17 August, 2012The Prime Minister's Manufacturing Taskforce's plan to lift national productivity by fostering research and innovation makes an important contribution to the national debate about the future development of the economy and especially the transformation of the manufacturing sector.
"While strategic, translational and applied research must be encouraged and has a vital role to play in modernising and diversifying the economy, Universities Australia is concerned that the report understates the value of basic research as a fundamental building block of the research system needed to support innovation and product development," said Belinda Robinson, Chief Executive of Universities Australia, the peak body representing the sector.
"Australia's success as a world leader in biotechnology, for example, could not have occurred without a heavy investment in basic bioscience research.
"Research is a distinctive part of the role of universities conducted for the benefit of all Australians and its value risks being undermined if it is subject to heavy handed direction.
"Universities Australia opposes the report's recommendation (24) to tie research funding to collaboration with manufacturing industry," Ms Robinson said.
"Given the very substantial role anticipated for research in transforming manufacturing, Universities Australia is extremely disappointed that the research community was inadequately consulted and its role represented as little more than as a service provider to the manufacturing industry.
"In seeking to achieve 'smarter networks' and an improved platform for systemic collaboration, a high level of engagement and fostering a sense of common purpose with the research community is essential," Ms Robinson said.
"There are many, many examples of industry and universities partnering successfully. Universities Australia supports the ambition of the Taskforce to expand this collaborative model but is wary of this coming at the expense of other research priorities.
"The report recommends the government establish a new committee to be chaired by a senior business leader to undertake a two stage due diligence process into the funding and activities of entities such as CSIRO, universities and the Australian Research Council.
"Such a committee should at least be co-chaired by a senior and highly-respected member of the research community.
"Universities Australia will consult with its members and looks forward to engaging with the Government on further considering the report's recommendations and their implementation," Ms Robinson said.