Ahead of a Parliamentary inquiry into research funding, Universities Australia urges Government and business to boost their R&D across the economy in partnership with universities.
Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said the higher education sector is the “backbone” of Australia’s world-class research system.
“But backbone isn’t enough. Like any healthy body, we also need the supporting muscle. Government and business investment can build up our national research effort, making it strong and agile,” she said.
“Research expands Australia’s economy. Research saves lives. Research creates new products and industries that generate jobs.”
“But, over the past three decades, we’ve seen a worrying trend with Governments conducting less and less R&D – and universities have had to step into the breach to maintain national capacity.”
Australia now spends 1.88 per cent of GDP on research and development, well below the OECD average of 2.38 per cent. And for the first time since records have been kept, OECD figures show that Australia’s business R&D declined in 2015-16.
Meanwhile, the UK Government has set a target to spend 2.4 per cent of GDP on R&D.
“The world’s leading economies know just how important R&D is and are investing accordingly,” Ms Jackson said.
“Australia’s R&D spend as a percentage of GDP is less than Iceland’s. That’s a country with a population smaller than Canberra.”
Universities Australia also urges Government to keep the Education Investment Fund open – the $3.8 billion ‘future fund’ for teaching and research infrastructure that Government plans to close.
“We welcome the Government’s Budget commitment to rolling investment in current and new national research infrastructure,” Ms Jackson said.
“But Australia also needs capital funds to build research capacity at universities across the country.”
“Closing EIF will deny our world-class researchers the proper resourcing and security they need to keep doing what they do best – making breakthroughs for the betterment of all,” she said.
Universities Australia plans to make seven recommendations to the House of Representatives’ inquiry into research funding:
The Australian Government, in partnership with the states and territories, the private sector and the higher education sector, should develop a strategy and commit resources with the goal of significantly increasing the intensity of research and development in the Australian economy.
Universities Australia recommends that the Government work towards full re-capitalisation of the Education Investment Fund, and recommencement of disbursements from investment earnings of the Fund.
Universities Australia recommends that proposals for further major changes to the research funding system not be considered until the effects of the current suite of changes are apparent.
Expert peer review should remain and be reaffirmed as the core determinant of excellence for funding the most outstanding and deserving ideas.
The Australian Government should restore the demand driven undergraduate enrolment system to ensure the widest possible participation in the postgraduate research cohort.
New policy initiatives likely to result in increased reporting or compliance requirements for the higher education sector should be accompanied by a Regulatory Impact Statement that quantifies the cost of the change.
The Australian Government should expand support for international linkages for Australian researchers through the Australian research funding system.