Australia’s innovation drive ‘hampered by lack of funding’

Sydney’s deputy v-c says government must put its money where its mouth is

July 4, 2017
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Obstacle to progress: Australia ‘does not invest’ in major research funding

University-led innovation and commercialisation of research is “critical” for Australia’s future economic growth, but the government has failed to invest significantly to support these activities, a sector leader has warned.

Duncan Ivison, deputy vice-chancellor for research at the University of Sydney, told the Times Higher Education Research Excellence Summit that Australian institutions were struggling to keep up with the agendas of technological innovation and industry collaboration being driven forward by Asian nations.

What Professor Ivison perceived as the lack of a clear national research funding policy was a particular obstacle, the event in Taichung, Taiwan, was told.

Australia is going through one of the largest mining booms in its history, caused by a surge in demand for iron ore and coal that sent prices skyrocketing.

But Professor Ivison said that this boom would “come to an end” and there was a need for universities to be “creating value for our economy”. As such, the government was trying to “reposition” the country towards an economy with innovation at its heart.

“[Ministers] have asked universities to really help drive that agenda so there is a lot of expectation for universities to become more open to industry [and] to make their research more accessible to the wider population,” Professor Ivison said.

But, despite pushing this agenda, the Australian government has not invested in support for university-led innovation, Professor Ivison claimed.

“Innovation is critical for our future as a country…The axis of development is turning towards Asia and we want to be part of that but we have got significant challenges [as] our government does not invest in the capabilities for us,” he added.

Professor Ivison complained that research funding was spread “ever so thinly” between universities in the country, and was not sustainable.

“In Australia we have not invested in major research funding. We do not have a clear national research funding policy and that is a really significant challenge,” he added.

The quality of research across the country is assessed by the Excellence in Research for Australia exercise, which evaluates universities in a range of areas. The next exercise, in 2018, will have an element related to the impact of research, which Professor Ivison said represents a shift towards a more industrial element for research.

But he added that it was “very concerning” that the exercise was only about reputation, and did not offer new funding attached to the outcomes.

“This issue of [lack of] differentiation is an important one,” he said.

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