The Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee (AVCC) has submitted its response to the Productivity Commission research study into the economic, social and environmental returns on public support for science and innovation in Australia.
AVCC President Professor Gerard Sutton said that the AVCC submission responded to the broad issues raised by the Commission's Issues Paper (April 2006), providing solid recommendations that focus on two main themes: the national benefits of increased public support for science and innovation, with particular emphasis on economic and social returns on investment; and how Australia can get the best value from that investment.
The recommendations include increasing Australia's investment in research and innovation to 2% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2010 (up from its current 1.6%), and to 3% by 2020, and providing new incentives for private sector participation in research to build on existing collaborations between universities, publicly funded research agencies and the private sector.
The AVCC also calls for a broad range of support for science and innovation, as allowing any single approach to dominate "would inevitably result in a diminished overall research capacity and a weaker national innovation system".
"Vigorous national science and innovation effort is critical to the strength and dynamism of Australia's economy and society," Professor Sutton said.
"We need bold public and private investment in our innovative people and institutions if Australia is to keep up with the accelerating pace of growth of new knowledge and its application around the world.
"Unless Australia demonstrates its commitment to such efforts by increasing its investment in education and research, and provides incentives for greater collaboration between educational disciplines and across sectors of the economy, we will soon lose our place in the global knowledge economy," he said.
Professor Sutton said that support for science and innovation in Australia must be increased if we are to maintain our living standards through strong and productive economic growth.
"By OECD country standards, Australia's Gross Expenditure on R&D as a percentage of GDP is low and government support for science and innovation as a percentage of GDP has been in decline since 1993-94," Professor Sutton said.
"Australian Business investment in R&D is also low and only 4.1% is financed by government, compared with the OECD average of 7.2%.1 Business and university R&D have complementary roles -- each stimulates the other.
"The weak business investment in R&D limits the opportunities for synergistic innovation and retards Australia's economic growth," he said.
"Australia cannot rely on the current industry structure to maintain future living standards. Increased investment in R&D by both business and government is needed now.
"The AVCC submission provides tangible recommendations to increasing the support for science and innovation in Australia," Professor Sutton said.
To view the AVCC submission please click here
The AVCC has made the following recommendations to the Productivity Commission - they are framed with the primary objective of maximising the economic, social and environmental returns from public support for science and innovation in Australia:
1. That Australia develop a national innovation strategy encompassing all aspects of the nation's research and innovation.
2. That the national innovation strategy include:
(i) a national commitment to a target for Australian investment in research and innovation: 2% of GDP by 2010, and 3% of GDP by 2020;
(ii) a broad definition of innovation rather than a narrow definition restricted to technological process and product innovation;
(iii) a broad definition of "productivity" that recognises the many direct and indirect influences on productivity, and the role and impact of the social and behavioural sciences, the humanities, and other disciplines in the university sector on the national wealth, and welfare.
3. That Government recognise that the benefits from university research, science and innovation flow across the economy and to the whole Australian community, and that there are strong economic arguments for government investment in higher education and research.
4. That Australia recognise the need to support a range of research and innovation, and do so by a number of different means. Allowing any single approach to dominate would inevitably result in a diminished overall research and capacity and a weaker national innovation system. The impact of research prioritisation should be restructured to recognise this fact.
5. That the peer review process for competitively funded research and innovation be retained within Australia to assure the international standing and quality of Australia's research grant funding system and proper accountability for the allocation of public funds.
6. That Australia reassess its investment in research study and training opportunities and redress the imbalance between the number of high quality students and the number and value of government-funded scholarships, in particular the Australian Postgraduate Awards (with Stipend) and the International Postgraduate Research Scholarships (IPRS).
7. That Government note the evidence that Australia's current investment in science and innovation lags well behind that of leading OECD countries and take positive action to correct the imbalance.
8. That Australia build on existing collaboration between universities, publicly funded research agencies and the private sector by developing new incentives for greater private sector participation in the national innovation system.
9. That the Commonwealth Government create a specific program to enhance universities' capacity to use knowledge transfer to encourage wealth creation by business and communities and to address broader community social, health, and environmental challenges.
10. That Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments continue to work collaboratively and in consultation with the university sector in the development of effective legislative and regulatory frameworks that:
(i) balance external accountability with commercial risks; and
(ii) reduce the policy and funding impediments impacting on universities' capacity to contribute to the nation's economic, social and environmental development and prosperity.
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