nation”. But academy president Chennupati Jagadish said investments in discovery research, the “basic feedstock” of many government aspirations, were “fundamentally missing”.

“The academy has been arguing the case for this long-overdue whole-of-sector analysis since 2018,” Professor Jagadish said. “It is a necessary precursor to the creation of a strategic road map that can…reverse the 14-year decline in investment.”

However, Universities Australia said the budget had overlooked research-related suggestions from the Universities Accord panel. “There were very solid recommendations in the accord report that [the government] could already deal with,” said chief executive Luke Sheehy.

“They don’t need an ATEC [Australian Tertiary Education Commission] to start funding…the direct costs of research at a higher rate. They should think about doing that sooner rather than later.”

The Innovative Research Universities network said a whole-of-government review of research funding was a good idea. “But there were more immediate reforms, particularly to university research funding and PhD stipends, that we could have gotten moving on in the meantime,” said executive director Paul Harris.

While the accord recommended a “formal strategic, cross-portfolio examination of national research funding”, it also pushed for more generous PhD stipends, a target for the number of PhD candidates employed in industry and a “Solving Australian Challenges Strategic Fund” for university research.

“We need action, not more reviewing,” said Kylie Walker, chief executive of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering. “What we would like to see here is both happening at the same time.”

She said the strategic examination was important because it would help “streamline” the government’s involvement in research. “An awful lot of inconsistency across the 14 or so portfolios that fund R&D federally…has unfortunately contributed to a colossal investment of time in just advocating for, arguing for, applying for and reporting against that funding. Statistics suggest that Australian researchers spend up to a third of their working days…just justifying their existence.”

Ms Walker said the review would also help in realising the governing Labor Party’s long-standing aspiration to boost R&D spending to 3 per cent of gross domestic product. “Understanding how government funds, incentivises and motivates the system will be…crucial,” she said.

“This government, and every government in fact, has spent a lot of energy on identifying what its priorities are for the economy, for research, for science. It would be really nice if we aligned the funding to support them.”




  • 注册是免费的,而且十分便捷
  • 注册成功后,您每月可免费阅读3篇文章
  • 订阅我们的邮件
Please 登录 or 注册 to read this article.