Universities Australia congratulates Dr Ian Watt AO and the reference panel on an astute set of proposals. It is a clear and insightful plan to strengthen the national economic drivers of university research and innovation.
Universities Australia Chief Executive Belinda Robinson said the report‘s 28 recommendations, which deal with the “supply-side” of the university research collaboration equation, will help stimulate greater engagement, create policy coherence and simplify research funding.
The review recommends the development in 2016 of an ‘impact and engagement framework’ to align research funding more closely to impact and engagement.
“If accepted by Government, this proposal will require ongoing consultation with the sector to ensure the outcomes are consistent with the policy objective and that unintended consequences are avoided,” Ms Robinson said.
Simplifying the research block grants and refashioning the funding formula to reward engagement will drive stronger collaboration. A proposed $50 million increase to research support from 2018 will also assist in this goal.
A transition to these new arrangements would be smoothed by a number of well-considered measures. For the first four years of implementation, for example, no university will receive less than 95 per cent of its research support funding for the prior year.
The report also proposes making research collaboration Linkage grants continuously accessible (rather than a single application round once a year), and axing the cash contribution required of small business partners – recommendations strongly supported by Universities Australia.
The integration between our universities and business will be further strengthened by funding for an extra 700 industry placements for research students each year.
In acknowledging Australia’s notoriously poor performance for the proportion of businesses collaborating with university researchers, the report reinforces the need for business to play its part in building and maintaining productive relationships.
“It is as important for business to reach in to universities as it is for universities to reach out in this ‘contact sport’ of business-university engagement,” Ms Robinson said.
“While the review gets the direction right for universities, getting the lift in collaboration that is needed will require further measures that address the ‘demand’ side of the equation.
“Dr Watt should be commended for the constructive and comprehensive consultation he has undertaken with the sector,” Ms Robinson said.
We would welcome the broad thrust of these recommendations being reflected in the Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda to be released next week.