Submission—Knowledge Nation Taskforce

On 14 February 2001, the Academy made the following submission to the Knowledge Nation Taskforce established by the Leader of the Opposition.


The Hon Barry O Jones, AO, FAA, FAHA, FTSE
c/o Mr Dennis Glover
Office of the Leader of the Opposition
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Dear Mr Jones

The President of the Academy, Professor Brian Anderson, passed to me your letter 'Call for submissions to Kim Beazley’s Knowledge Nation Taskforce'. This was before the Prime Minister’s Innovation Action Plan was announced and I thought it best to wait for that before responding. I attach some additional comments on possible policy options that you may wish to develop. I make some general points before commenting on specific issues:

  • There is a need for further integration of national policy for the whole science system ranging from schools through the higher education system to industry policy;
  • There is a need to maintain and develop international contacts to support the science and technology system. Clear policies are needed to guide Australia’s relations to the international science system and globalised companies, linked to the development of Australia’s natural resources.
  • It would be highly desirable for the initiatives of an ALP government to build upon rather than re-build those recently announced by the current government to build upon rather than re-build those recently announced by the current government. The extensive consultations with stakeholders over the last two years leading to the innovation statements has been a valuable process. The long-term plans of researchers and institutions will take them into account and it would be extremely wasteful for the researchers to be required to re-plan from the ground up. However, there remain important areas of un-met need. Some of them are detailed below.
  • We emphasise the need for early action to ensure that the change of direction now under way gains momentum.
  • Education is a much broader field than innovation and needs further support at the school and tertiary levels.
  • The way policy for our tertiary sector is made and implemented is overdue for reform.
  • The Academy places enormous weight on the importance of allocating institutional funding for research and infrastructure support on the basis on the quality of the outcomes produced.

Industry policy

  • A return to the 150% tax concession for industrial research and development expenditure with appropriate safeguards on implementation. This has been universally called for and may address what are perceived to be inadequacies in measures recently announced by the Federal Government.
  • A pro-active policy to encourage major industrial development in Australia with a 'one-stop shop' for major investors. Australia has growing deficits in information technology hardware and in chemicals. Between them, the deficits (cost of imports minus value of exports) may amount to 50 billion dollars per annum by 2010. This and similar causes of growing deficits from a lack of manufacturing in Australia need to be addressed as a national response to the challenge of globalisation. It also involves making the best use of Australia’s great natural resources. Two recent Papers are attached. The first is a study for PMSEIC on Australia’s information and communication technology (ICT) research base. The other was submitted by the Royal Australian Chemical Institute to the Chemicals and Plastics Industry Action Agenda Steering Committee. It addresses key policy questions as to whether Australia can provide a 'one-stop shop' to deal with global industrial interests.

The Higher Education System

Higher education is in need of further attention. The Academy has consistently supported the unified national higher education system but with this strong caveat.

  • An assessment of the quality of research and teaching outcomes should be much more strongly built into the higher education funding arrangements managed by DETYA. This is to create more diversity in the system over a period of time. The Academy has written extensively on the ways to do this – along the lines, for example, of the European and Hong Kong research assessment exercise processes. We would be glad to give further input on this matter.
  • Attention should be given to the problem of the 'enabling sciences' of mathematics, physics and chemistry mentioned in the Chief Scientist’s reports. These sciences are currently unattractive to students from schools in part because the possibilities for employment subsequently seem less attractive than careers in law and medicine for example. The Academy believes that it is very important that industry policy should be vigorous and pro-active so as to give young people the encouragement to enter science careers in Australia.
  • It is also important that some new funding is directed at improving the quality of undergraduate entrants to science degree courses, and improving the quality of the teaching they are given. At present class sizes in the early courses are unacceptably large and practical work has been cut. The capacity of the core disciplines of physics, chemistry and mathematics, to contribute to science education has been eroded.

Schools

A key aspect of the integration mentioned above is that school teachers in mathematics and science should be adequately rewarded and the best candidates attracted to the profession. The Academy strongly supports the use of measures such as:

  • The attraction of a strong cohort of the best science and mathematics graduates into the teaching profession. The Academy has favoured in the past HECS waiver scholarships and a teaching bond for some period of time to do this.
  • The Academy favours a review of salaries for science and mathematics teachers to ensure attractive financial rewards. The Academy favours the provision of sabbatical fellowships for the best teachers on a competitive basis for periods of three months in major universities for specific projects related to improving the quality of science teaching, in particular of the experimental sciences.

International connections

There are many more national players in global science today. Considering our geographic isolation, Australia needs to invest more to maintain, and to improve, our access to the laboratories where cutting-edge work is being done. This implies that both research grants and institutional funding need to allow, in policy and amount, access to international facilities and collaborations with colleagues abroad to complement our own resources.

  • We should explore more formal links with the high-level programs that exist overseas, such as the European science programs and the NATO summer schools and institutes

We would welcome the opportunity to discuss these matters with you.

Yours sincerely

Professor John W White, CMG, FAA, FRS
Secretary (Science Policy)

© 2017 Australian Academy of Science

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