Response—The chance to change discussion paper and recommendations of the Innovation Summit Implementation Group

On 4 October 2000, the Academy published the following response to the Chief Scientist's discussion paper, The chance to change (August 2000), and the recommendations of the Innovation Summit Implemtnation Group, Innovation, Unlocking the Future.


  1. The appraisals of the strength of the Australian science and technology base and of the Australian innovation system, given in the these recent reports, are milestones in the understanding of the Australian science, technology and innovation system as well as the most powerful diagnostic indicators hitherto for changes needed to ensure its strength in the future.
  2. The Australian Academy of Science reaffirms the comments of its President and the President of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering on the need to implement the program outlined in these documents. Their complementarity is a strength and recommendations made in the Chief Scientist’s document need to be costed and funded in parallel with those made in the ISIG paper.
  3. At the outset, the Academy makes three general points.
    • A 'whole-of-government' approach will be needed to implement these recommendations. The total costed part of the ISIG proposals amounts to about $2.5 billion over five years. $1.2 billion falls within the DETYA portfolio, another $1.5 billion over five years is in the ISR portfolio with unquantified amounts from Treasury and Finance.
    • The foreseen contribution of industry is not insignificant and mechanisms will be needed to engage this. Batterham’s Figure 2.2 (Business investment in R&D as a percentage of GDP, 1992-1999) shows that the shortfall in industrial investment since 1995 (due to the declining curve) is about $1.3 billion. If the positive trend establishing itself in 1995 were to have been maintained, the shortfall might be more like $2.6 billion.

      These shortfalls illustrate the urgency of the case being put forward by The chance to change and Innovation – unlocking the future and the importance of the need to inculcate a new culture of investment as advocated by the documents.

    • Without a strong science base, and a structured innovation policy, major faults in the Australian economy cannot be rectified. For example, recent figures show that Australia has a trade deficit of about $12 billion per annum in information technology and $6 billion in chemicals. Enormous opportunities exist in both of these areas; these opportunities should be realised.
  4. The chance to change identifies necessary changes in culture, ideas and commercialisation. The Australian Academy of Science broadly supports this diagnosis. Below we give comments on some individual recommendations in the Chief Scientist’s document.

Culture

  1. The Australian Academy of Science strongly supports the recommendation to provide 200 HECS scholarships for students undertaking combined science/education qualifications and 300 for students of the enabling sciences: maths, physics and chemistry.
  2. The Australian Academy of Science strongly supports the increase in the number of Australian postdoctoral Fellows in science and technology. We agree that doubling of the present numbers funded by the Australian Research Council, National Health and Medical Research Council and in the Institute of Advanced Studies of the Australian National University would be appropriate.

Mechanism for distributing the extra places and postdoctoral fellowships.

The Australian Academy of Science has long advocated that a significant deficiency in the current white paper on higher education funding is the insufficient weight given to the quality of research outcomes (and for that matter, teaching outcomes) in the distribution of PhD places and research infrastructure block grants to universities. Elsewhere1 the Australian Academy of Science has advocated the use of a form of a research assessment exercise to gauge the underlying quality of the Australian science base at a relatively low level of aggregation.

Ideas

  1. The Australian Academy of Science strongly endorses the proposals
    • to increase the funding of the Australian Research Council’s competitive grants and related infrastructure activities, consistent with the commitments already made for increased funding of health and medical research, and
    • to expand the funding for research infrastructure (RIBG).
    The Academy believes that the health of the 'enabling sciences' of mathematics, physics and chemistry is fundamental to the nation’s creativity and ultimate economic success. There are serious weaknesses in these sciences due to current higher education funding policies. The Chief Scientist’s identification of the need for selective action is strongly supported. While supporting the importance of linkage between basic science and strategic basic science, applied science, innovation, development and the ‘knowledge based economy', the Academy strongly advises against the idea that all ARC and NHMRC funding should be directed towards ‘use-inspired basic research’ – a currently fashionable notion.

The Importance of 'Plurality of Funding'

  1. In its submission to the Science Capability Review (December 1999), the Academy noted the contribution not only of the Australian Research Council and National Health and Medical Research Council’s funding system, but the necessity for Australian to retain a pluralistic science funding system. This point is noted in The chance to change  but needs emphasis. The Academy accordingly recommends that this pluralism be kept very much in mind in future arrangements. Other key players in the science system are:
    • the Government’s science agencies, including the CSIRO, ANSTO, AIMS etc.,
    • the Institute of Advanced Studies at the Australian National University,
    • State-run museums and libraries, and
    • private research institutes.
    These organisations help to give a broader perspective on what is important to the Australian science system.
  2. The Australian Academy of Science supports the recommendation for a national commitment to a competitive major research facilities program with participation by States,Territories, universities, government research agencies and commercial interests. A separate paper from the Academy’s Working Party on Major National Research Facilities accompanies this submission. The Academy favours proposals being examined on a case-by-case basis and accommodating the need for a contribution towards operating costs.
  3. In addition, the Australian Academy of Science recommends that a study be undertaken of the ways to enhance access to information through libraries in the future world of electronic publishing, from the point of view of authors, institutions, publishers researchers and libraries.

Commercialisation

  1. The Australian Academy of Science strongly supports the expansion of the CRC program as recommended in The chance to change subject to the upcoming review recommended by the Stocker Mercer report. The expansion of the program to small- and middle-size enterprises, and some reshaping of the program to cope with some perceived deficiencies in the present arrangements, would be beneficial. The Australian Academy of Science in its submission to the Department of Industry, Science and Resources on recommendation 5 of the ISIG review made some points about this2.
  2. The Australian Academy of Science is not so clear about the value of the innovation centres proposed by the Batterham document. In a submission on recommendation 5 to ISIG, we made comments on the need to inspire entrepreneurialism in those who discover things and the need for policies related to the ownership of intellectual property. These should be explored in parallel with any changes that might be made to create innovation centres.
  3. The Australian Academy of Science is very strongly in favour of the need for a pre-seed capital fund for universities and government-funded research agencies to breach the gap in the innovation process between the initial discovery and the development a product.
  4. As mentioned above, the Australian Academy of Science is very much in favour of the universities and government research agencies reviewing the opportunities for researchers to better share in the benefits of commercialisation, with particular encouragement for formation of innovative companies.

John W White
Secretary, Science Policy
Australian Academy of Science

Notes

  1. An Australian Research Assessment Exercise. Australian Academy of Science 2000.
  2. Enhancing linkages – CRCs and beyond. Australian Academy of Science 2000.

© 2017 Australian Academy of Science

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