The call comes as new ABS figures show industry investment in research and development has fallen to its lowest level as a percentage of our economy since 2003 before the mining boom. It fell from 1.0 to 0.9 per cent between 2015-16 and 2017-18.
And Australia’s total investment in research and development has also fallen to its lowest level in four decades relative to the size of our economy – from 1.88 to 1.79 per cent of GDP. This is well below the OECD average of 2.38 per cent.
Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said the trends revealed in the Australian Bureau of Statistics data were “worrying portents for Australia’s future economic growth”.
“We know that today’s investments in research and development breakthroughs will determine the size of future dividends paid back into Australia’s economy and living standards,” she said.
“That’s why we need all sectors of our economy — business, universities and Government — to work even more closely together to make strategic investments that will deliver ongoing returns.”
Education Minister Dan Tehan recently noted Australia has a relatively low rate of business-university collaboration — despite strong returns to businesses that partner with universities.
“We agree with Minister Tehan that there is more scope for businesses to partner with Australia’s world-class universities to deliver new technologies and innovation,” Ms Jackson said.
“And once again we extend the offer to Australian businesses: come and talk to us about how we can help your firm to innovate and boost growth.”
In May, the Productivity Commission flagged business underinvestment in R&D as a contributing factor in labour productivity. Late last month, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg urged Australian businesses to invest in new technologies to lift productivity.
Modelling commissioned by Universities Australia found the 16,000 Australian firms who partner with universities derived $10.6 billion from collaborations.
Ms Jackson said universities had long backed a premium rate for businesses to collaborate with research organisations as part of the R&D tax incentive — as recommended by the Government’s 2016 review.
“We need further incentives for business to tap into the wealth of expertise already in Australia’s universities — and use that expertise to create the next generation of products and services.”