Australian research in the world’s top-cited scientific publications has risen to more than three per cent in 2016, up from around two per cent a decade ago, in the latest global scorecard.
But Australia’s total expenditure on research and development (R&D) – at just 1.88% of gross domestic product in 2015-16 on the latest data – trails the OECD average of 2.38%.
Universities Australia Chief Executive Belinda Robinson said Australia’s spending being so far behind other advanced economies was a stark warning against cuts to public investment.
“Let’s be crystal clear. The research we do today will be the source of Australia’s income tomorrow,” Ms Robinson said.
“So if those research sources begin to dry up, our innovation agenda will start to wilt. We simply cannot afford to let our investment in research decline in the years ahead,” she said.
Ms Robinson said Australian research – much of it done by our world-class universities – is the wellspring for new products and industries that will sustain future Australian jobs and growth.
“Any erosion in that public investment would hamstring our future economy,” she said.
The new data comes as the UK Government unveiled its Budget overnight, announcing an extra £2.3bn for R&D investment.
UK Chancellor Phillip Hammond said the boost took “the first strides towards the ambition of our industrial strategy to drive up R&D investment across the (UK) economy to 2.4 per cent of GDP”.
The OECD scorecard shows Australian business investment in research has fallen – at the same time as tax breaks claimed by businesses for their R&D spending rose to A$3 billion.
“This highlights an urgent need for Government to fix the R&D tax incentive to ensure it is delivering on its policy intent,” Ms Robinson said.
“While new incentives are in place to encourage universities to work with industry, the demand side of this equation needs attention,” she said.
“Measures are urgently required to provide incentives for business – particularly small to medium size firms – to take advantage of the brilliant research being done in Australian universities.”