National Research Infrastructure crucial factor in research pipeline

April 11, 2022

The Australian Academy of Science welcomes the release of the Australian Government’s 2021 National Research Infrastructure (NRI) Roadmap. The Academy thanks the Expert Working Group for its contributions and guidance, particularly Academy Fellows Dr Ziggy Switkowski, Professor Barbara Howlett and Dr Cathy Foley.

The roadmap makes many noteworthy recommendations to ensure Australia’s research infrastructure is poised to deliver long-term national benefit. The Academy is particularly supportive of the recommendation made in successive roadmaps to establish an Expert NRI Advisory Group, that can deliver strategic advice on priorities, trends and opportunities. The Academy looks forward to this recommendation, among others, being implemented by the next government.

The Academy supports the development of a National Digital Research Infrastructure strategy, and the potential for this strategy to address existing issues included data access and interoperability. This strategy should consider how support for open scholarly communications infrastructure could be delivered. This is urgently needed to support the needs of researchers, funders, policymakers and the Australian public who need to publish, synthesise and access research.

Several recommendations made in the Academy’s submission to the consultation of the draft roadmap appear not to have been included in this final version. In particular, the role of both technicians and NRI Fellows remains under-acknowledged in this document. Technicians commonly have many roles in contributing to research projects and should be adequately recognised.

The challenge framework within the roadmap (recommendation 3) seeks to align the NRI system with national priorities. While this can provide consistency and focus, the Academy warns this framework does not adequately recognise the essential role fundamental research plays in developing solutions for the challenges we hope to address.

Fundamental research can’t always be mapped directly to the national interest or existing government priorities; such research underpins priorities and often contributes to more than one. Fundamental research will have applications to challenges that may not yet be realised, such as pandemics and catastrophic bushfires and floods. This work is critical to the research pipeline, as well as training and support for the workforce, and should not be forfeited in favour of additional applied research that maps more closely to these challenges.

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